EPA takes first step to cut industrial plant emissions

Nov 11, 2010 By Renee Schoof

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled what new large industrial plants will have to do to minimize their greenhouse gas emissions starting in January.

The guidelines will let industry choose the most cost-effective technology to reduce emissions on a case-by-case basis. The use of appropriate technology will make them eligible for new permits for greenhouse gas emissions that will be required for new and expanded industrial plants.

The EPA's steps are much more modest than the big stick of regulation that both opponents and supporters of climate legislation used to talk about. The agency said that much of the greenhouse gas reductions under the permit system would come through .

The new guidelines are part of EPA's early efforts to start reducing the emissions of gases that build up in the atmosphere and trap heat. The Supreme Court ruled that the agency has the authority to regulate this form of pollution under the Clean Air Act.

The guidelines require that regulators make sure that new plants - or those that are upgraded so that they can expand production - use available technology to reduce . Businesses can choose the most feasible and cost-effective approach.

The plan doesn't put a limit on emissions or require plants to reduce them by a certain year. A bill to do just that passed the House of Representatives but failed to get support in the Senate. The EPA could require mandatory emissions reductions under other parts of the Clean Air Act, but hasn't announced plans to do so.

Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said the technology requirements for new and expanded facilities are part of a "common-sense, step-by-step and transparent way" to reduce .

She also said the agency has no estimate of how much of a reduction the emissions control technologies on new plants would achieve.

"This is not about capping or overall reductions across the country," she said.

Frank O'Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group, called the EPA announcement "a very modest first step."

"I hope this will quiet down the demagoguery," he said. "A lot of people are saying the EPA is going to ruin the economy and they're overreaching. There's nothing here that could hurt the economy in the slightest way."

Joe Mendelson, the director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the EPA's guidance on the best available technology to control emissions was a start toward using the Clean Air Act to address global warming.

"The EPA is saying, hey, there are a lot of inefficiencies out there that are contributing to our climate change problem, and you should start dealing with them," he said.

Even if the EPA eventually takes stronger action to curb climate change, it can't do enough on its own to get the amount of reductions that will be necessary by 2050, he said. "It really is looking at all our activities - in ways inside EPA's jurisdiction or outside it - that get us, frankly, to rebuilding our economy in a way that gets us the global warming reductions we need as a matter of survival between now and 2050."

Jeff Holmstead, an attorney who represents power companies and who was the EPA air administrator during the Bush administration, said the new guidelines would amount to a moratorium on plant construction.

"As a practical matter, no one is going to be able to get through EPA's new permitting process for a long time," he said in a statement through a spokesman.

EPA's McCarthy, however, said there won't be a moratorium. Regulators and industry had months to prepare, she said. The EPA held meetings with industry groups to hear their views about the permit requirements. Now regulators at the state and local level are ready to issue permits, and EPA expects the permitting will go smoothly, McCarthy said.

Scott Segal, Holmstead's colleague at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said the uncertainties around the regulations would make electric power more expensive and less reliable.

The permit requirements apply to new and expanded large stationary sources of greenhouse gases, such as power plants, refineries and cement plants. Such large industrial facilities emit about 70 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution from stationary sources.

McCarthy said it's unlikely businesses will use carbon capture and storage, because the technology is still in the early demonstration stages and it's expensive. "Over time, we expect that situation to change," she said.

Explore further: Researchers are devising new methods to more accurately estimate long-term flood risk across Australia

More information: (c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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User comments : 10

