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E.P.A. to Consider Rollback of Bush Coal Policy

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The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that it will consider whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants, in a potential reversal of Bush administration policy.

According to the Sierra Club, Lisa Jackson, the new E.P.A. administrator, has granted its petition that the agency reconsider a controversial decision in December by Stephen Johnson, the Bush administration’s E.P.A. administrator, stating that officials weighing federal applications by utilities to build new coal-fired power plants cannot consider their greenhouse gas output.

“Today’s announcement should cast significant further doubt on the approximately 100 coal-fired power plants that the industry is trying to rush through the permitting process without any limits on carbon dioxide,” said David Bookbinder, the chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, in a statement.

But coal industry representatives played down the E.P.A. move. “This development was really expected, but our friends in the environmental community are making much of it nonetheless,” said Frank Maisano, an energy specialist with Bracewell & Giuliani and a spokesman for Desert Rock, a large proposed coal plant in New Mexico, in an e-mailed message to the news media.

Mr. Maisano quoted a Bracewell colleague, Jeffrey Holmstead, a former assistant E.P.A. administrator who now also represents Desert Rock, as saying, “It’s a clever procedural move that allows the new administration to distance itself from the Bush administration without actually changing anything about how CO2 is regulated. As a legal matter, the Johnson memo will remain in place until the Obama E.P.A. does its homework and goes through a public process to create a new framework for dealing with CO2 under the Clean Air Act.”

Nonetheless, for the battered coal industry, today’s announcement is yet another dose of bad news, and environmentalists see it as the latest sign that a long-running battle over carbon dioxide regulation could be turning in their favor.

The matter now goes to public comment. Mr. Bookbinder estimated that it would be five to six months before a final rule was in place.


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