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We wish we were making this up: Federal Government has no idea how it is managing environmental reviews

A new report on the Obama Administration admits a stunning lack of oversight of our nation’s bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA is the law that requires all major projects — think highways, bridges, pipelines, transmission lines — to submit to a comprehensive review of their potential environmental impacts prior to construction. NEPA is often the largest, costliest, most time-consuming regulatory hurdle developers face before they can build. It also is a common target for abuse, as there are countless ways to throw a wrench in the process and make the review take even longer (see XL, Keystone). The longer the delay, the more likely the developer walks away. Project opponents don’t even need a “win” on NEPA to win; the delay is often enough.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) administers NEPA, and for the past few years has assured us that it is best suited to streamline the environmental review process. Today’s report shows CEQ hasn’t even been watching. Consider what the General Accountability Office (GAO) found:

  • The Administration does not have accurate data on the number or type of environmental reviews conducted each year.
  • The Administration does not know how much it spends on environmental reviews, or how much typical environmental reviews cost.
  • The Administration has no idea how long a typical NEPA review takes. GAO instead cites to a nonprofit group, the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP). NAEP estimates that the average environmental impact statement (EIS) takes 4.6 years, the highest it’s ever been. NAEP also estimates that the time to complete an EIS increased by 34.2 days each year from 2000 through 2012.
  • The Administration thinks the majority of NEPA reviews are the shorter Environmental Assessments (EA) or Categorical Exclusions (CE), but it really doesn’t have any data.
  • No government-wide system exists to track NEPA litigation or its associated costs.
  • Delays sometimes occur because agencies assume they will be sued and spend more time making the review “litigation-proof.” Yet there is no evidence that these efforts actually improve the review document.

The White House opposed efforts to streamline NEPA in a bill passed by the House last month. Yet the President promised again this year that he would cut the red tape plaguing these reviews. How in heavens name is the Administration properly able to cure what ails NEPA when they’ve made no attempt whatsoever to diagnose the problem?

It’s time for Congress to step in here. Please.

 

 

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White House Releases Methane Strategy Document

The benefit to manufacturing from the U.S. energy boom is undeniable. In September, the NAM participated in a study that found the unconventional oil and gas value chain could support 3.9 million jobs by 2025. The study cautioned that with the wrong policies in place, much of this economic potential could be lost.

Today, the White House released a strategy document that contemplates new “policy tools” for the oil and gas sector.

As the suppliers of goods to service this sector and the beneficiaries of the low-cost energy it produces, manufacturers encourage the administration to work with industry to build on the progress that has already been made in lowering emissions as opposed to issuing additional, inflexible regulations.

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LNG exports take center stage in House, Senate

Today, both the House and Senate will hold committee hearings relating to liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Both hearings will focus on not only the economic impact but also the increasingly-relevant geopolitical aspects of exporting energy. The House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing will focus on a specific piece of legislation: H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act. H.R. 6 would provide expedited processing of all new LNG export applications to the Department of Energy (DOE), and would approve all applications pending in the DOE’s queue as of March 6, 2014.

Like any major infrastructure project, LNG export terminals must run the gauntlet of a long, drawn-out permitting process. One of the earliest steps in the permitting process, a license from DOE, has become a regulatory choke point for LNG exports. Some applicants have been waiting years for a decision, with no end in sight. At DOE’s current pace, some of the applications in the queue could be waiting until 2016 or later before they can move to the next step in the process.  While the national interest determination requirement by DOE isn’t itself a problem–we support a process that is open, transparent and objective–the way it’s been carried out is creating a major barrier to free trade and open markets in the area of LNG exports. It also may be running afoul of our international obligations: a recent report by former World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body Chairman James Bacchus, who is testifying before the House today, concluded that the delay by the DOE to issue licenses to export LNG to foreign countries likely constitutes, in and of itself, a violation of our international obligations under the WTO. (He reached the same conclusion for coal export permitting delays.) As the United States leads the world in enforcing global commitments to prevent export restrictions, such as those that China has placed on raw materials and rare earths to the detriment of U.S. industry and workers, we should not ourselves be in violation of those same commitments.

The NAM was founded over 100 years ago to promote open markets and free trade for American manufacturers. In the context of all exports, including those of energy, the NAM fundamentally supports open markets and promotes exports of all products. We believe the market, if allowed to work, will provide equilibrium.  For the past year, we’ve called on DOE to speed up its licensing process to provide applicants an up-or-down decision as expeditiously as possible. In recent weeks, the editorial boards of the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and others have called for similar action.

As part of our commitment to exports and free trade, the NAM supports H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act. H.R. 6 would put the United States in compliance with its own international obligations under the WTO, and would and help bolster U.S. efforts to eliminate other countries’ export restrictions. H.R. 6 does not impact the economic, environmental or safety studies that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other agencies are required to conduct, nor does it remove any other regulatory requirement. It would promote the development of infrastructure to allow the export of a product–a principle that manufacturers support.

