WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency announced a timetable Thursday to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from two major sources of the pollution scientists link to global warming: power plants and oil refineries.
The announcement was the latest step in an ambitious effort to begin taking action on climate change, and it is certain to draw fire from congressional Republicans and industry leaders who have vowed to halt the agency’s efforts.
The new move toward far-reaching emissions rules comes as environmentalists had begun to worry that the Obama administration was easing its push on environmental relations in order to avoid confrontations with major industries in advance of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Unlike regulations coming out Jan. 2 that address pollution only from new facilities or expansions, the schedule announced Thursday would eventually compel industry to reduce emissions across the board, including at older sites. Power plants and oil refineries account for almost 40 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the new plan, the EPA would issue proposed standards for power plants in July, go through a public comment and revision period, and announce final standards in May 2012. For the nation’s refineries, proposed standards would come out in December 2011 and final standards in November 2012.
In a telephone news conference, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy said she did not know what the standards would ultimately require or how greatly the country’s greenhouse gas emissions would be cut.
McCarthy said that by 2015 or 2016 at the latest, power plants and refineries would likely be bringing online the technology they needed to meet greenhouse gas emission targets.
“What we’re announcing today is the beginning of a process that will decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., while providing certainty to industry,” McCarthy said.
Industry, at least in the form Washington lobbyists and trade groups, vehemently disagreed with the agency’s prognosis. They asserted that, EPA’s claims notwithstanding, there was no off-the-shelf technology they could use to reduce the output of greenhouse gases, especially from coal-fired plants.
“Regulations can’t create technology that doesn’t exist or change the laws of physics and economics, so the only way to comply with EPA’s proposals would be to inflict massive increases in energy costs and massive increases in unemployment on families across our nation,” said Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.
“We will urge Congress to vote to stop EPA from implementing these greenhouse gas regulations,” he said in an e-mail statement.
EPA’s timetables for refineries and power plants are the result of its decision to settle two lawsuits brought against the agency during the Bush era by a coalition of environmental groups and states, including New York and California, that demanded regulation of carbon emissions from those industries.