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EPA Administrator Wheeler's Remarks for CERAWeek

03/11/2019
Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov)

As prepared for delivery: 

“Thank you, Dr. Yergin, for the introduction. 

It is a pleasure to be with you today. And it’s great to be here in Houston. It is remarkable to see the progress made since Hurricane Harvey. That is a testament to this city’s character and strength. It is also a testament to the resilience of the city’s grid, which I’ll talk more about in a few minutes. 

When President Trump called me and asked me to take the lead at EPA, he asked me to do three things: Continue to clean up the air, continue to clean up the water, and continue to provide regulatory relief to create jobs and keep the economy growing. 
The President knows that we can do all three at the same time. And I know that we can do all three at the same time. 

From 1970 to 2017, U.S. criteria air pollution fell 73 percent while the economy grew over 260 percent.

Today, we have the cleanest air on record and the safest drinking water in the world. Meanwhile, EPA has finalized 37 deregulatory actions under President Trump, saving Americans more than $3 billion. We have 40 more actions in development that are projected to save almost $100 billion. 

What is our formula for improving the environment and the economy at the same time? Providing greater regulatory certainty to the American public.

A lack of certainty from the Agency hinders environmental protections and creates paralysis in the marketplace. On the other hand, greater certainty gives the American public the ability to do what they do best: innovate, create, and produce new technologies that transform the world for the better. 

I divide certainty into three areas: Certainty to the states, local governments, and tribes; certainty within EPA’s programs; and certainty in risk communication. 
For today’s remarks, I’ll touch briefly on all three items and explain why certainty is critical to both environmental protection and America’s energy future and our place in the energy world. 

First, certainty to the states, local governments, and tribes. The states are the primary implementers and enforcers of many of our environmental laws and programs, and for good reason. Those closest to the issue are often best suited to address it. We are working closely with the states to rebalance federal and state roles. We are restoring their ability to manage their natural resources in a manner that best serves the unique geographic and economic needs of each state. 

This is the goal of our Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule. 

The Clean Power Plan was the signature energy and climate policy of the previous administration. Yet, many believed that the CPP exceeded the Agency’s legal authority, which is why 27 states challenged it and the Supreme Court issued a historic stay. 

Our Affordable Clean Energy Rule allows the states to establish standards of performance that meet EPA’s emissions guidelines. This will give states and the private sector the regulatory certainty they need to invest in new technologies and continue to provide affordable and reliable energy. When ACE is fully implemented, it would reduce U.S. power sector CO2 emissions by 34 percent below 2005 levels. 

Another example is our new proposed “Waters of the U.S.” definition. Our proposal appeared in the Federal Register a few weeks ago. There’s a 60-day comment period so please take a close look and comment. 

There are three overarching principles that are central to the new proposed definition: First, that property owners should be able to stand on their property and be able to tell if a water is federal or not without hiring outside professionals. Second, that we are clearly defining the difference between federally protected waterways and state protected waterways. Third, that we are providing the certainty the American public needs in a manner that will be upheld by the courts. That is why we are closely following the language of the Clean Water Act and the relevant Supreme Court decisions. This clarity will give our energy industry the certainty it needs to invest in new, cleaner technologies. 

The second area of certainty is certainty within EPA’s programs. 

Prior to this administration, the Agency was not tracking some of its most important responsibilities. For instance, we didn’t know how long our permitting process took from start to finish. So we changed that. Through our new Lean Management System, we are now tracking the time it takes to issue permits. Our goal is to make all permit decisions, up or down, in six months. I am not suggesting that we approve all permits within a set amount of time. I am suggesting that we make a decision, yes or no, within a set amount of time. 

We’re doing the same thing with respect to enforcement. We are changing our priorities to focus on real environmental problems, like nonattainment areas and water quality impairments, instead of targeting entire industries. And we are in the process of developing a New Owner, Clean Air Act Audit Program tailored for the oil and natural gas sector. We believe offering additional flexibilities will make it easier for the regulated community to self-disclose and correct violations. We signed an MOU with the state of Wyoming, which makes clear that EPA will not use information provided under a state audit program as a means to overfile, as long as the company is in compliance with federal requirements.

These reforms are already paying dividends. Between FY 2017 and 2018, the number of facilities that voluntarily disclosed violations and certified a return to compliance increased by 47 percent. 

The third and final area of certainty is certainty in risk communication. As an Agency, we must be able to speak with one voice and clearly explain to the American people what are – and what are not – environmental and public health risks. Events like Flint, Michigan have become the posterchild for our need to improve risk communication. EPA owes it to the American public to be able to explain in very simple and easy to understand terms, “What are the risks that they face in their daily lives?”

By providing greater certainty in these three areas, the Trump Administration is proving that burdensome federal regulations from Washington are not necessary to drive environmental progress. Certainty, and the innovation that thrives in a climate of certainty, are the keys to progress.

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. 

If other countries want to purchase coal on the open market, we mine our coal in a safer and more environmentally friendly manner than other nations. 

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.  

If Europe wants to buy natural gas on the marketplace, we produce our natural gas in a much cleaner fashion than Russia, for example.

We also provide it in a much more predictable and reliable fashion. Since 2000, Russia has shut off gas to and through Ukraine multiple times. The United States doesn’t do that. We do what America always does abroad – provide stability and security, especially in times of chaos. So not only are we providing certainty at home, we are providing it abroad as well.  

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. 
This is a disservice to human health and the environment. We can’t deny the fact that fossil fuels will continue to be a key part of the energy mix both at home and abroad. Coal use is rising worldwide, driven in large part by India, China, and other Asian nations. Rather than punishing the U.S. production of coal, we should level the playing field and encourage innovation and technology across the energy sector. 

