Senator presses EPA to scrutinize refinery emissions

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is focused on paring greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants, and at least one senator wants refiners to be in the crosshairs too.

During a Thursday hearing on President Barack Obama’s climate action plan, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., pressed Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy to begin zeroing in on carbon dioxide emissions from refiners, industrial ovens and commercial boilers.

The EPA has been obligated to tackle carbon pollution from power plants and refineries since a December 2010 settlement with conservationists. Obama directed his EPA to focus on new and existing power plants first, however, and his climate action plan left out any mention of refineries. That was a tacit acknowledgement that any new limits on refinery emissions could be years away.

Whitehouse used the Environment and Public Works hearing to press for action:

“A ton of carbon released from a power plant: Does that do more or less harm than a ton of carbon released from a refinery, a kiln or a boiler?” he asked McCarthy.

It’s the same, McCarthy responded.

“So at some point we probably should start looking at refiners, kilns and boilers that release tens of thousands of tons of carbon as well,” Whitehouse observed.

McCarthy indicated the message was clear. “Point taken,” she said.

The exchange was brief — but it was a reminder that even though refineries aren’t getting scrutiny now, it probably won’t always be the case.

McCarthy separately said Obama wisely instructed the EPA to focus its attention on power plants, which represent a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and about 60 percent of the emissions tied to stationary sources.

In writing the new rules, she said, “we’re trying to be very careful and deliberate.”