Category Archives: Federal deregulation

Disaster-Born Safety Rules Topple in Trump Rollback

  • Chemical safety measure is latest Obama-era rule to be eased

  • White House says it can protect both public and businesses

Bloomberg News, by Ari Natter and Jennifer A Dlouhy, Nov 22, 2019

The Trump administration’s move to relax an Obama-era chemical safety regulation put in place after an explosion at a fertilizer plant is the latest example of the White House easing rules established in the wake of disasters.

Trump’s professed goal of rolling back “job-killing” regulations has led to weakening mandates proposed or enacted after three of the worst industrial accidents of the last decade: The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan and 2013 derailment and explosion of an oil train in Canada.

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Smoke billows from controlled oil burns near the site of the BP Plc Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010.  Photographer: Derick E. HingleBloomberg

“There is a clear pattern of the Trump administration targeting rules that were put in place in response to massive public health, safety, and environmental disasters,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy expert with the watchdog group Public Citizen. “The public expects our government to respond to these types of public disasters with regulations that protect them.”

Backers of Trump’s drive to repeal rules say that there is a natural rush to regulate after a high-profile disaster that can go too far.

“Some of these rollbacks come with the wisdom of time to say ‘we went further then we needed to go now that we have more information,’” said Dan Bosch, director of regulatory policy for the American Action Forum, a Republican-aligned think tank.

Related: EPA Eases Safety Standards Put in Place After Deadly Texas Blast

Representatives of the White House reject the notion the rollbacks risk safety.

“Those trying to connect any health and safety risks across the country” to those efforts “are dangerously wrong — there is no evidence to support such ridiculous claims,” said Chase Jennings, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The administration is focused on relieving undue burdens and protecting public health and safety.”

Still, the changes have set off alarm bells with public safety advocates.

“They have picked out some of the most important safety regulations,” said Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant. “The Trump deregulation bank has a withdrawal window that’s wide open and industry is taking advantage.”

Earlier: Rail Industry Hails Repeal of Electronic Brake Mandate

In 2015, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed regulations meant to address a series of fiery crude-train derailments, most notably the one that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Canadian officials determined that a crew member’s failure to appropriately secure the train was one of nearly 20 causes of the derailment.

U.S. regulators mandated, over the objections of the industry, electronically controlled pnuematic brakes to shorten stopping distances. But that measure was rescinded by the Trump administration, which cited a lack of research showing the brakes were better and questions over whether the benefits were justified by the costs.

In some cases, the Obama rules have been left intact while some key provisions have been eased. That opens the administration to complaints it is rolling back safeguards even when it keeps many pieces untouched.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to rescind portions of a risk management law following the 2013 fertilizer explosion that killed 15 people in West, Texas, retained provisions cheered by safety advocates such mandating coordination with first responders and emergency exercise requirements.

But it axed mandates that required more public disclosure about what chemicals are stored at industrial sites, automatic third-party audits after accidents and a rule that companies assess safer technology options as a way of reducing risk.

Related: Trump Gives Oil Drillers More Leeway by Easing Post-Spill Rule

That was also the case with the White House’s decision to relax some of the mandates imposed by the Obama administration in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In May, the Interior Department rewrote about a fifth of that 2016 Obama rule, easing mandates for real-time monitoring of offshore operations and third-party certifications of emergency equipment.

But the department rebuffed oil industry pressure to lift a specific requirement for how much pressure must be maintained inside wells to keep them in check. Instead, companies now can apply for exceptions to that “safe drilling margin” requirement earlier in the permitting process.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with three of its five members Trump appointees, voted 3-2 in January to strip down a rule requiring nuclear plants to upgrade their protection against flooding and earthquakes that was meant to prevent a Fukushima-style meltdown from occurring in the U.S.

The nuclear industry argues that rather than redesign facilities to address increased flood risks, it’s enough to focus on storing emergency generators, pumps, and other equipment in concrete bunkers.

Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, disagrees.

