EPA Takes Historic Step, Issues Clean Air Act Limits on CO2 Emissions from New Power Plants

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Congressional Republicans squashed the Obama administration and supporting Democratic Senators’ latest attempt to eliminate oil and gas industry subsidies this week, but the Obama administration’s efforts to redirect energy policy away from supporting fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy continue nonetheless. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 27 for the first time proposed the nation’s first carbon pollution standard, the Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants.

There’s no limit on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from US coal and other fossil fuel power plants at present. That will change with enactment of the EPA’s Clean Air Act pollution standard, which, while raising the cost of building new coal-fired power plants, will reduce the numerous and sizable health, safety and environmental costs that aren’t being factored into their cost.

“Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson stated in a press release.

“Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”

New Power Plants, New CO2 Emissions Rules

The EPA’s GHG (Greenhouse Gas) Tailoring Rule, issued in May 2010, states that in its new power plant permitting process, the EPA will “focus on the largest industrial sources, those emitting nearly 70 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution from stationary sources, while shielding millions of small businesses that make up the vast majority of the US economy.”

The EPA, since an April 2007 Supreme Court ruling that CO2 meets the definition of an air pollutant, has been working steadily with other federal, state and local government offices to establish the new regulatory rules, along with establishing the organizational framework and processes necessary to implement them.

The EPA’s taking a “phased-in” approach to enacting the new CO2 emission standards for new power plants. In May 2010, the EPA issued its final GHG  Tailoring Rule, which “raised the thresholds for GHG emissions that define when permits under the PSD (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) Permit Program and Title V Operating Permit programs are required for new and existing industrial facilities.”

  • Starting in January 2011, large industrial facilities that must already obtain Clean Air Act permits for non-GHGs must also include GHG requirements in these permits if they increase are newly constructed and have the potential to emit 75,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or more or modify and increase GHG emissions by that amount.
  • Starting in July 2011, in addition to facilities described above, all new facilities emitting GHGs in excess of 100,000 tons of per year CO2e and facilities making changes that would increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tpy CO2e, and that also exceed 100/250 tons per year of GHGs on a mass basis, will be required to obtain construction permits that address GHG emissions (regardless of whether they emit enough non-GHG pollutants to require a permit for those emissions.)
  • Operating permits will be needed by all sources that emit at least 100,000 tons of GHG per year on a CO2e basis beginning in July 2011.
  • Sources less than 50,000 tons of GHGs per year on a CO2e basis will not be required to obtain permits for GHGs before 2016.

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