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EPA’s New Refinery Rule—Next Generation Compliance in Action

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a new air pollution rule in September that illustrates how EPA is implementing its next generation compliance ideas.  The rule governs hazardous air emissions from petroleum refineries, but features several “next gen” tools that are relevant to other types of facilities, especially chemical plants and oil and gas storage facilities. Next Gen Tools Found in the New Refinery Rule EPA’s next generation compliance initiative seeks to modernize the agency’s regulations and enforcement efforts.  The initiative encourages the use of new technologies for detecting air emissions, aims to incentivize compliance and emissions reductions, rather than relying primarily on the threat of enforcement, and also encourages greater public disclosure of environmental data.  Many of these ideas are on display in the new refinery rule. First, the rule requires “fenceline monitoring” of benzene concentrations and corrective...

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An Update on EPA’s Approach to Methane Emissions from the Oil & Gas Sector – Including a Summary of the Agency’s Proposed New Reporting Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce between now and December 31, 2014 its plan for pursuing methane reductions from the oil and gas sector – including whether it will propose new emission reduction regulations.  Additionally, the agency recently modified its greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting rules for oil and gas systems and also proposed expanding those rules so that they would cover many additional oil- and gas-related sources.  This blog post briefly summarizes these recent developments. Where is EPA Headed with Respect to New Emission Reduction Requirements? In his March 2014 Methane Reduction Strategy, President Obama directed EPA to study opportunities for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and to make a determination by this fall as to how best to pursue further reductions.  EPA has yet to announce its “determination” but it is widely anticipated that EPA will not propose new methane capture or leak...

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The Supreme Court’s Greenhouse Gas Permitting Decision – What Does It Mean?

The U.S. Supreme Court today partly upheld and partly rejected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s federal Clean Air Act permitting regulations governing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources.  The decision is mostly a victory for EPA, and its narrow scope means that it will almost certainly not disrupt, let alone invalidate, EPA’s ongoing Section 111(d) rulemaking to set GHG emission limits for existing power plants.  At the same time, the decision does not necessarily mean that EPA’s 111(d) proposal is free from legal challenge.  That is because the decision does not address 111(d). Today’s decision concerns the Clean Air Act’s two stationary source permitting programs – the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) program and the Title V program.  In 2010, EPA announced that it was including GHG emissions within the scope of both programs.  Various states and industry groups challenged that announcement, and today, the Supreme...

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EPA Publishes its Proposed Regulations for Existing Power Plants – Starting the Public Comment Period

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register its June 2, 2014, proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.  The act of publication triggers the start of the 120-day public comment period, meaning that interested parties must submit comments to the agency by no later than October 16, 2014. On Thursday, June 26, McDermott will be hosting a complimentary webinar on critical issues to address during the comment period.  Click here to register.

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The Third Piece of EPA’s Clean Power Plan: GHG Emission Limits for Modified and Reconstructed Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for “new” and “existing” power plants have received substantial media attention, but regulated parties should also be aware of the third piece of EPA’s self-styled “Clean Power Plan”:  Proposed carbon dioxide (CO2) emission limits for “modified” and “reconstructed” electricity generating units (EGUs). EPA proposed CO2 limits for “modified” and “reconstructed” EGUs on June 2, 2014, the same day it issued its proposed regulations for existing power plants, but it did not release its proposed regulatory text for those limits until several days later.  The proposed regulatory text is now available on EPA’s website, and power plant owners and operators should scrutinize it carefully – it amends the proposed regulatory text that EPA released in January 2014 in connection with its proposed limits for “new” power plants. As defined in EPA’s regulations, “modified” units are existing...

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EPA’s Proposed Power Plant Regulations – Simpler Than You Think

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-anticipated proposal for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants on June 2, 2014, to much fanfare.  The proposal is simpler than it looks.  Here are the key points. 1.  The Proposed Rule is Only 38 Pages Long.  It’s the “Justification” That Takes up Space.  Many observers have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material associated with the EPA’s proposal – a 607-page preamble, a “legal memorandum” defending the proposal, a “regulatory impact analysis” discussing the proposal’s impacts and several “technical support documents.”  All of that material is important, but if you want to understand the heart of what EPA is proposing, focus on the draft regulatory text – the actual proposed rule.  Read the other material if you want to understand EPA’s justification for the rule. 2.  The Gist of the Proposed Rule: Target Rates and State Compliance Plans.  The rule applies to...

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EPA’s Next Generation Compliance Initiative – The Agency’s Latest Proposed Rule for Refineries Shows the Initiative in Action and Provides a Glimpse of the Future for Other Industries

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a proposed rule that illustrates several of the agency’s Next Generation Compliance ideas in action.  The proposed rule concerns hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from refineries, but should be studied by anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of what “Next Generation Compliance” means as a practical matter.  Most importantly, the proposed rule shows the direction in which the agency is likely headed with respect to “fugitive” air emissions at other types of facilities – chemical plants, paper mills, distilleries, etc. EPA uses the term “Next Generation Compliance” to cover several ideas:  (i) the use of new, advanced technologies to identify and measure emissions, (ii) electronic reporting of environmental data rather than paper reporting, (iii) greater disclosure of environmental data to the public, and (iv) regulations that contain fewer exceptions and more built-in incentives...

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EPA Unveils Final Cooling Water Intake Structures Rule

On May 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its long-awaited rule under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) imposing requirements for cooling water intake structures (CWIS) at power plants and manufacturing facilities in order to protect aquatic life.  The rule, on which EPA received input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, will become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register. EPA has stated that the withdrawal of large volumes of water from nearby water bodies by power plants and manufacturing facilities results in the removal of billions of aquatic organisms from these water bodies each year.  The main threats CWIS pose to these organisms are impingement (the entrapment of organisms against the outer part of a CWIS) and entrainment (drawing of the organisms into the cooling water system). The final rule establishes requirements for the location, design,...

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The President’s Methane Reduction Strategy – Here’s What Energy Companies Need to Know

President Obama recently released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Strategy) that sets forth a multi-pronged plan for reducing methane emissions both domestically and globally.  Domestically, the plan is to focus on four sources of methane—the oil and gas sector, coal mines, agriculture and landfills—and to pursue a mix of regulatory actions with respect to those sources.  Energy companies now have the opportunity to help influence exactly what those actions will be. For the oil and gas sector, the Strategy indicates that the federal government will focus primarily on encouraging voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions—such as bolstering the existing Natural Gas STAR Program and promoting new technologies.  But the Strategy also identifies two areas of potential mandatory requirements.  First, later this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will issue a draft rule on minimizing venting and flaring on public lands.  Regulated parties will...

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New Legislation Would Vacate Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants

by Bethany K. Hatef Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, introduced a bill on October 28, 2013 that would void the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pending proposed rulemaking, regulating emissions of carbon dioxide from new coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants.  Representative Whitfield worked closely with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who will introduce the same bill in the Senate.  The legislation, if enacted, would impose restrictions on EPA’s issuance of any new proposal to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new and existing power plants, and could hinder EPA’s ability to comply with President Obama’s directive to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants by June 1, 2015.  In connection with the legislation, coal miners and coal companies rallied on Capitol Hill in protest of EPA’s current proposed regulation limiting carbon...

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