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New Report Raises Major Concerns with EPA Scientific Process; Warrants “Time Out” on New Ozone Regulation

This morning, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a report that uncovers a biased, politicized and troubling process for examining scientific evidence at the Environmental Protection Agency. The 67-page report, conducted by committee staff, finds that the key scientific building blocks of almost all recent major EPA regulations were arrived at through a process that routinely shut down scientific debate, ignored the advice of subject matter experts and consistently elevated the concerns of policy staff over those of the Agency’s own scientists. And the consequences of this flawed process could not be more startling: these scientific studies have been the backbone of almost every controversial (and expensive) new regulation issued by EPA in recent years, from Utility MACT to Boiler MACT to PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  These are the regulations that threaten to make manufacturing less competitive, and we’re now learning that EPA’s process for crafting them may have been fatally flawed.

The report comes less than two weeks before a meeting of EPA’s scientific advisory panel, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), where CASAC members are set to debate and ultimately recommend what the level should be for new Ozone NAAQS. CASAC’s last Ozone recommendation resulted in a regulation that by EPA’s own calculations would cost $90 billion per year. That’s billion with a “b”.  And the report indicates that the same flawed scientific conclusions that poisoned the Utility MACT, Boiler MACT and PM2.5 NAAQS will be the drivers of a strict new Ozone standard.

EPA’s new Ozone NAAQS have the potential to be the most expensive regulations ever leveled against manufacturers. Done the wrong way, these regulations would strand massive amounts of capital, bringing U.S. manufacturing growth to a standstill. Manufacturers would become less competitive, and when that happens, we all lose.

With so much at stake, it is critical that the new Ozone regulations be done right. The Obama Administration has committed itself to using the most transparent, scientifically sound process for issuing new regulations. Today’s report makes clear that the system is broken. Manufacturers call on the Administration to pause the Ozone NAAQS review until it can properly evaluate the process by which scientific decisions are made and correct the flaws uncovered by today’s report.

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House to Vote on Bill to Improve EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

This week, the House will vote on H.R. 3826, the “Electricity Security and Affordability Act.” The NAM strongly supports this bill, which I testified in support of back in November, and which the Partnership for a Better Energy Future, a coalition of roughly 100 business and labor organizations, recently showed ts support for. H.R. 3826 would would place some reasonable limits on EPA’s new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations and get us back to an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

Recently, the EPA proposed a GHG regulation for new power plants that would greatly limit the sources of energy available to power U.S. manufacturing. The first of several coming GHG regulations, this rule would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States by requiring them to be equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) systems. While CCS is a very promising technology, it is too expensive and is not in use at a single commercial-scale power plant in the country. To remain competitive in a global economy, manufacturers need an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy to ensure they have access to affordable and reliable energy.

If the EPA continues down this regulatory path, it will lead to even greater uncertainty and costs for U.S. manufacturers as we wait for the next similar regulations. It’s time for the EPA to consider a more reasonable path forward. H.R. 3826 would do that by drawing some clear lines around what EPA can and cannot do as it crafts these regulations.

To help ensure manufacturers have continued access to safe, reliable and low-cost energy, click here to contact your Representative and ask them to support H.R. 3826.

Click here to Take Action Now!

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President Makes Bold Promises on Energy; Must Balance Commitment to All-Of-The-Above Strategy with Reasonable Regulations

The President wisely made energy a focus of tonight’s State of the Union address. As well he should: energy is a bright spot in our economy, and with the right policies our competitive advantage on energy can only grow.

Some of the ideas proposed by the President tonight make a lot of sense. The unconventional oil and gas boom has unlocked millions of jobs–many of these in manufacturing in sectors like iron, steel, fertilizer, cement, chemicals and plastics–and the President appears ready to commit real resources to making sure this renaissance continues. He makes strong commitments to energy efficiency–initiatives like a $1 billion performance contracting initiative that comes on the heels of a very successful $2 billion program from 2011-2013 that created manufacturing jobs and saved energy. Perhaps most importantly, the President seems ready to finally make the kind of changes to the permitting process for infrastructure projects that will speed these projects up, get shovels in the ground, and reduce red tape.

That said, it’s hard to reconcile the broad, sweeping promises in speeches like this one with the aggressive–and often conflicting–regulatory agenda put into place by the Administration. Regulations like the greenhouse gas standards praised by the President, which threaten to phase out many of the fuels driving our energy renaissance. Or Ozone, a regulation that by the Administration’s own estimate would cost as much as $90 billion per year. Or the calcified permitting process that continues to plague the Keystone XL pipeline, energy exports and countless energy and infrastructure projects across the country.

