Sen. Jim Inhofe/Facebook

A University of Wyoming researcher and the head of one of the largest trade associations in the country told a Senate committee today that air emission reductions could be achieved through technological advances, offering real world examples in research and development and company-level deployment.

Experts appeared at the hearing, “Promoting American Leadership in Reducing Air Emissions Through Innovation,” before the Senate’s powerful Environment and Public Works committee.

“The United States has always been a leader in reducing air pollution by supporting and allowing the private sector to find innovative ways to reduce emissions,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chairman of the Senate EPW committee in his opening statement.

“In fact, since 2005, the United States has reduced its combustion-related carbon dioxide emissions more than any nation in the world. The development of innovative drilling methods has allowed domestic oil and gas producers to economically access natural gas, a low-emitting fuel,” he said.

The Wyoming senator said that allowing “[d]evelopment of new technologies has consistently reduced our emissions, grown our energy, and improved how we use our resources.

Among the technologies currently under research at the University of Wyoming (UW), Barrasso listed carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration, sourcing rare earth elements from coal and coal byproducts, and measuring methane and volatile organic compounds emissions from oil and gas operations.

But federal regulations threatened technological and market innovations, Barrasso said, leading to unfortunate results.

“[R]egulations are hindering the private sector’s ability to be innovative to the point where industry is abandoning investments in technologies to make environmental improvements,” Barrasso said.

“For example, new source review requirements under the Clean Air Act are discouraging businesses from retrofitting their existing facilities with equipment that would reduce emissions, as well as from making operational changes that would be more efficient,” he continued.

“Businesses and individuals need consistency in how responsible government regulations are issued and applied to promote innovation and development,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Western Wire via email. “And they need regulators to work with them, not against them. Yet for the past eight years, we saw too often that federal agencies would rush through rules that were ill-conceived and often unconstitutional while ignoring industry concerns.”

Inhofe said the mission creep at the federal level imperiled innovation from the nation’s businesses and put rule-making, rather than technological advancement, first.

“These rules expanded federal control over land, waterways, businesses—all while increasing costs to individuals and small business. I appreciate that President Trump’s administration has responsibly approached the federal rule making process—engaging with all stakeholders, relying on sound science and respecting the scope of their authority,” Inhofe said.

Kipp Coddington, Director Energy Policy and Economics at the School of Energy Resources at UW, offered detailed testimony to the committee on technology research, such as those highlighted by Barrasso, under examination at SER.

“Flux estimates of methane and VOCs [volatile organic compounds] made by the UW Center for Air Quality, while technically challenging, are essential for operators to understand what their true emissions are and how close they are to inventory estimates,” Coddington said. “Utilizing flux measurements to improve inventories is essential in developing functional photo-chemical models that can replicate the impacts of oil and gas operations on air quality, especially wintertime ozone.”

“Having functional models is a critical way that operators can make good decisions about the most effective and economical ways to minimize air quality impacts from the expansion of energy production,” he said.

Ross Eisenberg, Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy with the National Association of Manufacturers, gave the committee concrete examples of manufacturers, not regulators, leading the way on safety and emissions controls.

“When you narrow this analysis to the industrial sector you get similarly impressive results,” Eisenberg said. “Today’s manufacturing company would like to say, ‘it’s not your father’s or even your grandfather’s manufacturing. It is a sleek, technology-driven operation that looks nothing like industrial facilities of the past.”

“The story of U.S. air pollutant emissions is a positive one,” Eisenberg said. He pointed to the EPA’s own data.

“Since 1990, a period spanning four different presidential administrations and 14 different Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators, national pollutant concentrations have dropped dramatically. Carbon monoxide concentrations are down 77 percent; lead 99 percent; nitrogen dioxide 54 percent; ozone 22 percent; coarse particulate matter 39 percent; fine particulate matter 37 percent; and sulfur dioxide 81 percent,” Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg cited no fewer than 17 separate examples across a wide range of industry and manufacturing sector, from steel producers to manufacturers of insect control and printing, to reduce environmental footprints.

“In 2013, ConocoPhillips’ Eagle Ford fugitive emissions team began to identify and eliminate equipment emission sources, beginning with leaks from tank thief hatches, wellsite controllers and flares. The team uses infrared camera technology to find emission leaks and follows up to ensure problems are addressed,” Eisenberg said.

The company has made the preventive maintenance standard for all field sites annually, according to Eisenberg, across the company’s entire Lower 48 business unit.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), a natural gas company and builder of the Dakota Access Pipeline, expanded safety measures to include product loss and emissions, said Eisenberg.

“ETP has for several years utilized FLIR infrared cameras to survey for natural gas leaks at its natural gas compression stations and treating plants. The program originated as a safety initiative to ensure that hazardous conditions did not exist for employees and has also evolved into an operations reliability program to reduce lost product and identify maintenance issues,” he said.

“ETP was surveying for natural gas leaks long before regulations were promulgated by the EPA,” said Eisenberg. Proactively surveying pipelines for leaks helps prevent spills and releases and “reduces repair and cleanup costs that are associated with a pipeline failure.”

Inhofe pointed to statements by the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Fatih Birol, who said earlier this week that the United States leadership in oil and gas production was not in doubt.

“The United States will be the undisputed leader of global oil and gas markets for decades to come,” said Birol. “There’s big growth coming from shale oil, and as such there’ll be a big difference between the U.S. and other producers.”

Federal regulations continue to endanger that development, Inhofe told the committee.

“I had personal experience in this because I was a builder and developer for twenty-five years, and was making the sacrifices, building the tax base, making money and losing money, but the chief opposition I had at the time was the federal government,” said Inhofe.

Inhofe said reducing regulation and using Congressional Review Act legislation to remove barriers has helped spur the economy.

But Eisenberg told the committee that regulations like the New Source Review (NSR) program under the Clean Air Act produces “perverse incentives” and “stands in the way of efficiency upgrades and the installation of modern pollution control equipment.”

He called the rule a “barrier” that was “preventing manufacturers from doing even more to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.

“One manufacturer reports that customers have asked it to de-optimize performance in a suite of efficiency 24 upgrades in order to avoid triggering NSR. Any rule that results in companies affirmatively taking steps not [emphasis in original] to optimize efficiency puts those companies at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.

Eisenberg said a pulp mill replacing coal boilers with a natural gas-fired boiler can only consider the emissions from the new gas boiler, not net reduction through replacement of the coal boilers, under NSR.

Reviewing regulations such as NSR, and prioritizing technologies does not have to have partisan overtones, the experts told the committee.

“It’s not, in our view, a good versus evil kind of thing,” Eisenberg said.

“I view this as a bipartisan issue,” Coddington said. “Sitting in the states outside of the Beltway, I think there is support for the advancement of these technologies.”