EPA Issues Policy Easing Emission Regulations for New Coal-Fired Power Plants

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson issued a memorandum late last week that set an agency-wide policy prohibiting controls on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from being included in air pollution permits for coal-fired power plants and other facilities.

The memo was written in response to a decision by the Environmental Appeals Board – an EPA panel – that had denied construction of a new coal-fired power plant on the site of an existing plant in Utah.  The EPA originally granted the permit in 2007, but that decision was appealed by the Sierra Club.

According to Mr. Johnson, “The current concerns over global climate change should not drive E.P.A. into adopting an unworkable policy of requiring emission controls” in cases dealing with coal-fired plants.

Environmentalists argue that the EPA’s decision runs counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year where it ruled that the agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

While environmental groups criticized the new policy, a former E.P.A. official claims that it could actually help the incoming Obama administration in regulating greenhouse gases.  In comments to the New York Times, Jeff Holmstead, who now works for the Electrical Liability Coordinating Council, said, “I think if you’re Lisa Jackson [President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for EPA Administrator] you have to be pretty grateful. She has the opportunity to go through a rule-making and see how to deal” with the issue. 

However, environmental groups argue that the EPA’s decision will mean a number of new coal plants will be permitted without the EPA having to take into consideration greenhouse gas emissions.