At hearing, GOP chairman and EPA official spar over definition of ‘productive’

Source: Jason Plautz • E & E  • Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011

Focusing on the definition of “productive,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) accused U.S. EPA in a House Science energy and environment subcommittee hearing yesterday of “regulatory folly.”

Harris, chairman of the subcommittee, used the hearing to question the unintended impact of a suite of fuel standards, including the renewable fuel standard, the E15 ethanol blend waiver and upcoming particulate matter standards for vehicle tailpipes. Harris said he was concerned that EPA was making its decisions without adequately accounting for “significant unintended consequences for the economy and the environment.”

That resulted in an exchange between Harris and Margo Oge, director of U.S. EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, over her claim that the administration had held “very productive” discussions with the industry on the E15 blend and the Tier 3 standards, which require reductions in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide emissions. Harris questioned whether the discussions could have been productive if refiners and gas producers still criticized the regulations.

Oge responded by saying that EPA officials had taken several trips to refineries across the country to gather input and information on the possible implications of the new standards. “Productive,” Oge said, “does not mean we agree on everything.”

Earlier in the hearing, Harris pointed to a recently released National Research Council report that found that the RFS, which requires that 36 billion gallons of fuel come from alternative sources by 2022, could raise the cost of fuel and feedstock. The report also found that increasing the share of biofuels could have unintended environmental risks and harm air and water quality (Greenwire, Oct. 4).

Study author Ingrid Burke from the University of Wyoming testified at the hearing on the NRC findings.

However, Democrats blasted the catch-all nature of the hearing, with ranking member Brad Miller (D-N.C.) saying it appeared “the majority needed to cover a variety of topics to placate various industries critical of EPA and state environmental measures.”

Miller further noted that the committee did not have jurisdiction over many of the issues raised during the hearing and complained that several industries involved in the standards had not been invited to testify. The American Ethanol Council, which represents several biofuels producers, sent a letter to the committee yesterday criticizing the exclusion of any ethanol producers and accusing the panel of not being “interested in discussing the true value of the federal RFS.”

However, oil and gas producers and refiners used the hearing to criticize EPA. Brendan Williams of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said EPA had moved from regulation to “overregulation,” imposing demands on refiners that would not have a measurable environmental benefit.

“America’s national interest would best be served by comprehensive and objective cost-benefit analyses of federal regulations,” Williams said.

Bob Greco, downstream and industry operations director for the American Petroleum Institute, said the proposed Tier 3 fuel changes and other regulations threaten “the existence of U.S. refinery jobs and products” and called on EPA to complete the anti-backsliding study for the Tier 3 rules.

EPA could release a proposal for the new tailpipe standards as early as January (E&ENews PM, Oct. 31).