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3432682
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 11, 2010
Congress takes first step to cut EPA emissions of job-killing regulations...
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
This article makes the new EPA measure seem small, but it is deceptively huge. For example, here in South Carolina, where SCE&G is attempting to build three new nuclear reactors (the first ones in about 40 years in the US), construction will be halted. Under the new EPA permit system, they'll have to spend millions to upgrade existing coal and gas power plants before they can move forward with the Nuclear plant expansions. So, any power company with old plants (all of them) that are currently grandfathered, will now be forced to spend huge amounts of money on those old dinosaur plants or close them down BEFORE they can move forward on building nuclear, solar, biofuel or other clean plants. It's a huge step for the EPA and it's going to have a bigger effect on your electric bill than you realize. It takes time for power companies to request and be granted rate increases, so it won't happen right away, but expect power bills to sharply increase before next Summer.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
Not to mention the re-design of those nuclear plants, and subsequent re-approval of those designs, to meet the new standards, causing further delays and cost over-runs to build those nuclear plants. The ripple effect of what seems like a small change here is much larger than the EPA wants you to believe. I'm not surprised the power companies are complaining. If anyone thinks the power companies are making huge profits, then you need to look again. This kind of thing really hurts the small co-op's too, which I'm quite sure is part of the EPA plan. Those small not-for-profit co-op's don't have the funding to upgrade their old facilities, so they'll just die without the ability to expand. I suppose that's good, because it will allow someone else to come in and offer the same service at twice the price. I'm sure the cost of irrigation won't affect the price of food or anything, so don't worry about it.

If this is just the first step, then we're in big trouble.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
For example, here in South Carolina, where SCE&G is attempting to build three new nuclear reactors (the first ones in about 40 years in the US), construction will be halted. Under the new EPA permit system, they'll have to spend millions to upgrade existing coal and gas power plants before they can move forward with the Nuclear plant expansions.
Can you give me a link to a source for this? This seems entirely contrary to the EPA ruling and I jsut want to make sure there isn't something else at play here. Opening 3 new nuke plants and closing coal and oil plants would be exactly what the EPA would be driving to. One wonders why this regulation would make the situation worse rather than better.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
I'm still wading through the muck of the EPA guidelines, but here's a link to the PDF file:

http://www.eenews...w_04.pdf

I'm looking at section 2 specifically. Note in the first paragraph of section 2 that it includes environmental impact, soil, water, etc, so once a facility is 'chosen' to be subject to the permit requirements, a whole slew of requirements become active before construction can procede on new expansion or construction.

I'll post again after I have spent more time understanding the EPA Pdf document. There are parts that I'm going to need to cross-reference with the clean air act and other EPA documents that are referenced in this document. (of course they don't have links to any of those references in the document itself. I think these things are writting to deliberately make it difficult to understand them. :)
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
Keep in mind that this whole thing is designed by Obama to deliberately fail. The long term goal isn't for these regulations to really stick. The goal is to make life so painful under the EPA rules, that people will go running back to the table to talk about cap and trade again. It's a last ghasp effort to bully everyone into accepting Obama's get rich quick scheme. So, when you look at it and say to yourself "that doesn't make any sense", it's not supposed to. For instance, the damage this thing does to bio-mass energy and nuclear probably seems stupid, and it is. It's supposed to be. This is the follow through of Obama's threat last Spring, that if Congress didn't pass cap and trade, he would use the EPA. It was supposed to scare certain people into playing ball with him. The fact that Massachussets doesn't like this new EPA rule should tell you something.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
Going to take me a bit to review this. I'll get back to you on it at some point in time.

However, reading so far it appears that the nuclear plants are exempt.

PSD only applies to - carbon dioxide (CO2)
- nitrous oxide (N2O)
- methane (CH4)
- hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
- sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
Okay, I guess it depends on who they consider to be the permit applicant. If the applicant is only the site where they are building the reactor, then fine, but it looks like they have the ability to expand the scope to the entire electrical producer rather than just one of their sites. I don't see anything limiting them from defining the scope any way they like.

On page I-3 it also says that waste water and treatment may fall into the permit requirements, but it's not specific.

I'm still looking at it myself. You should jump down to the examples in the apendix if you haven't already. Those are very informative, but grossly oversimplified. This permit system turns the installation of a boiler into an act of congress (the first example).
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 13, 2010
Yeah, I have a problem with how broad this document is.

I don't think they have grounds to deny the nuclear plants, but if you had some anti-nuke activist making the calls, this document is broad enough to give them reason to challenge the permit.

I do not like this.
Justsayin
1 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2010
Is this article really saying that regulations will be coming from the EPA internally and independently (measure approved by the Supreme Court) and not from regulations handed down from the bureaucrats in Washington D.C.? If you can't pass cap and trade legislatively then you can always choose the back door. May God help America.