Senate committee OKs Wyoming greenhouse gas permit primacy

2013-02-01T18:01:00Z 2013-02-02T00:29:08Z Senate committee OKs Wyoming greenhouse gas permit primacyBy LAURA HANCOCK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
February 01, 2013 6:01 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Companies that release carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases are one step closer to being regulated by the state.

On Friday the Senate Minerals Committee approved House Bill 63, which would transfer the regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

HB63, which has support from the Wyoming Mining Association and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, will advance to the Senate floor.

The EPA decided in 2011 to oversee permitting of large sources of greenhouse gasses in states that had shown themselves unwilling or unable to do so. Wyoming sued, protesting that the EPA hadn't given the state enough time to submit its plan to regulate such facilities. The lawsuit is ongoing.

In the meantime, legislators on the Joint Minerals Interim Committee, along with the industry, proceeded to design a process by which the state — and not the federal government — would regulate the emissions.

DEQ regulates other emissions from such facilities. With the federal greenhouse standards, companies must deal with both EPA regulators in Denver and state regulators.

“What you have is dual permitting,” said Todd Parfitt, director of DEQ.

DEQ tried to work with EPA to deliver permits at the same time, but there is no guarantee they can always work together, he said.

“Our DEQ does a better job” than the EPA, said Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.

The EPA is a larger organization. “They have huge workloads, large backlogs on permitting and it’s becoming more and more difficult to get decisions made by EPA,” he said.

HB63 is the result of a two-step process. The first step was to repeal a state law that prohibits regulation of greenhouse gases. That happened last year. The second step, getting the bill that describes the DEQ regulation, is taking place this year, Rothfuss said.

HB63 was described in committee as a “delicate” bill because there were so many interests trying to hammer it out.

Marion Loomis of the Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming's mining trade group, testified that his members are on board as long as language remains saying the greenhouse gas standards “are no more stringent than federal greenhouse gas” standards.

Richard Garrett of the Lander-based Wyoming Outdoor Council noted the world-class minerals in Wyoming.

“We also have world-class resources in terms of air quality,” he said. “I recognize the delicate balance of this bill, and support it but also encourage some forward-thinking” on stricter air standards.

If HB63 passes the Legislature and becomes law, then a state implementation plan will be submitted to EPA. The package will include the rules that the Wyoming Environmental Council has developed and passed. Then it’s up to the EPA to approve it, said Parfitt, the DEQ director.

“That process, I believe, will take somewhere in the neighborhood of nine months to a year before that’s final,” he said.

The bill contains no new government spending, and the DEQ will have to regulate greenhouse gases with existing resources.

Employees will just have to work harder, said Steve Dietrich, the administrator of the DEQ Division of Air Quality.

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