Just in Case You Thought EPA Could Go On Its Merry Way in the Absence of Climate Legislation

Earlier this week, I posted about the dire prospects for climate change legislation following the fall elections. The alternative to legislation has always been regulation under existing Clean Air Act authority, so it’s appropriate as a follow-up to briefly examine the pressures on EPA as it moves forward with its stationary source GHG regulations. Two headlines from the trade press today brought home just what a tightrope EPA is walking.

The first headline, from the Daily Environment Report, was to the effect that a “Ban on New Source Construction [Is] Possible In States Without Greenhouse Gas Permitting.” Specifically, Raj Rao, of EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, said states that have not taken steps to implement permitting requirements by Jan. 2 could face the construction ban.

The second headline might be described as a corollary of the first. Today’s GreenWire notes that “New rules spark bipartisan fury in midterm elections.” Well, duh. Is it any surprise that in the face of continuing unemployment near 10%, regulations that even EPA acknowledges might result in construction bans in some states would be a topic of debate in congressional elections? In fact, the GreenWire piece was not even primarily about the GHG regulations and made no mention of the potential construction ban. It was largely about other EPA rules, such as the boiler MACT rule.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for EPA on this one. As I’ve noted previously, to a certain extent, EPA is just doing its job. On GHGs, it really has no choice but to regulate. While I have doubts about the legality of the Tailoring Rule, the alternative is only more onerous. The boiler MACT rule is another matter – and is complicated enough to warrant several posts of its own. However, EPA’s options are limited given the stringent provisions Congress itself wrote – and a Republican President signed into law. On conventional pollutants, the science is driving EPA towards lower and lower NAAQS, and more stringent rules on emitters follow like night follows the day.

Just so my friends in the regulated community don’t think I’ve gone soft, I will point out that it is at the least disingenuous for Administrator Lisa Jackson to say, as she was quoted in GreenWire, that:

The Clean Air Act does not place our need to increase employment in conflict with our needs to protect public health.

Somehow, that message has never gotten to the EPA and DOJ lawyers briefing appeals of EPA regulations, where those opposing the regulations say that they are uneconomic, while EPA’s invariable rejoinder is that the Clean Air Act doesn’t allow for the consideration of the cost of regulations in deciding how stringently to regulate.

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