EPA finalizing emissions rule that would lessen impact on small businesses

By Juliet Eilperin
Friday, May 14, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is finalizing a rule aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from the largest emitters in the United States, a proposal that would soften the regulation's impact on small businesses but is sure to face a court challenge.

The decision is significant because it shows the Obama administration's determination to move ahead with regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, even as the prospects of enacting climate legislation this year appear uncertain.

The new rule would cover 67 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and oil refineries, the EPA estimates, and in its first year would translate into 900 permits for both new sources and modifications to existing sources of global warming pollution. Those emitters would have to prove they are using the best technology to minimize their greenhouse gas output.

Under the Clean Air Act, facilities emitting 100 to 250 tons of a pollutant each year must apply for a federal permit. But since that would encompass emitters as small as a restaurant or a large apartment building, the new rules would initially raise the threshold to 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for any new facility. Facilities undergoing modification that would increase emissions by 75,000 tons would also need a permit.

"After extensive study, debate and hundreds of thousands of public comments, EPA has set common-sense thresholds for greenhouse gases that will spark clean technology innovation and protect small businesses and farms," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

In addition to carbon dioxide, emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride would count toward a facility's greenhouse gas emissions.

Frank O'Donnell of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch said the announcement's timing "does raise one eyebrow: Surely this isn't designed to nudge some EPA-hating senators to embrace the Senate legislation?"

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) unveiled their compromise climate and energy bill Wednesday, saying colleagues should consider backing legislation rather than allowing the EPA to regulate emissions.


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