EPA, Clean Air Act & Climate Change: Consider the Facts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a lot of hits from those opposed to greenhouse gas regulations in the past week. In the House of Representatives, tough hearings led by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, (R-KY), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy, were held with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Jackson's testimony followed that of lead witness Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who promoted his upcoming book, "The Hoax," which takes aim at the science of climate change. The House subsequently passed an amendment to the proposed Continuing Resolution that would strip EPA of its authority to regulate GHG emissions and significantly decrease funding for environmental and clean energy programs. Meanwhile, outside of Washington, D.C., the first two permits considered by EPA suggest cleaner facilities and job creation can be compatible with new regulations as opposed to some of the concerns expressed in the hearings and continuing resolution. This past week, South Dakota issued a draft permit for Best Available Control Technology for greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to the Hyperion Energy Center. Project owners describe the facility as a "HEC is a 400,000-barrel per day (BPD) highly-complex, full-conversion refinery which will produce clean, green, transportation fuel such as ultra-low sulfur gasoline (ULSG) and ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD)." South Dakota regulatory officials found that significant energy efficiency improvements to the refinery were the most cost-effective manner to move forward. The officials considered carbon capture & storage as an alternative path, but decided that while the technology is technically feasible it is not cost-effective or environmentally appropriate in this instance. EPA will now have 30-days to review the decision, but don't expect any radical changes to the State-level decision. Construction will create an estimated 4,500 jobs and when finished, 1,826 permanent jobs will be created for the ongoing operation of the refinery and associated utility plant according to company officials. In Louisiana, State regulators recently approved an air quality construction and operating permit that includes emissions control requirements for greenhouse gases as well. The permit clears the way for an iron production facility, the initial phase of the construction of a larger Nucor iron and steelmaking facility in St. James Parish. Under the permit granted, the greenhouse gas limits rely on energy efficiency measures and set a 13 million British thermal units of natural gas per metric ton of direct reduced iron. State regulators estimate the plant will emit 3.39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. 500 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs will be created according to Nucor, although they would like the facility to be larger and note regulatory uncertainty as a cause of concern. On the other hand, some environmental groups including the Tulane Law Clinic may challenge that the permit is not strict enough. EPA will now conduct a review here as well. Congress would be well-advised to consider these case studies as it moves forward in its deliberations.

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