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The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a permit to build a 110-megawatt, coal-fired electricity-generating unit at the Bonanza Power Plant near Vernal. This will not be a bonanza for Utah's air quality, and it left us scratching our heads, wondering why Utah and the EPA are working at cross purposes.

After all, Utah has signed an agreement with five other Western states to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, by 15 percent by 2020. If the new Bonanza unit is built, it will annually add an estimated 1.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the air. Yet the EPA declined to regulate greenhouse gases in the permit for the new Bonanza unit.

In one respect, this should not have been a surprise. The EPA under President Bush has dragged its feet on the issue of global warming and tougher regulation of coal-fired power plants. We thought that might change, however, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Silly us.

The EPA is still insisting that the Supreme Court case does not require it to set carbon dioxide limits in its permit for the Bonanza unit. The agency is sticking by the argument that the Supreme Court did not require it to regulate carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but that the agency could regulate them subject to its own determinations pertaining to "mobile sources."

The EPA says it is "taking the first steps toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources, but the agency has not yet issued regulations requiring control of carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act generally or the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program (which applies to Bonanza) specifically."

In other words, EPA is working on it. But until it issues regulations, it can't impose limits on PSD permits like Bonanza's because, the agency says, "EPA lacks the authority to impose [PSD permit] limitations or other restrictions directly on the emission of unregulated pollutants."

If that argument sounds circular, maybe that's because it is.

Utah's regulatory authority at Bonanza is limited because the plant is on an Indian reservation. Jurisdiction falls to the EPA.

Perhaps the state should sue the EPA, arguing that it should quit speaking in circles and just do its job.