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Attorneys General Urge EPA To Set Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Ken Teegardin/SeniorLiving.Org/Flickr

The Attorneys General from 12 states and the District of Columbia have submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency calling on the federal agency to cut climate change pollution from power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments on a proposed rule to the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.  The federal agency failed to meet a deadline set under a legal settlement to set the new performance standards, and in June, President Obama directed the EPA Administrator to fulfill her statutory duty under the two applicable sections of the Clean Air Act - 111B and 111D.
The coalition of Attorneys General filed comments earlier this week. New York State Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Protection Bureau Michael Myers explains that section B requires the EPA to set new standards for new and modified sources, while section D then requires the agency to set emissions guidelines that states take and decide how to meet.  “The purpose of our comment letter was to look at some of the legal issues in advance of this EPA proposed rule. We anticipate that given the importance of this rule and the potential wide ranging effect that it probably will wind up in litigation. So we wanted to provide EPA with our thoughts on some of the legal issues, the authority that it has to move forward, as it develops its rule.”

Vermont Assistant Attorney General Environmental Protection Division Thea Schwartz says the comments lay out legal requirements the EPA must take as it considers emissions limits on power plants.  “Existing fossil fuel power plants are the largest single source of climate change pollution in the country.  They emit roughly 33% of the nation’s total emissions.”

Greenhouse gases have not been regulated as hazardous air pollutants. In their comments, the Attorneys General list a number of adverse impacts, according to Thea Schwartz.  “The effects of greenhouse gasses are more heat-related deaths and illnesses, extreme weather, higher smog levels, threats to ecosystems, threats to our food production and threats to our energy transportation and water resource  infrastructure.”
Michael Myers adds that the harms are significant and well recognized.  “Why EPA has not previously moved forward with regulation I think is somewhat a complicated answer. But I think we are certainly happy that the agency is moving forward. And now that we know they are moving forward we think that they should set stringent emission limitations, but at the same time give states the flexibility to choose how to meet those.”

States have implemented programs such as renewable portfolio standards requiring electric generators to obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewables. Cap and trade systems like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have been formed. Energy efficiency programs and closing aging power plants have also been required by states.
The Adirondack Council has participated in the carbon auctions of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Spokesman John Sheehan notes that the EPA did move earlier this year to regulate carbon from planned new power plants, but did not act regarding existing plants.  “The cleaner fuels and more efficient pollution control technologies that are needed to control climate change will also help to reduce the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen that cause acid rain in the Adirondacks. So we would actually, for a change, get a double benefit here from a regulation that affects everybody.”

The Attorneys General submitting comments to the EPA were from the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

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