EPA Implements New Climate Change Regulations

Did you notice the air was a little fresher yesterday? It's because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started the slow process of regulating greenhouse gases in an effort to address climate change.

Earlier this year, President Obama said he would have the EPA regulate greenhouse gases if Congress failed to pass climate legislation, and that’s exactly what’s happening. The EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases using the Clean Air Act based on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

The new regulations only affect power plants and fossil fuel refineries being built or modified whose emissions pass a certain threshold. Affected facilities will have to obtain permits from the EPA and state agencies that monitor air quality.

The EPA will also propose standards for regulations of older power plants in July 2011 for older refineries in December 2011. The final standards will be issued in 2012.

Down the road, smaller facilities will also have to obtain permits. However, the EPA plans to complete a five-year study of how to best regulate their emissions before any decisions are made. The earliest smaller emitters will face a national mandate is 2016. By that point, a number of them will already be reducing emissions as part of regional climate change initiatives.

So how many facilities will be affected by the new regulations? In the next two years, the EPA estimates approximately 400 facilities will have to apply for permits.

Despite these modest plans and numbers, you’d think the sky was falling based on what opponents are saying. In the Wall Street Journal, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) writes the EPA’s efforts are part of a plot to possibly “regulate emissions by hospitals, small businesses, schools, churches and perhaps even single-family homes.” He also writes that this move “will kill millions of jobs.”

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry flat out refused to comply with the EPA. He even filed two lawsuits against the agency. Both suits were tossed out and the EPA has taken over the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to set up permitting a system. The Texas Attorney General is of course challenging this move.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising where the outcry is coming from. Upton hails from Michigan, where automobile manufacturers hold big sway. Perry’s state is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the country. Both are also climate change deniers who receive broad support from the oil and gas industry.

Their arguments aren’t grounded in fact, however. The evidence for climate change is almost unequivocal. And the costs of mitigating it aren’t nearly as bad as they’re played up to be. Estimates of the Senate climate change bill that died showed implementation would cost a whopping 40 cents a day per person. At the high end. And that’s without taking the benefits reaped from limiting emissions into account.

Regulating other pollutants under the Clean Air Act has had a return on investment of four to one. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions in a fair and orderly manner could provide benefits not just in the US but around the globe.

Photo credit: Andy Hares