“It’s just bad science and bad policy because of the philosophy that we are not going to impose any new regulations,” Lyman said. “It’s dismissing science, it’s not taking into account the impact of climate change that could lead to more severe flooding events.”

— With assistance by Ryan Beene

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    Trump administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

    The oil and gas industry are split on the rollback

    This 2017 photo shows pumpjacks operating in the western edge of California's Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. (Brian Melley/AP)
    This 2017 photo shows pumpjacks operating in the western edge of California’s Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. (Brian Melley/AP)
    The Washington Post, By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Aug 29, 2019

    The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it plans to loosen federal rules on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

    The proposed rule would reverse standards enacted under President Barack Obama that required oil and gas operators to prevent the release of methane in new drilling wells, pipelines and storage facilities.

    It also challenges the notion that the federal government has the authority to regulate methane without first making a detailed determination that it qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

    If successful, that change could hamper the ability of future administrations to enact tougher restrictions on methane. Already, the Trump administration has taken several steps to limit the government’s ability to regulate other greenhouse gases in the future, including in a recently finalized rule curbing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    “EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.”

    Methane is a significant contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, though it is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide and is not emitted in amounts as large. It often is leaked as companies drill for gas and transport it across the country, and methane emissions are more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide emissions over the short term.

    Scientists have projected that the world needs to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by mid-century to avert catastrophic effects from global warming.

    According to the EPA, methane accounted for more than 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities as recently as 2017. Nearly a third of those emissions were generated by the natural gas and petroleum industry.

    U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2018 — and it couldn’t happen at a worse time

    “What they’re tackling is whether methane can lawfully be a regulatory pollutant,” Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview. “We have a strong consensus that federal agencies need to follow the letter of the law. They did not do that, and they are going back and correcting that.”

    Anne Idsal, assistant administrator​ of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the administration is confident that methane emissions from oil and gas companies will continue to decline over time, even without the current regulations.

    “Methane is a valuable resource,” Idsal told reporters in a call Thursday. “There’s every incentive for industry to minimize any type of fugitive methane emissions, capture it, use it and sell it down the road.”

    The agency estimates that the proposed changes, which will be subject to public comment for 60 days after they are published, would save the oil and natural gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year.

    But several of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, Shell and BP, have opposed the rollback and urged the Trump administration to keep the current standards in place. Collectively, these firms account for 11 percent of America’s natural gas output.

    In a statement Thursday, Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins reiterated the company’s support for national limits on methane, noting that Shell has pledged to reduce its methane leaks from its global operations to less than 0.2 percent by 2025.

    “We believe sound environmental policies are foundational to the vital role natural gas can play in the energy transition and have made clear our support of 2016 law to regulate methane from new and modified onshore sources,” she said. “Despite the administration’s proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell’s U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target.”

    The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the rollback.

    Idsal said the agency will continue regulating volatile organic compounds, which are also released during oil and gas operations, rather than methane directly. Such limits could cut down on the amount of methane released in the process. Milito noted that by 2023, 90 percent of oil and gas facilities will have to install technology curbing volatile organic compounds.

    In September, the Interior Department eased requirements that oil and gas firms operating on federal and tribal land capture the release of methane.

    Environmentalists threatened to fight the Trump administration’s move in court.

    Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, called the proposal reckless, saying it shows “complete contempt for our climate.” She said that even the Obama administration’s efforts to limit methane emissions were modest, given the significant amount that escapes into the atmosphere each year.

    “The Obama rule was like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Siegel said. “The Trump administration is so fanatical that they couldn’t even live with the Band-Aid. They had to rip off the Band-Aid.”

    The Obama administration’s push to impose the first limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2016 came shortly after the EPA found that emissions were on an upswing at a time when booming U.S. shale oil and gas drilling had dramatically driven down the prices of domestic natural gas and global oil alike.

    Ben Ratner, a senior director at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview that rolling back the regulations could reward bad actors in the industry. Given that many major players had embraced limits on methane, Ratner said, it made little sense for Trump officials to ease such restrictions.

    “It’s more of an ideological reaction to regulation of any climate pollutant by the federal government,” he said.

    Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

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      E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math

      By Lisa Friedman, New York Times, May 20, 2019
      The Hunter power plant in Castle Dale, Utah, which burns an estimated 4.5 million tons of coal a year.  Credit: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

      WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

      The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

      It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules.

      It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling method is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.

      Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.

      The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former E.P.A. officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June. William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. air quality chief, acknowledged in an interview the new method would be included in the agency’s final analysis of the rule.

      The new methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. On paper, that would translate into far fewer premature deaths from air pollution, even if it increased. The problem is, scientists say, in the real world there are no safe levels of fine particulate pollution in the air.

      “Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University. He called the expected change a “monumental departure” from the approach both Republican and Democratic E.P.A. leaders have used over the past several decades and predicted that it would lay the groundwork for weakening more environmental regulations.

      “It could be an enormously significant impact,” Mr. Revesz said.

      The Obama administration had sought to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Plan by pushing utilities to switch away from coal and instead use natural gas or renewable energy to generate electricity. The Obama plan would also have what’s known as a co-benefit: levels of fine particulate matter would fall.

      The Trump administration has moved to repeal the Obama-era plan and replace it with the ACE rule, which would slightly improve the efficiency of coal plants. It would also allow older coal plants to remain in operation longer and result in an increase of particulate matter.

      Particulate matter comes in various sizes. The greatest health risk comes from what is known as PM 2.5, the range of fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter. That is about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

      The E.P.A. has set the safety threshold for PM 2.5 at a yearly average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. While individual days vary, with some higher, an annual average at or below that level, known as the particulate matter standard, is considered safe. However, the agency still weighs health hazards that occur in the safe range when it analyzes new regulations.

      Industry has long questioned that system. After all, fossil fuel advocates ask, why should the E.P.A. search for health dangers, and, ultimately, impose costs on industry, in situations where air is officially considered safe?

      Mr. Wehrum, who worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for chemical manufacturers and fossil fuel businesses before moving to the E.P.A., echoed that position in the interview. He noted that, in some regulations, the benefits of reduced particulate matter have been estimated to total in the range of $40 billion.

      “How in the world can you get $30 or $40 billion of benefit to public health when most of that is attributable to reductions in areas that already meet a health-based standard,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

      William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for air and radiation. Credit: Ron Sachs/CNP/MediaPunch

      Mr. Wehrum confirmed that he had asked his staff to study the issue and that the final version of the ACE rule would include a variety of analyses, including one that does not take into consideration health effects below the particulate matter standard. He acknowledged that doing so would reduce the 1,400 premature deaths the agency had initially predicted as a result of the measure.

      He called the attention given to that initial forecast “unfortunate” and said the agency had included the figure in its analysis to show the varied results that can be achieved based on different assumptions.

      Mr. Wehrum said the analyses the agency is conducting “illuminate the issue” of particulate matter and the question of what level is acceptable for the purposes of policymaking. He said new approaches would allow for public debate to move ahead and that any new methods would be subject to peer review if they became the agency’s primary tool for measuring health risks.

      “This isn’t just something I’m cooking up here in my fifth-floor office in Washington,” Mr. Wehrum said.

      Roger O. McClellan, who has served on E.P.A. advisory boards and as president of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, an industry-financed research center, said the data for health risks below the particulate matter standard was weak and that he did not accept the argument that agencies must calculate risk “down to the first molecule of exposure.”

      “These kinds of approaches — that every molecule, every ionization, carries with it an associated calculable health risk — are just misleading,” Mr. McClellan said.

      To put the matter in perspective, most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits. On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 m.p.h., or even 25.

      Jonathan M. Samet, a pulmonary disease specialist who is dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said the most recent studies showed negative health effects well below the 12-microgram standard. “It’s not a hard stop where we can say ‘below that, air is safe.’ That would not be supported by the scientific evidence,” Dr. Samet said. “It would be very nice for public health if things worked that way, but they don’t seem to.”

      Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization that is funded by the E.P.A. and industry groups, acknowledged there was uncertainty around the effects of fine particulate matter exposure below the standard.

