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Coal Mines’ Methane Curbs Fall Victim to EPA Budget Cuts

Methane emissions from coal mines escaped being curbed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which said mandatory U.S. budget cuts didn’t leave it with the resources to determine if the pollution is a significant risk.

The EPA rejected a petition from environmental groups, which three years ago asked the agency to limit the greenhouse gases released from the mines.

“The agency must prioritize its regulatory actions. This is especially the case in light of limited resources and ongoing budget uncertainties,” acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe wrote in a letter to Edward Zukoski, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice. “In the future, the EPA may initiate the process for such a determination, but the agency has decided that it will not do so now.”

The denial, set to be published tomorrow in the Federal Register, is at least the fourth category of emitters the agency has refused to regulate, disappointing groups and some lawmakers who say that EPA needs to take bolder, quicker action to combat the threat of global warming. EPA turned down a petition to curb emissions from aircraft, ships and off-highway trucks in June.

“The threat of climate change is so large and the window for action is so narrow that we do not have the luxury of ignoring any significant source of emissions,” Representative Henry Waxman of California and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, both Democrats, wrote today in a letter to Perciasepe, protesting the coal-mine decision on coal mines.

2010 Request

Earthjustice and other groups asked the EPA in 2010 to mandate cuts in methane emissions from coal mines. After carbon dioxide, methane is the most prevalent greenhouse gas and is a more potent trigger for global warming, although it dissipates in the atmosphere quickly. Methane is also an explosive hazard and can cause ground-level smog, the groups said in their filing with the agency.

The EPA has already set vehicle standards that will double the fuel-efficiency of automobiles by 2025. The EPA missed the deadline to issue the first rules for carbon-dioxide emissions from new power plants. Critics say the standard would prevent construction of coal-fired plants. Environmental groups and utilities are preparing for the EPA to issue rules to limit such gases from existing plants, a rule the agency said yesterday it is “not currently developing.”

Together vehicles and coal plants account for 60 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, according to Perciasepe.

In contrast to the electricity-generating companies, the coal mines category represents about 1 percent of total emissions, according to EPA data.

“The EPA believes that a step-by-step approach, starting with these largest sources and sectors, such as transportation and electricity systems, is the most appropriate course to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” he wrote in his letter, dated April 30.

In the June statement, the EPA said it had no plans to regulate emissions from ships or mining vehicles. For aircraft, a review of whether to regulate emissions might take years, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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