As the Environmental Protection Agency ramps up its efforts to reduce pollution under the Clean Air Act, it released air-permitting guidance related to the greenhouse gas (GHG) permits that large polluters will have to purchase starting in 2011.
While far short of a carbon tax, the additional permitting costs will help level the economic playing field between renewable energy, like solar and wind, and polluting, fossil fuel-generated energy.
In a press release on Nov. 10, the EPA said, “In January 2011, industries that are large emitters of GHGs, and are planning to build new facilities or make major modifications to existing ones, will work with permitting authorities to identify and implement BACT [i.e., best available control technology] to minimize their GHGs.” These provisions would only affect large GHG producers, not farms or restaurants, according to the release.
The new GHG charges should help increase renewables in the United States, according to environmental lawyer Robert Ukeiley. He has served as counsel for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and works with the American Solar Energy Society on certain issues.
“I think, more importantly, it’s another step in a long process of internalizing the cost of polluting into dirty sources of power, and create a more level economic playing field,” he said. The additional costs will allow renewables to compete with fossil-fuel powered plants, he explained.
And the new fees are not a substitute for a carbon tax, according to Ukeiley.
“It’s a different approach,” he said. “A carbon tax would result in a much more uniform and much more effective policy toward addressing climate change.”
Since the permit fees are based on each company’s projected pollution, the fees are determined on a case-by-case basis. So, in some circumstances, the cost of permitting new coal or natural gas power plants could make them more expensive then wind and maybe even solar, Ukeiley said.
According to National Public Radio, the incoming red tide may try to kill the new greenhouse gas permitting fees. But Ukeiley said he doesn’t think the new House leadership will. He does see the possibility that the new permitting could be threatened by Senate Republicans; they could attach a non-germane amendment to a bill to repeal the permitting action.
“Hopefully they won’t be able to succeed. All they would be doing is further subsidizing dirty energy,” he said. “If they want a true market system where the best source of energy is the most economically viable, then they would want the true cost of dirty electricity.”
Image courtesy of NREL.