EPA to exempt small business from greenhouse rule

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Obama administration moved on Wednesday to exempt small businesses from new industrial smokestack controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its proposed greenhouse rule would require only large industrial facilities to install the most up-to-date emissions control equipment and energy-efficiency measures when they are built or modified.

The regulations would apply to power plants, refineries and factories that emit at least 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Businesses such as farms, restaurants and other smaller facilities would be excluded, the EPA said.

While the EPA has moved in recent months to curb greenhouse pollutants from automobiles, which account for about 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, the announcement on Wednesday revealed how far the Obama administration wants to go in addressing industrial smokestacks, or “stationary sources.”

Power plants, refineries and large factories account for more than half the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and the EPA said its proposal would encompass nearly 70 percent of U.S. stationary sources of greenhouse pollutants.

The new rules would take effect next spring, when the EPA is due to issue greenhouse gas regulations for cars and trucks in final form under the Clean Air Act.

Absent EPA action to exempt small companies, new greenhouse permits for stationary sources would automatically be required for new industrial facilities of all sizes once Clean Air Act regulations for those pollutants are extended to cars.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have opposed the imposition of such Clean Air Act regulations for smokestack emissions, saying they would be too onerous for many small companies already struggling through the economic slump.

“By using the power and authority of the Clean Air Act, we can begin reducing emissions from the nation’s largest greenhouse gas-emitting facilities without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the vast majority of our economy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement released before a speech she was to deliver at a global climate summit in Los Angeles.

The EPA estimates that 400 newly built or expanded industrial plants would be subject to the proposed greenhouse rules, and that about 14,000 facilities would ultimately have to obtain operating permits limiting greenhouse emissions.

David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group said his organization applauded the EPA move.

The EPA proposal was announced as Democrats in Capitol Hill unveiled a Senate bill aimed at reducing global warming pollutants, including provisions to place caps on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from automotive and stationary sources.

Editing by Peter Cooney