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- Methane standards are the law of the land; it’s time to stop litigation and start complying
By Matt Watson
Let me first make this important point: I’ve met and worked with a lot of folks in the oil and gas industry who are truly dedicated to making their operations as safe and clean as possible – people who care about the communities they live and work in and who take pride in the reputation of the companies they work for.
That said, I’ve always rolled my eyes a little when I see companies boast in sustainability reports that they comply with all applicable federal and state laws. Really? Not breaking the law is the high bar you’re shooting for?
But , as it turns out, one of the nation’s largest oil and gas trade associations is now saying that not only does it oppose common-sense laws requiring companies to reduce their emissions of methane and other harmful air pollution, it’s casting doubt on the extent to which companies should even comply.
The courts have repeatedly struck down efforts by the Trump administration and industry lobbyists to suspend these pollution standards. And these rules are now in full legal effect.
Yet, in last week’s Inside EPA/Climate, Lee Fuller of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) is quoted saying that the court’s rejection of these efforts makes compliance “an EPA enforcement issue, and we have had no guidance from EPA on the enforcement process that they will undertake.”
There should be no confusion here. Compliance is not an enforcement issue. Compliance is a legal obligation. Any company that refuses to meet that obligation is operating outside of the law, regardless of how EPA decides to approach enforcement.
Cries that companies haven’t had enough time to get ready for these standards also fail to pass the straight-face test. These rules were issued in June 2016 and gave the industry a full year to start taking basic steps to detect and repair leaks – using cost-effective techniques that were pioneered in the states and which have long been in use by leading oil and gas operators.
In fact, operators were required to conduct their first leak surveys at well sites and compressor stations by June 3, 2017, several days before EPA’s unlawful 90-day suspension of the standards was published. Any company that wasn’t implementing these find-and-fix practices was breaking the law then. And any company that isn’t complying since the court ruled the suspension illegal is violating the law now.
Some in industry have bemoaned the cost and confusion of “regulatory uncertainty” as the Trump EPA attempts to roll back basic public health and environmental protections and the courts time and time again rule those efforts illegal. Even now, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – backed by players who represent industry’s lowest common denominator – is attempting another delay of the methane rules, this time for two years.
If the industry is truly worried about regulatory uncertainty, trade groups and the industry lobby should stop litigating against these vital protections, cease sowing doubt about their legal effect and urge Scott Pruitt to abandon his lawless efforts to undermine them. The chaos they bemoan is entirely of their own making.
It’s worth noting that not everyone in industry is playing that game. Leaders aren’t throwing up smoke screens and dodging the issue, they’re moving forward. In fact, both Exxon and Shell confirmed their compliance with the operational requirements of the methane rules even before the 90-day stay had been overturned by the court. That’s the kind of responsible action that’s not only good for communities and the environment, it’s good for business – in terms of both bottom-line and reputation.
As I said at the outset, I know a lot of good people in the oil and gas world – people who don’t like the turn things have taken in D.C. and who know that any short-lived upside will pale against the backlash this industry will face at home and abroad if it’s seen as doing nothing but fighting against the shift to a cleaner, lower-carbon future.
It’s time for leaders in industry to step out from behind the shadows. If the IPAA’s of the world are allowed to speak for everyone, companies that are trying to do the right thing will be tagged as retrograde thinkers right along with them. Instead of proving that they can evolve, adapt and be part of the solutions demanded by and owed to both their host communities and the planet, they’ll be riding a side-car to obsolescence.Read more »
- From Cattle Farming to Pageant Queen: A Coastal Advocate All the Way
I grew up on levees of both rice and crawfish fields along the coast of southern Vermilion Parish. To some that might sound like a boring childhood but to me, it was my own paradise and playground. This unique upbringing greatly influenced the person I have become, as well as my understanding of the importance of Louisiana’s coast and the many unique communities that comprise it. I was born into a family which was, and still is, deeply invested ...
The post From Cattle Farming to Pageant Queen: A Coastal Advocate All the Way appeared first on Restore the Mississippi River Delta.Read more »
- Be prepared: Why the smart oil and gas producers are leaning in despite uncertainty
Be Prepared. It’s not just the Boy Scout motto, it’s also the way most smart businesses try to operate. Better to anticipate future compliance issues today and bake them into your forward planning, than to be caught flatfooted tomorrow.
That is a big part of the reason major multinational oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and Shell have said they are already following methane pollution rules finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year. Despite EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s best efforts to delay implementation of these rules, the courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of their speedy and complete implementation.
Most recently the DC Circuit last week rejected the latest attempt to undermine methane pollution limits for sources in the oil and gas sector and put those standards into full force and effect. It’s a decision that shows the wisdom of ExxonMobil’s and Shell’s strategy to lean in on regulatory compliance (and highlights the danger for other oil and gas producers that seem to be content dragging their feet and exposing their investors to compliance risk).
A second policy shift last week again underlines the benefits of proper prior preparation from the oil and gas industry. Last Wednesday, the Pruitt EPA withdrew its attempt to extend the deadline for compliance with the new, more protective, health based standard for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. This decision came one day after a coalition of 16 state Attorneys General joined a lawsuit challenging the delay (EDF and partners also challenged the delay). This means that EPA will now again have to meet an Oct. 1 deadline for determining which areas of the country fail to meet healthy air standards.
