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Greenhouse gases up for a rethink at the EPA

Last week I noted that the new bosses in Washington DC, in their swift stride towards distinctly post-Bush environmental policies, had yet to touch the outgoing administration’s 11th-hour battle against applying the Clear Air Act to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

They didn’t maintain the suspense very long.

Yesterday the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, said the EPA would put up for review a December memo on the issue from ex-EPA admin Stephen Johnson – and that the agency is set to announce new thinking on this type of regulation.

Here’s Jackon’s letter to the Sierra Club on a power plant case they and other environmental groups have been fighting (courtesy of Climate Progress). Scientific American and the Washington Post have detailed coverage. For those scoring at home, this is a reconsideration of a reversal of a reversal of a permit for a Utah coal plant – i.e. the project and others like it might not go ahead now, at least not without stronger measures to control emissions.

Behind the back-and-forth is the question of whether dangerous impacts of climate-warming gases put them under the EPA’s regulatory remit – a question the Bush EPA never finally settled despite a Supreme Court order. In an interview with the AP yesterday, Jackson described the Bush policy as “deafening silence” and promised to break it.

“We are going to be making a fairly significant finding about what these gases mean for public health and the welfare of our country,” Jackson says.

If public health and welfare is in danger, the Clean Air Act comes into play for greenhouse gases – which Johnson was determined to avoid. In contrast, Jackson told the AP: “It is clear that the Clean Air Act has a mechanism in it for other pollutants to be addressed.” Her letter looks like a step towards deciding how to use it.

Anna Barnett


  1. Report this comment

    Carl Jeffries said:

    Sadly EPA managers followed lock-step with the Bush administration ignoring physical evidence for political gain. I had worked closely with federal staff who asked me to muffle my comment concerning chemical impacts to our air, soil, & water threatening my future funding. Today I stand proud of my stance for the environment, but sans the grant funding.

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