OVERNIGHT ENERGY: All eyes on EPA's pending boiler rules

State of Play: The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to unveil new air-pollution regulations Wednesday that have emerged as a flash point in the political tug-of-war over the agency’s role in protecting health.

The regulations, which would reduce toxic air emissions from industrial boilers, are arcane. But they underscore the political sensitivities surrounding every regulation EPA issues.

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House Republicans, bolstered by their new majority, have set their sites on the agency. Last week the House passed a bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year that would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by $3 billion and block funding for the agency’s climate regulations, which have been the target of intense scrutiny by Republicans.

The industrial boiler rules, which require that boilers have the “maximum achievable control technology” to reduce emissions like mercury, have likewise faced major opposition from Republicans and industry groups.

They railed against draft regulations offered by the agency last year, arguing the proposal was unrealistic and would result in job losses. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has planned for months to target the boiler rules. Citing a boiler industry analysis of the draft rules, Upton said in a Washington Times op-ed last October — written even before he ascended the committee chairmanship — that they would “put nearly 800,000 jobs at risk.”

EPA officials have said the final regulations, set to be unveiled Wednesday, will be “significantly different” than the draft proposal. The agency had asked a federal judge to allow the agency more than a year to issue final rules. But the judge gave EPA 30 days.

Lawmakers, environmentalists and industry groups alike are bracing for the final proposal, which the agency is holding close to the vest.

There has been a flurry of letters from lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, calling for less stringent rules in the run-up to EPA issuing its final rules. In September 41 senators, including 18 Democrats, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson criticizing the proposed rules. House lawmakers sent similar letters.

Frank O’Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said he hopes the agency doesn’t cave to pressure from interest groups on the regulations.

“We do want EPA to make decisions based on the best and most accurate information rather than political intimidation,” he said in an e-mail.

Meanwhile, industry groups fear that the rules will still put too much of a burden on boiler owners. Robert Bessette, president of the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, said hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake. Bessette is hoping the final rule includes a provision that would exempt industrial boilers from the regulations if a risk analysis shows human beings aren’t close enough to a particular boiler to be affected by its emissions.

Without such a provision, boiler owners would have to install costly technology to reduce boiler emissions, and that would cost jobs, he said.

“If it’s not in there, they’ve just written off 152,000 jobs,” he said, citing an analysis conducted by his organization.


NEWS BITES:

Unrest in Libya raises fears of soaring U.S. gas prices

News of the political unrest in Libya, including a Time magazine report that the country’s president could target its oil pipelines, is raising renewed concerns about the United States’s reliance on foreign oil.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said Tuesday in a statement to reporters that the political strife could spread and lead to “record prices at the pump.” It’s the latest effort by Republicans to raise concerns about gas prices amid the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Republicans have set their sites on the administration's offshore drilling policies, arguing that the Interior Department has imposed a "de facto moratorium" on offshore drilling because it has yet to issue deepwater drilling permits.

Lawmakers urge Upton to hold oil permits hearing

A bipartisan group of six House members is urging Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to hold a hearing on the slowdown in Interior Department permitting for offshore drilling since the BP spill.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a senior member of the panel, along with committee members from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, wrote to Upton and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, on Tuesday.

It’s the latest effort to pressure Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which is requiring drillers to comply with a host of beefed-up safety standards before deepwater permitting resumes. Shallow-water permitting has slowed.

“We need to safely and responsibly produce our domestic resources offshore in order to reduce this reliance on foreign imports and in turn, increase our economic growth. The Gulf of Mexico holds the largest and most productive oil resources in the United States, and further delays to safely producing these domestic resources will severely jeopardize our energy security and leave us more dependent on the Middle East for our energy supplies,” the letter states.


ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

EPA to release draft U.S. emissions data

The agency is slated to publish its “Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009.”

NOAA chief to discuss threats to reefs

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be on hand Wednesday at the National Press Club when the World Resources Institute and other groups unveil a “comprehensive analysis of the threats to coral reefs.”

“It maps out local and global pressures on reefs; assesses the vulnerability of people in reef-dependent countries; and provides recommendations to safeguard reefs in the future,” an advisory states.

Greening the military


Assistant Navy Secretary for Installations and Environment Jackalyne Pfannenstiel is slated to speak at a Government Executive Media Group forum on “Tackling the Challenge of Greener Government.”

Green group to attack nuke industry subsidies


The Union of Concerned Scientists will release a study on the “full range of subsidies that have benefited the commercial nuclear power industry in the United States over the last 50 years,” an advisory states.

“The report found that subsidies for the entire nuclear fuel cycle — from uranium mining to long-term waste storage — have often exceeded the average market price of the power produced. In other words, if the government had purchased power on the open market and given it away for free, it would have been less costly than subsidizing nuclear power plant construction and operation,” the group said.

UCS and other anti-nuclear advocates are opposing provisions in the White House budget plan that would expand funding for loan guarantees available for building new reactors.

DOE’s ultra-deepwater advisers to meet

The Energy Department’s Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee will meet in Washington, D.C., to review their research portfolio and annual plan, even though the White House doesn’t really want the group around anymore.

The White House’s FY 2012 budget plan calls for nixing the ultra-deepwater research program that was created under a major 2005 energy law.

NRDC to release survey attacking House votes against EPA

The Natural Resources Defense Council is slated to continue its attacks on House spending legislation approved last week that would block funding for EPA climate regulations and other rules.

The group will release “findings of a national survey as well as additional polls for the Congressional Districts of leading House members who voted to block the EPA,” an advisory states.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

We told you that the top U.S. climate negotiator doesn’t think nations will reach a legally binding climate deal this year. We also told you that both BP and the Justice Department don’t want the courts watching over the oil-spill compensation process.

Then we reported that Oxfam America is wading into a fight over whether oil companies should disclose payments to foreign governments. And we reported on a major staff shakeup at the Energy Department.

Next, we told you that House Republicans are holding an oversight hearing on the administration’s “wild lands” policy. And we reported that an Energy Department official is optimistic that the oil markets will overcome the unrest in Libya.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia,  arestuccia@thehill.com.

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