The Environmental Protection Agency last week issued guidance to state authorities on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other large facilities, in advance of its new Clean Air Act rules that will take effect Jan. 2.

States and other permitting authorities will have authority to issue permits for greenhouse gases, according to the EPA.

“Permitting authorities have long-standing experience working together with large industrial facilities, including electric generating units, cement production facilities, and petroleum refineries, and are best suited to issue Clean Air Act permits to sources of GHG emissions,” the agency said.

But it offered some basic emissions-reduction options, including energy-efficiency improvements or using carbon-capture technology, which the EPA said is expensive and unlikely to be used in most cases.

The guidance document comes in advance of permits being required for new large plants and large plant modifications.

Public power authorities have been closely watching the EPA’s steps toward regulating carbon emissions, which could have an effect on the sector depending on how quickly they must be implemented and what they require.

Industries that are planning to build new facilities or modify existing ones — including power plants — will have to start complying with greenhouse-gas permitting requirements starting in January, the EPA said.

The agency took the lead on climate-change policy last year when it said certain gases were a danger to public health and therefore could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.

Since then, some members of Congress have attempted to block the EPA’s ability to do that.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have been unable to agree on legislation that would set policies for greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans and Democrats fought over various proposals in the last session, and President Obama has said he hopes they can resolve their differences on an energy bill — instead of a cap-and-trade climate bill — in the next Congress that begins in January.

In its guidance last week, the EPA suggested that state permitting authorities should take stock of factors including cost and technical feasibility when evaluating all the options for emissions control at a power plant or other large facility.

“To identify [greenhouse gas] reduction options, EPA and the states are now ready to apply the same time-tested process they have used for other pollutants,” said Gina McCarthy, the agency’s air and radiation assistant administrator.

The EPA said it expects the process for determining the “best available control technology,” or BACT, will probably point most often to energy-efficiency improvements as the most cost-effective means of reducing the gas emissions, as opposed to trying to capture them.

It also said that a switch to “clean fuels,” such as from coal to natural gas or biomass — a task that could be expensive or logistically difficult for some public-power providers — would not necessarily be warranted because such options “would fundamentally redefine the [primary] source” that the facility uses. But the permitter could insist that emissions-reduction options being considered include a cleaner version of the same type of fuel.

“Ultimately, however, a permitting authority retains the discretion to conduct a broader analysis and to consider changes in the primary fuel” as part of that analysis, the EPA’s guidance said.

The agency stressed that its guidance is not a set of requirements for determining the best carbon control option, but is meant to help state and local permitters and those that must seek permits next year.

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