The EPA’s newest decision definitely brought the dreaded “F-dash-dash-dash” word to mind.
Coal-fired power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions shouldn’t be taken into consideration when determining whether to approve their construction, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson ruled this week. The ruling could clear the way for at least a handful of new coal plants to be approved in the final days of the Bush administration. “The current concerns over global climate change should not drive EPA into adopting an unworkable policy of requiring emission controls,” Johnson wrote.
Just as I was getting into the holiday spirit, Stephen Johnson has to hit us with this.
In case you’re not quite as obsessed with carbon dioxide regulation and coal plants as we are here at Texas Vox, let me provide a little background. In November the EPA’s governance board ruled that its regional office had been too hasty in approving a new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza, Utah because the plant didn’t include carbon dioxide emissions or control techniques in their permit application. The Sierra Club helped secure this victory by filing a suit against Utah’s Deseret Power Electric Cooperative for not controlling carbon dioxide. Their argument was based upon the landmark Massachusetts v EPA case, which required the agency to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
The Bonanza decision was, in a word, wicked awesome (okay, two words). It gave environmentalists a great new tool for stopping coal-fired power plants and signalled a sea change in the government’s willingness to take action over carbon dioxide emissions. So the fact that the EPA is now telling permitters that they cannot consider greenhouse gas emissions when processing applications is a major kick in the pants. It could mean slated plants that wouldn’t have been approved could get the green light during these last weeks of the Bush administration. In a New York Times article, Vickie Patton, from the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that as many as 8,000 megawatts of new coal-fired power plants could skate through as a result of this ruling.
I’m still rather uncertain of what this decision means for the incoming administration. Lisa Jackson, Obama’s new pick to head the EPA, is considerably more progressive on greenhouse gas emissions than Johnson, and could theoretically reverse this decision.
It was unclear yesterday what the ruling’s real-world impact will be. The EPA says that about 50 plants — either new or significantly remodeled — must obtain a permit under this provision every year. But Meyers said he does not know if any are positioned to receive final approval before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20.
The Obama administration is likely to review the case, and Democratic officials close to the president-elect’s team say that the Supreme Court ruling and the EPA’s power to regulate carbon dioxide can serve as powerful levers to bring corporations and other parties to a bargaining table about broad framework for controlling greenhouse gases.