Wheeler: Green New Deal plans are ‘dangerous’

Source: Jenny Mandel and Edward Klump, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

HOUSTON — Supporters of Green New Deal-style plans are recklessly calling to cut off Americans and populations around the world from critical energy supplies, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told an audience of oil and gas industry executives today.

“There are a few, loud voices calling for the complete dismantling of U.S. fossil fuel production. Not only would this be dangerous for the economy and national security, but it would be devastating for public health, both here and abroad,” Wheeler said in a keynote address at CERAWeek by IHS Markit, one of the world’s most closely watched energy industry gatherings.

“We are the standard of excellence when it comes to the regulatory structure needed to promote energy development and protect the environment,” Wheeler told the gathering. “Suppose you are a developing nation looking to jump-start your own energy revolution; you should look to the U.S. as the model to imitate.”

Wheeler pointed to the “billion people worldwide desperate for basic electricity” as a moral call to produce more fossil fuels. “A much better ‘deal’ would be to focus on improving power generation and maximizing the inherent value of our natural resources,” he said.

Wheeler’s remarks were made to an audience of oil and gas executives with whom Wheeler has been criticized as being overly friendly. The Trump EPA, first under former Administrator Scott Pruitt and now under Wheeler, has worked to roll back rules addressing emissions from power plants, vehicle fuel economy standards, and methane emissions from the oil and gas industry (E&E News PM, Feb. 11).

Questions about the rate at which oil and gas infrastructure leaks methane — the primary component of natural gas but also a powerful climate forcer that traps around 30 times as much heat as carbon dioxide — have become crucial to the natural gas industry, especially, as they threaten to overwhelm the fuel’s carbon dioxide advantage over burning coal.

The EPA rollbacks on methane leak monitoring and repairs stand in contrast to actions that some high-profile oil and gas producers are taking to address the issue.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which includes BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp., last year announced a target for members to reduce their collective average methane leak rate to below 0.25 percent of natural gas sold, from a 2017 baseline of 0.32 percent (E&E News PM, Sept. 24, 2018).

Wheeler noted that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically over more than a decade even as it has become the top energy producer in the world, while global energy-related carbon emissions have headed the opposite way.

“What the United States offers the world in terms of energy is that our fossil fuels are extracted and produced in a more environmentally conscious manner than anywhere else in the world,” Wheeler said.

“If you want to purchase oil on the open market, we extract and refine our oil in a more environmentally conscious manner than other nations,” he said. “If Europe wants to buy natural gas on the marketplace, we produce our natural gas in a much cleaner fashion than Russia, for example.”

The EPA administrator said the U.S. would continue to encourage innovation across the energy sector, including for the creative reuse of fossil energy byproducts. “The truth is that those who oppose U.S. fossil fuel production are actually taking the most environmentally preferable energy source off the table for the rest of the world,” he said.

Budget plans and a pitch for coal

At a news conference following his address, Wheeler commented on the proposed 31 percent cut to EPA’s budget called for under President Trump’s budget request, released this morning (Greenwire, March 11).

Wheeler said that EPA can accomplish its mission at the reduced funding level and that the plan targets cuts to voluntary and duplicate programs.

“We can certainly implement and complete our mission at that budget level,” Wheeler said.

In an exchange with Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of IHS Markit and a key figure at the CERAWeek event, Wheeler noted that environmental issues “have become much more politicized” in recent years. “The environmental issue has turned into a large campaign issue, a large moneymaker as far as campaigns are concerned, and I think this has created a lot of partisan divide in Congress,” Wheeler said.

“In some media, it seems that ‘Andrew Wheeler, Coal Lobbyist’ is your full name,” quipped Yergin.

Despite the oil- and gas-centric audience, Wheeler took the opportunity to support the U.S. coal industry.

“If we don’t develop the cleaner technologies for coal here, they won’t get developed anywhere else,” he said.