EPA moves ahead on climate change, with or without Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama might have failed to pass any substantive climate change legislation in the outgoing Congress’ otherwise productive final weeks, but that hasn’t stopped some action on climate from occurring before the year’s end.

Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced last week – on Dec. 23, no less, only a day after the 111th Congress officially adjourned for the year – that the agency would introduce new emission standards targeted at fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries in early 2011. These two sources alone represent almost 40 per cent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.

Far from announcing any specific details surrounding emissions standards, Jackson simply laid out a timeline for issuing rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions, with standards for power plants and refineries to be proposed in 2011, and final rules to be issued, after consultation with stakeholders, in 2012.

While it may seem the proposed regulations should require congressional approval to pass, it is actually within the EPA’s mandate to determine greenhouse gas regulations. In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act’s definition of air pollutant (the Act gives the EPA the power to regulate air pollutants).

Pending any roadblocks presented by the Republicans' incoming Congressional majority, this announcement means America’s biggest emitters will have to monitor, measure and curb air emissions in accordance with forthcoming standards.

The EPA has reiterated the timeline allows for extensive listening sessions with the business community, states, and other stakeholders in the early part of next year, before the rulemaking process begins, and will solicit additional feedback during the routine notice and comment period.

Go to the EPA’s website for more information about the proposed settlement agreements and for opportunities to provide feedback on the proposed regulations.

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