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Tar sands refinery among first megaprojects to face new US greenhouse gas rules

A sprawling South Dakota refinery that would convert Canadian tar sands into gasoline will be among the first US facilities required to obtain a federal permit for its greenhouse gas emissions.

"With the first nationwide regulations on greenhouse gases just weeks away from taking effect, fans and foes of the Obama administration's climate program are gazing into the tea leaves and seeing two completely different images -- one ominous, the other rosy," writes Gabriel Nelson in The New York Times.

The in-depth article explains:

Starting Jan. 2, 2011, officials in all 50 states will need to start deciding whether new power plants and other large industrial facilities are doing enough to avoid releasing carbon dioxide and other gases that are contributing to global warming. It is a new hurdle for many plants that need federal pollution permits, and inside the Beltway, the industry lobbyists are saying that no one will be able to jump it.

More than a dozen of the nation's most powerful trade groups -- including the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers -- have started a letter-writing campaign to persuade Congress to stop the climate rules from taking effect on Jan. 2. If lawmakers do not act, the groups say, there will be a virtual freeze on the construction of power plants, factories and other facilities that release large amounts of air pollution.

They see a bleak future for American industry. Without a doubt, The Wall Street Journal's editorial board said recently, U.S. EPA's regulations will lead to a "de facto project moratorium" -- a "permitorium," in short -- for at least 18 months.

But despite the massive size of the complex and the fact that greenhouse gases are previously uncharted territory, Hyperion expects the permitting process to be "pretty straightforward," Phillips said.

Asked whether EPA's new climate rules will freeze the permit process, Phillips said, "I certainly don't expect that for this facility. This permit will be in place in the second quarter of next year."

The planned complex is precisely the type of facility the Obama administration was imagining when it put those rules in place. It would roughly double South Dakota's carbon footprint, producing an estimated 16.9 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, and if it were a country of its own, it would rank 85th worldwide in greenhouse gas emissions, just behind the Dominican Republic and Estonia.

A US court ruled last week that it would not stop the climate program from taking effect in January. Still before the court is a challenge to whether the regulations are legal under the Clean Air Act.

Monte Paulsen reports on carbon shift for The Tyee.

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