U.S. issues its first greenhouse gas permit

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the first greenhouse gas permit in the United States. The permit was awarded to the Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant (pictured) in Llano County, Texas, which is modernizing its natural gas use with a combined cycle turbine.

Why does it need the permit? As the EPA explains,

In June 2010, EPA finalized national Greenhouse Gas regulations, which specify that beginning on January 2, 2011, projects that increase Greenhouse Gas emissions substantially will require an air permit.

States normally issue these permits, but Texas has refused to conduct the permit oversight process. (I’m sure Texas Governor Rick Perry had it as the third item on his to-do list.)

Establishing this monitoring infrastructure lays the groundwork for policies reducing greenhouse gas pollution in America. As Scientific American writes, “What gets measured often gets managed, and the permits are a prelude to federal restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.”

When the U.S. reduced acid rain pollution using a cap-and-trade system, it allocated sulfur dioxide allowances to facilities based on historical emissions. In comparison, the lack of measured and verified emissions data in Europe caused some startup difficulty for Europe’s cap on carbon pollution. When the EU ETS began in 2005 with no data on historical carbon emissions, the program based its emissions allowances on optimistic economic growth forecasts and on largely unverified data voluntarily submitted by firms.  These voluntary estimates were, unsurprisingly, over-estimates, and during the first two years of the pilot phase of the ETS,  the carbon market had about 2.5% more allowances than emissions.

Getting a head start on emissions data collection is a smart move. Besides, as the manager of the company running the Llano plant has stated,

We believe that replacing our aging [plant] with this new combined-cycle natural gas plant benefits everyone. The region will benefit from the latest environmental controls and our customers will benefit from our ability to better manage costs with a plant that will use about 35 to 40 percent less fuel than traditional gas-fired plants.

Throw in reduction of emissions that cause local smog, and it sounds like a win-win. James Marston of Environmental Defense Fund said the permit shows that Texas’ fears are unfounded:

This proves again that state officials have been Chicken Little – [they say] that the sky will fall, no one will get a permit and jobs will be lost. This can be done. But for ideological reasons, the state does not want to issue greenhouse gas permits.