Updated at 10/1/09 4:47 PM
I’ve just begun reading EPA’s proposed Tailoring Rule to establish a new 25,000 tons per year (TPY) “major stationary source” applicability threshold for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program and Title V operating permits program. I’ll blog about this again later on, but for now I just want to say, “We told ya so!”
Attorney Peter Glaser, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEI and a host of other free market groups warned repeatedly that regulating GHG emissions from new motor vehicles — the immediate policy objective of plaintiffs in the Supreme Court global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA — would have the following consequences:
- CO2 would automatically become an air pollutant “subject to regulation” under the PSD and Title V programs.
- Millions of previously unregulated entities — big box stores, enclosed malls, hotels, apartment complexes, mid-sized office buildings, even commercial kitchens — would be vulnerable to new controls, paperwork, penalties, and litigation.
- The volume of permit applications would create an administrative quagmire for EPA and state environmental permitting agencies.
- The new costs, uncertainties, and delays would create an unprecedented roadblock to new construction and economic development, turning the Clean Air Act into a gigantic Anti-Stimulus program.
Predictably, global warming activists, such as Sierra Club climate council David Bookbinder, a plaintiff in Massachusetts v. EPA, derided these concerns as a “bugaboo,” a “red herring,” and a “pure scare tactic” by industry foes of regulatory climate policy. (See segments 1:47 – 1:48 and 2:03 – 2:05 of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Archived Webcast).
EPA’s July 30, 2008 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act (ANPR) acknowledged that applying PSD to CO2 might increase the volume of permit applications by an “order of magnitude” (p. 44499), might “overwhelm” the administrative resources of permitting authorities (p. 44507), and might subject sources to new costs, uncertainties, and delays (p. 44502). However, the ANPR considerably understated the risks, Glaser, the Chamber, and CEI argued.
Well, you can now get the lowdown straight from the horse’s mouth. Here’s what EPA’s Tailoring Rule says:
If PSD and Title V requirements apply at the applicability levels provided under the CAA, state permitting authorities would be paralyzed by permit applications in numbers that are orders of magnitude [not a mere “order of magnitude,” as in the ANPR] greater than their current administrative resources could accomodate [p. 1].
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If PSD and Title V requirements apply at the applicability levels provided under the CAA, many small sources would be burdened by the costs of individualized PSD control technology requirements and permit applications. In addition, state permitting authorities would be paralyzed by enormous numbers of these permit applications; the numbers are orders of magnitude greater than the current inventory of permits and would vastly exceed the current administrative resources of the permitting authorities [pp. 15-16]
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In short, without this tailoring rule, the administrative burdens would be immense, and they would immediately and completely overwhelm the permitting authorities. Without this tailoring rule, permitting authorities would receive approximately 40,000 PSD permit applications each year — currently, they receive approximately 300 — and they would be required to issue Title V permits for approximately some six million sources — currently, their Title V inventory is some 15,000 sources [p. 19].
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Based on our GHG threshold data analyis, we estimate that almost 41,000 new and modified facilities per year would be subject to PSD review, based on the current rate of modifications at major sources, if a GHG major sourcee threshold of 250 TPY CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] were applied. Compared to the 280 PSD permits currently issued last year, this would be an increase in permits of more than 140-fold [p. 50].
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Based on these assumptions [permitting agency costs in time and money to process a PSD permit for a commercial or residential GHG source would be only 20% of the time and money required to process a permit for an industrial GHG source], the additional annual permitting burden for permitting authorities, on a national basis, is estimated to be 3.3 million hours at a cost of $257 million to include all GHG emitters above the 250-TPY threshold [pp. 51-52].
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Most significant [of new Title V obligations triggered by GHG regulation of new motor vehicles] are the more than six million sources of GHGs that would become newly subject to Title V requirements because they exceed the 100-TPY threshold for GHG but did not for previously regulated pollutants. Although there are generally not applicable requirements for GHGs that apply to such sources [a gross understatement — although there are generally no Clean Air Act requirements, period, that apply to such sources], these six million sources would be required to submit a Title V permit application within 1 year [pp. 56-57].
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Obviously, this massive influx of permit applications would overwhelm permitting authorities’ administrative resources. Indeed, permitting authorities report that they currently are having difficulty keeping up with their existing permit workloads. The Tite V Operating Permits System database, which tracks permit issuance, confirms that issuance of many permits is already delayed. By increasing the volume of permits by over 400 times, the administrative burden would be unmanageable [p. 58].
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We estimate that for permitting authorities, the average new commercial or residential [Title V] permit would require 43 hours to process, which is 10 percent of the time needed for the average industrial permit . . . We estimate that the total nationwide additional burden for permitting authorities for Title V permits from adding GHG emissions at the 100-TPY threshold would be 340 imllion hours, which would cost over $15 billion [p. 59].
These burdens are “absurd,” EPA argues, because they are “inconsistent” with “congressional intent,” indeed would “undermine congressional purposes” (p. 19). Hence, EPA concludes, it is justified in effectively amending the statute, upping the PSD and Title V applicability thresholds for major sources from 100/250 TPY to 25,000 TPY.
Well, somebody needs to point out the obvious. The looming threat of an economy-chilling administrative quagmire didn’t just happen. The absurdity of agencies spending 340 million hours and $15 billion to process hollow operating permits didn’t suddenly spring forth from the text of Title V. Nothing in the Clean Air Act has changed since it was amended in 1977 and 1990 to turn it into an economic wrecking ball. Congress is still debating cap-and-trade, and never signed off on EPA using the Clean Air Act to control CO2 emissions from stationary sources. No, the absurd results are entirely a product of Mass. v. EPA. So is the necessity for EPA now to amend clear and unambiguous statutory language, violating the separation of powers.
When a court decision leads to absurd results, there are only two possibilities. (1) The absurdity was lurking in the statute all along and the court simply brought it to light; or (2) the court messed up, manufacturing absurdity in an otherwise sane and reasonably coherent law. My comment on EPA’s proposed endangerment finding (especially pp. 28-33) argues the blame lies with the Court, not those who drafted and enacted the Clean Air Act.