Talks Delay Rules for Power Plant, Refinery GHG Limits

February 1, 2012

In the coming days, weeks, or months, EPA may propose rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing and new power plants. That category of emitters is by far the leading single source of direct emissions in the US (2,324 million metric tons of equivalent CO2 in 2010). Similar rules for petroleum refineries, the second leading direct stationary source (183 million metric tons of equivalent CO2 in 2010), are also in the formative stage.

However, the process for each sector continues to drag out, with the consent of the state and local governments and environmental advocacy groups that have been litigating for about five years to make the agency take action.

The power plants settlement agreement approved in December 2010 initially set a date of July 26, 2011, for proposed rules, with final rules by May 26, 2012. EPA and the litigants later agreed on a date of Sept. 30, 2011, for proposed rules, then agreed to a further extension. As of Jan. 27, 2012, EPA's Web site said the agency would propose rules just for new power plants — which have been in the hands of the Office of Management and Budget since early November 2011 — by the end of January 2012. However, EPA officials now say there will be additional delays, of unspecified length, as negotiations continue. Rules for existing plants likely will be considerably later.

For refineries, the December 2010 settlement agreement laid out a date of Dec. 10, 2011, for proposed rules, and Nov. 10, 2012, for final rules. The agency now says the proposed rules for refineries have no specific timing, as negotiations for revised dates continue. 

If you want to get the perspective of the parties who sued the agency, the name and office of each lead person is listed in the settlement agreements. For power plants, they include officials in the attorney general, department of justice, or law department office for California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York.

Environmental groups include:

The players in the refineries litigation are nearly the same, except the Environmental Integrity Project is participating and the Environmental Defense Fund is not.

To find out where the power plants and petroleum refineries of interest to your audience are, check out EPA's information on greenhouse gases emitted in 2010 from 29 categories of large sources.

As of 2009, total greenhouse gas emissions in the US peaked in 2007, then dropped a little in 2008 and 2009 as the recession hit hard (with emissions from power plants following the same trend). EPA's next report with similar information may be released in April 2012, providing data for 2010, if it follows the timing for last year's report. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions rose 5% in 2010 to a record peak, despite ongoing struggles to come out of the recession.

For two examples of media coverage of developments, or lack thereof, regarding regulations for US power plants and refineries, see: