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Hot Air on Greenhouse Gas

Posted By Rich Trzupek On March 10, 2010 @ 12:23 am In FrontPage | 13 Comments

Last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson responded to Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) questions about potential greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act. A careful reading of Jackson’s answers shows that EPA’s threats to use the Clean Air Act to force nationwide greenhouse gas reductions are a paper tiger and, if implemented, such actions will not result in any substantive decrease in greenhouse gas emissions during president Obama’s term.

Recall that there are two routes available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The first is “cap and trade,” along the lines of the Waxman-Markey bill that is currently stalled in the Senate. This is the method that environmentalists and their supporters in Congress prefer, for a couple of reasons. Cap and trade would attach monetary value to waste by-products, chiefly carbon dioxide and methane, and would allow certain carbon speculators – the name Al Gore springs immediately to mind – to grab even more cash in the resultant massive redistribution of wealth.

Equally important, cap and trade could be implemented relatively quickly. The Clean Air Act is a terribly clunky bit of legislation that has been amended a number of times since it was initially passed in its current form in 1970. Creating greenhouse gas regulations under that Clean Air Act would take a lot longer than alarmists are willing to wait, given that this year, like every year, represents the last chance to act “before it’s too late.”

The Clean Air Act limits EPA’s regulatory authority to “command and control” measures. That is, the agency has to go through an exhaustive process to determine appropriate control technologies, promulgate rules that set limits on emissions for different industry sectors and then incorporate those limits into individual permits that govern the operations of each and every facility subject to the rule in question. Industry hates command and control, because it’s a much more intrusive means of regulation, as compared to trading programs. Thus, EPA and the Obama administration have wielded the possibility of implanting command and control type greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act as a cudgel, not because they actually want to go through the Clean Air Act process, but because it’s a convenient threat designed to force some version of cap and trade through Congress.

Senator Rockefeller’s letter to Jackson contained a number of questions that appeared designed to call the Agency’s bluff. Indeed, Rockefeller raised a number of the same issues that I raised when I wrote about this issue on these very pages not so long ago. Reading Jackson’s careful, somewhat tepid, answers to Rockefeller’s queries, one is not left with the impression of an administrator happily charging forward with a new batch of planet-saving regulations. Rather, it appears to me that Jackson is de facto admitting – albeit reluctantly – that there is little that EPA can do about greenhouse gas emissions in the short term if a cap and trade bill doesn’t come through. Consider a few salient points:

  • Jackson said that EPA would start including greenhouse gases in permits starting in 2011. Identifying greenhouse gas emissions in permits is not the same as limiting those emissions. This is strictly an administrative move that would have no practical effect outside of generating a bit more work for people like me who push through the agency’s required pile of paperwork.
  • Jackson said that EPA would phase in greenhouse gas permitting for large sources between 2011 and 2013 and that permitting of smaller sources would not come into play any earlier than 2016.
  • Rockefeller asked Jackson how EPA would go about setting Best Available Control Technology (BACT) requirements for new projects, with respect to greenhouse gases. This is an important point, because BACT represents the first opportunity for EPA to impose requirements for greenhouse gas control. Essentially, when a new, big project is proposed, the developer must demonstrate that the controls used meet the regulatory definition of BACT. Since nobody actually controls greenhouses gases today, it’s reasonable to ask the question: how will USEPA establish BACT when no controls – much less “Best Available” controls – have been proven in anything but pilot scale studies? Jackson’s response can be distilled down to this: USEPA has no idea what BACT should be for greenhouse gases, but will continue to “review and analyze options” for such controls. Bottom line: nothing will happen for a long time to come.
  • Finally, Rockefeller asked how a cap and trade bill would affect the nation’s beleaguered manufacturing sector. Jackson claimed that the impact of Waxman-Markey, or something like it, would be “effectively nil.” This is utter nonsense, since a cap and trade bill would undoubtedly increase the cost of energy and, accordingly, increase the cost of domestic manufacturing. However, the fact that Jackson would make such an outrageous claim in the context of her response is another bit of evidence that demonstrates how EPA desperately wants a cap and trade bill, instead of trying to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Given the stunning revelations over the last few months about the bullying, misrepresentation and outright fraud that characterize a disturbing portion of international climate change science, it’s not at all surprising to find that Obama’s EPA is desperately hoping to influence the Congressional agenda on the issue.

However, Lisa Jackson’s less-than-convincing arguments with respect to controlling greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act do nothing to help the alarmist cause. It has quite the opposite effect: Jackson’s official response to the queries posed by a coal-state Senator who belongs to her administration’s party shows that this EPA administrator knows that she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.


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