Friday, December 24, 2010


One of the big, big showdowns coming in 2011 is the EPA versus the House GOP.  The Environmental Protection Agency says if Congress won't take action on greenhouse gases, then the EPA will.  yesterday it announced plans to deal with power plant carbon emissions, and immediately both House Republicans and energy companies are saying "over our dead bodies."

The EPA announcement, which came as part of a settlement of two 2008 lawsuits, will propose new standards for power plants in July 2011 and for refineries in December 2011, followed by final standards in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively. 

During a telephone briefing for reporters, Gina McCarthy, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said she could not spell out how significantly the new rules will reduce the nation's contribution to global warming. 

"You will see measurable reductions," she said. "It's way too early in the game right now to talk about what the standards will look like." 

Power plants account for 35 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions while oil refineries account for 3 percent; combined with an earlier EPA rule targeting cars and light trucks, the agency is poised to regulate sectors accounting for more than 55 percent of the nation's total greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, the new rules could deliver about one-third of the carbon cuts the United States has pledged to make by 2020. "By focusing on the largest polluters, EPA can take a big bite out of U.S. emissions," said WRI senior fellow Franz Litz. 

The EPA's McCarthy said the agency would require that existing and new utilities and refineries use only "what technologies are available." It would not set an overall limit on greenhouse gases such as one that was included in the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House in 2009 but that died in the Senate. 

"This is not about a cap-and-trade program," she said. "It is not in any way trying to get into the area where Congress will be establishing law at some point in the future, we hope." 

But Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said in an interview that the proposal was unrealistic and that his industry will urge lawmakers to block the EPA's move. 

"There is no best available technology. The only thing you can do is cut production," Drevna said. "I see bipartisan concern as to where EPA and the administration are attempting to take climate regulation - how they're going to get there and what it's going to do to the economy." 

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is in line to chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, seemed to agree. "The fact is there are serious questions about EPA's decision to move forward with these job-killing regulations that will usurp power from states - violating the principles of federalism that are the backbone of the Clean Air Act," his spokesman Kurt Bardella said in an e-mailed statement.

The move from the Republicans is to simply refuse to appropriate any operating funds the EPA or to get rid of the agency completely rather than to see carbon emissions reduced.  Surely the GOP will make one of the two methods part of its government shutdown hostage plan should the agency go through with the process.

A lot of other pieces are going to be on the table when the Republicans play the shutdown card in March (and yes, I fully expect House Republicans will shut down the government in March unless they get 100% of what they want, no word on whether or not that will include Obama's immediate resignation.)  But count on this being a big part of the whole mess next spring.

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