House committee to examine effects of federal environmental rules

The recently formed Texas House Committee on Federal Environmental Regulation will examine this interim how several proposed or finalized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules could affect jobs, economic development, and energy rates and reliability in Texas.

The committee will review federal rules on air quality, such as carbon dioxide-reduction requirements under the Clean Power Plan, updates to the national ambient air quality standards, and proposed standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The committee also is charged with exploring the financial implications of the rules for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), which provides incentives to upgrade or replace older vehicles and heavy-duty equipment, and with examining how TERP could help mitigate the effects of the new EPA rules.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), which took effect December 22, requires states to develop plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The finalized CPP gives states individualized emissions goals expressed two ways — rate-based or mass-based — and allows states to use either. Under a rate-based plan, Texas would have until 2030 to reduce carbon emission rates by about 33 percent from a 2012 baseline. Under a mass-based plan, the state would have to reduce annual average carbon emissions by about 21 percent over that period.

States must submit final plans or initial submittals with an extension request by September 6, 2016, and implement them by 2022. Federal plans will be drafted for states that fail to submit an approvable plan. The Texas House committee will compare the implications of a state plan with those of a federal plan resulting from non-compliance. Texas is part of a 24-state coalition that filed a lawsuit in October against the EPA in response to the CPP, in part on the basis that the federal agency does not have the statutory authority to implement the rule.  

Some say the CPP is an overreach by the federal government with little environmental benefit. They say retirement of coal-fired generation capacity could require adding significant energy from natural gas and intermittent solar and wind sources to the state’s electric grids, which might raise costs and affect reliability for consumers. Others say Texas should work with the EPA to reduce carbon emissions because the state already is feeling the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and more frequent flooding. They say market forces have been transitioning the state to a clean energy economy, enabling Texas to meet CPP targets.

Ground-level ozone standards

Recently finalized updates to the EPA’s national ambient air quality standards, which took effect December 28, further tighten ground-level ozone limits from 75 to 70 parts per billion. Ground-level ozone forms when certain emissions from factories, power plants, and vehicles undergo chemical reactions in sunlight. In response to the new standards, the Texas Attorney General’s Office on Dec. 23 challenged the rule by filing a petition for review with a federal appeals court on behalf of the state and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Some say the stricter ozone standards are costly and unrealistic, are not supported by scientific data, and will not improve public health. They say cities such as Houston and Dallas were unable to meet the previous limit and that the stricter standard could push more cities into non-attainment, forcing more regulations onto businesses in those areas. Others say meeting the EPA’s lowered ozone standards will curb cases of asthma and heart and lung disease in the state. Expansion of TERP, a voluntary approach to reducing emissions, and full appropriation of TERP funds by the Legislature would help Texas cities meet these new standards, they say.

Proposed methane rule

Building on its 2012 standards for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions for the oil and natural gas industry, the EPA recently proposed rules to reduce by 2025 methane emissions from that sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels. The proposal would add emissions reduction requirements for sources of methane and VOC pollution not covered in the 2012 rules, including requirements that owners and operators find and repair leaks, capture natural gas from hydraulically fractured oil wells, and limit emissions from certain equipment.

Some have expressed concern that the proposed methane rules could be costly and unnecessary for Texas, as companies already are addressing methane releases. They say stricter proposed requirements would be especially burdensome because they come at the same time that demand for natural gas is expected to increase with CPP requirements.

Those who support working with the EPA to reduce methane emissions, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, from equipment used in oil and gas production say this rule is especially important for Texas, a top producer of oil and gas. They say methane emissions from the state’s oil and gas industry must be controlled for public health and environmental reasons. They also say tighter controls are particularly important now because cleaner-burning fuels like natural gas are key compliance options for the CPP and the new standards would ensure safe and responsible production of natural gas.

by Blaire D. Parker


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