On Oil and Mining Rules, Should Progressives Be Worried?
On Friday the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs quietly released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, a twice-yearly tally of planned federal regulations.
For the casual reader, it would be hard to get through the dry, agency-by-agency regulatory report without falling asleep. For environmentalists, it would be hard to read it without getting a little worried.
The spring version of the Unified Agenda shows that the target release dates for certain rules to bolster environmental protections for oil and gas development and mining have slipped. Again.
Consider long-planned Interior Department rules to set standards for subsea "blowout preventers." Those are devices to seal off runaway oil wells, but the fail-safe equipment failed to stop BP's blown-out Macondo well in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.
Interior has been pledging to launch a rule-making that toughens blowout preventer standards for years, but it hasn't materialized. Last fall's version of the unified agenda projected the draft rule would finally be released in March of this year and completed in November.
Friday's updated version? It lists a November 2014 target date for a draft rule that would be finalized in mid-2015.
Certainly nothing in these regulatory agendas is written in stone or even sand. But they do provide a snapshot of agencies' current forecasts.
And those forecasts show that a plan dating back to President Obama's first year in office to protect Appalachian streams from mountaintop coal mining remains on the slow track too. The agenda released Friday projects a draft rule in arriving in December 2014.
The new agenda also shows that an Interior Department rule that would set safety and chemical disclosure standards for fracking on federal lands has been pushed back. It now projects a final rule in September of this year, rather than the May 2014 date listed last fall on the rule that has been in the works for years.
Matt Lee-Ashley, a former Interior Department aide who's now with the liberal Center for American Progress, says time is beginning to run short on the measures.
"Unless there's a burst of activity and some urgency devoted to the task, a large portion of the president's agenda for strengthening environmental protections and safety for oil, gas, and coal development is going to remain undone," said Lee-Ashley.
He notes that Interior has also not yet moved on long-standing plans to raise royalty rates for onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands.
Many controversial rules are litigated after they're finalized. Rules issued very late in the administration could be tied up in court when Obama departs, creating risks because a new administration could decide not to defend a rule.
That's what happened after the Bush administration issued new ozone pollution standards in mid-2008. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency, rather than defend the Bush rule, instead embarked on writing a tougher standard (although the tougher rule has also been famously delayed under Obama too, and EPA is now under a court order to propose the measure by December of this year).
"The problem seems to be a combination of too few hands on deck in the agencies, a pattern of slow-walking and nitpicking at OIRA and delays in the Senate that have prevented the administration from filling key leadership positions," Lee-Ashley said of Interior's planned oil and gas and mining rules.
"Getting things back on track is going to require an eagle eye on the calendar and a renewed commitment to ensuring that promises made are promises kept," he said.
TOP ENERGY NEWS
ALL EYES ON OBAMA. Foreign nations—and China in particular—will be looking to the Obama administration when it releases regulations to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants to see how serious the U.S. is about combating climate change. (Coral Davenport, New York Times)
TWO MORE KEYSTONE HURDLES. TransCanada must now submit to third-party oversight and adopt a quality management program during the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline's construction, two new mandates imposed by federal regulators if the administration greenlights the project. (Joan Lowy, Associated Press)
MONIZ IN THE BIG EASY. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz today opened a meeting on the department's planned Quadrennial Energy Review (a big, sweeping federal energy strategy plan) in New Orleans focusing on energy infrastructure. As part of his exploration into oil and gas production, Moniz and Sen. Mary Landrieu took a tour of the state's Port Fourchon, the hub of most of the Gulf activity, and the Port of Iberia. After flying over the Gulf and touring Port Fourchon, Moniz said he had gained a "much deeper understanding" of the region's challenges and the infrastructure demands as offshore production accelerates.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication is out with a new report that looks at public associations with the terms "global warming" and "climate change" to see if the two can be used interchangeably. The study finds that "global warming" triggers a more emotional response and prompts listeners to support stronger action to address the phenomenon compared to when they hear the term "climate change." Read the report here.
AND THE GREEN AUTOMAKER AWARD GOES TO ... Hyundai Motor Group, according to data compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Hyundai took the top spot on the group's ranking of the greenest automakers for 2013, a rating that took smog and greenhouse-gas emissions into account. (Timothy Cama, The Hill)
POLLUTION HITS NEW RECORD. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million last month in the northern hemisphere last month, a new record in air pollution. (Tom Miles, Reuters)
GREENS CRY FOUL OVER AD BUY. The Natural Resources Defense Council is asking radio stations to pull an advertisement paid for by the National Mining Association, which asserts that regulations to curb carbon emissions from new power plants could raise electricity bills by up to 80 percent. NRDC is citing an independent fact check of the ad conducted by The Washington Post, which called the claims "wholly unsupported." NRDC wants station managers to stop playing the ad due to the fact that it is false and misleading. Read the letter here.
NUCLEAR PLANTS CONFRONT STORAGE PROBLEM. In the absence of a long-term nuclear waste repository in the U.S., nuclear plants across the country are grappling with interim measures to safely store spent nuclear fuel. (Michael Melia, Associated Press)
ACTIVISTS HOP A RIDE ON DRILLING RIG. Members of Greenpeace have gotten aboard a drilling rig owned by Statoil ASA set to drill in Norway's arctic waters and are attempting to stall its progress. (Mikael Holter, Bloomberg)
EPA WINNING STREAK CONTINUES. The Environmental Protection Agency notched another win in a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling handed down Tuesday. The ruling upheld the agency's decision to delay writing regulations to protect against acid rain. Green groups had pushed the agency to speed up their timeline, while agency officials contended that more time was needed to render judgement on the regulations. (Andrew Zajac, Bloomberg)
WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING
WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO WRITE THE CLIMATE RULE? What should the upcoming EPA regulations do to give states the best shot at enforcing emissions limits without undue strain? What opportunities could the rule create? What risks does it pose?
"It makes little sense for the United States to move unilaterally to curb its greenhouse gas emissions without explicit agreement by large emitters elsewhere to do likewise. It may be emotionally satisfying to point to GHG reductions resulting from policy initiatives here, but it won't necessarily induce others to act, and more likely it will induce them to bargain all the harder for further U.S. reductions or for subsidies before they agree to act themselves." —Michael Canes, distinguished fellow, LMI
DOE DATAPALOOZA. The White House, the Energy Department, and the General Services Administration hold the 2014 Energy Datapalooza, focusing on "innovative ways to harness the power of data to help build the clean energy economy and combat climate change."
MEXICO ENERGY REFORM. The Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute holds a discussion on "Mexico's Energy Reform: The View from the Left."
CHAMBER HITS CLIMATE RULE. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy holds a news conference to release a new report on the potential impact of EPA's new carbon regulations on the economy and emissions.