EPA announces plan for new carbon rules

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it plans to write new rules on carbon pollution from power plants and refineries within the next 12 months.

Carbon-containing gases such as carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases that have been shown to trap heat energy near the Earth’s surface, contributing substantially to climate change. Fossil fuel power plants, mostly coal-fired, and petroleum refineries account for nearly 40 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., the EPA estimates.

The new rules will be proposed as part of a settlement agreement with states, local governments and environmental groups that banded together to sue the EPA for failing to properly enforce the Clean Air Act. After a comment period beginning early in 2011, the new rules for power plants are expected to be released in July. New rules for refineries are expected in December 2011. Both sets of rules would take effect in 2012.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that carbon rules will make for healthier kids and families, and lead to job creation.

“Carbon pollution poses serious threats to Americans’ health, our economy and our future. We’re pleased that EPA is working to deliberately bring this dangerous pollution under control, focusing on the biggest polluters first,” he said. “This is a major endeavor and the timeline laid out in today’s announcement balances the need for public input with the urgency to act quickly.”

The new rules are a step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels, a target set by the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, and again in the Cancun Agreements approved just two weeks ago during the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Mexico.

Those agreements are not legally binding and do not have to be ratified by the Senate, since the convention has already been ratified. However some Republican members of Congress are already looking for ways to take away EPA’s ability to regulate emissions in an effort to hamstring the Obama administration’s ability to live up to such agreements.

With many Republicans denying that climate change exists, or at least denying that man contributes to it, the administration is likely in for a fight over the new rules when the new Congress convenes.

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