The EPA has announced two timelines for the regulation of greenhouse gases at utilities and refineries. The timelines will not set final rules for regulation until May 2012 for power plants, and November 2012 for refineries, delaying the mandated reduction of greenhouse gases for up to two years.

These two stationary sources – power plants and refineries – represent almost 40% of all greenhouse gas pollution in the United States. EPA stressed the “flexibility” of their “sensible” approach to regulating carbon pollution. With the absence of any legislative action on this issue, EPA’s regulatory approach really is the only game in town at the federal level – if they get to keep the responsibility. Jay Rockefeller has announced that he would lead an effort to block these regulations from occurring, and multiple new members of the Republican House want to abolish the EPA altogether.

Basically, the EPA had to set a schedule for updating their pollution standards for power plants and refineries, under a pending lawsuit from states and environmental organizations. Under the agreement, EPA will issue regulations on oil and coal-fired power plants by July 2011, with final rules by May 2012. The refinery regulations are even later: regulations by December 2011 and final rules by November 2012. These will be New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), setting the level of greenhouse gas emissions that these stationary sources can emit, as per the Clean Air Act. As a condition of permitting new and upgraded facilities, power plants and refineries will have to fall under the rule. The EPA will hold listening sessions with businesses, states and environmental advocates throughout 2011 as they finalize these rules.

EPA was granted the ability to regulate greenhouse gases after the Supreme Court ruling Massachusetts v. EPA, which agreed that GHGs were a pollutant. The EPA made an endangerment finding that GHGs harm the atmosphere, which force them to regulate under the Clean Air Act.

A few EPA regulations take effect on January 2, including a light duty vehicle rule.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement, “We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change. These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home.”

More information is available at the EPA’s site.

David Dayen

David Dayen