The Obama administration moved on Wednesday to exempt small businesses from new industrial smokestack controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its proposed greenhouse rule would require only large industrial facilities to install the most up-to-date emissions control equipment and energy-efficiency measures when they are built or modified.
The regulations would apply to power plants, refineries and factories that emit at least 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.
Businesses such as farms, restaurants and other smaller facilities would be excluded to avoid placing an undue strain on the economy, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in announcing the proposal.
"We have carefully targeted our efforts to exempt the vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses," Jackson said at a global climate conference in Los Angeles. "We know the corner coffee shop is no place to look for meaningful carbon reductions."
She predicted that some business groups would "oppose this with everything they have," but she insisted the measure would withstand a court challenge.
The new rules would take effect next spring, when the EPA is due to issue greenhouse gas regulations for cars and trucks in final form under the Clean Air Act.
Absent the EPA's proposal to exempt small business, greenhouse permits would automatically be required for new industrial facilities large and small once clean air regulations for those pollutants are extended to automobiles.
Power plants, refineries and large factories account for more than half U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and the EPA said its proposal would encompass nearly 70% of such "stationary sources." Autos produce about 20% of carbon emissions in the United States.
Jackson's proposal came as Democrats unveiled a Senate bill aimed at reducing global warming, including provisions to place caps on carbon emissions from transportation and stationary sources.
The latest EPA move demonstrated how far the Obama administration was ready to go in regulating industrial greenhouse pollution before Congress can impose limits by law.
The EPA estimates that 400 newly built or expanded industrial plants would be subject to the proposed greenhouse rules.
David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group applauded the EPA move. But the American Petroleum Institute questioned the legality of the proposal and said the oil industry "does not believe that the Clean Air Act was designed to address the emissions of greenhouse gases."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to issue such regulations if it determines human health is threatened by global warming, a finding the agency made earlier this year in a sharp policy shift from the Bush administration.