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EPA looking at a full plate this year

  Environmental  -   POSTED: 2008/01/28 13:27

The Environmental Protection Agency has a busy calendar in 2008 with possible rulemakings and proposed regulations on airborne lead, underground carbon dioxide storage and fuel standards in the works.

But as the agency deals with these and other environmental concerns, a single, divisive issue has crept into nearly every agency discussion and proceeding: emissions regulations.

"2008 could be an unexpectedly busy year for EPA," according to a policy brief from Van Ness Feldman, a Washington, D.C. law firm. "It will be drafting a registry rule while finalizing a low carbon fuel standard and federal vehicle standards. At the same time, it will face legal challenges from California and the other states whose vehicle regulation plans it thwarted."

The reference to California is at the heart of the agency's latest run-in with lawmakers over emissions regulations. The EPA informed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Democrat, late last year that it planned to deny the state's request to impose strict carbon dioxide emissions standards on vehicle tailpipe emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The hot-button issue of climate change and the question of how aggressively the government should work to regulate greenhouse gas emissions are dominating the regulatory and policy landscape and have turned the agency's interactions with Congress into high political drama.

The matter came to a head recently when a Senate panel swore in EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and took turns drilling the official on his decision denying California's request. Fences weren't mended as Johnson calmly and repeatedly defended his decision.

Jeffrey Holmstead, a 20-year veteran of EPA who also headed the agency's office responsible for overseeing clean air issues, said a 2007 Supreme Court ruling against the agency for refusing to regulate new-vehicle emissions means that the agency will continue to wrestle with emissions regulations at every turn.

"That really dominates everything that goes on now," Holmstead said. "And it's certainly going to affect everything EPA does...as far forward as you can imagine...probably for the next 20 years."

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