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November 17, 2009

Time to Speak Out Against the Biggest Polluters

This is the weekly post from Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

Wednesday and Thursday of this week are big days if you live in Arlington, Virginia, or Chicago, Illinois. Those are the two days of public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Big Polluters” rule. But of course, this whole issue is huge whether you live in Virginia, Illinois, or anywhere else in the U.S. – it affects everyone.

Right now only a handful of pollution sources, including coal-fired power plants, are responsible for more than half of all of the global warming pollution in the United States. Cleaning these up is a large step towards stopping global warming, so EPA is proposing a new rule to start cleaning up these Big Polluters under the Clean Air Act. By targeting the worst offenders, the Big Polluters rule is an important step that will cut global warming pollution while still helping our economy grow.

That’s why we’ve helped organize crowds of folks to turn out to the Wednesday and Thursday hearings: These mega-polluters should be held responsible for their share. (You can also check in on the hearings by following the #bigpolluters hashtag on twitter. We’ll have lots of folks tweeting from inside the hearing rooms)

This rule will bring the most bang for the buck—resulting in real pollution reductions and helping spur growth and development of clean energy technologies.

And forget the nay-sayers spreading false information about the government trying to regulate churches, hospitals, schools and Dunkin Donuts (why do they always bring up Dunkin Donuts?): The rule would only apply to offenders emitting at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year, exempting small businesses, churches and apartment buildings, while addressing the bulk of the nation’s global warming pollution.

Under the Big Polluters rule, big new facilities that would create large amounts of global warming pollution—like new coal plants—would have to install technology to clean up their carbon emissions. These safeguards would also be required for large existing facilities when they are expanded or modified.

Again, this proposed EPA rule uses the time-tested Clean Air Act, which has already succeeded at cleaning up other sorts of pollution all over the country, to help control global warming pollution. 

To provide a little more detail about EPA’s proposal: The Clean Air Act requires all new ‘major emitting facilities’ – big sources – to use the ‘best available control technology’ to limit their emissions.  Existing polluters that make big physical changes to their plants and increase their emissions in the process have to update their controls to meet this standard, too. 

This best available control technology requirement has been used for decades to reduce many other types of air pollution. EPA must consider the “energy, environmental, and economic impacts” before deciding on the right controls for any particular plant.  There are a number of simple, proven methods for controlling global warming pollution, including using energy more efficiently, replacing old equipment, or burning cleaner fuels.

The sources that EPA will focus on under this rule already have decades of experience with this process.  Having used best available control technology to reduce many other types of pollution, they have the engineering expertise to work with EPA and community groups to select appropriate, cost-effective controls.

Global warming pollution controls will also reduce emissions of other pollutants, including those that cause smog, heart attacks, and lung disease. 

By focusing on these big sources, EPA is spending its resources wisely.  Although global warming pollution comes from many places, EPA can cut down on the lion’s share by taking on the largest sources first. 

The Big Polluters Rule marks one of EPA’s most important commitments yet to moving us towards a clean energy economy and away from dirty power sources like coal.


If you can’t make it in person to the hearings Wednesday and Thursday, you can still send in your comments to EPA on this important rule – simply use our Big Polluters website:

And don’t forget to follow along with the #bigpolluters hashtag on Twitter for tweets from inside the hearing.

For a recap of how these hearings went, be sure to check in on my colleague Greg Haegele’s column later this week for photos and a wrap-up.

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