EPA to Review Bush Rule on Warming Emissions

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EPA to Review Bush Rule on Warming Emissions

Environmental groups expect curbs on coal-fired power plants

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A truck speeds along a road in a West Virginia coal mine. (AFP/File/Mandel Ngan)

The Obama administration on Tuesday agreed to
review whether it should regulate carbon dioxide emissions from
coal-fired power plants, portending a major reversal of the Bush
administration's policy on global warming.

The
Environmental Protection Agency granted a petition from environmental
groups seeking to overturn a rule that prohibited controls on these
emissions under the Clean Air Act.

"This
decision stops the Bush administration's final, last-minute effort to
saddle President Obama with its do-nothing policy on global warming,"
Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder said in a statement.

"With
coal-fired power plants emitting more than 30 percent of our global
warming pollution, regulating their carbon dioxide is essential to
making real progress in the fight against global warming," he added.

The
petition was filed by the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense
Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. The groups had sued to
overturn the Bush-era rule in court, but said the litigation would now
be put on hold as a result of the EPA decision.

Ex-chief chastised
In
a letter to the petitioners Tuesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
noted that on Dec. 18, outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson
issued the rule despite a finding by the EPA's own Environmental
Appeals Board that "EPA had not adequately explained why the program
did not apply to carbon dioxide."

Bookbinder said he expects the EPA to
eventually regulate carbon dioxide from coal plants, in part because
the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 said the authority to do so existed.

"Today's
announcement should cast significant further doubt on the approximately
100 coal-fired power plants that the industry is trying to rush through
the permitting process without any limits on carbon dioxide,"
Bookbinder said.

Fears of 'costly' result
Industry
representatives did not immediately react to today's decision, but they
had earlier praised Johnson's December rule restricting emissions
controls.

If the EPA had determined the Clean Air
Act could be used to place limits on carbon dioxide, many other sources
beyond power plants would have been impacted, Scott Segal, director of
the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an association of power
companies, said at the time.

"A contrary
result might have caused office and apartment buildings, schools and
hospitals, and over 20 different industrial sectors to be subject to
costly and inflexible permitting requirements," Segal said.

Reversing Bush

The Obama administration has moved quickly to reverse or reconsider Bush-era environmental policies.

On Feb. 6, the EPA said it would consider more stringent mercury controls
at power plants and agreed to reconsider whether to grant California
and other states the authority to cut C02 emissions by new cars and
light trucks - a request the Bush administration had denied.

Also this month, the Interior Department
withdrew oil and natural gas drilling leases near two national parks in Utah. And it
shelved a draft plan to open much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling.

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