U.S. Chamber unveils NIMBY Watch Web site

by Marlo Lewis on March 23, 2009

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a NIMBY-Watch Web site called Project No Project .

With case studies from more than 30 states, Project No Project  chronicles how NIMBY (”not in my backyard”) activists “block energy projects by organizing local opposition, changing zoning laws, opposing permits, filing lawsuits, and bleeding projects dry of their financing.” Many of the projects blocked are not coal plants but alternative energy projects or infrastructure often touted as “green.”

The site invites readers to provide examples from their own locales of NIMBY efforts to block or stall energy-related projects.

Proponents of “green jobs” should be concerned as much as free-market and property-rights advocates, because ”stimulus” projects are vulnerable to the same NIMBY tactics that, for example, have immobilized the Cape Wind Project in Nantucket, Mass.

Although Project No Project does not mention it, we also know from  comments submitted by the U.S. Chamber and allied groups on EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, that NIMBY forces will aquire powerful new litigation tools if EPA, in response to the Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. EPA decision, establishes greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new motor vehicles. (For more background, see my recent post on MasterResource.Org.)

In a nutshell, vehicular GHG emission standards will make carbon dioxide (CO2) a “regulated air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act (CAA). That, in turn, will automatically make CO2 “subject to regulation” under the Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program. 

The cutoff for regulation as a “major stationary source” under PSD is a potential to emit 250 tons per year (TPY) of a CAA-regulated air pollutant. Approximately 1.2 million previously unregulated entities (office buildings, hotels, big box stores, enclosed malls, even commercial kitchens) actually emit 250 TPY. All would be vulnerable to new regulation, monitoring, paperwork, controls, and penalties if EPA establishes GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles.

To qualify for a PSD permit, major stationary sources must comply with “best available control technology” (BACT) standards. Even part from any investments required for BACT compliance, the PSD permitting process is costly and time-consuming. In 2007, each permit on average cost $125,120 and 866 burden hours for a source to obtain. No small business could operate subject to the PSD administrative burden.

So NIMBY forces must be licking their chops at the prospect that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans on April 30 to issue an “endangerment finding” for GHGs. An endangerment finding  is the prerequisite to establishing GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles and, thus, the critical first step to making CO2 a CAA-regulated “air pollutant.” 

When and if EPA regulates CO2, expect a surge of litigation demanding that EPA impose PSD and BACT requirements on developers proposing to build or renovate big box stores, strip malls, fast-food restaurants, or other projects NIMBYites deem undesirable or contrary to “smart growth.”

Bottom line: Applying PSD and BACT to CO2–the inexorable consequence of establishing vehicular GHG emission standards–will turn the CAA into a gigantic Anti-Stimulus package. Is Team Obama paying attention?

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