The Right Place for EPA to Start

EPA has proposed what many are calling the Agency’s first major step down the road to regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources. The newly proposed “tailoring” rule applies to requirements for major new or expanded sources and to permits for stationary sources, but does so in a carefully targeted manner.  It’s the right place for EPA to start.

It’s critical to understand both what the proposal does and doesn’t do, and why EPA needed to begin here.

Contrary to some press accounts, the proposed rule does not impose new control requirements on all large stationary sources.  Best available control technologies would be required only of new stationary sources that emit over 25,000 tons per year or major modifications to existing sources that increase emissions by 10,000-25,000 tons per year – a range EPA sought comment on. If yours is not one of the estimated 400 major new or modified facilities each year, you do not face any (new or old) control requirements limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal also requires that EPA (and states) include greenhouse gas emissions in the permits of roughly 14,000 facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of these pollutants. These permits do not impose any new controls on any source; they simply incorporate into a permit EPA’s new mandatory reporting requirements.    

EPA is acting now because both of these requirements would be automatically triggered when EPA goes final with its light duty vehicle rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions in March of 2010. The Clean Air Act contains source size thresholds that are set at 100-250 tons per year which, if unchanged, would have imposed potentially costly new requirements on tens of thousands of small sources. 

What can we learn from EPA’s first small steps forward in regulating stationary sources under the Clean Air Act? We can count on EPA to implement the Clean Air Act as reasonably as possible, though the further down this path it goes the greater the challenges (both legal and economic) the Agency will face. Above all, EPA’s action underscores the opportunity costs of Congress’s inability to put in place a comprehensive, cost-effective approach to addressing our nation’s energy and climate challenges.  While EPA’s steps are in the right direction, the better path forward awaits action by Congress.  

Steve Seidel is Vice President, Policy Analysis