US EPA says to ease carbon rules on small business

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will give small businesses a break on coming carbon dioxide emissions rules but big emitters like coal-fired power plants will face a crack-down, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama has pushed the EPA to begin regulating gases blamed for warming the planet, in part to force polluters to support the climate change bill. The legislation is his preferred method of climate control, but it is stalled in the Senate.

The EPA said late last year it would require polluters that emit more than 25,000 tons a year of greenhouse gases to obtain permits demonstrating they were using the best available technology to reduce emissions.

Jackson raised that threshold on Wednesday, saying the regulations would exempt factories emitting under 75,000 tons of carbon annually in 2011 and 2012.

“If you’re smaller than 75,000 tons, you will not need a permit for the next two years,” Jackson told reporters after a Senate hearing.

The 75,000-ton threshold would exempt sources like hospitals, big buildings, and schools, but not heavy industry like coal-burning power plants, which emit 1 million tons a year or more of carbon dioxide, said Frank Maisano, an energy company advocate at Bracewell and Giuliani.

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Republicans and some Democrats in Congress oppose EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, and some hope to block it.

Senator John Rockefeller, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday he is preparing legislation giving the EPA a two-year time out on regulation of stationary sources of the pollution.

The White House has said it opposes such a move. It is working with lawmakers to pass the climate bill that would help reduce U.S. emissions, the highest in the developed world.

The bill has had trouble getting off the ground in the Senate, due to opposition from lawmakers representing coal and oil states. Since Democrats lost their Senate supermajority after an election in Massachusetts, prospects have worsened. A Reuters poll found key Senators doubted a climate bill could pass in this election year.

EPA’s Jackson said the agency is still weighing the threshold for regulating long-term carbon emissions from smaller factories.

In February, Jackson wrote a letter to Democratic senators from coal-producing states, saying the EPA would not put regulations on smaller plants before 2016.

The definition of “smaller” plants had been ambiguous, leaving even tiny businesses wondering if their emissions would eventually be regulated. But on Wednesday Jackson said such a long-term threshold would be higher than 25,000 tons per year.

“It’s safe to say we’re looking at a number like 50,000, rather than 25,000,” Jackson said.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Ayesha Rascoe and Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio