The Environmental Protection Agency’s guidance to states Wednesday appears aimed at allaying businesses’ fears of a heavy-handed, Washington-dominated approach to greenhouse-gas regulation. But business groups and some lawmakers said the vagueness of the agency’s directive would invite differing interpretations and prolong companies’ uncertainty over what they must do to comply with the law. Environmental groups largely cheered the EPA’s step.
The action comes as major business groups and lawmakers from states heavily dependent on smokestack industries are ratcheting up attacks on the EPA, saying its effort to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will lead to costly permit requirements and delays in construction of new facilities. The EPA says science and the law compel it to act, and that the agency can design regulations that don’t unduly burden the economy.
The EPA, which relies on state and local government to administer air-quality permits, said determinations on what will constitute acceptable controls on emissions will be a “state and project specific decision.” It suggested states consider energy-efficiency measures as one control option, not just the adoption of costly technologies. Examples could include requiring a factory’s boiler to produce more heat with less energy.
“We’re confident this will be a smooth transition,” said Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation.
Under President Barack Obama, the EPA has declared emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, to be a danger to human health, the legal prerequisite to regulating them. Earlier this year, the agency told states that, beginning in January, they would have to account for greenhouse-gas emissions when issuing air-quality permits to power plants, refineries and other large facilities that emit such gases. But until Wednesday, the agency hadn’t given states any guidance on what sorts of technologies they could require businesses to use to limit such emissions.
A spokesman for the Washington-based National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local environmental regulators, said the EPA’s guidance showed flexibility and should allay businesses’ fears about the financial impact of new regulations.
But business groups and critics in Congress decried the agency’s action. The American Petroleum Institute accused the EPA of “railroading job-killing regulations onto states, localities and America’s businesses, during a time of uncertain economic recovery, without giving those affected adequate time to review, provide comments, or even implement the new regulations.”
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