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Proposed rule gives feds undue authority

By:  Lori LeBlanc

Op/Ed, HoumaToday.com

August 18, 2016

 

 

Here we go again.

With only three months until the presidential election and five months until a new president takes office, the current administration is taking another swing at the offshore oil and gas industry. This latest punch is once again an over-reaching, misguided rule developed with limited public input that drastically affects the future sustainability of our domestic energy supply with no apparent benefits. Unfortunately, hits like these keep on coming, and no one feels them more than our Louisiana energy workers whose jobs depend on a vibrant oil and gas industry.

Earlier this year, with very limited public input considered and despite pleas from coastal communities like ours, the federal government’s new well control rule was finalized and issued by the Department of Interior. This technically flawed rule could have unintended consequences that further risk safety in the Gulf and result in huge economic losses to communities that service the offshore industry.

Now, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is aggressively over-extending its authority over offshore air quality with a rule that will significantly increase the tracking, reporting and regulation of air emissions in the Gulf without any measurable benefits to air quality in our communities here at home.

On April 5, the bureau published the 350-page proposed rule on air quality control, reporting and compliance, which revises the agency’s existing air quality regulations on offshore oil and gas operations and unnecessarily increases operators’ compliance burden. More specifically, the rule requires tracking and reporting of all emissions, applies national ambient air quality standards to all offshore facilities and support vessels, expands record-keeping and performance measures, changes the requirements for reporting anticipated emissions in operator plans and replaces the air pollution control standards that are in current regulations.

The rule also requires vessel operators, for the first time, to record and report vessel emissions that will then be attributed as emissions from the Outer Continental Shelf stationary facility itself. This is above and beyond what EPA requires for land-based facilities, and would be akin to the EPA tracking the emissions of trucks and trains and attributing those emissions to the factory receiving what the trucks and trains delivered.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the new air rule is that fact that BOEM lacks any environmental justification for the rule and studies are underway that are expected to confirm that the rule is not necessary. In fact, the agency’s own 2015 environmental assessment for the proposed rule stated, “On the whole, however, OCS operations have minimal impact on the air quality onshore.” In addition, environmental impact statements for the current OCS leasing program state that impacts of OCS operations on onshore air quality will be minimal or insignificant.

Furthermore, the new air rule goes well beyond EPA and state air quality permitting rules. States have primary responsibility for determining whether OCS emissions sources are significant or if they will affect a state’s attainment of air quality standards. The federal government, however, did not consult state agencies like the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as the rule was drafted, and Louisiana and other coastal states have concluded that offshore emissions sources have no impact on their ability to achieve attainment with federal air quality standards.

While states weren’t consulted, neither were citizens given ample opportunity to participate in the proposed air rule. BOEM initially offered a mere 60-day comment period on the proposal, despite its length and complexity. Numerous organizations requested an additional 120 days to appropriately review and comment, but were allowed only an additional 14 days. The comment period ended June 20.

So now, energy companies brace for the costs, complexities and burdens of another excessive federal regulation that at this time cannot even be fully estimated.

As more federal rules affecting offshore oil and gas are expected to unfold in these waning months of the current administration, communities like ours must be ready to respond to protect and preserve American jobs dependent on a vibrant Gulf energy industry.