Yet, despite the wonderful benefits of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, the EPA is moving under the foolhardy Obama's pressure to regulate green house gas (GHG) emissions from vehicles under the Clean Air Act by calling them pollutants. The finding that these so-called GHGs are pollutants will result in regulations in a few weeks for tailpipe emissions. The GHG classification as pollutants will require the regulation of stationary emitters, such as coal-fired power plants, gas-fired power plants, oil refineries, and manufacturing facilities. But, the Clean Air Act establishes the quantity of pollutants to be regulated as from 100 to 250 tons per year, depending on how bad the effects of the pollutant. The GHGs to be regulated now are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. If the EPA were to regulate all sites producing total emissions of the sum of these gases of 100 to 250 tons per year, then it has been estimated that the EPA would have to regulate 90% of the American economy. This is not politically feasible, so they are proposing to make the regulation limit 25,000 tons even though there is no provision for such a limit in the Clean Air Act. In other words, this limit actually violates the Clean Air Act.
Facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons per year of the GHGs are responsible for 70% of the GHG emissions, the greatest by far of which is the very wonderful CO2. A coal-fired power plant commonly emits millions of tons of CO2 per year. 250 tons of CO2 would be emitted by a mere 131 railroad cars of coal, or enough for the energy use of 2,200 homes in a year. Under the rule proposed on Wednesday, the EPA will be empowered to monitor 14,000 power plants, oil refineries, and large manufacturing and mining operations.
But, there is an interesting wrinkle here. The EPA has decided to use a provision of the Clean Air Act called the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD), which is a permitting program. Already existing facilities will not be prevented from operating and neither will new ones, provided that new or modernized facilities can get a permit to operate from their respective state agencies. Old facilities, which are often the larger emitters due to less advanced technology use, are grandfathered in. These agencies will have to require them to use the best available control technology, which will be determined on a case by case basis. The PSD provision was set up to protect wilderness areas, national monuments, and seashores. The permitting process now commonly takes 12 to 18 months on this limited basis. These state agencies will have to decide on huge additional numbers of permit cases, which will cause much longer delays.
The EPA will have to specify source categories, develop guidance to help the state agencies understand the GHG emissions for the chosen source types, develop methods to measure and monitor emissions, and develop and understand methods to control CO2 emissions. Once an emission source is classified as a major source of one pollutant, the Clean Air Act provides for a much tighter scrutiny of all emissions from the source.
Now, you may wonder why the Obama administration is choosing this route into a deep and tortuous quagmire to address a non-problem, at least with respect to CO2 emissions. There seem to be many reasons:
- Obama wants to go to the Copenhagen for the U.N. talks on CO2 emissions controls and look like a world leader on the issue.
- The Senate bill introduced by Senators Kerry and Boxer on 30 September may not be passed.
- The EPA regulation of CO2 as a pollutant, may force companies to line up behind a carbon cap and trade bill as the lesser evil.
- The EPA bureaucracy will grow 100-fold to help the many state agencies perform their jobs on a case by case basis.
- The state agencies will grow by a factor of 10 and provide local politicians with huge numbers of new patronage jobs.
- The regulated facilities will have to spend huge sums on technologies chosen as winners by the many different state agencies, creating many companies dependent for their business upon these state agencies.
- The regulated facilities will have to hire many, many environmental "experts", most of whom are Democrat allies.
- The regulated facilities will hire flocks and flocks of trial lawyers and other lawyers, most of whom are Democrats.
- The permitting process will be very expensive and can be delayed almost indefinitely, creating such uncertainty that no company can attempt it without greasing some politician's and many lobbyist's hands first.