UPDATE 3-US EPA delays carbon limits on oil refineries

Mon Nov 21, 2011 2:53pm EST

Related Topics

* Plan for refineries had been expected in mid-December
    * EPA delayed proposal of carbon rules on power plants
    * Global greenhouse gas concentrations at record levels

    By Timothy Gardner
    WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, struggling with an ambitious agenda on clean
air regulations, said it will delay proposing the country's
first-ever greenhouse gas limits on oil refineries.
    The delay is the latest setback for the agency's new raft
of clean air rules on everything from smog to mercury pollution
that are heavily opposed by industry.
    The EPA had been required to propose the rules on
refineries by mid-December, as part of a court settlement with
states and environmental groups.
    "EPA expects to need more time to complete work on
greenhouse gas pollution standards for oil refineries," a
spokeswoman for the agency said. The EPA is working with the
litigants to develop a new schedule to replace the current
mid-December date for a rule proposal, she added.
    The EPA made the comments after sources on both sides of
the issue told Reuters the agency would not make the deadline.
    The EPA has not told refiners exactly how it plans to cut
emissions, and that figuring out how to do so is taking
additional time, an oil industry source said.
    "How they are going to regulate greenhouse gases, they are
not sharing that with us," the source said.
    The petroleum industry says it is more difficult to cut
emissions from refineries than it is from power plants, the
EPA's top target of emissions. Many power utilities can switch
from coal, which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide when
burned, to burning cleaner natural gas. Refineries, however,
mostly already run on natural gas, they argue.
    Tough rules on greenhouse gas emissions could add expenses
to companies including Exxon Mobil Corp , Valero Energy
Corp , and ConocoPhillips .
    But refiners can easily cut emissions -- and save money, a
source with one of the litigants said. They can do so by
replacing inefficient boilers, installing better valves to
reduce leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and by
generating power with "waste heat" given off at the plants.
    The delays on greenhouse gas plans come after President
Barack Obama forced the EPA in September to delay new limits on
smog emissions until 2013, saying it was part of an effort to
reduce regulatory burdens on business.
    That decision came as Republicans in the House of
Representatives complained about EPA's raft of new clean air
regulations, saying they would kill jobs and add expenses to
businesses as they struggle with the weak economy.
    RECORD EMISSIONS
    The delay comes as time may be running out for world
efforts to control global warming emissions. Concentrations of
carbon dioxide and two other greenhouse gases reached record
levels last year and will linger in the atmosphere for decades,
even if the world halts output of the gases today, the World
Meteorological Organization, the U.N.'s weather agency, said on
Monday.
    The United States is sticking with Obama's pledge to cut
greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels
by 2020. But a comprehensive energy and climate bill failed in
the Senate last year, leaving emissions control largely to
agencies including the EPA and the Department of
Transportation. Last week those agencies proposed doubling auto
fuel efficiency.
    Meanwhile, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy sources last year
rose nearly 4 percent as factories ran harder and as consumers
boosted air conditioning during the hot summer.
    The EPA has also delayed proposing a plan on reducing
emissions from power plants, which are the country's single
largest source of emissions blamed for warming the planet.
    Those rules were initially delayed in June and again in
September. Last week Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, said
the plan on power plants would be rolled out early next year.
    It was unclear if the EPA would also miss the deadline to
finalize the rules on refineries by mid-November, 2012.
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