Legislation Exploits Hurricane Tragedies to Reward Oil and Gas Industries

Washington, DC (October 5, 2005) -- The House of Representatives is expected to vote this Friday on energy legislation (H.R. 3893) sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) which would do little or nothing to address the energy issues caused by recent hurricanes, but a lot to line the pockets of big oil and energy companies.

Based on an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Rep. Barton's bill is a grab-bag of industry-friendly proposals that were rejected when Congress passed a controversial energy bill last summer. Its plethora of ill-conceived policies is aimed at further boosting profits for oil and gas companies while proposing to sharply curtail laws that safeguard public health and the environment.

"This bill is more about rewarding oil and gas companies that already are reaping record profits, and less about actually solving our energy problems. Nothing in this bill will reduce consumer energy prices or protect our economy against future price shocks," said Karen Wayland, NRDC's legislative director. "Congressman Barton and the lobbyists behind his bill are exploiting the Gulf Coast tragedy to advance their own special interests."

Harmful provisions of H.R. 3893 include:

  • Gutting the Clean Air Act: The bill essentially repeals the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) program provisions that require owners of aging power plants and industrial facilities to modernize pollution controls when they upgrade their facilities and increase emissions. The sweeping rollback exempts from NSR approximately 20,000 large industrial facilities across the country -- not just on the Gulf Coast -- including coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, chemical factories, cement kilns, paper mills and copper smelters. Emissions from these plants cause a wide range of respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. Some of the communities hit hardest by the repeal would include poor minority neighborhoods that are already suffering from air pollution emitted by nearby refineries.
  • Limiting Use of Cleaner Vehicle Fuels: Clean fuels are essential to reducing air pollution and protecting public health, and there is no evidence that clean fuels programs are responsible for high gasoline prices. Yet the bill sharply limits states' rights to use other, cost-effective fuels to cut air pollution within their borders. The bill also would derail the forthcoming clean diesel rules program, which EPA estimates would annually prevent about 20,000 premature deaths and more than $140 billion in health costs by replacing today's diesel engines with cleaner new ones.
  • Extending Air Pollution Clean Up Deadlines: More than 150 million Americans live in areas where EPA has determined that ground-level ozone, or "smog," levels are high enough to cause serious health problems. But the Barton bill would allow cities with the worst smog problems to skip existing cleanup deadlines for years and let the biggest pollution sources in the cities off the hook for pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act.
  • Curtailing Judicial Review and Environmental Oversight: The bill would designate Department of Energy (DOE) as the lead agency for all permitting or other authority related to the siting, construction, expansion or operation of a refinery, and requires all other agencies to comply with DOE schedules. This provision could take the primary permitting and oversight authority away from local, state and federal agencies that are closest to the needs of their communities or charged with protecting the public health. The bill also gives the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia the exclusive jurisdiction over any civil action for the review of a state's order or action related to refineries or pipelines.