And so much will depend on execution. The President has promised to fix permitting and red tape before, but many of the reforms fell short. He’s repeatedly called for an all-of-the-above policy, but in practice it’s really been some-of-the-above. Coal, nuclear, hydropower and others deserve to be part of the equation, alongside oil, gas, renewables and energy efficiency. Yet many of these words were not uttered in tonight’s speech.

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Manufacturers concerned over new bulk materials regulations in Chicago

We are watching with great interest the news from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today that he plans new regulations for the storage of bulk materials in Chicago. The Mayor has called particular attention to the bulk material of petroleum coke, or petcoke, an inert, solid carbon product made from crude oil, much like gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Petcoke is a valuable and essential commercial product that is used directly in a wide range of applications including aluminum manufacturing, fuels, and numerous other products including steel, glass, paint, and fertilizers.

The NAM is concerned by today’s announcement for its impact on manufacturers, who rely on petcoke for fuel and as a component of the manufacturing process, which in many cases a replacement does not exist. We are also concerned about what today’s announcement means for other bulk materials exported from terminals in Chicago, which include not only petcoke but also iron, coal, salt, sulfur, aggregate and clay.  Chicago is the largest inland general cargo port in the United States, and any regulation that makes it more expensive to ship bulk materials from that port could impact manufacturers.

The Congressional Research Service performed a detailed report to Congress on petcoke just two months ago on its uses and environmental impacts. CRS found petcoke to be highly stable and non-reactive at ambient environmental conditions.  Citing the Environmental Protection Agency, CRS further wrote:

If released to the environment, petcoke would not be expected to undergo many of the environmental fate pathways which could lead to environmental risks. Depending on the particle size and density of the material, terrestrial releases of petcoke become incorporated into the soil or transported via wind or surface water flow. If released to the aquatic environment, petcoke incorporates into sediment or floats on the surface, depending on the particle size and density in relation to water. Chemically, petcoke is essentially inert. That is, petcoke does not vaporize into the atmosphere, does not react chemically in the presence of water, and does not react chemically in the presence of light. Furthermore, it is not biodegradable, nor does it bio-accumulate substances—such as toxic chemicals—into its structure.

Petcoke is absolutely essential to the aluminum industry. It is the only product that can be used to make anodes for smelting, and the use of anodes is the only commercially viable method to produce aluminum.  Aluminum is used for everything from beverage cans, airplane and automobile components, packaging, window/door frames, baseball bats, and ladders to kitchen pots.

Petcoke is used in a wide range of other manufacturing sectors, such as:

  • Fuel: Utilities, cement, lime, brick, glass, steel and fertilizer consume approximately 75%-80% of all petcoke for fuel.
  • Paint and Colorings: Calcined petcoke is used in the production of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a mineral that is used as a substitute for lead in paint. TiO2 is also used as a pigment in sunscreen, plastic and food coloring and whitening of paper.
  • Iron and Ferro Alloys Production:  Petcoke is a partial replacement for coal as a feedstock for coke oven batteries in the production of foundry coke.  Calcined petcoke can be a partial substitute for pulverized coal which is directly injected into blast furnaces to produce steel. Petcoke is used in electric arc furnaces (EAF) for production of specialty metals such as ferrosilicon which is used for corrosion resistant and high temperature resistant steel alloys.  Petcoke is also used to produce silicon carbide which is used for refractory and the manufacture of silicon wafers.
  • Brick and Glass:  Petcoke is used by brick and glass manufacturers because of its special properties necessary for production.
  • Fertilizer: Petcoke can be gasified to produce ammonia and urea ammonium nitrate, which is then used in fertilizer production.

All of this comes back to today’s regulations and what they could mean for manufacturing.  To the extent that these new regulations make petcoke substantially more expensive or limit its supply in the U.S., manufacturers will feel that pain. This is a product that we need and that in many cases can’t be easily replaced.  Environmental regulation should be done in a balanced, reasonable way that protects manufacturers and the economy. We hope whatever solution is agreed on in Chicago achieves these goals.

Ross Eisenberg is the Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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LNG, Coal Exports Could Be Economic Boon to Manufacturing Economy

A study released last week highlighted the enormous economic benefits that could result from exporting a portion of the United States’ abundant supply of natural gas. According the report by ICF International, liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will create up to 665,000 jobs over the next 20 years, and even non-natural-gas-producing states such as California, New York and Illinois will benefit by seeing income gains between $2.6 – $5.0 billion.   The study identified manufacturing as a major beneficiary of this economic growth:

Of the up to net 77,000 manufacturing jobs generated by LNG exports by 2035, states such as California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are expected to see gains of up to 4,600-8,200 in 2035. In addition to the in-state construction and maintenance generating manufacturing jobs for gas-producing states such as Texas and Pennsylvania, out-of-state manufacturing is required for production of steel, cement, and equipment. (Source: ICF International)

