TO: Editors and Reporters Covering the Environment
DATE: June 3, 2002
ENTERPRISE REPORTING ON OIL INDUSTRY AND DIRTY AIR
Industry Under-Reports Pollution;
EPA Mulls Weakening Diesel Truck Rule
(Washington, D.C. June 3, 2002) We want to call to your attention two outstanding pieces of enterprise reporting, both involving the oil industry and dirty air.
Late Friday, the non-profit Center for Public Integrity published a report which revealed that operators of petrochemical plants in Houston's vast industrial complex have been significantly underestimating emissions of key air pollutants in required reports to regulators.
Smog-forming and toxic gases were "consistently" measured at levels three to 10 times greater -- and in some cases, "100 or more [times] greater" -- than local oil refineries and chemical plants reported releasing, according to a recent analysis of the Houston findings by federal, state and academic experts.
The findings suggest that the current smog reduction plan for the city, signed by then-Governor George W. Bush, might not be enough to solve Houston's chronic smog problem. And, coupled with similar findings in an earlier study in Philadelphia, the Houston readings are raising questions about whether petrochemical facilities nationwide, such as oil refineries and chemical manufacturing plants, are underestimating the real volumes of air pollution they release.
The full report can be accessed at http://www.public-i.org.
In a similarly compelling report, the Oil & Gas Journal reported on its online edition Friday that the White House Office of Management and Budget and a political appointee to EPA were collaborating on a plan that could undermine EPA's landmark rule aimed at cleaning up dirty diesel trucks and buses. The Oil & Gas Journal obtained a draft EPA-OMB press release that says EPA and OMB plan to design an "innovative regulatory analysis to support the development of regulatory strategies to reduce emissions from non-road diesel engines." Among other things, the agencies will consider "the potential use of market-based averaging, banking, and trading programs that might include permission to trade emissions-reduction credits between off-road and highway engines, thereby stimulating more emission reduction at less cost; and how risks, benefits, and costs might vary by type of off-road engine and geographical location of use."
In other words, the agencies are considering not only setting weak standards for "nonroad" diesel engines (such as construction equipment), but actually relaxing the diesel truck/diesel fuel standards -- something that much of the oil industry has aggressively lobbied for. It perhaps should come as no surprise that an oil industry lobbyist is quoted in the story as saying that such an "innovative new approach could be very useful" -- since it sounds as if this plan was actually ghostwritten by the oil companies.
(For the record, OMB is not a public health agency and does not have statutory authority to write EPA regulations.)
The story is available online at http://ogj.pennnet.com/home.cfm.
As always, please don't hesitate to call (202) 785-9625 if you'd like to discuss these or related issues.