New leader of refiners group targets ozone standard, RFS 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 2, 2015

Obama administration proposals to tighten the national ozone standard and the future of the renewable fuel standard top the agenda of the former U.S. EPA lawyer who recently took the helm of a leading refining trade group.

Chet Thompson, who was named president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers in April, yesterday laid out a strategy on the two issues that includes an aggressive effort to meet with officials and groups outside the Beltway and more outreach with newspaper editorial boards.

Thompson also said AFPM would seek to emphasize “all the benefits” that come from petroleum-derived products.

“We think that any kind of real public policy debate needs to make sure folks understand and not just focus on the risks,” he told reporters yesterday. “We’re also going to make sure that people appreciate what we’ve done, where the industry stands for the economy.”

Before becoming president of AFPM, Thompson represented the refining group at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Crowell & Moring. Between 2004 and 2006, Thompson served as deputy general counsel at EPA, providing legal advice to the administrator, general counsel and program offices during the George W. Bush administration.

Under his leadership, Thompson said, AFPM’s top priority will be EPA’s proposal to lower the ozone limit — last set in 2008 at 75 parts per billion — to between 65 and 70 ppb based on a review of public health data. EPA has found that the 75 ppb limit is no longer adequate to protect against reduced lung function and other negative health effects linked to ozone pollution.

AFPM is calling on EPA to retain the existing ozone standard based on cost concerns, arguing that refining operations will have difficulty expanding in areas that are found to not meet a tighter limit.

Thompson said the group will go to states it thinks would be most affected by the standard; one of the first trips was to New Mexico, where Thompson said he met with Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn and chambers of commerce.

“Unfortunately, I suspect, particularly based on the trip I just took last week, that very few people outside the Beltway appreciate this, and I submit to you they don’t really know what’s coming,” he said. “It’s going to come at the end of this year, and it’s going to catch some people off-guard.”

Public health groups and environmentalists have backed the effort to lower the standard but are advocating for a limit no higher than 60 ppb. They’ve launched their own aggressive public relations campaign in response to EPA’s proposal.


AFPM’s other top policy priority under Thompson’s tenure will be the renewable fuel standard. Congress passed the RFS into law in 2007, requiring refiners to blend increasing amounts of both ethanol and advanced biofuel in petroleum gasoline and diesel.

Thompson argued that the RFS has not stood up to promises of heightened energy security and environmental benefits.

“Frankly, when I was at the agency, there was suspicion that the ethanol mandate was not good for the environment,” Thompson said, adding, “I doubt that EPA would shed a tear if the RFS went away. I don’t think most folks, frankly, at the agency support it. And I don’t think most folks believe that it’s good for the environment. But at this point, it is what it is.”

In Congress, Thompson said, AFPM will continue to advocate for full repeal of the standard but will also support “targeted” measures that address the hotly disputed “blend wall,” the term used to describe the 10 percent level of ethanol saturation in the gasoline pool. Refiners argue that fueling infrastructure is not equipped to handle higher levels.

AFPM is also working on submitting what will likely be exhaustive joint comments with the American Petroleum Institute opposing EPA’s recent proposal setting renewable fuel targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 through the RFS program. The proposal would exceed the blend wall in 2016.

On June 3, seven refining CEOs met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to discuss the RFS. The meeting came a few days after EPA released its proposal.

“We wanted to make sure that the administrator could fully appreciate our concern with the proposal and our concern with the implications of breaking the blend wall in 2016,” he said. “There was some suggestion by EPA that the voices from the other side of the debate were much louder than ours.”

The RFS has been a sharply contested issue, with biofuel producers arguing that it has boosted rural economies and lowered the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas footprint. Most producers have called on lawmakers to leave the renewable fuel standard in place and have slammed EPA’s proposal for falling short of the levels Congress wrote into it in 2007.