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EPA lays out timetable for regulating greenhouse gas emissions

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; A05

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson laid out the timetable for regulating greenhouse gas emissions Monday, writing in a letter to lawmakers that she plans to start targeting large facilities such as power plants next year but won't target small emitters before 2016.

The letter makes it clear the Obama administration will move ahead with curbing global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act unless Congress moves to stop it. Jackson emphasized that the administration was required to act under a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said greenhouse gases from motor vehicles qualified as a pollutant under the 40-year-old air-quality law. Jackson was responding to a letter several coal-state senators sent her late Friday.

"I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse-gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation," she wrote.

Under the plan Jackson outlined, major emitters of carbon dioxide that are already seeking air-pollution permits would face regulation as early as the start of 2011. Medium-size emitters such as a large liquor distillery would not face restrictions until the second half of 2011 at the earliest, and smaller facilities such as dry cleaners and hospitals wouldn't come under the rules until 2016.

Jackson also wrote that an effort by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases would undo a deal struck last year between the auto industry, the administration and several states to limit greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks.

David Doniger, policy director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, said the letter shows that "carbon pollution can be controlled under the Clean Air Act in an effective and reasonable way."

"The EPA's reaffirming their intent is to carry out the existing law as defined under the Clean Air Act," he said. "That's their job, until and unless Congress passes a new law."

But Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani who represents several companies that would be regulated under Jackson's plan, said the administration does not need to act this quickly and could accomplish some of the same goals by simply tightening fuel-economy standards for automobiles.

"The way that she is proposing to do this will be litigated every step of the way," said Holmstead, who has advised Murkowski. "There's nothing that requires they regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars or trucks this year or next year, or the year after. They clearly have enormous discretion in figuring out the timing of any regulation."

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