      He said it was reasonable of the Trump administration to study the issue, but he questioned moving ahead with a new system before those studies are in. “To move away from the way this has been done without the benefit of this full scientific peer review is unfortunate,” he said.


      For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
      Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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        Trump executive order clears way to ship liquified natural gas in bomb trains

        Repost from OilPrice.com
        [Editor: This article appears in OilPrice.com with a completely misleading title.  The report is highly informative about the Trump administration’s stripping of regulatory oversight of the energy industry.  This news is alarming and should be taken seriously by environmentalists.  SIGNIFICANT QUOTE: “…there is still a wide margin for risk if a tank of LNG were ruptured or caused in any other way to come into contact with air. When exposed to air, the liquefied natural gas will rapidly convert back into an ultra-flammable gas and begin to evaporate.”  See also: Google coverage of Trump’s executive order.  – R.S.]

        [MISLEADING TITLE…] Environmentalists’ “Bomb Train” Concerns Are Overblown
        By Haley Zaremba – Apr 13, 2019, 12:00 PM CDT

        Smoke

        This week president Donald Trump signed two executive orders aimed at speeding up the development and functionality of oil and gas projects in the United States. The orders will ease the process of building new oil and gas pipelines and put up extra hurdles for state agencies that want to intervene, a move immediately decried by many state officials and environmentalists.

        The executive orders are intended to curtail officials’ power to limit the oil and gas sector at the state level by changing federal agencies’ issued instructions, or “guidance”. One executive order further includes a directive to curb shareholder ballot initiatives concerning environmental and social policies, while the second order, focused on border-crossing energy projects, takes the power to approve or deny pipelines and other infrastructure crossing over the country’s borders away from the Secretary of State and gives the responsibility wholly to the president.

        Furthermore, President Trump’s executive action also specifically directs the Department of Transportation to change its rules concerning the transport of natural gas, requiring the agency to permit the shipment of liquefied natural gas by rail and by tanker truck. This detail of Wednesday’s executive orders has already proven to be extremely divisive. The directive would open up new markets with major demand for U.S. natural gas but moving the potentially explosive substance by rail could cause potentially catastrophic accidents if one of these train cars were to derail.

        Despite the risks, the move is counted as a major victory for railroads and the natural gas sector, which have been lobbying for years for just this sort of initiative. Proponents of the order argue that it’s necessary to deliver natural gas to the needy Northeast, where there are not sufficient pipelines to meet demand. They also argue that delivering more natural gas to the U.S. Northeast via road and rail would make it possible to use LNG to power ships and trains. One such advocate, head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas trade group Charlie Riedl, told Bloomberg that “there are all sorts of new opportunities where you can use rail much more efficiently.”

        The initiative has other potential benefits as well, such as offsetting the steep decline of coal shipments by rail, but for many, the drawbacks far outweigh all these silver linings. You don’t need to look too far to find plenty of cautionary tales from previous experiments in sending oil and gas by rail, from spills, explosions, and accidents to a runaway oil train in Quebec that killed nearly 50 people when it derailed in a small town in 2013.

        The natural gas that would be shipped in train cars and tanker trucks will be chilled to 260 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (-167 Celsius) and is extremely space efficient, taking up just 1/600th of its volume in a gaseous state. This form of liquefied natural gas is already being shipped all around the world all the time, including within the U.S., where it is driven in trucks to storage facilities.

        In this liquefied, super-chilled state, natural gas is not flammable on its own and cannot be ignited and is actually considered much safer to ship than crude oil. While that sounds like any cause for alarm and cries of “bomb trains” is overblown, however, there is still a wide margin for risk if a tank of LNG were ruptured or caused in any other way to come into contact with air. When exposed to air, the liquefied natural gas will rapidly convert back into an ultra-flammable gas and begin to evaporate.

        One staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, Emily Jeffers, told Bloomberg that Trump’s plan to ship natural gas by rail is a “disaster waiting to happen,” going on to say that under the guidelines of the executive order “you’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.”

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