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EPA expects 4 more years of legal wrangling

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By Reuters
Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 7:14 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Regardless of who takes the reins, the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to confront continued legal battles in President Obama's second term as it tries to finalize pollution rules for power plants, analysts said.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who spearheaded the Obama administration's regulation of carbon emissions, said on Thursday that she will step down after almost four years.

Her tenure was marked by opposition from industry groups and Republican lawmakers to the EPA's first crackdown on carbon emissions, as well as other anti-pollution measures.

Analysts said whoever succeeds Jackson will probably face a spate of lawsuits to challenge rules that the EPA will finalize governing power plants, industrial sources and oil and gas production.

“This is shaping up to be four years of litigation,” said Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Energy Institute.

Given the partisan divide, Guith said, legislators would struggle to draft laws that could serve as alternatives to the EPA's pending suite of carbon and air regulation.

“As we look to an even more divided Congress, the action will be in the federal courts,” he said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, which hears most challenges to federal environmental rules, is likely to be busy as industry groups and states bring their cases against the EPA's rules after they are finalized.

The court sided with the agency in most of the recent challenges, most notably upholding its decision to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

David Doniger, policy director of the National Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air Program, said this could bolster the EPA as it tackles rules that may be more controversial than those rolled out under Jackson.

“The agency has a very good batting record on the clean air side. Carbon and climate (regulations) have come through completely unscathed,” Doniger said.

After the EPA was a political lightning rod during the first Obama administration, the president is likely to seek out a safe, possibly internal choice as Jackson's successor or to avoid the confirmation process altogether.

“There are just so many arrows pointed at this agency,” said Susan Tierney, managing principal and energy and environment specialist at the Boston-based Analysis Group.

Bob Perciasepe, deputy EPA administrator, will take over on an interim basis and could continue in that role indefinitely.

He previously worked at the EPA during the Clinton administration, specializing in water and air quality. Before rejoining the agency, Perciasepe was a top official at the National Audubon Society, a major conservation group.

Tierney said she expects the EPA to stay the course on its current agenda, especially as the agency faces some court-ordered deadlines to finalize rules, such as for coal ash, industrial waste from coal-fired plants and ozone standards.

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