PA Republicans Risk Losing $500 Million in Federal Highway Funds

GUEST POST: Republicans on House Committee Disapprove Final Reg. To Reduce VOC/Methane Emissions from Unconventional Oil & Gas Facilities Risking $500 Million In Federal Highway Funds

By David E. Hess / PA Environment Digest / August 2, 2022

Photo: Methane Leaks At Springhill Natural Gas Compressor Station,
Fayette County, courtesy of EarthWorks using FLIR camera.
Click Here to see video of the leak.

On August 2, Republicans on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to report out a concurrent resolution disapproving of Part I of a final Environmental Quality Board regulation reducing VOC/methane emissions from unconventional (shale) oil and gas facilities.

The House and Senate now each have 30 calendar days or 10 legislative voting days, whichever is later, to adopt the concurrent resolution to block the regulation and present it to the Governor for his action.

The Governor is likely to vote a disapproval resolution, if it gets to his desk in a timely fashion.

This extra review process will drag out the resolution adoption process until the end of the year, continuing to block publication of the regulation and risking the loss of $500 million in federal highway funds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deadline for action is December 16 to avoid federal sanctions.

The General Assembly two-year session is required to adjourn sine die by the rules of the Senate and House on November 30 when all legislation dies.

Republicans voted against the regulation even though the unconventional oil and gas industry has supported the first version of the final regulations reducing methane emissions from their facilities in March at the EQB [Read more here] and did not oppose the revised Part I regulation that applied to only their facilities when the Environmental Quality Board approved it in June.  Read more here.

On July 21, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission unanimously voted to approve the regulation.  Read more here.

Part II of the final regulation covering conventional oil and gas operations is expected to come before the Environmental Quality Board “soon,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection.  Read more here.

Both parts of these regulations need to be finalized by December 16 to avoid federal highway funding sanctions.

Loss Of Federal Funds

Pennsylvania is required by federal law and regulations to adopt regulations reducing volatile organic compounds [methane] from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas facilities.

If the final regulations meeting these EPA requirements are not adopted and submitted to EPA by December 16, 2022, Pennsylvania risks losing at least $500 million in federal highway funds.

Click Here for a copy of the PennDOT/DEP letter documenting federal funding sanctions.

Click Here for a copy of the EPA letter on federal highway funding sanctions.

Comments On Resolution

On July 28, the PA Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund wrote to Committee members opposing the resolution–

“On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund, we are writing to express our opposition to the proposed concurrent resolution to disapprove Regulation #7-544 (Control of VOC Emissions from Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Sources). The Committee is scheduled to consider this resolution on August 2nd. 

“This concurrent resolution is ill-advised, threatens noncompliance and sanctions with respect to long-standing federal requirements (that Pennsylvania has yet to meet), and runs counter to accepted practice in the industry and statutory and regulatory requirements in other oil and gas producing states. 

“Regulation #7-544 has been in development for years, driven by mandatory requirements under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Clean Air Act. It has been approved by both the Environmental Quality Board and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

“The arguments to advance this concurrent resolution are unfounded.

“While Regulation #7-544 was bifurcated to separately address unconventional and conventional sources – a step we believe was unnecessary given that the measures required to address VOC emissions are common across the industry, cost-effective, and equally required by Federal law – no other substantive changes were made.

“Oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania are a substantial source of emissions including 63,000 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 1.1 million tons of methane. While we were disappointed that the final iteration of the proposed rule failed to address emissions from smaller, low-producing wells with leak-prone equipment, there are modest but important emissions reductions to be gained from this rule.

“Recent claims that the DEP has overstepped its authority, and that these standards are more rigid than other states, are demonstrably false.

“DEP in fact can use its authority to enact standards that go beyond the Control Technique Guidelines (CTGs) established by EPA. 

“CTGs are designed to serve as the threshold standard for determining what measures should be considered during the rulemaking process. As such, while states cannot create a rule that is less stringent than the EPA baseline, there is no prohibition on enacting rules that go beyond the federal requirements. 

“The CTG-led process is purposefully framed to allow states to tailor their rules to address state-specific needs.

“This has in fact happened in other oil and gas producing states. 

“In 2017 Colorado adopted their covered source regulations, which included control thresholds for storage tanks, that went above and beyond the federal CTG baseline. 

“California also enacted stronger regulations when adopting its 2018 rule that included a requirement for quarterly leak detection and repair (LDAR) inspections. 

“New York enacted more stringent controls over the use of gas-powered pneumatic controllers and required an even more comprehensive LDAR program. 

“Wyoming and New Mexico are not required to meet CTG standards, even though they are major oil and gas producers, and their regulations still go beyond current CTG requirements.

