Obama Administration EPA Begins the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases from Power Plants, As Promised

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With the defeat of the Democrats’ climate legislation in the filibuster-ruled Senate this year, that would have capped pollutants and reduced them annually, President Obama is today transferring to the EPA the regulation of greenhouse gases from refineries and coal plants that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases, as promised.

In a statement today noting that these sources collectively contribute up to 40% of US greenhouse gas pollution, EPA chief Lisa Jackson said, “We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans and contributes to climate change.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency is issuing the final series of actions that will ensure that the largest industrial facilities must have annually declining Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gas emissions beginning in January 2011. These actions are part of EPA’s common sense approach to permitting outlined in the spring 2010 tailoring rule.

The first set of actions will give EPA authority in the seven states that have failed to enact standards on a state level. These states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming.

The second action is to ensure that no states undercut Federal EPA standards with more lenient standards, as Texas has attempted. The EPA is taking additional steps to disapprove part of Texas’ Clean Air Act permitting program and will also issue GHG permits to facilities in the state.

The move is long awaited. A few months before the Copenhagen meeting, the EPA formally announced its readiness to regulate GHGs from stationary sources emitting over 25,000 tons a year, if no action was taken by congress.

At the start of the Democratic congress, President Obama had set up the fall-back position that the EPA would regulate the reduction of carbon dioxide if congress failed to act. At that time it looked to become a 60 vote majority, once Minnesota Senator Franken overcame the legal obstruction by Senator Coleman to being seated. But the few months of true majority proved short.

Only a few months after the 60th Democrat was seated, Senator Kennedy died, and with his death, the Democrats lost any chance at defeating the unprecedented use of a minority filibuster which allows 40 Senators to obstruct action. More bills were prevented by Minority Leader Senator McConnell from coming to the floor for an up or down vote than in any congress in US history, even at the time of the civil war.

“We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year,” Rhode Island’s Democratic Senator Whitehouse told the New York Times at the end of the first year. “Never since the founding of the Republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body.”

The climate bill passed the Democratically controlled House, but like some 400 other bills, did not clear the Senate, despite reducing the deficit by $20 Billion according to the CBO, along with greenhouse gas reduction.

So, this year, before the Gulf oil spill, President Obama had offered additional sweeteners in exchange for Republican cooperation in not preventing an up or down vote on a climate bill: some limited expanded oil drilling leases.

The administration figured that greenhouse gas pollution from US oil drilling is (relatively) a drop in the ocean compared with those from coal plants, so that the larger purpose would be served with a small harmless token, since the US, 80% dependent on foreign oil, produces a tiny fraction of the world’s oil, while by contrast, it is one of the leading coal producers globally.

It was an unfortunate bet, as the Gulf oil spill showed. And it didn’t work.

With no cooperation on climate legislation received by the end of the session, this month he reversed the drilling expansion he had offered as his end of the bargain. The Senate minority not only did not cooperate, it tried but failed to pass legislation to prevent the EPA from reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the summer. The withdrawal of the bargaining chip this month roused immediate reaction from the oil industry.

With no climate legislation enacted in the Senate by the end of the session, today’s announcement completes the promised action. As it already does successfully with acid rain pollutants, the EPA will regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Image: The White House
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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