Think about the progress we have made: From 1990 to 2018, annual emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from coal-fired power plants fell by over 90 percent while emissions of nitrogen oxides (Nox) fell by over 80 percent. And in the past decade alone, mercury emissions from power plants have decreased by nearly 90 percent.

Our ACE rule will continue this progress and incentivize new technologies that will ensure coal plants can be a part of a cleaner future.

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

Yet, 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. 

Suppose you are a developing nation looking to jumpstart your own energy revolution, you should look to the U.S. as the model to imitate.  

From 2005 to 2017, total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 14 percent, while the U.S. became the number one energy producer in the world. In contrast, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased over 20 percent. And since 1990, U.S. natural gas production has more than doubled. Over that period, methane emissions from natural gas production fell by over 16 percent.

We are the standard of excellence when it comes to the regulatory structure needed to promote energy development and protect the environment. 

When it comes to air pollution, our National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) address harmful pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide or particulate matter. Between 2000 and 2017, fine particulate matter concentrations in the U.S. dropped by roughly 40 percent. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. has some of the lowest fine particulate matter levels in the world, more than five times below the global average, seven times below Chinese levels, and well below France, Germany, Mexico, and Russia. 

When it comes to protecting our nation’s water, we have a framework of programs and rules designed to keep drinking water safe. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, more than 40 percent of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards. Today, over 92 percent of community water systems meet all health-based standards, all the time. Much of this progress is due to the EPA’s partnership with state and local communities.

Our Underground Injection Control Program protects underground sources of drinking water by managing over 516,000 injection wells in order to safely dispose hundreds of billions of gallons of injected fluids.

On the extraction front, we employ the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to protect public health. We are currently working to fine tune and target the NSPS for oil and gas, so they reduce the most harmful pollutants without imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens. 

And finally, on the storage and transportation front, EPA developed regulations to prevent, detect, and clean up releases from underground storage tanks (USTs). EPA and its partners conduct more than 90,000 on-site inspections every year. Collectively, more than 88 percent of all historic UST releases have been cleaned up and the number of remaining sites continues to shrink every year. To give you some perspective, today, there are less than 6,000 confirmed releases reported annually, whereas more than 50,000 releases were reported in 1993.  

While these stats are impressive, what’s more impressive is the fact that our leading energy-producing states are driving much of this progress. 

At one point last year, the state of North Dakota was producing as much oil as the entire nation of Venezuela. At the same time, North Dakota boasts some of the lowest monitored ozone and particulate matter levels in the country – and world. Between 2005 and 2016, oil production in North Dakota increased by more than 10-fold, from 35 million barrels a year to 380 million barrels. In that period, North Dakota had the greatest improvement of any state in economy-wide energy efficiency. 

Here’s the bottom line: when it comes to supplying affordable and reliable energy in a manner that protects human health and the environment, the U.S. is the standard bearer. The democratization of energy through a stable electric grid is arguably the greatest public health achievement of all time. 

Supporters of the Green New Deal – or plans like it – are not only oblivious to how far we’ve come, but also where we are headed. 

At one end of the spectrum, electricity has become the lifeblood of advanced economies. Here in the U.S., it won’t be long before every facet of our lives will be digitized. This reality requires a constant supply of affordable and reliable energy.   

At the other end of the spectrum, there are still a billion people worldwide desperate for basic electricity. A much better “deal” would be to focus on improving power generation and maximizing the inherent value of our natural resources.   

This is precisely what President Trump and his Administration are focused on. Rather than yielding the marketplace to China or Russia, we are encouraging innovation across the energy sector so American energy can power more homes and business throughout the world. 

And we aren’t stopping there. We are helping states and the regulated community pioneer new methods to maximize our natural resources. Specifically, we are advancing creative ways to reuse the byproducts from fossil fuel extraction and production. 

Roughly 90 percent of oil and gas wastewater is managed by injecting it underground. Some states and stakeholders are rightly asking if we can find better uses for this water, particularly in water scarce areas of the country. In New Mexico alone, oil and natural gas production in 2017 generated 37.8 billion gallons of produced water. We are examining what steps would be necessary to treat and renew it for other purposes. 

Last spring, we initiated a Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management, and we have been meeting with stakeholders across the water sector to gain additional insight. Just last month, we announced that EPA will lead the development of a national Water Reuse Action Plan. There is innovative work happening across the water sector to advance water reuse, and the EPA wants to accelerate that work through coordinated federal leadership. Our Water Reuse Action Plan is the first initiative of this magnitude that is coordinated across the water sector.

On a similar front, we are currently developing new ways to assist states in expanding the beneficial reuse of coal ash. We already issued a proposal to give states more flexibility in managing coal ash, and now we are exploring ways to increase productive reuse. One common reuse for coal ash is as an additive to concrete. What better way to support President Trump’s energy and infrastructure goals than through roads and bridges built from the byproduct of American coal production. So we are working to remove regulatory obstacles while also ensuring environmental protections are in place for such uses.

When it comes to the environment and when it comes to national security, there is no better investment than American energy. That is why President Trump is committed to expanding our capacity to export our energy and technology worldwide. Pipelines that were stymied for years are finally getting built. And the construction of new export terminals is underway as we speak. 

At EPA, we are providing the regulatory certainty needed to continue America’s energy dominance while we also continue to improve the environment and public health.  

Here is our message to the free world: If you are looking to buy energy on the open market, look to the U.S. If you are looking for energy technology or technical assistance, look to the U.S. If you are looking for reliability, certainty, and security, look to the U.S. 

Thanks to President Trump, we are living in the golden age of American energy and environmental protection. We want the rest of the world to share in this progress.  

Thank you for your time, and it is a pleasure to be with you today.”