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EPA Set to Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions

July 26th, 2010

by Brian Lewis, Ph. D

EPA Set to Regulate GHG Emissions

The regulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) has had a contentious history and continues to be a topic of much debate. The debated topics range from what agency should be in charge of GHG regulations to whether GHG needs to be regulated at all.

On June 10, the U.S. Senate voted 53-47 against a resolution of disapproval that would have stripped the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the authority to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act.1-3 The resolution’s defeat paved the way for the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from both new automobiles and stationary sources. The EPA has now enacted rules that would require large-scale GHG producers to acquire permits.

The evolution of the EPA’s GHG rules began in 1999, when the International Center for Technology Assessment, a nonprofit group, joined 18 other organizations to petition the EPA to establish standards for GHG emissions from new vehicles under the Clean Air Act.4 In 2003, the EPA published a “notice of denial” of the petition in which the agency claimed that “Congress has not granted EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases for climate change purposes.”5

Less than two months after the EPA’s ruling, the State of Massachusetts, along with 12 other states and U.S. territories, filed a petition with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to review the EPA’s decision in an attempt to force the agency to assess the health risks of global climate change.4 In July 2005, the Court of Appeals denied the petition and sided with the EPA.

Massachusetts promptly filed a new petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the petitioners in a 5-to-4 vote, thus requiring the EPA to adopt an official position on the public health risks posed by GHGs.6-7

In March 2009, the EPA issued a proposed “endangerment finding” in which the agency declared that carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) “endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”8 The EPA simultaneously issued a “cause or contribute finding” in which tailpipe emissions from new vehicles were found to contribute to the health threat of GHGs.

The EPA instituted monitoring and reporting requirements for producers of GHGs that took effect in January 2010.9 Under the reporting requirements, vehicle and engine manufacturers and industrial facilities that produce more than 25,000 metric tons of GHGs per year were required to submit annual reports detailing their GHG emissions. The rule affected an estimated 10,000 individual facilities and covered approximately 85 percent of emitted GHGs. The manufacturers most affected were those of aluminum, cement, glass, iron, paper, steel and engines.

In April 2009, while the proposed endangerment findings were still in their mandatory public comment phase, the EPA proposed new automotive standards that combine fuel-economy requirements set by the U.S. Department of Transportation with EPA-mandated GHG emission limits. The automotive emission standards were finalized in April 2010.10 The standard will limit carbon dioxide emissions to 250 grams per mile per vehicle by 2016. For comparison, vehicles manufactured in 2009 emit an estimated 380 grams per mile.11

In December 2009, the proposed endangerment finding and cause or contribute finding pertaining to GHGs were finalized and signed by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.12

Because the EPA deemed GHGs a public health risk, the statutory requirements of the Clean Air Act require the EPA to assume regulatory control of GHG emissions from both vehicles and stationary sources.

In March 2010, the EPA announced four proposed changes to the GHG monitoring and reporting rules that specifically target methane and fluorinated gases.13 The new rules, slated for implementation in July 2011, primarily affect the oil and gas industries and facilities that store or inject carbon dioxide underground.

On May 13, 2010, the EPA issued a final GHG rule to move large-scale producers of GHGs beyond monitoring and reporting to mandatory licensing.14 Under the rules, starting in July 2011, any new source of 100,000 or more metric tons per year or any modification to an existing facility that results in an increase of 75,000 or more tons per year will require a permit. The EPA expects to issue about 550 permits within the first two years. To obtain a permit, a producer must demonstrate that they are using the “best available control technologies” to control GHG emissions.

The new EPA rules explicitly exclude small-scale producers of GHGs. In their initial form, the EPA rules set the emission threshold for producers who must obtain permits at 25,000 tons per year. The threshold was raised to 100,000 tons per year after many small businesses claimed they would be adversely affected by the regulations.15 Small emitters will be exempt from the rules until at least 2016. Some small producers may be permanently excluded from the regulations.16

Trade groups representing the manufacturing industry argue that the regulations represent an unnecessary financial burden. Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, issued a statement in which he claimed the EPA’s GHG rules “…will strike a terrible blow to American families worried about the cost of fueling their cars, American workers worried about losing their jobs, and American manufacturers worried about being forced to shut their doors and lay off employees.”17 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a federation that primarily represents small businesses, has issued statements with similar language.18 EPA administrator Lisa Jackson refutes such statements, likening them to the claims of the air-conditioning industry when chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were phased out in the early 1990s.19

Many senators, however, expressed concern over what Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called a “blatant power grab.”20 Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) added, “You either support the Congress setting the policy on climate change or you support the EPA in their capacity as a regulatory agency setting policy.”20

