EPA moves responsibly and lawfully to regulate greenhouse gases

The EPA announced late Thursday that it will regulate greenhouse gases from fossil fuel power plant and refineries.

Here are some excerpts from the announcement:

EPA to Set Modest Pace for Greenhouse Gas Standards / Agency stresses flexibility and public input in developing cost-effective and protective GHG standards for largest emitters

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its plan for establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution standards under the Clean Air Act in 2011. The agency looked at a number of sectors and is moving forward on GHG standards for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries—two of the largest industrial sources, representing nearly 40 percent of the GHG pollution in the United States. The schedule issued in today’s agreements provides a clear path forward for these sectors and is part of EPA’s common-sense approach to addressing GHGs from the largest industrial pollution sources.


The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set industry-specific standards for new sources that emit significant quantities of harmful pollutants. These standards, called New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), set the level of pollution new facilities may emit and address air pollution from existing facilities. The Act allows flexible and innovative approaches that take into account cost, health and environmental impacts, and energy requirements. EPA must also periodically update these standards to reflect improvements in control technologies.

The AP story by Merrill Hartson, at least as it showed up on Yahoo News, was headlined, “EPA moving unilaterally to limit greenhouse gases.” The lede said:

WASHINGTON – Stymied in Congress, the Obama administration is moving unilaterally to clamp down on power plant and oil refinery greenhouse emissions, announcing plans for developing new standards over the next year.

Let’s take a look at the facts here, OK? Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, giving the EPA the authority to regulate air pollutants. (It’s been amended since then, most notably in 1990.)

As the scientific evidence mounted that greenhouse gases caused climate change, the Bush Administration dragged its feet on regulating industries that produce GHGs. Several states, led by Massachusetts, sued the EPA. In response, Bush’s EPA claimed that 1) it didn’t have the authority to regulate GHGs, and 2) even if it did, it would conflict with other policies and agencies. In April 2007, the Supreme Court ruled (summary, full decision) that the EPA most certainly did have the authority to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act and if they are dangerous to human health, the EPA must regulate them.

So EPA went back to work and in December 2007 found that GHGs are dangerous to human health; they could hardly do otherwise. They sent the e-mail over to the White House, where OMB staff just didn’t open it! With similar shenanigans, the Bush administration ran out the clock until Jan. 20, 2009.

Now that we have an administration committed to acting legally and with scientific evidence, the EPA has moved slowly but surely toward regulating GHGs. They have studied the science and determined that there is a danger and now they are making appropriate regulations. This is how it’s supposed to work under our system. There is nothing unilateral about it, the AP’s hysterics notwithstanding.

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