In a letter to the Department of Justice late last week, California and 10 other states, the cites of New York and D.C., as well as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) an extension until November 30th of this year to create regulations limiting the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by power plants before pursuing legal action to enforce a December 2010 settlement.
This all began back in 2006 when these petitioners sued EPA under the Clean Air Act (CAA) upon passage of a final rule regulating utility emissions without limiting GHGs. The petitioners’ position was given teeth following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the court held that carbon dioxide falls within the definition of a pollutant under the CAA. The 2010 settlement required that EPA create the rules by July of 2011. This deadline was extended to the end of September of this year and was then further extended to the end of October. The petitioners stated that they are willing to agree to this third extension “in light of progress made to date.” The extension talks are confidential (since they are really settlement modification discussions), however, various news outlets are reporting that the discussions are centered more around the schedule for rule-making rather than the meat of the rules.
The rules will be the first ever to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other GHGs emitted by power plants, which are the greatest emitters of GHGs in the United States. Politically, EPA has been under pressure from Republicans and polluting industries to delay the rules, as well as from some Democrats from states with industry that would be the most affected. This pressure, likewise, played a part in the Obama administration’s decision to order EPA to delay issuing a major smog related rule, which we wrote about here.
EPA issued a statement indicating that it has “engaged in an extensive and open public process to gather the latest and best information prior to proposing GHG pollution standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants” and will “develop smart, cost-effective and protective standards.”