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Bill may speed approval for new US chemical plants

By: Gayle S. Putrich

June 12, 2014

WASHINGTON — The House Energy and Commerce Committee this week approved a bill that would speed the permitting process for new manufacturing facilities, which may help plastics feedstock plants get up and running faster.

 The bill, written by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide more timely guidance to companies on compliance with changing regulations and air-quality standards, a frequent hang up for pre-construction permit applications. EPA also would have to make more permitting information available to the public in an effort to prevent delays and report to Congress on what is being done to expedite the approval process.

The number of New Source Review (NSR) preconstruction permits issued under the Clean Air Act also would be made public under the new bill.

 “By increasing transparency and holding the EPA accountable, we can jump start a broken permitting process that is holding back our economy,” said Scalise, the vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. “Instead of arbitrary regulations that will force jobs and higher emissions to countries like China, this bill holds the EPA accountable and provides industry a roadmap as to how to achieve the highest standards through the use of the best commercially available science and technology.”

 Lawmakers like Scalise and industry groups are growing concerned that the slow federal permitting process is becoming a deterrent for companies to build in the United States., especially those with international ties or investors. A joint venture between Occidental Chemical Corp. and a Mexico-based PVC and specialty chemicals firm Mexichem SAB de CV, originally announced in August 2012, did not get the green light from EPA to build an ethylene cracker in Ingleside, Texas, until last month.

 The chemical industry currently has plans for more than $115 billion in investments for at least 180 new projects, according to Lorraine Gershman, regulatory and technical affairs director at the American Chemistry Council.

In her May testimony to a subcommittee in favor of the bill, Gershman said cheaper and readily available shale gas is creating a renaissance for U.S. manufacturing, but costly and time-consuming pre-construction regulations, inadequate emissions modeling programs and potential legal challenges could derail much of those investments.

 The Promoting New Manufacturing Act was approved by the committee on a 30-19 vote and now goes to the full House for consideration.