Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Anti-coal activists scored a win on Tuesday as the U.S. EPA signaled that it is reconsidering the Bush administration’s late decree that greenhouse-gas emissions shouldn’t be taken into account when determining whether to approve the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter [PDF] to the Sierra Club that the agency will revisit the Bush-era memo and publish a proposed rulemaking on emissions from coal-fired plants in the Federal Register sometime in the near future, seeking public comment on the decision. The move reopens the possibility of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act, and essentially puts a freeze on the construction of as many as 100 new coal-fired power plants around the country.

In November of last year, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board ruled that the Bush administration had failed to offer a good reason for not regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from the proposed Bonanza coal-fired power plant in Utah, but a month later EPA administrator Stephen Johnson issued a memo essentially overruling that decision.

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Jan. 6 challenging the legality of the Johnson memo. Briefs in that case were due the second week of February, but Obama’s EPA agreed to reconsider the decision rather than let the lawsuit proceed.

“Not only does today’s decision signal a good start for our clean energy future, it also signals a return to policy based on sound science and the rule of law, not deep pocketbooks or politics,” said Sierra Club chief climate counsel David Bookbinder in a statement. “Lisa Jackson is making good on her promises to bring science and the rule of law back into the center of the decision making process at EPA. With coal-fired power plants emitting more than 30 percent of our global warming pollution, regulating their carbon dioxide is essential to making real progress in the fight against global warming.

“New coal plants were already a bad bet for investors and ratepayers and today’s decisions make them an even bigger gamble,” Bookbinder continued.

UPDATE: Jackson put out a statement Tuesday afternoon about her decision: “I am granting this petition because we must learn more about how this memo affects all relevant stakeholders impacted by its provisions,” said Jackson. “This will be a fair, impartial and open process that will allow the American public and key stakeholders to review this memorandum and to comment on its potential effects on communities across the country. EPA’s fundamental mission is to protect human health and the environment and we intend to do just that.”