EPA's Planned Pollution Controls on Power Plants and Refineries Called 'Costly and Unworkable'

December 27, 2010 - 1:40 PM

gas prices

In this May 26, 2010 file photo, Kevin Stearns of Oxford, Mass., fills up his pick up truck at a gas station in Milford, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, file)

(CNSNews.com) - In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will decide which pollution-reduction technologies work best for power plants and refineries. It plans to issue regulations over the next two years requiring power plants and refineries to implement those pollution-reduction technologies.

The  American Petroleum Institute criticized the EPA's action as "unprecedented and coercive."

The EPA acknowledged that it does not know how much greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced through its new regulatory plan. 

“We’re talking here about a sector standard for greenhouse gases,” said Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, in a Dec. 23 conference call with reporters.

“It’s essentially looking at what EPA believes to be smart, cost-effective technology solutions that will not just make new facilities come into the system cleaner, but will actually achieve overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from both the power plants as well as refineries.”

“We’re really early stage, I can’t tell you what types of reductions we hope to achieve,” said McCarthy. “That’s all going to be driven by the technologies that come to our attention through the public comment period, through these early listening sessions, and it’s about going through a normal rule-making process where we make sure that we listen closely and we establish a clear and deliberative pass forward.”

McCarthy said this is not a cap-and-trade program. "It's not in any way trying to get into the area in which Congress will be establishing law at some point in the future, we hope."

The EPA will issue regulations for fossil fuel power plants in July 2011 and final regulations are expected to be set by May 2012. For refineries, the regulations will start in December 2011 and then final regulations are expected to be in place by November 2012.

The standards for reducing emissions will apply to new and existing power plants and refineries that, according to McCarthy, account for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. These man-made gaseous emissions allegedly contribute to global warming.

“When we set these standards the agency has to take into account cost, energy requirements, health and environmental impacts, and generally the agency does not mandate any particular technology through these standard-setting processes,” said McCarthy.

“We set the standards and the industries themselves figure out the most cost-effective way to achieve those standards,” she said.

“We have a lot of experience working with utilities as well as refineries, understanding the technologies that might be available to them for reductions,” said McCarthy.

The states also will play a significant role in setting the standards for the plants and refineries.

“For existing sources, the states play a key role, [and] while EPA will establish a rule for new and modified facilities, it will also establish emission guidelines that states will then take a look at,” said the EPA official.

“They develop their own state implementation plans that take a look at their own facilities,” she said. “They are always based on demonstrated controls, the type of pollution reductions that can be achieved cost-effectively and states have flexibility to establish their own timelines which can go up to three years, beyond the timeline when those states’ implementation plans have been approved by EPA.”

Lisa Jackson, EPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (AP Photo)

McCarthy indicated that the EPA’s new emissions regulations will create jobs by requiring the plants and refineries to invest in the new technologies.

“Both of those sectors will be regulated in the coming year to look at reductions in their toxic emissions and their criteria pollutants as part of the standard way in which the Clean Air Act tries to continue to acknowledge the introduction of new technologies and opportunities for cost-effective reductions,” said McCarthy. “So both of these sectors will be asked to make investments in their facilities, which we believe will not only sustain jobs in the U.S., but actually grow jobs in the U.S.”

The upcoming regulations are described by the EPA as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).

“Let me emphasize that New Source Performance Standards are in the Clean Air Act, one of the most flexible and commonsense approaches that we can take to reduce pollution in sectors where we have determined that pollution reductions are necessary to ensure public health protection as well as protection of welfare,” said McCarthy.

“It allows us to look at sources that are the largest, sources that are most important and to focus on those,” she said. “It allows us to look at the most cost-effective pollution controls so that we can make sure -- as in utilities and refineries -- that we are focusing on where we can make the most significant reductions in the most cost-effective way.”

According to the EPA, "The NSPS are developed and implemented by EPA and are delegated to the states. However, even when delegated to the states, EPA retains authority to implement and enforce the NSPS."

oil drilling platform

A natural gas platform off the coast of Fort Morgan, Ala. (AP File Photo/Rob Carr)

In a statement on Dec. 23, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents more than 450 oil and natural gas companies, said, “EPA is cramming too much in too short of a time. The administration’s focus should be job creation and economic recovery, not unnecessary and burdensome regulations that will threaten jobs and create a drag on business efforts to invest, expand and put people back to work."

“API hopes that EPA will reconsider its costly and unworkable greenhouse gas regulations," said the institute. "The Clean Air Act was never intended to be used to regulate stationary source greenhouse gas emissions, and elected members of Congress should chart U.S. climate change policy.”

After its December 2009 endangerment finding that greenhouse gases apparently harm human health and welfare, the EPA received authority to regulate those gases under the Clean Air Act.

In that finding, the EPA administrator said that “the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.”

The gases in question are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).