Monday, May 22, 2017

Oil and gas company that admitted violations under Obama backs off on settlement under Trump

The Trump administration's environmental rollbacks, and the placement of Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, are affecting how the oil and gas industry responds to regulations and citations of violations, Hiroko Tabuchi and Eric Lipton report for The New York Times.

Devon Energy, which runs a windswept site in Fremont County, Wyoming, "had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases," the Times reports. "It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen."

After the swearing-in of Pruitt, who has close ties to Devon, the company said in a letter that it "it was 're-evaluating its settlement posture,'" the Times writes. "It no longer intended to move ahead with the extensive emissions-control system, second-guessing the EPA’s estimates on the size of the violation, and it was now willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation."

"Devon’s pushback, coming amid an effort to ease a broad array of federal environmental rules, is the first known example under the Trump administration of an accused polluter—which has admitted violating the law—backing away from a proposed environmental settlement," the Times reports. "It is already being hailed by other independent energy companies as a template for the future. . . . The extraordinary about-face reflects the onset of an experiment in President Trump’s Washington that is meant to fundamentally reorder the relationship between government and business. Across the federal government, lobbyists and lawyers who once battled regulations on behalf of business are now helping run the agencies they clashed with."

"Trump and his team believe that loosening the regulatory grip on business will help the economy, create jobs and allow Americans 'to share in the riches,' as he said during the campaign," the Times reports. "But in the energy field, environmentalists, Democrats and even some in the industry fear the efforts will backfire, harming health and safety without creating much economic benefit."

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