- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Obama administration vowed Thursday to press ahead with plans to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, setting up a near-certain clash with Republicans in the new Congress over climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it would set standards for fossil-fuel power plants and petroleum refineries - which together emit nearly 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases - starting in 2012. The move comes after President Obama tried and failed to get a major new energy and climate bill through Congress this year.

“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,” EPA chief Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

“These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean-energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home,” she said.

But the move comes in the face of strong criticism from Republicans, many of whom are skeptical of claims of manmade global warming and fear the economic consequences of the EPA move. Republicans moving into positions of power on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and other key panels strongly opposed Mr. Obama’s so-called “cap-and-trade” plan to limit U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.

The upcoming rules could also trigger a battle with oil-producing Texas, which emits far more greenhouse gases than any other state and has adamantly opposed Washington restrictions.

EPA officials said the performance standards will be finalized in May 2012 for power plants, and November that year for refineries. New and existing plants can choose available technologies to reduce emissions.

Separately, the EPA said it will issue greenhouse-gas permits for Texas, which had refused to adopt rules on emissions. EPA also said it will issue permits in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, and Wyoming until state or local agencies are ready to do the job themselves.

The agency suggested it would not impose an outright figure for emission standards but instead would ask companies to embrace cleaner technologies.

“This is not about a cap-and-trade program,” senior EPA official Gina McCarthy told reporters on a conference call. “It is not in any way trying to get into the areas in which Congress will be establishing law, at some point in the future, we hope.”

Ms. McCarthy did not say which technologies would be favored. The dirtiest source of power is coal, which accounts for more than one-quarter of U.S. energy production and is represented by a politically potent coalition in both chambers of Congress.

Ms. McCarthy voiced confidence that the EPA move would “not only sustain jobs in the U.S., but grow jobs” and “provide a measure of certainty” to businesses as they plan new investments.

But Scott Segal, a leading lobbyist representing the nation’s utilities, said that the administration’s timetable was “unrealistic.”

“By singling out the energy sector, the agency puts the nation’s fragile economic recovery at risk and stifles job creation,” Mr. Segal said.

Refiners complained the standards would harm their businesses.

“Regulations can’t create technology that doesn’t exist or change the laws of physics and economics, so the only way to comply with EPA’s proposals would be to inflict massive increases in energy costs and massive increases in unemployment on families across our nation,” said Charles Drevna, the president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said in a statement.

Mr. Segal also doubted the environmental benefits of the EPA move in the absence of “coordination with foreign nations.”

Fast-growing China has surpassed the United States as the top emitter of carbon, the most prominent greenhouse gas, but Beijing has launched an initiative to reduce emissions.

Mr. Obama last year pledged that the United States would curb emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The goal is modest compared to the actions of other developed economies, particularly the European Union.

Most scientists say the world is far off-track at meeting a goal - codified at UN climate talks in Mexico this month - of keeping temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

The EPA was able to act as a result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that gave it authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the landmark Clean Air Act.

Joe Mendelson of the National Wildlife Federation, who initiated the case, hailed the agency’s move Thursday, saying it constituted “reasonable and thoughtful steps” to fight climate change.

Bracing for a fight, Mr. Mendelson criticized “polluters that want to hold hostage America’s clean-energy future and our public health with bullying and unfounded threats of doom and gloom.”

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