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The Road to CO2 Regulation Goes Through Desert Rock

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The last few years have seen a flurry of proposed plants like the one that Desert Rock Energy Company hopes to build on Navajo land 25 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico. If built, the plant will be one of the largest in the country and will spew an estimated 12.7 million tons of CO2 annually. That is equivalent to the average annual emissions from more than 2 million cars.

The pressing issue of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants requires our immediate attention. Coal-fired power is at the heart of global warming, and a real path forward on the issue demands that we address CO2 emissions from these facilities. Desert Rock provides an important opportunity in this new era to get it right.

Almost overnight, President Obama has changed the operating principles of the EPA, making it much more likely that the agency will face up to its responsibility to regulate CO2. President Obama has already asked the EPA to review the request by California and 13 other states -- denied by the Bush administration -- to impose regulations on tailpipe emissions that are stricter than federal standards. And Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, has signaled her intent to comply with the landmark Supreme Court decision that sanctioned regulation of CO2 under the Clean Air Act.

When the Bush EPA issued the air permit for the Desert Rock Energy Facility, requirements for limiting CO2 emissions from the facility were conspicuously absent. Conservation groups challenged the permit, but during the review process, Bush's EPA chief Stephen Johnson issued a memo that proclaimed coal-fired power plants and other large industrial sources don't need to limit their CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Relying on the Johnson memo in early January, the Bush EPA refused to set any CO2 emissions limits in the final air permit for Desert Rock. Ironically, this action is boomeranging, for it gave the public a fantastic opportunity to make their voices heard.

The new leadership at the EPA will be accepting public input on limitation of CO2 emissions at the Desert Rock Energy Facility until February 23. Now is the time to speak up and demand that Desert Rock incorporates the most up-to-date controls on CO2 emissions.

Doing so will set a powerful precedent as we move towards squelching CO2 emissions across the land.