WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson vowed that the United States would enter a “new world of carbon dioxide control” with planned regulations for power plants, industrial facilities, refiners and vehicles.
During her confirmation hearing in January, 2009, Jackson laid out an ambitious EPA agenda, using the Clean Air Act to begin regulating U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But in the last two years, regional politics and intense opposition from Congressional Republicans and industry groups hampered what Jackson promised would be an “extraordinary burst of activity” on climate change and environmental regulation.
One industry lobbyist labeled her efforts “the most expensive and controversial rules in the agency’s history,” while many environmental groups complained the measures were not strong enough.
The following is a record of successes and setbacks in Jackson’s efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and hazardous air pollutants from large stationary sources and cars.
Jackson said her greatest accomplishment was declaring that carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, “endangers” public health - a scientific finding that gave EPA the authority to regulate CO2 emissions from mobile and stationary sources.
In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions but must first determine whether carbon dioxide presents a threat to the public.
Some states and several industry group mounted a legal challenge, but the EPA won a victory in June 2012 when a U.S. appeals court ruled that the “endangerment finding” was “neither arbitrary nor capricious.”
President Obama cited new EPA standards for vehicle emissions as the linchpin of his administration’s attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. automakers, unlike owners of power plants and industrial facilities, cooperated with the EPA as it crafted fuel-efficiency standards.
The rule required U.S. vehicles with model years 2017 to 2025 to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, curbing as much carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025 as the U.S. emitted in 2010.
The standards were negotiated between California, the state that initially set the standards, the big three U.S. automakers, the White House and the United Autoworkers Union.
In March, 2012, the EPA proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, rules that would effectively stop the construction of any new coal-fired power plant.
While the proposal did not dictate which fuels a plant can burn, it required new coal plants to capture and store emissions underground using costly technology. New coal-fired plants would have to halve carbon dioxide emissions to match those of gas-fueled plants.
Industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce complained that the rules would kill jobs in the coal industry. But some energy analysts noted that new coal-fired plants were not economical anyway, due to an abundance of cheap U.S. natural gas due to a boom in domestic production.
In 2011 the EPA proposed sweeping regulations to curb mercury emissions and particulate matter from coal- and oil-fired plants, which some estimates showed would affect around 1,100 coal-fired units and 200 oil-fired units.
The agency estimated that the rules would save thousands of lives and result in billions of dollars in health benefits. But one industry lawyer complained that the rule was the EPA’s most expensive air pollution rule to date. It has been challenged in courts but several legal experts expect it to be upheld.
In August, a U.S. appeals court struck down strict EPA limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, pollutants that cross state lines and cause acid rain and smog.
Power groups had argued they could not meet the timeframe on the rule or afford to install costly new equipment. EPA said the rule would improve health for more than 240 million people.
The court sent the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule back for revision, telling the agency to administer its existing Clean Air Interstate Rule - the Bush-era regulation that it was updating - in the interim. The EPA said it will revise the rule.
While the courts dealt a blow to the EPA in the cross-state air pollution ruling, President Obama surprised the EPA by rejecting a rule that would have reduced smog-causing chemicals.
The EPA had proposed lowering Bush-era ozone standard of 75 parts per billion to make it more stringent, but Obama rejected the rule, saying it was too much of a burden on business.
The new EPA administrator will have to revise the ozone standard in 2013.
Environmentalists were disappointed when the EPA rolled out greenhouse gas regulations for new power plants but did not address the larger problem of emissions from existing plants.
Jackson, facing industry opposition, said repeatedly that the EPA has no plans to regulate carbon from older plants, although it is legally obligated to do so under the act.
Existing power plants account from one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and are what an environmental group called “the largest remaining driver of climate change that needs to be controlled.”
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio