Under House Democrats' draft climate and energy bill, U.S. EPA would be tasked with launching a raft of major climate programs, dramatically boosting the workload of a cash-strapped agency already struggling to meet a long list of regulatory deadlines.
The draft directs EPA to implement several new programs aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting transportation efficiency – this for an agency trying to revisit Bush-era regulations returned for review by federal courts and set new protection policies for air and water pollution.
"EPA has an extremely heavy workload," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. "I think that it will be absolutely crucial that any new task for EPA is accompanied by adequate resources; otherwise, we might just end up with words on a piece of paper."
And while final legislation may differ from the draft bill put forward by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, it offers a blueprint of the new responsibilities EPA could be charged with.
Among other things, the House bill would require the agency to set emissions standards on greenhouse gas emission sources that are not covered by the cap-and-trade allowance system and create a "strategic reserve" of about 2.5 billion emission allowances to create a buffer in case prices rise faster than expected. EPA would also be required to set emission standards for mobile pollution sources like locomotives and marine vessels, enter into agreements to prevent greenhouse gas emissions caused by international deforestation and develop procedures for rating buildings' energy efficiency.
The bill also would authorize new EPA funding for power plants and industrial operations to use carbon capture and storage technologies, viewed as vital to the coal industry's long-term viability in a carbon-limited economy.
Notably, the bill would not require EPA to regulate carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases as criteria pollutants or hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The bill also explicitly states that New Source Review (NSR) rules for power plants would not apply to greenhouse gases.
Observers recognize EPA will need more money to meet the new mandates. But with increased agency funding that President Obama proposed in his draft budget and leadership from climate experts who have been tapped to fill the agency's upper echelons, people familiar with the agency's inner workings are confident EPA can handle the workload.
"I think the real question is: Is this something that should be done? And if it is something we all agree would be protective of the public health and ecological system, then I think the funding should follow," said Rogene Henderson, former chairwoman of the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. "The EPA would be an agency that, appropriately funded, could handle that."
David Bookbinder, Sierra Club's chief climate counsel, said the agency would not be overburdened by the new directives if provided with the nearly $3 billion increase in agency funding that Obama proposed for fiscal 2010 and allowed to prioritize projects under the legislation.
EPA will also need to fill in key positions in its upper ranks, he said. But with Gina McCarthy – Obama's nominee to lead the air office – scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing tomorrow, "that's happening," he said.