U.S.: Environment Agency Moves to Regulate Carbon Dioxide

  • by Matthew Cardinale (atlanta, georgia)
  • Thursday, February 24, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

The agency has held four of five 'listening sessions', including one attended by IPS in Atlanta, Georgia, on Feb. 15. The EPA also held a meeting with electric power industry representatives in Washington, DC, on Feb. 4; a meeting with state and tribal representatives on in Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 17; and a meeting with coalition group representatives in Washington earlier Thursday.

The EPA will hold a fifth hearing for petroleum refinery industry representatives in Washington on Mar. 4, and is also accepting written comments from the public through Mar. 18.

'In December, [EPA administrator] Lisa Jackson committed to set standards for two carbon dioxide most-polluting industries, the electricity and utility sector, and the petroleum and refining sector,' Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator at the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said at the Feb. 15 meeting.

'But before beginning to set standards, she wanted to hear from the public... especially the environmental justice communities,' McCarthy said, referring to grassroots groups that defend the rights of low-income communities and communities of colour, where polluting plants and factories have often been located.

The EPA is pursuing these standards under the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) programme and under the authority of the Clean Air Act, which McCarthy called 'our most flexible tool in the toolbox'.

After years of inaction by the U.S. Congress, which is debating whether to pursue even a weak, market-based policy of carbon emission credits trading, Jackson made the stunning announcement in December 2009 that the agency would look at regulating carbon dioxide under the existing powers already granted to the agency under the Clean Air Act.

This followed the landmark 2007 court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide can be defined as a pollutant. This definition has allowed the agency to pursue regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

Shortly after President Barack Obama took office, the EPA also issued an important ruling that global warming is a threat to public health and safety, which laid the groundwork for the current process.

Leaders of environmental and environmental justice organisations, as well as members of the public, spoke at the Feb. 15 hearing.

'What about the core mission of the EPA?' Nicky Sheats, member of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, asked. 'How are the standards going to protect the public health of communities and residents?'

Sheats argued the EPA should also regulate existing coal plants, not only new ones.

'We support EPA's authority and decisions to protect low- income people,' said Seandra Rawls of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. 'There are 90 coal plants in the Southeast [U.S.]... emitting 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. We need to retire old facilities. We must require a limit by a certain date.'

'The southeast is more vulnerable to the impact of climate change,' Rawls said, citing coastlines, sea level rise, erosion, storms, and drought.

'Power plants in [poor] communities should be covered under the standard. NSPS is greater than cap and trade. NSPS is far and away from cap and trade. We want to keep it that way,' said Sharonda Williams, environmental policy and advocacy coordinator for WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

While carbon dioxide is naturally occurring - we exhale it when we breathe, for example - its production in mass quantities by transportation and fossil fuel power plants is not natural.

'There is symbiosis, harmony, and balance in the natural order. Today we're out of balance. There were once 90 million acres of long leaf pine forests [in the Southeast] but now there are three million. In Georgia in 1936, there were four million acres and now there are only 376,000 acres,' said John Hammond, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation.

'We in the faith-based community are concerned with the mind, the body, and the spirit,' added Rev. Gerald Durley of Providence Missionary Baptist Church and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light.

'We are not only concerned with spiritual well-being but physical well-being. If we're not concerned about the planet we'll be too dead and all of us will be gone. Products may cost more, but which is more important? God or Allah created a perfectly balanced world and we're destroying it,' Durley said.

The EPA anticipates making actual recommendations by July 2011 for power plants and December 2011 for refineries. The agency will issue final standards in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively.

EPA officials say they are also in the process of addressing other pollutants, including mercury and particle pollution, in separate, coordinated actions.

Yet even as the consequences mount of global climate change such as melting of the polar ice caps, the EPA is facing retribution from the new Republican-led House of Representatives for daring to take action.

Congress is considering cutting the agency's funding, among other measures.

Republicans have introduced bills this session which would block the EPA from cutting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, overturn the EPA's recent endangerment finding that global warming threatens public health, block states from setting their own standards, and/or exclude greenhouse gases from the Clean Air Act.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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