Our energy export potential does not end with LNG. Coal exports also have the potential to greatly benefit the economy. According to another study, over 11,000 new jobs and $841 million in wages would be created by the construction of export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Several companies are seeking permits to widen the capacity of existing bulk terminals in the Pacific Northwest to accommodate the larger-sized vessels that will be traversing the newly-expanded Panama Canal.  Last week, in a speech on the economy in New Orleans, the President explained why this is so necessary:

“Rebuilding our transportation and communications networks is one of the fastest ways to create good jobs. And consider that just a couple of years from now, we’re going to have new supertankers that are going to start coming through the Panama Canal, and these tankers can hold three times as much cargo as today’s. If a port can’t handle those supertankers, they’ll go load and unload cargo somewhere else. So there’s work that we can start doing in terms of dredging and making the passageways deeper, which means the supertankers can have more stuff on them, which means they can unload and load more stuff, which makes this port more competitive. So why wouldn’t we put people to work upgrading them? Why wouldn’t we do that?” (Remarks by President Obama on the Economy, Port of New Orleans, 11/8/13)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these LNG and coal export projects remain in limbo while waiting for any sign of movement on federal, state and local permits. Manufacturers are disappointed with these continued delays and believe principles of free trade and open markets should govern whether companies can move forward and construct export terminals on U.S. soil.

At a time when manufacturing job growth has been disappointing, LNG and coal exports represent real jobs and real wages for the 7.3% of unemployed Americans. Manufacturers are ready to get to work and hope regulators will make decisions on these permits as soon as possible.

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Manufacturers Submit Comments on BLM Fracking Regulation

Last week, the National Association of Manufacturers submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the proposed rule to regulate hydraulic fracturing on Federal and Indian lands.

 

As a consumer of a third of the nation’s energy, Manufacturers depend on a consistent supply of natural gas for much of their energy needs. As such, we believe that state and federal governments must continue to pursue policies that encourage responsible and expeditious development of this abundant resource.

Unfortunately, the duplicative regulation proposed in BLM’s rule would harm exploration, development, and production of shale oil and gas, ultimately making it more difficult for manufacturers to remain competitive.

The NAM strongly recommends the BLM withdraw the Proposed Rule and allow the states to regulate hydraulic fracturing in the same safe and secure manner they have done for several decades.

To view the NAM’s Comment on the rule, please click here.

 

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Sensible Policies on Production, Regulations, Permits will Ease Prices at the Pump

This morning, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to “explore the effects of ongoing changes in domestic oil production, refining and distribution on U.S. gasoline and fuel prices.” The boom in unconventional oil and gas production has changed the way we look at fossil fuels. No longer are we in a position of scarcity; on the contrary, we are energy rich. Virtually every credible energy analyst predicts that domestic oil supply will exceed our demand at some point relatively soon.

This spring, the U.S. produced 7.3 million barrels of crude oil per day—our highest level of production since 1992. While many factors affect gasoline prices—the American Petroleum Institute has a good summary of those factors here—increased supply is clearly one of them. Energy Information Administration (EIA) chief Adam Sieminski, who will testify at today’s hearing, recently issued a statement that “[i]ncreased oil refinery fuel production, particularly as facilities are back on line in the Midwest, and lower crude oil costs will help to ease pump prices.”

We’re glad the Senate is having a real discussion of how to keep gasoline prices down. We can offer several good ideas. First, obviously, is to keep supply up. We can do that by making more areas available for leasing onshore and offshore. More than 85 percent of all offshore areas remain off-limits to oil and gas exploration. Onshore oil and gas production is up, but that is due to development on private and state lands—oil production on federal lands is flat.

Second, we need reliable permitting. That means approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf coast. There is no legitimate reason why, after five years of red tape, this project still hasn’t gotten its permit from the government. Keystone isn’t alone: Shell paid the U.S. government for drilling rights in Alaska back in 2005 and 2008 and didn’t get its permits until last year. Back in April, the House Natural Resources Committee found that it takes the federal government 307 days to approve a permit for onshore drilling on federal land—during which the average person could watch the movie “Die Hard” 3,349 times, according to the Committee. There are dozens of bills in the Congress that would speed up the permitting process for energy projects, and we believe these should make it to the President’s desk.

Finally, we need to make sure our regulations do not make it more expensive to get crude oil out of the ground and refine it into gasoline. Oil refining operates on razor-thin margins, and that’s before incorporating several of the billion-dollar regulations planned for the industry to deal with ozone, greenhouse gases, sulfur and vapor pressure. We hadn’t built a new refinery in the U.S. for 30 years until one broke ground this year in North Dakota; unless we keep the regulations in check, we won’t be adding many more.

For manufacturers, a balance between supply and demand is important to assure competitive, stable prices. The NAM supports policies that promote the leasing, exploration and development of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources in an environmentally sound manner.

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