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White House Returns Proposed Rule On Refineries to EPA for More Analysis

Friday, March 15, 2013

By Jessica Coomes  

The White House Office of Management and Budget has sent back to the Environmental Protection Agency a proposed rule to revise air pollution standards for petroleum refineries, BNA has learned.

The proposed rule, which would affect about 150 refineries, was intended to address residual risk and technological developments related to air toxics emissions from the sector and to amend new source performance standards to control emissions of a number of pollutants.

“OMB returned the rule to the agency so EPA could complete additional analysis for the proposed rules,” EPA said in a statement to BNA March 13.

The Bush administration determined in January 2009 that air toxics emissions from refineries did not pose any additional health risks and no new controls were required. However, the Obama administration later withdrew that finding (42 ER 1630, 7/22/11).

EPA then surveyed all of the refineries in the country about their emissions in preparation for a new proposed rule.

OMB received the proposed rule for interagency review Sept. 5, 2012. The OMB website said the office completed interagency review March 12, and the rule would be withdrawn.

The Natural Resources Defense Council criticized the withdrawal March 13.

“The Obama administration has allowed these clean air standards for Big Oil to languish for over four years, after the Bush administration before it refused to uphold the law to protect people,” John Walke, clean air director for the environmental group, told BNA in a statement. “Now the White House interferes and offers this non-explanation as explanation for further inaction? That is inexcusable.”

Industry Says New Controls Unnecessary

The refining industry has opposed new emissions controls.

“Imposition of additional regulation of refinery emissions on top of the layers of regulations already imposed on the refinery sector is unnecessary,” Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific policy for the American Petroleum Institute, told BNA in a statement March 13. “EPA's own analyses have demonstrated that petroleum refineries are not 'high risk' facilities and that the public health is already protected with an ample margin of safety. Furthermore, the refining industry is already facing additional regulatory threats from EPA, including Tier III fuels, greenhouse gas regulations, and a tightening of the ozone standards.”

Representatives of petroleum refiners told administration officials during an Oct. 4, 2012, meeting on the proposed rule that more stringent air pollution controls on the sector would not reduce the risk to public health (43 ER 2697, 10/26/12).

API and several companies had said data that EPA collected from industry show that the risk from refineries is low, which meant EPA should not impose additional control requirements unless they are cost-effective.

In materials presented during the OMB meeting, the trade association said the data that EPA collected show that existing regulations have been effective in protecting public health. It also said refineries spent $50 million to comply with the EPA information request in the survey.

The now-withdrawn proposed rule was expected to include a Clean Air Act-mandated review of residual risk from the existing national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for refineries and of the potential for new technology to make further emissions reductions. The rule also was expected to amend new source performance standards for the sector.

The petroleum industry also has been lobbying against Tier 3 gasoline and vehicle standards, which API says could be costly for the industry. EPA is expected to propose the Tier 3 standards this month (44 ER 541, 3/1/13).