Environmental and energy efficiency advocates are praising the Environmental Protection Agency for issuing guidance to local and state permitting authorities to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions using best available control technologies (BACT).

But industry groups have blasted the guidance, saying it could result in a moratorium on the construction of new powerplants and industrial facilities.

The EPA released BACT guidance on Nov. 10 to help states and local air permitting authorities identify cost-effective pollution reduction options for greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. The new preconstruction permit program among the states begins on Jan. 2, 2011.

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of air and Radiation, described the guidance as a sort of toolbox that permitting agencies can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by powerplants and other large emitters.

EPA recommends that permitting authorities use the BACT process to look at all available emission reduction options for greenhouse gases. After taking into account technical feasibility, cost and other economic, environmental and energy considerations, permitting authorities should narrow the options and select the best one, McCarthy says, adding that in most cases, the process will show that the most cost effective way for industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be through energy efficiency.

According to Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, most state permitting authorities are ready for the Jan. 2 start date.

Nathan Willcox, Environment America’s federal global warming program director, calls the EPA’s approach “reasonable”, adding that the BACT guidance adds “one more tool to the toolbox for local and state authorities in their efforts to put common-sense pollution control measures in place to protect public health and our environment.”

But industry groups were less than enthusiastic. John Engler, the National Association of Manufacturers president, says the guidance is another example of the agency’s “overreaching agenda.”

Frank Maisano, an energy analyst with Bracewell and Giuliani, LLP, says that the new options offer “no clarity for the case-by-case analyses that will ensue.” Moreover, he says that internal EPA sources have conceded that it will be two years before EPA can start making permit determinations. “In this period, the energy and manufacturing sectors will essentially be in a construction moratorium that could materially hamper economic recovery.”

But McCarthy told reporters on a telephone press briefing, “There will be no stoppages as a result of this process.”