December 27, 2010 – The Environmental Protection Agency will begin regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in January, with the implementation of new permitting rules. Large facilities that must obtain permits for other pollutants will be required to include greenhouse gases in their permit, if they increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tons per year. (That’s confusing – does that mean that if they are found to emit 75,000 tons to begin with, they need the permit? Or does it mean the EPA will wait a year to see if they’ve added 75,000 tons to their baseline emissions?) The GHG to be regulated are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Readers will recall that methane emissions from sources in nature have been on the increase due to global warming.
In addition, the EPA will propose industry-specific GHG standards no later than December 2011. The industries most affected will be fossil-fuel power plants and petroleum refineries. These two industries combined account for nearly 40 percent of GHG emissions in the United States. The proposed standards will require polluters to employ cost-effective, existing technologies in order to reduce emissions. Some of the reporting requirements will be delayed until as late as 2014, due to industry concerns regarding confidentiality.
Texas, along with several other states, is fighting the new regulations in court. State officials, unable to perceive the danger to human and environmental health, fear damage to their states’ economies. Because of Texas’ stated unwillingness to comply with the new regulations, the EPA has announced it will take over the granting of permits for new power plants and refineries in Texas. Texas produces more carbon dioxide than any other state because it uses more coal than any other state, with scores of coal-fired power plants, refineries, and factories. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, disputes the basic science of global warming, believing – or so he says – that the new regulations are economically and unnecessarily burdensome.
Ten new coal-fired power plants are in the planning stages in Texas. The nineteen already in operation are mostly situated in East Texas. Some of the new plants propose to store their emissions underground. (I don’t know to what degree this type of sequestration has been tested.) Six state permits have been granted, some over the objections of local residents and/or judges. Both environmental and civic groups have made known their opposition to Texas obstinacy where environmental regulation is concerned. Because the EPA is expected to issue further regulations for ozone, at least four metropolitan areas in the state will be newly in violation of EPA standards.
Over time, Texas will be brought to heel. The new regulations are terribly important and, once enforced, could lead to an actual reduction in GHG emissions. The amount of time the EPA will have to spend in court in order to see implementation through must seem wearisome to people who are only trying to do their jobs. In protecting the environment, the EPA protects all of us. The greenhouse gases emitted by Texas wind up in many places, some far away; it all depends upon which way the wind is blowing. When the EPA acts, it protects not just Americans, but people who live in far-away places, as well. As we begin the new year, and I take the time to be grateful for all my blessings, I shall remember to be grateful for the EPA.