EPA phases in permits for greenhouse pollution

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:11pm EDT

Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson in Washington, December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson in Washington, December 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. power plants, industrial facilities and other stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming will not be required to have Clean Air Act permits until January 2011, giving industry more time to prepare for the regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday.

Agency head Lisa Jackson had signaled to Congress in February that the EPA would delay the permit requirements for this year, following concerns from U.S. lawmakers and state officials that more time was needed to ease burdens on industry and state environmental departments that would help enforce the regulations.

The EPA has said it will require big sources of greenhouse gas emissions, like power plants that run on coal or natural gas, and plants that make cement, steel and glass, to get permits proving they are using the best available technology to cut pollution.

"This is a common sense plan for phasing in the protections of the Clean Air Act. It gives large facilities the time they need to innovate, governments the time to prepare to cut greenhouse gases," Jackson said in a statement.

The EPA has not yet determined the amount of emissions that could be emitted by facilities before permits would be required. That so-called "tailoring" decision will come later this spring, the EPA said.

The EPA is also expected to issue final greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks this week.

The rules cutting emissions for stationary sources will not take effect until next January, which is the earliest that model year 2012 vehicles meeting the standards can be sold.

"This gives EPA a legal argument for why it's not immediately regulating stationary source emissions of greenhouse gases," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

The government must notify automakers by April 1 of the higher fuel efficiency for the 2012 model year vehicles that would be needed to cut emissions.

State environmental agencies welcomed the EPA decision to phase in the permits.

"Providing nine additional months for states to revise their clean air laws and regulations will enable these agencies to closely align their programs with the federal permitting rules," said William Becker, executive director, National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

Even with the delay, the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for big oil and gas companies, said it remained strongly opposed to regulating the emissions under the Clean Air Act.

"New regulations could prove to be intrusive, inefficient and excessively costly," said API spokeswoman Cathy Landry. "They could slow or stop permits needed to operate or expand businesses, which could chill job growth and delay expansion."

Lawmakers have criticized the EPA for trying to circumvent stalled Congressional deliberations over how to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has backed legislation to block EPA from moving ahead, said on Monday the agency continues to fail to provide information on the impact of its plans.

"The agency has refused to answer even the most basic questions about how many stationary sources will be regulated, when those sources will be regulated, what technologies will be mandated for compliance, and how much the regulations will cost," Murkowski said in a statement.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Jim Marshall)

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