US EPA Hears from Packed House in Atlanta: Greenhouse Gas Regulation is a MUST!
On Tuesday, the US EPA held its second of five listening sessions at the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Building in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference room was completely packed and the audience spilled over in to the next room. Dozens of people wore “I <3 Clean Air” stickers, and children held signs that said “EPA Protect My Future.”
This session focused on bringing stakeholders in the environmental and environmental justice movements together to speak to EPA staff, including Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator at the Office of Air and Radiation. In five total hearings, the EPA will hear feedback and opinions from various stakeholder groups, which will inform the rulemaking process EPA is undertaking this year.
The EPA is preparing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS). The potential impact of this rule is huge: Congress has failed to enact legislation that will address greenhouse gas emissions, and in Georgia where developers are attempting to build 3 new coal-fired power plants, this rule could prevent these proposed plants from moving forward. It could also help transition Georgia’s existing coal plants into retirement. This is one of the reasons why so many community members came to the listening session during the middle of the workday – there is a lot riding on this rule.
NSPS is a regulatory tool EPA is authorized to use under the Clean Air Act, a key piece of environmental legislation that is currently under attack from big polluters. As Seandra Rawls summarizes in her blog about speaking at the Session on Tuesday,
“The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish a list of sources of dangerous air pollutants and to set standards for such sources. In 2007 the United States Supreme Court ruled that GHGs are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.”
For a full summary, see Seandra’s post at Clean Energy Footprints.
Currently, House and Senate Republicans are working to defund the EPA. Challenges to EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act were seen in the 111th Congress and are already circulating in this Congress.
EPA’s NSPS will be focused on electricity-generating power plants and refineries. In the South, we consume the most electricity per capita and emit the greatest amount of greenhouse gases in the United States. We also have a huge fleet of aging, polluting coal plants in the Southern states.
When EPA proposes its draft rule in July 2011, we can expect the rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through multiple strategies, including providing incentives for old and polluting coal plants to retire and increasing energy efficiency nationally and in the South.
There was some disagreement in the room around how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kurt Waltzer with Clean Air Task Force spoke about the importance of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology, also known as clean coal technology, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. As many in the Power Shift generation know, there is no such thing as clean coal. Even if we were able to harness every last atom of CO2 from burning coal, we’d still need to extract it, process it, and operate inefficient plants to burn it. CCS technology doesn’t address co-pollutants, things like mercury and other toxic chemicals that are released into the air when we burn coal for power. Extracting coal to burn for electricity is also extremely destructive. In Appalachia, community members are fighting for the lives and culture as mountaintops are blown off with dynamite to expose coal seams, and what was the mountaintop is then dumped into stream and river valleys. A dynamic movement opposing Mountaintop Removal coal mining has grown in Appalachia and spread to other parts of the country.
During the Listening Session, more than a dozen groups were given the opportunity to speak with Ms. McCarthy, including Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center, National Wildlife Federation, The Reverend Gerald Durley from Providence Mission Baptist Church and Interfaith Power & Light, the Gulf Coast Fund, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, Natural Resource Defense Council, Environment Northeast, Conservation Law Foundation, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Clean Air Task Force, and the US Climate Action Network.
Though the panelists were knowledgeable and powerful in their statements to EPA, SEN would have liked a young leader to offer comments as well. Several students from Georgia Tech and Georgia State University came to the session between classes, but we would like to see future sessions take place at a time more convenient for students and young people.
Luckily, EPA is accepting public comments through March 18, 2011, and you don’t need time during the middle of the day to participate! Here’s how you can comment:
- Comments on the greenhouse gas NSPS for petroleum refineries must reference Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0089
- Comments on the greenhouse gas NSPS for utilities must reference Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0090