Vapor, leaks, energy efficiency draw little attention
January 21, 2013
The political and legislative landscape in Washington in 2013 will look much like it did in 2012, with a couple of exceptions.
Party balance in Congress is essentially unchanged: Republicans control the House, Democrats the Senate. Most committee chairs in both houses remain in place.
In a potentially significant switch in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., takes over as chair from retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. Wyden is much more of an environmentalist than Bingaman, whose most notable environmentally friendly efforts were to try to push through his committee—with sketchy results, sadly—measures that would help manufacturers adopt energy efficiency measures. Wyden is more of a "protect the rivers and forests" kind of guy.
In the regulatory realm, President Obama's re-election means that he will continue down the relatively modest path he charted in his first term. Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has left. Her replacement has not been announced as of this writing.
Business groups reviled Jackson; environmentalists lauded her. That is a good indication that she steered a middle path, which she veered from very rarely. That was evident based on the publication of two rules at the end of December—one lowering the small particle particulate matter (PM) air emission threshold, the other tightening air emission standards for industrial boilers.
The maximum achievable control technology (MACT) rule for industrial boilers affects only about 1,700 industrial boilers, a tiny subset of the 14,000 existing major source boilers, according to the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners. Many in the affected category will be able to come into compliance with air emission restrictions by adding scrubbers within the three-year compliance timeframe. And the PM rule establishes a standard which most cities and counties already meet, meaning very few municipalities will start playing hardball on permit applications for manufacturers looking to expand plants or build new ones. Moreover, again in both cases, compliance deadlines are pretty far out into the future.
With the publication of those two final rules, the Obama administration seemed to be saying it will push forward with environmental regulation, but not like a bull in a china shop.
One issue coming down the pike in 2013 that has drawn very little attention is the EPA's revision of its 2002 "vapor intrusion" guidance. Federal and state regulators use this to determine whether leaks from underground and above-ground storage tanks and from underground pipelines result in dangerous chemicals coming into buildings. The 2002 guidelines dealt only with leaks into residential properties, but were nonetheless used by EPA investigators to determine whether there were indoor air problems in industrial and commercial buildings.
William McFarland, director, remediation services, General Motors, said the revised 2002 vapor intrusion guidance should include specific provisions regarding leaks of chemicals from underground sources into commercial and industrial buildings. He stated that the need to update the 2002 guidance to take into account differences between residential and commercial buildings is based on the fact that commercial/industrial buildings typically have mechanical ventilation systems designed and operated to provide higher ventilation rates and smaller differences between indoor and outdoor air pressures.
Regarding industrial and commercial ventilation systems, don't expect the Obama administration or Congress to pay much attention to corporate facility energy efficiency issues. The last Congress finally passed in December an extremely watered-down bill called the American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act (H.R. 6582) that addresses energy efficiency. The core of the bill deals with appliance standards. The legislation has a slim industrial component which requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to do some studies.
When H.R. 6582 came up for a vote, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on the House floor that the act would not produce large energy savings. "The beginning of a new Congress provides us an opportunity to work together on a bipartisan basis to enact commonsense energy efficiency legislation," he said.
Waxman did not utter the words climate change, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has. But here, too, the watchword is moderation with regard to legislation. Boxer is convening a clearinghouse that apparently will be a discussion group composed of senators who will study new scientific information on carbon emissions. There is almost no chance that this chitchat will morph into legislation liable to pass Congress.