EPA Gets Tough with Polluters

This week, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency‘s greenhouse gas regulations will begin taking effect—and big polluters aren‘t happy. These regulations, in keeping with the Clean Air Act, aim to require major polluters—particularly fossil fuel power plants and oil refineries—to get permits for emitting greenhouse gases. It would also compel these major emitters to seek out cleaner technologies to make reductions. These reductions will happen on a case-by-case basis, instead of under a one-size-fits-all rule. And that has coal plant operators and other fossil fuel representatives upset. “It slows everybody down because nobody knows what the rules are going to be,” Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed EPA‘s air pollution office under President Bush, told National Public Radio.

The fight has grown particularly fierce in Texas where Republican Gov. Rick Perry has accused the Obama administration of interfering with state‘s rights. The state has refused to abide by the EPA‘s emissions regulations. So this January, the EPA has sidestepped state officials, issuing greenhouse gas permits directly to Texas industries. Texas is one of a dozen states that have filed lawsuits to challenge the greenhouse gas regulations—others are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming—but it‘s the only state to not even attempt to comply in the meantime. According to one article in the Shreveport Times: “About 200 Texas facilities continue to operate with air and water permits that are either out of date or have been disapproved by the EPA. The agency believes they are releasing a variety of metals and chemicals into the air and water that would, under the new regulations, no longer be permitted.” Flexible permits in Texas allow industries to release toxins and volatile organic compounds at double the rate of national standards.

For environmental groups, a tougher EPA is a welcome change. Attorney Cale Jaffe from the Southern Environmental Law Center told NPR: “Finally we‘ve got the rules that are beginning to require power companies to account for their global warming pollution. That‘s a historic turn of events.” And the regulations that took effect on January 2nd apply to new permits and expansions for power plants. The EPA announced in late December that it‘s planning to set standards for carbon dioxide emissions and pollution for all power plants and refineries this year, a fight that will bring more heated battles from incoming Congress members representing coal-mining states.

SOURCES: National Public Radio; Reuters; Shreveport Times.