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EPA unveils climate change proposal

If Congress fails to act, agency plans to proceed

Jim Tankersley Tribune Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled a detailed proposal for using the government’s regulatory powers to curb greenhouse gas emissions – reassuring foreign allies on the U.S. commitment to fight climate change and warning Congress that the administration will act on its own if lawmakers fail to address the issue.

The proposed regulations would apply to large-scale industrial sources of heat-trapping gases, including power plants, factories and refineries, but not to smaller sources, such as new schools, as some critics of the EPA action had feared.

The rules would force new – or substantially modified – industrial emitters to employ “best available control technologies and energy efficiency measures” to minimize greenhouse-gas emissions, a tougher standard than the one applied to many emitters now.

The EPA action, along with the formal unveiling of proposed legislation in the Senate, stoked optimism among environmentalists and others who have voiced concern that the chances for agreement at a global warming conference in Copenhagen could be reduced if leaders of other countries concluded the U.S. was not prepared to take the kinds of steps it has urged other developed nations to take.

“We are not going to continue with business as usual while we wait for Congress to act,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told a climate conference in Los Angeles. She said the proposal “allows us to do what the Clean Air Act does best – reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future – all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy.”

EPA officials unveiled the proposal as international climate negotiators gathered in Bangkok to prepare for global warming treaty talks in Copenhagen in December.

The EPA rules would mimic how the agency forces power plants and factories to install “scrubbers” and other means of limiting many types of air pollutants.

But it’s unclear exactly how that would apply in the case of greenhouse gases, which scientists blame for climate change. Researchers are still studying and have yet to deploy a commercial-scale method to capture and store carbon emissions from coal plants, for example.

The EPA proposal, which must now move through a lengthy process of comments and reviews, is likely to encounter legal challenges.

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