EPA could create U.S. CO2 cap-and-trade: Sierra

Tue Sep 8, 2009 11:45pm BST

By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would step in and regulate carbon dioxide emissions by creating a cap-and-trade system or take other measures if Congress fails, but is likely to wait for 2010 elections, the head of the Sierra Club said on Tuesday.

The possibility of an end-run around Congress makes the prospect of U.S. carbon emission regulation likely despite current legislative debate, although President Barack Obama would prefer Congress lead the way, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco.

“I would guess that between now and the (2010) midterms, you will see two things happen. One, EPA will begin actively regulating all of the other kinds of problems with coal fired power plants,” Pope said, naming mercury emissions, particulate matter and mountaintop removal mining as examples.

“They will begin to create a context in which all the clunkers (coal plants) are going to get retired anyway. And they will lay the ground work for establishing carbon emissions standards for all large sources of carbon dioxide,” he said.

The EPA would use Clean Air Act authority to create a cap-and-trade system that allows polluters to buy and sell rights to emit greenhouse gases, or the agency could take other measures, such as regulatory caps on carbon from power plants and factories.

The Clean Air legislation gives the EPA broad discretion to regulate air pollution, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

The U.S. Senate has made healthcare a higher priority than climate change legislation, and sharp division over how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that stoke global warming has left a murky picture of if and when the United States will act, especially as international climate change talks in December in Copenhagen loom.

“It’s not clear to me that we will get a bill on the president’s desk before Copenhagen,” he said.

Obama might end up having to push most of his agenda through regulation if he is stymied by Congress.

“EPA has the authority to do the cap and trade piece. And if they can’t get it (through Congress), frankly the other thing you have to look at is, they have a pretty big problem with the deficit. And properly designed, a cap auction system will generate a lot of revenue without congressional action,” said Pope.

But the EPA has neither the resources nor the desire to act ahead of Congress on carbon regulations, he added.

“They think it’s a basic public policy choice and they don’t think they should make basic public policy choices. They think they’re there to follow basic public policy choices that Congress made… but if Congress doesn’t solve this problem, they will have no choice but to solve it,” he said.

(Reporting by Peter Henderson and Laura Isensee; Editing by Mary Milliken; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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