Indeed, many political analysts assert that regulatory control of GHGs by the EPA is simply a tactic by the Obama administration to prod Congress into passing comprehensive climate-change legislation.21-22 A climate bill based on capping emissions and allowing GHG producers to buy, sell and trade emissions credits—known as “cap and trade”—passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.23 Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) have introduced a new bill, but a vote has not yet been scheduled.24

In addition to legislative challenges to the EPA’s authority, 15 states, including Texas, Florida and Virginia, have initiated a legal challenge to the EPA’s assertion that GHGs pose a threat to human health.25 The states’ argument focuses on the science behind the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding, particularly the agency’s reliance on the findings of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The states’ objections to the use of the IPCC’s findings appears to extend from the “climategate” scandal that erupted when email messages of climate researchers at the University of East Anglia were leaked on the Internet.26 Several newspapers accused the researchers, some of whom served on the IPCC, of scientific misconduct. However, at least two newspapers have since retracted several of their claims. Furthermore, two of the scientists at the focus of the accusations have been cleared of wrongdoing by boards of inquiry at their respective institutions.26-27 No representatives of the states involved with the petition have yet commented on the retractions.

Although much debate regarding GHG still exists, the EPA is making strides to protect the environment and regulate global climate control. However, it is a complicated issue and a common ground must be found between the interests and authority of those attempting to protect the environment and vital manufacturers, including small businesses, producing GHG while providing vital products and services to the public.


  1. Hoover, K. 2010. Senate defeats move to void EPA greenhouse gas rules. Washington Business Journal. June 10.

  2. Welna, D. 2010. Senate rejects move to block greenhouse gas rules. National Public Radio. June 10.

  3. Hughes, S. and C. Boles. 2010. Senate rejects ban on greenhouse gas rules. The Wall Street Journal. June 10.

  4. International Center for Technology Assessment. 2010. Chronology of the global warming case against the EPA.
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2003. EPA denies petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles (news release). August 28.!OpenDocument

  6. Barnes, R. and J. Eilperin. 2007. High court faults EPA inaction on emissions. The Washington Post. April 3.

  7. Richey, W. 2007. Supreme Court: EPA must address climate risk. The Christian Science Monitor. April 3.
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. EPA finds greenhouse gases pose threat to public health, welfare. April 17.

  9. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. EPA finalizes the nation’s first greenhouse gas reporting system. September 22.!OpenDocument

  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. DOT, EPA set aggressive national standards for fuel economy and first ever greenhouse gas emission levels for passenger cars and light trucks. April 1.!OpenDocument

  11. Mufson, S. 2009. Vehicle emission rules to tighten. The Washington Post. May 19.

  12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. EPA: Greenhouse gases threaten public health and the environment. December 7.!OpenDocument

  13. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. EPA proposes to add sources to greenhouse gas reporting system. March 23.!OpenDocument

  14. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. EPA sets thresholds for greenhouse gas permitting requirements. May 13.!OpenDocument

  15. Bravender, R. 2010. Small businesses see devil in details of EPA greenhouse gas rule. The New York Times. January 11.

  16. Hughes, S. 2010. EPA finalizes GHG rules for industrial facilities. The Wall Street Journal. May 14.
  17. National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association. 2010. NPRA statement on defeat of Murkowski resolution. National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association. June 10.
  18. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 2009. U.S. Chamber calls for transparency on EPA’s endangerment finding. June 23.
  19. Jackson, L. 2010. Letter to Senator Marakowski. May 26.
  20. Abrams, J. 2010. Senators aim to block EPA greenhouse gas rules. The Washington Times. June 10.
  21. Walsh, B. EPA’s CO2 finding: Putting a gun to Congress’s head. Time Magazine. April 18.,8599,1892368,00.html
  22. Hayward, S.F. 2009. The EPA’s power grab. December 28.
  23. Greenblatt, A. 2010. How cap and trade was ‘trashed.’ National Public Radio. April 26.
  24. Samuelsohn, D. 2010. Kerry, Lieberman to end the suspense with climate bill rollout today. The New York Times. May 12.
  25. Gardner, T. 2010. US states sue EPA to stop greenhouse gas rules. Reuters News Service. March 19.
  26. Morales, A. 2010. ‘Climategate’ scientists cleared of manipulating data. Bloomberg Businessweek. July 7.
  27. Goldenberg, S. 2010. Michael Mann cleared of science fraud charges made by climate skeptics. The Guardian. July 2.
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One Response to “EPA Set to Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions”

  1. Rev. Dr. Paul Hull, PE Says:

    Thank you Brian for this clear synopsis of EPAs regulation of GHG emissions.

    It was helpful in sorting through where EPA is in terms of regulating GHG emissions.


    In the twentieth century the glory of the human had become the desolation of the Earth, and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. From here on, the primary judgement of all human institutions, professions, programs, and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually-enhancing human-Earth relationship.
    Rev. Dr. Fr. Thomas Berry

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