Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Gasping for Air: How the House is Trying to Choke the EPA Out of the Climate Change Debate.
In an effort to improve the U.S. government’s knowledge of the causes and effects of climate change, the Department of Energy launched the Scalable, Efficient, and Accurate Community Ice Sheet Model (SEACISM). SEACISM is an endeavor to perfect algorithms used at the Oak Ridge National Labora+tory to measure depleting glacial ice in countries such as Greenland. The DOE hopes that SEACISM will create enough data by 2013 to adequately inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Despite this lack of knowledge, House Republicans proposed a bill on February 2, 2011 which would prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from promulgating rules pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions in efforts to address climate change. The Energy Tax Prevention Act, proposed by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, is in response to a variety of administrative rulemakings amending the permitting process for Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD). PSD is a permitting process instituted by the 1977 Amendments of the Clean Air Act, to prevent a state that is in compliance with the EPA’s standards on “criteria pollutants” from falling out of the acceptable pollution levels. As part of this permitting process, new sources of regulated materials must incorporate the “Best Available Control Technology” to prevent gas emissions. This can require the installation of costlier pollution reduction technologies in proposed plants, factories, etc. The PSD regulations were amended to include greenhouse gases as a pollutant requiring the BACT after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which permitted the Administrator of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.
The Energy Tax Prevention Act would repeal the various rulemakings the EPA has made regarding “concerns over climate change”, and would prevent any future attempts at regulation by the EPA. The Clean Air Act was intended to be technology forcing, placing burdens on polluters so as to force industry standards to adopt newer and cleaner methods of doing business. By removing greenhouse gases out of the purview of PSD, the technology forcing ethos behind the CAA and its subsequent amendments is eroded. While PSD is not the most stringent standard imposed by the CAA, and allows for consideration on a case by case basis of what is technology and economically feasible, the BACT requirement is meant to force industries to consider and incorporate continuously progressing pollution reduction technology.
The debate goes to the heart of contemporary political issues: on one side are pro-business laissez faire supporters wishing to keep business costs down in the hopes of improving the American economy, and on the other side are environmentalists and climate change experts who see the hands off approaches to business as threats to the public health and welfare. The competition of interests creates a foreboding air of stalemate for the representative branches of the U.S. Government. In a climate where the basic existence of climate change and human contribution are so diametrically opposed, it is wishful thinking to believe in any preventative action being taken to better air quality.
Although the bill is unlikely to pass the senate due to the absence of a sufficient majority, the Obama Administration already vowed to veto the bill in the event of the bill’s passage. With climatologists claiming that the point of no return for remedial action is fast approaching, the actions by climate control opponents attempting to remove technology requirements for greenhouse gases further postpones any significant curtailment of the U.S.’s contribution to this potential ecological crisis. Hopefully, the SEACISM project at Oak Ridge can provide some much needed clarity to the issue so as to allow for meaningful discussion based not on opinion but scientific facts; however without scientific certainty this legislative gridlock may be insurmountable.
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