Reporting from Washington — Pressing ahead with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite a congressional stalemate over global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday issued guidelines that gave states considerable discretion in regulating carbon dioxide emissions from large industrial facilities.
On Jan. 2, the country's largest emitters of greenhouse gases will have to show state regulators how they plan to curb such emissions when they build new facilities or make major changes in existing facilities that result in increased discharges of the gases that most scientists link to climate change and global warming.
While requiring states to secure plans for controlling carbon emissions, the guidelines gave states latitude to determine on a case-by-case basis the "best available" pollution control technology that industrial facilities could use.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said that reductions would be achieved by companies focusing on energy efficiency rather than still-distant and experimental processes such as carbon capture and sequestration. McCarthy said that the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions would be similar to the process industrial facilities go through in getting permits to release other pollutants.
"For 40 years, we have found a way to issue permits that allowed the economy to grow," McCarthy said in a conference call. "We will not stop that with the greenhouse gas process."
A 2007 Supreme Court decision pushed the EPA to issue a determination last year, after a review of available science, that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that endangers public welfare and therefore subject to regulation. The EPA has issued a spate of rules this year on vehicle emissions and those from so-called stationary sites, such as factories and power plants.
The agency's efforts have split states and industries alike, with some supporting and others filing suit against its regulation of greenhouse gases. Still, all but one state — Texas — is preparing to require permits for emission of greenhouse gases in new industrial construction starting next year.
Some industry representatives, including the American Petroleum Institute, said the EPA was moving too fast on industrial regulations and "railroading job killing regulations onto states, localities and America's businesses."
More broadly, industry advocates said that the new permitting process would be so complicated and affect so many companies that delays among regulators would lead to a de facto moratorium on building.
"As a practical matter, no one is going to be able to get through EPA's new permitting process for a long time," said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, former administrator for air and radiation under President George W. Bush and now a lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington. "Even EPA staff admits that there will be a moratorium on construction for a couple of years."
The EPA, in fact, denied that any moratorium would be triggered by the new regulations, which by the agency's estimates and those of state regulators, could affect about 300 companies next year.
The agency had worked this summer with various stakeholders in the permitting process to develop the new regulations and, now, the technology guidelines. Moreover, past changes by Congress to the Clean Air Act prohibit the EPA from imposing standards that are deemed overly burdensome for companies.
Christopher Van Atten is senior vice president for M.J. Bradley & Associates, which manages the Clean Air Group, a coalition of electric power companies that includes some of the nation's largest generators of electricity.
He said in an e-mail: "While we continue to evaluate the guidance, the evidence to date is that EPA's proceeding in a pragmatic way in following through on its obligations under the Supreme Court decision. We see no evidence EPA's greenhouse gas regulations are resulting in a 'de facto moratorium.' "