Wheeler touts rollbacks, blasts critics at refinery tour

Source: By Corbin Hiar, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2019

TRAINER, Pa. — EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler today credited his agency with promoting economic growth by rolling back regulations — and promised more of the same for the oil and gas industry.

In a speech at Monroe Energy LLC’s Marcus Hook refinery alongside Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Wheeler offered updates on proposals to loosen a Clean Air Act program that requires industrial facilities and oil and gas wells to install modern pollution controls, and new guidance for applying the Clean Water Act that will be friendly to pipeline builders.

The EPA chief also took swipes at two of the Trump administration’s biggest critics: the Sierra Club and New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“When the president called me just over a year ago and asked me to take over the EPA, he told me to keep cleaning up the air, keep cleaning up the water and keep deregulatory progress in order to promote more job growth,” Wheeler told a crowd of hundreds of refinery workers and contractors. He took over the agency from Scott Pruitt, his scandal-plagued predecessor, last July.

“They said it couldn’t be done,” Wheeler said. “But President Trump has revived American manufacturing, and the economy is booming. I like to think that EPA is playing an important role in that.”

The administrator went on to hint at changes to the New Source Review program for major industrial facilities such as Marcus Hook that are set to be released “this week,” he said.

“In the past, NSR regularly discouraged companies from employing the latest energy efficient technologies. We’re changing that,” Wheeler promised. “Our proposal would allow facilities like refineries to include both emissions increases and decreases at the first step of NSR applicability. That’s a technical way of saying that our rule would help facilities to upgrade and modernize without triggering major permitting obligations that could stifle those investments.”

Wheeler seemed to be referring to a plan to condense the “project emissions accounting” process for determining whether an industrial plant upgrade or expansion triggers the need for a New Source Review permit, accompanied by new pollution control requirements. A draft rule cleared a standard White House review earlier this month (Greenwire, July 22).

Environmental groups contend the proposal will result in dirtier air.

EPA will in “the next couple of weeks … issue a proposed rule that will ask fundamental questions about the Obama administration’s overreach on oil and gas regulations,” Wheeler said.

The proposal will question whether “the Obama administration’s sole focus on methane for oil and gas standards makes sense, and second, whether they made an error by expanding the source category to move beyond just production and processing to include transmission as well,” he said.

That matters for Monroe Energy because “the previous administration’s overreach set a precedent for future administrations to similarly overregulate both new and existing refineries,” Wheeler told the company’s workers.

“Here’s what we understand, and what folks like the Sierra Club don’t: Methane is valuable,” he said. “It’s actually the main product. It’s not a byproduct, it’s not the waste, it’s what we sell, it’s what you make your money off of.”

But the Sierra Club accused the administrator of ignoring the negative impacts methane and other pollution from oil and gas operations are having on communities and climate change. Methane can trap 84 times more energy from the sun than carbon dioxide, making it a potent climate pollutant.

“By refusing to act to stem this pollution, Wheeler’s EPA is fundamentally failing to do its duty to protect our families and our planet,” Matthew Gravatt, the group’s deputy legislative director, said in an email.

Finally, Wheeler took aim at Cuomo and his decision to use Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to block the Constitution pipeline, a proposed natural gas project that would run from Pennsylvania to New York.

“Many states implement section 401 faithfully,” the administrator said. “However, some do not. Some use it to kill projects altogether, sometimes for reasons totally unrelated to water quality, as we saw in New York state.”

Wheeler called Cuomo’s move “one of the worst environmental decisions by an elected official in the last year.”

The decision “means New York will become even more dependent on less reliable energy sources,” he said, blaming it for the city’s recent power outages, which are still under investigation (Greenwire, July 22).

Cuomo had been previously warned “that blocking the natural gas pipeline would impact grid reliability in New York,” he said.

Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ethanol

Toomey used his speech at the refinery to tout his legislation to abolish the corn ethanol requirement under the renewable fuel standard.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the “Restore Environmental Sustainability to Our Renewable Energy Act” seeks to remove the corn ethanol mandate and allow greater emphasis on other renewable fuels.

Toomey argued the RFS as written drives up the cost of gas and harms the environment.

Asked after the event whether he agreed with Toomey, Wheeler, who previously lobbied for biofuel producers, said “the administration does not have an official position on Sen. Toomey’s legislation yet. We’ll wait and see what Congress does.”

Reporters Marc Heller and Sean Reilly contributed.

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