EPA: Discharge curbs on big polluters

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The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to limit its regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions to the nation’s major polluting sources, environmentalist groups say.

The draft rule, sent to the White House on Aug. 31, would curb the agency’s ability to regulate every polluter in the nation, they say. If the rule becomes law, the agency would set standards for the nation’s largest polluters, such as refineries, utilities and manufacturers, they added.

The practical effect of the rule is that many smaller carbon-dioxide emitters, including hospitals, schools and office buildings, would not be subject to EPA’s regulation. The change could also slow the drive on Capitol Hill to pass major climate-change legislation.

EPA declined to comment on details of the proposed rule.

It was widely thought that EPA’s announcement in April that it was prepared to use its authority to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions would push Congress to pass climate change legislation that would exempt small polluters from regulation. But the draft rule — which likely exempts polluters who emit fewer than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year — might have the opposite effect.

“I think the push is going to disappear because the 25,000-ton limit takes the pressure off of Congress,” said David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said if the 25,000-ton limit were not set, EPA could end up regulating 1.2 million entities that the climate change bill now before Congress would not affect.

The Obama administration is facing a deadline to adopt the emissions rule because the EPA by next March must issue new regulations governing carbon-dioxide emissions from car and truck tailpipes, Mr. Bookbinder said. Once the tailpipe rule is issued, he said that EPA would be required by law to regulate all carbon-dioxide emitters — subjecting millions of entities to control by the agency.

“The final rule needs to be in place before the tailpipe standards come out to avoid a nightmare,” Mr. Bookbinder said.

Legislation passed by the House in June, now pending in the Senate, would also target emitters of 25,000 tons or more of carbon a year — notably utilities, refineries and large manufacturers. Environmentalists, businesses and industry groups widely agree that polluters under this tonnage amount should not be required to comply with the pollution-regulation scheme.

Some experts say, though, that the proposed rule does not give Congress more time to pass climate legislation.

“EPA’s getting its ducks in a row so that it is prepared to do something if Congress doesn’t,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Supporters and opponents of climate-change legislation say that if the government is going to regulate carbon dioxide, then Congress, not the EPA, should dictate the terms. Unlike EPA’s proposal, the House’s bill would not immediately penalize polluters and would offer them assistance in the transition to a cleaner technology.

Once the White House signs off on the proposed rule, it will be open for public comment before a final rule can be issued.

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