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Since the US Congress is deadlocked on climate change legislation, the Obama administration is moving forward to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act, starting January 2, 2011. One of the challenges in doing this is that the Clean Air Act was designed for toxins emitted in relatively small quantities, in the hundreds of tons/ year, not for GHG, which can be emitted in the hundreds of thousands of tons by a single company. Special rules are therefore being developed to “tailor” the CAA regime to GHG.

Last week, the EPA released wide-ranging guidance documents on how the new rules will actually apply to major stationary emitters of GHGs:

“Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the largest stationary sources will, for the first time, be covered by the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and title V Operating Permit Programs beginning January 2, 2011.  These permitting programs, required under the Clean Air Act, are proven tools for protecting air quality and the same tools will be used to reduce GHG emissions.  But the thresholds established in the Act for determining when emissions of pollutants make a source subject to these permitting programs, 100 and 250 tons per year, were based on traditional pollutants and were not designed to be applied to GHGs.

EPA’s GHG Tailoring Rule issued in May 2010, established a common sense approach to permitting GHG emissions.  Under the rule, GHG permitting will focus initially on the largest industrial sources, while shielding millions of small businesses that make up the vast majority of the U.S. economy.

State and local permitting authorities have long-standing experience working together with owners and operators of industrial facilities, and EPA believes they are best suited to issue Clean Air Act permits to sources of GHG emissions.  EPA is working closely with permitting authorities to ensure that the transition to GHG permitting runs seamlessly.”

So far, there is no sign of Canada following suit.

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