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EPA Asked to Regulate Black Carbon Emissions


The Center for Biological Diversity ("CBD") has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") to create a new program to regulate black carbon emissions.  Black carbon comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass.  CBD's petition points to industrial boilers and diesel engines used for transportation and industry as the sources of black carbon that need additional regulation.  The February 22, 2010 petition asks EPA to limit the concentration of black carbon on sea ice and glaciers to levels that allow "no measurable deviation from preindustrial levels."  (Emphasis in original.)  If EPA agrees, it will impact construction, transportation, and industrial activities in the ten western states CBD's petition identifies as having glaciers and ice formations that need protection:  Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.  If EPA doesn't agree, expect CBD to sue.  CBD has a $17 million war chest to use the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act ("CWA") to regulate climate change. 

CBD argues sea ice and glaciers are water and that EPA can use the CWA to establish a regulatory standard for black carbon concentrations on water.  If EPA sets a water quality standard, it would trigger a requirement that States establish a total maximum daily load ("TMDL") limit for black carbon.  Based on the TMDL, each State would set individual limits for each emitter so that total statewide emissions do not exceed the EPA limit.  So far, EPA has had no comment on the just filed petition.

CBD asserts that black carbon includes light absorbing particles that raise temperatures by absorbing solar radiation and converting it to heat radiation.  CBD also claims that when black carbon falls on snow and sea ice surfaces it darkens those surfaces, contributing to the melting of snow and ice and the warming of air.

Click here to read the CBD petition.

A partner with Nossaman, George Mannina has more than three decades of experience with environmental litigation and government relations.  He can be reached at 202.887.1491 or

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