EPA GHG regulations efficiency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clarified November 10 during a teleconference how state and local air permitting authorities should identify cost-effective pollution reduction options for greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act.

EPA recommended that permitting authorities use the existing best available control technology (BACT) process to look at “all available emission reduction options” for GHGs. After taking into account technical feasibility, cost and other economic, environmental and energy considerations, permitting authorities should narrow the options and select the best one. EPA said that in most cases, this process will show that the most cost effective way for industry to reduce GHG emissions will be through energy efficiency.

EPA’s guidance stopped short of defining or requiring a specific control option for a particular type of source, saying BACT is determined on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s about ensuring that new facilities look for technically feasible controls that will minimize the pollution they add into the atmosphere on a case-by-case basis,” Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator, EPA Office of Air and Radiation.

Industries such as power plants that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of GHGs and are planning to build new facilities or make major modifications to existing ones will be required to work with permitting authorities to identify and implement BACT to minimize their GHGs starting January 2011.

While some industry professionals wonder if BACT implementations will result in a construction moratorium, McCarthy said “there will be no construction stoppage as a result of the BACT process.” She said that the facilities involved in the GHG emissions-curbing process are already involved in process to cut other emissions.

Under BACT guidance, EPA signals that states may be able to consider the use of biomass energy as BACT for GHG. In addition, EPA will provide further guidance to states in January regarding biomass and will determine this spring whether additional rulemaking related to biomass energy is necessary.

“EPA’s step today acknowledges both the potential role of biomass in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need to ensure that energy policy properly accounts for both the sequestration and emissions associated with bioenergy,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

EPA labeled carbon capture and sequestration as a “promising technology” in the early stage of demonstration and commercialization.

“While carbon capture and sequestration needs to be and should be identified as a control technology, it is currently an expensive technology and is unlikely to be selected as BACT in most cases,” said McCarthy.

EPA also said that fuel switching from coal to natural gas should not necessarily be considered BACT. Instead, it said BACT should consider “clean fuels” that may produce fewer emissions but do not necessarily require a different type of fuel. EPA said this is true particularly when it can be shown that using another type of fuel would be inconsistent with the facility’s fundamental purpose.

To date, every state except Texas has asserted compliance through EPA’s guidelines or through a state implementation plan (SIP). Texans such as Rep. Joe L. Barton of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are on a mission to check the EPA’s efforts to use its existing authority to curtail greenhouse gases. In a recent letter to the EPA, state officials compared the agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases to a socialist “plan for centralized control of industrial development.”

After the announcement, EPA’s McCarthy said, “We’re disappointed that Texas hasn’t engaged in this process. We are continuing to work with Texas and hoping to find a process that they concur meets the needs of their businesses.”

Despite challenges met by the state of Texas, EPA will proceed with greenhouse gas emissions controls, with the BACT process announcement heralding its message. “The BACT process makes it very clear that the CAA can apply to greenhouse gases without breaking any barriers,” McCarthy said.

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