You probably never heard of the EPA Appeals Board, but they have just handed down a ruling that will affect scores of power plants using coal. Affect them how? Not clear at the moment:
The uncertainty resulted when an Environmental Protection Agency appeals panel on Thursday rejected a federal permit for a Utah plant, leaving the issue for the Obama administration to resolve.
The panel said the EPA’s Denver office failed to adequately support its decision to issue a permit for the Bonanza plant without requiring controls on carbon dioxide, the leading pollutant linked to global warming.
The matter was sent back to that office, which must better explain why it failed to order limits on carbon dioxide. This is “an issue of national scope that has implications far beyond this individual permitting process,” the panel said.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shrader said the agency was reviewing the ruling by the appeals panel, which traditionally gives great deference to agency decisions.
Environmentalists and lawyers representing industry groups said the ruling puts in question permits – some being considered, others approved but under appeal – of perhaps as many as 100 coal plants. (AP via Wired Blog)
So what is this Appeals Board? Here’s how they describe themselves:
The Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the final Agency decision maker on administrative appeals under all major environmental statutes that EPA administers. It is an impartial body independent of all Agency components outside the immediate Office of the Administrator. It was created in 1992 in recognition of the growing importance of EPA adjudicatory proceedings as a mechanism for implementing and enforcing the environmental laws. The EAB sits in panels of three and makes decisions by majority vote.
The EAB’s caseload consists primarily of appeals from permit decisions and civil penalty decisions. The EAB has authority to hear permit and civil penalty appeals in accordance with regulations delegating this authority from the EPA Administrator. Appeals from permit decisions made by EPA’s Regional Administrators (and in some cases, state permitting officials) may be filed either by permittees or other interested persons. A grant of review of a permit decision is at the EAB’s discretion. (EAB FAQ)
So this tells us a couple of things. One is that this is an independent board. The Bush EPA is strongly opposed to using the Clean Air Act to address climate change, so the independence of this board is quite evident. Second, EAB is discretionary. They took this case. The Times they are a Changin’. Third, this case is a big deal, as signaled by the parties filing briefs in the case: the American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council and the National Association of Manufacturers.
This is going to take some time to sort out, enough time so that it will be left to the new administration. There is a new feeling in the country after the recent election. This may be one small indication that things are improving for environmental protection and public health.
I dare to hope so.