Coalition for Responsible Regulation

Post image for How Absurd Is Regulating Greenhouse Gases through the Clean Air Act?

Pretty darn near the height of absurdity. That’s not just my opinion. It’s a key premise of EPA’s “Tailoring Rule,” which exempts small greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters from regulation under the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program and Title V operating permits program.

As EPA explains in a brief filed last week with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, once the agency’s GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles took effect on January 2, 2011, “major stationary sources” of GHG emissions became “automatically subject” to PSD and Title V permitting requirements. A facility with a potential to emit 250 tons per year (tpy) of a regulated air pollutant is a “major source” under PSD. A facility with a potential to emit 100 tpy is a “major source” under Title V. Whereas only large industrial facilities emit 100-250 tpy of smog- and soot-forming air pollutants, literally millions of small entities — big box stores, apartment and office buildings, hospitals, schools, large houses of worship, Dunkin’ Donut shops – use enough natural gas or oil for heating or cooking to emit 100-250 tpy of carbon dioxide (CO2).

EPA and its state counterparts lack the administrative resources to process millions of PSD and Title V permit applications. Thus, applying the CAA as written to GHGs leads to “absurd results” — an ever-growing backlog of permit applications that would cripple both environmental enforcement and economic development. Massive increases in the budgets and staff of environmental agencies would be required to handle the mountains of paperwork. From EPA’s brief:

EPA studied and considered the breadth and depth of the projected administrative burdens in the Tailoring Rule. There, EPA explained that immediately applying the literal PSD statutory threshold of 100/250 tpy [tons per year] to greenhouse gas emissions, when coupled with the “any increase” trigger for modifications under 42 U.S.C. §§7479, 7411(a)(4), would result in annual PSD permit applications submitted to State and local permitting agencies to increase nationwide from 280 to over 81,000 per year, a 300-fold increase. 75 Fed. Reg. at 31,535-40, 31,554. Following a comprehensive analysis, EPA estimated that these additional PSD permit applications would require State permitting authorities to add 10,000 full-time employees and incur additional costs of $1.5 billion per year just to process these applications, a 130-fold increase in the costs to States of administering the PSD program. Id. at 31,539/3. Sources needing operating permits would jump from 14,700 to 6.1 million as a result of application of Title V to greenhouse gases, a 400-fold increase. When EPA [in an earlier asssessment] assumed a mere 40-fold increase in applications – one-tenth of the actual increase – and no increase in employees to process them, the processing time for Title V permits would jump from 6-10 months to ten years. Hiring the 230,000 full-time employees necessary to produce the 1.4 billion work hours required to address the actual increase in permitting functions would result in an increase in Title V administration costs of $21 billion per year. Id. at 31,535-40, 31,577 [emphasis added].

For perspective, EPA’s budget request for FY 2012 is $8.973 billion. Hiring the 230,000 bureaucrats needed to process Title V applications from GHG emitters under the statutory definition of “major source” would cost more than twice as much as EPA’s total budget.

As expected, EPA fails to draw the obvious conclusion from its own analysis, namely: Regulating GHGs via the CAA leads to absurd results because Congress never designed or intended for the Act to regulate GHGs. [click to continue…]