EPA Moves To Regulate New Smokestack Controls

The Obama administration recently proposed new rules for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Now it's proposing to reduce heat-trapping pollution from power plants and other large facilities. Some say the proposal would be good for the planet and for businesses because it targets new plants. Critics question an exemption to small farms and other businesses.

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Now let's hear about a climate issue in this country. The Obama administration recently proposed new rules for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Now it's proposing to reduce heat-trapping pollution from power plants and other large facilities. And this is happening with regulations, not with laws. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports the Environmental Protection Agency decided not to wait on Congress.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says there's no question: President Obama wants Congress to pass sweeping global warming legislation. But she says the risks posed by climate change are too great for the EPA to delay.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Environmental Protection Agency): We are not going to continue with business as usual any longer. We have the tools and the technology to move forward today and we are using them.

SHOGREN: The new proposal would apply to new plants and existing facilities that are expanding or upgrading. They'd have to use the best technologies available for cutting carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases. Jackson says she expects loud objections.

Ms. JACKSON: Very soon we will hear about doomsday scenarios with EPA regulating everything from cows to the local Dunkin Donuts. I must be clear. That's not going to happen.

SHOGREN: The proposal would exempt small farms and the vast majority of other businesses that emit less than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year. But some critics say that exemption puts the proposal in legal jeopardy. The Clean Air Act sets the threshold much lower, at 250 tons.

Mr. JEFF HOLMSTEAD (Former EPA Assistant Administrator): It's kind of hard to see that this will stand up in court because it does seem to fly in the face of the statute.

SHOGREN: That's Jeff Holmstead. He headed EPA's air pollution programs under President Bush. Now he's a lobbyist who represents electric companies and other big businesses that don't want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. HOLMSTEAD: The big problem is just concern that this will delay a lot of projects that people would like to do.

SHOGREN: Holmstead says that no one is sure what technologies the proposal would require because existing pollution controls don't remove greenhouse gases. Some environmentalists say the proposal would be good for the planet and for businesses because it targets new plants.

Ms. VICKIE PATTON (Environmental Defense Fund): That's the smartest, most efficient time to address these issues and make these investments. The alternative is costly retrofits after the fact.

SHOGREN: Vickie Patton is a lawyer for Environmental Defense Fund. She says the proposal is a great step towards addressing climate change, but a lot more needs to be done to cut pollution from existing sources and avert a climate crisis.

Ms. PATTON: We need comprehensive climate and energy legislation to solve this problem and to do that in a cost-effective way.

SHOGREN: A group of senators unveiled a draft-climate bill just yesterday. No one thinks it will be easy to get it passed, but the EPA's new proposal is another indication that President Obama is determined to use his executive power to fight climate change, whether or not Congress acts.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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