Resumption of Talks Expected in January on Refinery Greenhouse Gas Rule Deadline

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WASHINGTON, D.C.--Environmental groups anticipate reopening discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency in January on a new deadline to propose the long overdue greenhouse gas limits for petroleum refineries.

EPA is nearly a year overdue to propose new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum refineries, and environmental groups said they have not discussed the rule with the agency in several months.

However, Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, told BNA Dec. 6 that he expects the discussions will resume in early 2013.

“We're in the middle of various negotiations in terms of pushing schedules out a bit on a couple of other rules,” Schaeffer said. “In January, I'd expect we'd return to this one.”

EPA agreed to propose the refinery standards by Dec. 10, 2011, as part of a settlement with the Environmental Integrity Project and other environmental groups (American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 08-1277, 12/23/10; 210 WCCR, 10/27/11).

That lawsuit is being held in abeyance while EPA prepares the greenhouse gas performance standards.

EPA did not respond to several requests for information on the proposed rule's status. The agency is analyzing emissions data provided by the petroleum industry in preparation for proposing the rule, according to a Dec. 5 status report filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Petroleum Industry Has Opposed Regulation

The petroleum industry has opposed EPA's intention to regulate greenhouse gases from refineries. Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told BNA Dec. 5 that EPA put itself in this position by agreeing to issue the performance standards before it collected and analyzed the sector's emissions data.

“They simply could have said they will address this in time as they did on portland cement, and they would not be under any time pressure to do this,” Feldman said.

Progress on the refinery rule has lagged because EPA has made its proposed carbon dioxide performance standards for new fossil fuel-fired power plants its priority, environmental groups said.

“The power plants have been everyone's focus,” Tim Ballo, an Earthjustice attorney representing the environmental groups, told BNA Dec. 6. “We're starting to turn our attention back to refineries.”

EPA April 13 proposed a greenhouse gas new source performance standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour for all newly built, fossil fuel-fired power plants (77 Fed. Reg. 22,992; 59 WCCR, 3/27/12).

EPA has a statutory deadline to complete that rule within one year.

Delay Called Palatable

Schaeffer said the delay in the refinery rule is palatable because refineries are more likely than power plants to make modifications to their facilities that would trigger greenhouse gas permitting requirements under EPA's tailoring rule. The tailoring rule limits prevention of significant deterioration and Title V operating permit requirements to only the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Unlike a coal fired power plant, these guys have process changes and modifications all the time,” Schaeffer said. “They're more likely to be caught by the tailoring rule; therefore, there will be activity at the permitting level. So that's some comfort.”

The petroleum industry already has economic incentives to minimize its fuel use, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, Feldman said.

“That's what we told EPA when they listened, and hopefully, they've taken that to heart and realize there's not much there to wring out in [greenhouse gas] reductions,” he said.

In 2011, the petroleum industry asked EPA to postpone proposing the performance standards until December 2012, allowing it more time to review the emissions data submitted to EPA (188 WCCR, 9/26/11).

Although EPA has given no indication when it may propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from refineries, the agency is preparing a proposed rule that would address emissions of criteria and toxic air pollutants from the petroleum sector. It sent the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review Sept. 5.

The petroleum industry maintains the emissions data it has supplied EPA indicate that no additional pollution controls are required.

By Andrew Childers  

Request Environment & Energy Report