December 24, 2010

Obama, EPA To Set US Carbon Standards, Regulations

The Obama administration said Thursday it will regulate greenhouse gas emission from power plants, setting up for a possible climate change war with the newly appointed and skeptical Congress, which seats in January.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will set standards, beginning in 2012, for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries that emit nearly 40 percent of US greenhouse gases.

"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans and contributes to climate change," EPA chief Lisa Jackson told AFP in a statement.

"These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home," Jackson said.

The initiative will almost undoubtedly clash with lawmakers of the rival Republican Party, who will take control of the House of Representatives next month.

The rules could also trigger a battle with Texas, which is a major oil-producer, and emits far more greenhouse gases than any other state and has adamantly opposed any restrictions from Washington.

The last House, whose session ended Wednesday, approved the first nationwide US "cap-and-trade" plan which would restrict emissions and allow companies to trade pollution credits on the market.

But the bill died in the Senate, where Republicans argued it would be too costly. A number of Republicans also questioned the science behind climate change.

The EPA did not reveal the specifics of the new standards, saying it would make a proposal in the new year and finalize it in 2012 after a period of public comment. It suggested it would not impose an outright figure for emission standards but instead would ask companies to embrace cleaner practices.

"This is not about a cap-and-trade program," senior EPA official Gina McCarthy told AFP on a conference call. "It is not in any way trying to get into the areas in which Congress will be establishing law, at some point in the future we hope."

She did not say which technologies would be favored. The dirtiest source of power is coal, which accounts for more than 25 percent of US energy production and is politically sensitive.

McCarthy expressed confidence that the EPA move would sustain jobs in the US, bring n new jobs, and also "provide a measure of certainty" to businesses as they plan new investments.

But Scott Segal, a lawyer representing utilities and refineries, said the EPA timetable was not practical. "By singling out the energy sector, the agency puts the nation's fragile economic recovery at risk and stifles job creation," he said.

He also doubted the environmental benefits of the EPA move in the absence of "coordination with foreign nations."

China has surpassed the US as the top carbon emitter, the most prominent greenhouse gas, but Beijing launched an initiative to reduce its emissions.

President Barack Obama last year pledged that the United States would cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The goal was modest compared to the actions of other developed nations, most notably in the European Union.

Most experts say the world is too far off track to meet a specific goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

The EPA was able to act due to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that gave it authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Joe Mendelson of the National Wildlife Federation, who initiated the case, applauded the EPA for "reasonable and thoughtful steps" to fight climate change.

He criticized "polluters that want to hold hostage America's clean energy future and our public health with bullying and unfounded threats of doom and gloom."


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