EPA Announces Landmark Greenhouse Gas Regulations Plan For Nation's Biggest Polluters

The Obama administration announced landmark plans Thursday to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Unites States. A press release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that new standards granted under the Clean Air Act will be implemented in 2012. The EPA also announced that it is taking unprecedented action to issue air permits to industries in Texas, due to the state's non-compliance with new regulations that are set to begin on January 2.

The EPA's new plan will establish standards specifically for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries, both of which combine to represent roughly 40 percent of GHG pollution in the United States.

From the EPA's press release:

"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change," Administrator Lisa Jackson said. "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."

The EPA has recently undergone mounting pressure from lawsuits filed against them by several states, local governments and environmental organizations over their failure to update the pollution standards.

The agency plans on using a "common sense" approach, and assures that it will provide a clear path for the industries. As per Thursday's announcement, the EPA will propose standards for power plants in July 2011 and refineries in December 2011. It will issue final standards in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively. This schedule will allow the agency to host listening sessions with the business community, states, and other stakeholders in the issue in early 2011, long before their policy-making begins. They hope that the feedback they receive at this time will lead to smart, cost-effective, and protective standards.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set industry-specific standards for every new source that emits significant amounts of harmful pollutants. These standards are referred to as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), They set the levels of pollution that new facilities are allowed to emit, and they also address the air pollution that is already being emitted from existing facilities. They are required to take into account cost, health, environmental impacts, and energy requirements. The EPA must also periodically update the standards they create in order to reflect any improvements in technology.

The new initiative will likely face antagonists, such as lawmakers of the Republican Party, who will assume leadership of the House of Representatives next month. The Republican Party caused the death of a former proposed cap-and-trade program bill due to their arguments that it would be too costly and some's skepticism about the scientific evidence behind climate change.

Perhaps another opponent will be oil-producing Texas, which emits many more GHG than any other state. The EPA announced Thursday that it will be be taking unprecedented action to directly issue greenhouse gas permits to industries in Texas, due to the state's unwillingness to comply with new greenhouse gas regulations that go into effect January 2, the AP reports.

Despite possible opponents, senior EPA official Gina McCarthy remains hopeful about the new plan. She believes the move will "not only sustain jobs in the U.S. but grow jobs."

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