Congressman questions EPA's handling of SoCal LNG project

US Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) asked the EPA to supply evidence that politics did not play a role in its apparent decision to overrule career employees and award a permit to a proposed LNG project off Southern California.

Mar 7th, 2007

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 7 -- US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to supply evidence that politics did not play a role in EPA's apparent decision to overrule career employees and award a permit to a proposed LNG project off Southern California.

Waxman said the committee received documents that raise questions about how EPA is handling the air permit for the BHP Billiton LNG floating storage and regasification project off Ventura County and that EPA is withholding "potentially important information" from the committee and "impeding Congress' investigation into the issue."

The question is whether the project should receive an air quality permit under the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District's requirements, which would make it necessary for BHP Billiton to obtain emissions reduction credits to offset the project's anticipated emissions. EPA asserted in a series of letters in 2004 that the project would have to meet these and other requirements, Waxman said.

But the agency reversed its position June 29, 2005, based on "further analysis" of the federal Deepwater Port Act and district rules, Waxman continued, adding that it has "provided no analysis that justified the reversal" and does not now claim that such an analysis exists.

EPA, in a Jan. 27 letter, offered some rationales for the reversal, said Waxman, including the importance of natural gas to California and the nation, the project sponsor's offering to make some environmental commitments, unidentified "unique issues posed by the first West Coast deepwater port application," and the proposed facility's location in an undesignated part of the ocean.

But Waxman said other documents EPA provided raise additional questions about how it reached its decision. They show that Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Jeffrey R. Holmstead met with BHP on Mar. 16, 2005, subsequently telephoned the agency's Region 9 office to discuss the project, and scheduled a conference call for Apr. 27, 2005, the lawmaker said. Meanwhile career EPA employees continued to insist that the project should be subject to the Ventura district's rules, including the offset requirement.

"Based on the information provided to the committee, it appears that (1) career officials at EPA opposed the permit decision reversal; (2) a senior EPA political official intervened in the permit decision after meeting with the company seeking the permit, and (3) the analysis that EPA cited to justify reversing the career officials does not exist," Waxman maintains.

Waxman said he has invited EPA to bring supporting documents and letters by Mar. 16 to the committee's office for examination.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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