“Recent EPA action confirms the reasonableness of DEP’s regulation. Since the CTGs were originally promulgated in 2016, EPA has proposed more robust rules to regulate emissions from covered sources.  These new standards are required to sufficiently prove that cost and other factors are considered when implementing the “best system of emissions reduction”. 

“EPA has further determined that, accounting for compliance costs, current work practices can produce even higher emissions reductions than the original CTG requirements. 

“These EPA actions and those taken by other major oil and gas producing states disprove that Regulation #7-544 will overburden industry.

“These regulations, which are in the public interest and eminently achievable, are long past due and should be finalized. In fact, the Commonwealth faces considerable programmatic sanctions if it fails to complete this rulemaking (and one for the conventional industry) before the end of this calendar year.

“Advancing this concurrent resolution will not achieve any public benefit; it will merely further delay implementation of overdue, mandatory, and modest emission control requirements that are already practiced in the industry and required by other states. 

“If Pennsylvania is going to lay claim as a leader in responsible resource development, it cannot continue to obstruct or undercut fundamental requirements.

“We ask that you oppose this Concurrent Resolution. Thank you for your consideration.”

Click Here for a copy of the letter.

On August 1, the Evangelical Environmental Network wrote to members of the committee urging them to vote against the resolution.

Here is the text of the EEN’s letter

Your website lists that on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, your Committee will meet to consider the Independent Regulatory Review Commission’s (IRRC) unanimously approved regulation #7-544. 

We strongly urge that you cancel this meeting and avoid any further attempts to hinder this standard or any similar standard approved by the IRRC for the conventional drilling industry.

At the Evangelical Environmental Network, our primary concern is the health of our children. 

During the original rulemaking, over 28,600 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians sent comments supporting the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed standard for the Control of VOC Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Sources [50 Pa.B. 2633]. 

While we are not completely satisfied with the final rule, as it sets the minimum standards required by Federal law – it is a necessary and overdue regulation. 

As pro-life evangelical Christians, we proclaim that all life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death. An overwhelming number of medical studies continue to show the link between fossil fuel pollution and health and life threats to our children. 

Sadly, 25% of babies who live less than 1 mile from Pennsylvania’s natural gas facilities are born premature, and face increased brain, spinal cord, and congenital birth defects. 

These children, both unborn and born, have an exposure rate to known cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and toluene that is 86-times higher than an average PA resident. 

What’s more, over 200,000 Pennsylvanian children attend school within 1/2 mile from these facilities or other oil and gas facilities. Fugitive methane and other leaking chemicals will cause over 30,000 additional asthma attacks in our kids per year. 

Recent studies prove that the methane industry leaks at least 16-times more methane gas and over 21-times more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than reported to the state. 

The drilling industries’ harmful VOC emissions cause smog, worsen respiratory diseases, and increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. 

For its part, methane causes 25% of the human-produced warming we are experiencing today, resulting in more extreme weather events such as flooding, hotter temperatures, and an explosion of Lyme Disease across our Commonwealth.

Aside from the health impacts of any decision to disapprove of this or other upcoming conventional well standards, the fiscal costs of doing so would be significant and avoidable. This fiscal irresponsibility offends my lifelong Republican philosophy and an affront to my morality in favoring a few at the expense of the majority.

According to the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) sections 179(a) and (b) and 40 CFR 52.31, a decision to disapprove, in all probability, would mean that Pennsylvania will fail to meet compliance deadlines and be subject to the sanction(s) found in CAA section 179(b)(2). 

The sanctions started on June 16, 2022 and will apply in the affected nonattainment areas. If The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not received and approved the State Implement Plan (SIP) within 6 months (December 16, 2022), then the Highway Funding Penalties listed in CAA section 179(b)(1) and 40 CFR 52.31.3 will be in effect. 

The highway funding sanctions will apply to the following nonattainment areas: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, Lehigh Valley: Lehigh, Northampton, Lancaster, Reading, and Carbon Counties.

The potential lost highway funds for fiscal year 2023 alone is estimated to be between $500-750 million.

If you won’t stand up to defend our children, please stand up to protect our Federal highway funds – our roads are almost as foul as our air. 

Please stop this foolishness and act for the interests of all Pennsylvanians, especially our children.

The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, President/C.E.O.

Click Here for a copy of the letter.

For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the Evangelical Environmental Network website.   ENN is based in New Freedom, York County.

The mission of ENN is to inspire, equip, educate, and mobilize evangelical Christians to love God and others by rediscovering and reclaiming the Biblical mandate to care for creation and working toward a stable climate and a healthy, pollution-free world.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: dmetcalf@pahousegop.com. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net

Related Article:

IRRC Unanimously Approves Part I Of Final Reg. Reducing VOC/Methane Emissions From Unconventional Shale Gas Facilities; DEP Moves To Avoid Federal Highway Funding Sanctions

[Posted: August 2, 2022]  PA Environment Digest  |  Source

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