This ozone decision is terrific news for residents of areas that struggle with smog pollution tied to under-regulated oil and gas development. With this decision, EPA and states should now have the impetus to continue working on a more expedited timeline to reduce oil and gas pollution and restore healthy air.
It’s also a workable development for the forward thinking oil and gas companies since compliance with EPA’s methane rules will also help reduce the emissions that lead to the formation of unhealthy smog. By thinking ahead on methane, these producers have also put themselves in a better position to address smog problems.
There is a real danger for the oil and gas industry in this era of federal regulatory uncertainty. By pushing the pendulum so far toward deregulation, the worst actors in oil and gas may find themselves creating the very regulatory confusion they and their investors loathe. But you don’t have to take our word for it, as Kevin Book Managing Partner with ClearView Energy Partners recently told Pamela King of E&E News, “If the Trump administration veers more toward a 'rip it up' approach to rulemaking, the implication could be that uncertainty limits future investments."
A stable regulatory environment, investment certainty and cleaner air. Addressing methane is the smart move for the oil and gas industry no matter how you look at it.Read more »
- Delta Dispatches: Preserving Louisiana's Heritage
Welcome to Delta Dispatches with hosts, Simone Maloz & Jacques Hebert. On today’s show Brian Ostahowski, President of the Louisiana Archaelological Society joins the program to talk about how the coastal crisis affects archaeology in Louisiana and archaeology in Coastal Louisiana. In the second half the show, Simone and Jacques are joined by Dr. Nathalie Dajko, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Tulane University to talk about preserving Louisiana’s unique language. Below is a transcript of this week's Delta Dispatches Podcast. ...Read more »
- How Trump Is Putting America on a Road to Nowhere:If we allow these standards to be weakened or removed, we're not just further forfeiting our leadership on climate. We are firmly placing America's automotive industry behind the rest of the world.Read more »
- Toxicologists endorsing Dourson’s nomination are birds of a feather
Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.
[My colleagues Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Lindsay McCormick, Ryan O’Connell, and Dr. Maricel Maffini assisted in the research described in this post.]
[Use this link to see all of our posts on Dourson.]
When the Trump Administration announced its intention to nominate Michael Dourson to head the office at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charged with implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA issued a news release titled “Widespread Praise for Dr. Michael Dourson.” The release cited four toxicologists: Samuel M. Cohen, Jay I. Goodman, Gio Batta Gori and Kendall B. Wallace.
Far from representing a “widespread” set of endorsers, it turns out these four and Dourson constitute an exceedingly close-knit group.
My last post focused on Dourson’s incredibly high rate of publishing his papers in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology that is known for its close ties to the tobacco and chemical industries. It so happens that this journal is also a key thread connecting Dourson to at least three of his endorsers:
- Dourson and Cohen both serve on the journal’s editorial board;
- Goodman is an associate editor of the journal; and
- Gori is its editor-in-chief.
What else can be said about these toxicologists who are endorsing Dourson?
Dr. Gori has a decades-long history of paid work for the tobacco industry. For details, see these sources:
- Landman and Glantz (2009), “Tobacco Industry Efforts to Undermine Policy-Relevant Research,” American Journal of Public Health, January, Volume 99(1): 45–58.
- David Michaels (2008), Doubt is Their Product: How the Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, Oxford University Press, pp. 53-54.
Drs. Cohen, Goodman and Wallace, like Dourson, have for many years been paid consultants to a large range of companies and trade associations. For example:
- Based on a PubMed search, Cohen has co-authored papers published over just the past six years that were funded by the Arsenic Science Task Force and the Organic Arsenic Products Task Force, the American Chemistry Council, Sumitomo Chemical Company, a Permethrin Data Group operating under the auspices of the Consumer Specialty Products Association, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, the International Organization of Flavor Industries, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
- Goodman has received grant money over many years from RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, and has also done paid work for the American Chemistry Council and Pharmacia. A PubMed search found recent papers he co-authored funded by Syngenta Crop Protection, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, The Dow Chemical Company, and the American Chemistry Council.
- Wallace has done extensive work on diacetyl (the artificial popcorn butter flavoring linked to severe lung damage in workers) paid for by ConAgra. This included a paper, “Safe exposure level for diacetyl” (later retracted). Based on a PubMed search, he has done work on perfluorinated substances over a number of years for 3M Company.
All four of the toxicologists endorsing Dourson have also worked together. They are co-authors on two highly controversial 2016 papers that attack the role of science linking chemical exposures and human health effects in risk assessment and regulation, and the identification and regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. See here and here. The latter paper is published in … you guessed it, the industry’s go-to journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.
Like I said, it’s a very close-knit group of heavily conflicted scientists that are providing that “widespread praise” for Dourson’s nomination.
As I noted earlier about Dourson, these industry consultants have every right to make their living however they choose. And the tobacco and chemical industries have every right to hire whomever they want. But Dourson’s nomination is for a position that is supposed to serve the public’s interest, not those of the chemical industry. It simply must be asked: Who really stands to benefit if he’s confirmed? The endorsements of Dourson by this group of wholly like-minded individuals who have the same deep conflicts as Dourson himself shouldn’t count for much.