Graham criticizes warming rules

Small businesses need more flexibility, he says

sfretwell@thestate.comMarch 30, 2010 

Looming federal rules to stop global warming could affect restaurants, churches, schools, family farms and small businesses - and that's a problem, Sen. Lindsey Graham and state regulators said Monday.

Graham, R-S.C., a national leader in efforts to control greenhouse gas pollution, said federal regulations aren't the best way to attack global warming.

He plans to introduce a bill by late April that he said will provide more flexibility, while helping the nation's economy.

The Graham legislation would stop the new Environmental Protection Agency rules in favor of other efforts to control carbon dioxide pollution, including a fee on oil companies and expansion of nuclear power. The rules are intended to control pollution from large new sources of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

Graham is working on the bill with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

"Anybody that produces carbon, from a small farmer to a church, is potentially affected," Graham said of the EPA rules. "And I believe the way to regulate carbon -- and it should be regulated, by the way -- is through Congress, not through the EPA."

Graham made his remarks to a group of business leaders, environmentalists and power company representatives Monday in Columbia.

The EPA is expected this week to finalize rules to limit greenhouse gas pollution from major sources, including new and expanding factories and power plants, as well as from cars.

The rules, to take effect in January 2011, are a first for the country and a significant milestone in federal efforts to limit pollution that contributes to global warming. Rising global temperatures are tied to an array of environmental problems, including rising sea levels that threaten coastal property.

But some lawmakers in Washington are pushing plans to nullify or delay the EPA regulations because of the impact on businesses.

If Congress instead passes a law, it can better address climate change and help shape a national energy policy that will depend less on foreign oil, Graham and other conservatives say. Graham wants to encourage investment in alternative energy, he said.

Responding to Graham's questions, state air pollution regulator Myra Reece said a person who plans to build a 20-unit apartment complex or someone trying to open a 200-seat restaurant would have to comply with the EPA greenhouse gas rules.

"You're going to wake up and you're going to find yourself regulated for greenhouse gases," said Reece, who is with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.."

The bulk of the nation's greenhouse gas pollution, including carbon dioxide, comes from major factories and power plants, as well as cars.

In addition to their potential impact on small businesses, the new rules could delay DHEC from issuing air pollution permits for major new industries, Reece said.

Boeing, a recent economic development coup for South Carolina, received air permits in 22 days, agency officials said. But under the EPA greenhouse gas rules, that could take three years, DHEC officials said.

Agency officials, like their counterparts in some states, also say the new EPA regulations could increase their workload 150 percent or more for new construction permits.

"Sometimes I think EPA doesn't think through the full circle," Reece said. "They just want to do something."

Not everyone shares the same concerns. In fact, the new EPA rules will make a big difference in protecting public health and the environment, said Bill Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies in Washington, D.C.

"It's very important for EPA to continue its regulatory authority to reduce greenhouse gases as a transition to new legislation," said Becker, whose group represents state air pollution control agencies from across the country.

Becker challenged DHEC's assertion that the rules will affect small businesses.

The EPA has proposed exempting small businesses from the new greenhouse gas regulations, he said. Although the exemption is not permanent, Becker said it should be good for five to six years. By then, Congress will have had time to fill in any gaps to exempt small businesses permanently, he said.

"Every credible stakeholder understands that these (small) sources should be exempt from regulation," he said.

After Monday's meeting, Graham said his bill would require oil companies that produce carbon to pay a fee, with the proceeds going to retire the national debt or for low income people "to deal with their energy needs." Utilities also would have a limited cap on carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

But the bill also would allow for more offshore drilling and emphasize nuclear power and alternative energy, Graham said, adding it will encourage investment in alternative and nuclear energies.

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