Timeline for Regulating Greenhouse Gases

By Libby Casey

The Environmental Protection Agency has laid out its timeline for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  E-P-A Administrator Lisa Jackson shared her plans Monday in a letter to lawmakers.  

Jackson says the agency plans to start regulating large facilities like power plants next year, but won’t target smaller emitters until at least 2016.

Her letter answers the question, which had been looming, of how – and how fast – the Obama Administration would move ahead with greenhouse gas pollution standards.

Jackson testified before the Senate Environment Committee Tuesday and told Republican global warming skeptics that she’s just following the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gasses are a pollutant, and require the feds to act.

Rather than ignore that obligation, I chose as administrator, and I believe I have no choice but to follow the law.

Jackson’s letter was in response to eight Democratic Senators from coal producing states, including Mark Begich of Alaska, who wrote her last week with concerns over how greenhouse gas regulations would be enacted, and whether they would hurt the economy.  They’re concerned that stationary sources, like coal-burning power plants, farms, and even hospitals, will be subject to tough-to-reach rules.

But Senator Begich said on Tuesday that Jackson’s letter calmed his concerns, and shows that the E-P-A is listening, and won’t act immediately:

I think I’m increasingly becoming more satisfied with the response of EPA, there’s a couple pieces that I appreciated, one is just the timeline now is more definitive, in the sense that at least a year from now instead of, not, as some people think it’s today.  In some cases, small users its all the way to 2016, which means we have a lot of opportunity and time here to work with Congress.

Alaska’s senior Senator, Lisa Murkowski, has been beating the drum on this issue for months.  She tried to introduce an amendment last fall that would curb the E-P-A’s ability to regulate emissions from stationary sources, but Democratic leadership killed it.  Now Murkowski is taking a more aggressive approach, and plans to introduce a “disapproval resolution,” which would overturn the E-P-A’s finding that greenhouse gasses are a risk to public health.

Murkowski says Lisa Jackson’s E-P-A letter does NOT go far enough:

It is a slight delay, maybe it kind of … takes the lid off the steaming tea kettle here for a few months, but it still leaves you with the same bad choice, and that’s E-P-A regulating under the Clean Air Act.

Murkowski says the Democratic Senators with concerns should back her Disapproval Resolution.  But Senator Begich says while he’ll keep looking at what she has to offer, he’s not signing on:

I’m going to think about it, but I also think that politicians who want to be scientists could put public policy in jeopardy.

Begich is instead working with Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, from the coal-heavy state of West Virginia, who’s crafting his own legislation.

Rockefeller says Murkowski’s plan wouldn’t just address stationary emitters like power plants – it would also cut the legs out from under the E-P-A when it comes to regulating moving emitters like cars.  He and the E-P-A contend Murkowski’s approach would wipe out the national car fuel economy, or CAFE, standards:

Because the Murkowski approach is too broad.  It would for example make it impossible for CAFE standards to be set on a national basis.  Because every state… if you take all powers away from the EPA that’s silly.  I’m sorry, that’s not wise.

But Murkowski says affecting federal rules over cars and trucks is NOT her intention – and that the Department of Transportation could set vehicle emission standards rather than the E-P-A.

Even though Murkowski and Begich differ on their approach to dealing with the question of regulating sources of pollution, both agree that Congress should have a say.  And both believe Alaska’s power plants, fish processors, and hospitals aren’t ready to cope with new emission rules in the immediate future.

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