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Congressmen Brian Babin and Randy Weber meet with area plant managers
Congressmen Brian Babin and Randy Weber meet with area plant managers
Plant managers and representatives from Huntsman, ExxonMobil, BASF, DuPont and other industrial facilities attended a private meeting with U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (TX-36) and U.S. Rep. Randy Weber (TX-14) on Thursday, Aug. 18, at the International Safety Training Council (ISTC) conference center in Beaumont.
The two politicians took part in a discussion with plant managers regarding a variety of issues including environmental regulations, national security, and transportation improvements. General Counsel for ISTC John Durkay facilitated the meeting.
“I have over 150 petrochemical refineries in my district. We’ve got some of the largest refineries in the world and lots going on at the Port of Houston. … But this is my home. Beaumont and Port Arthur mean a lot to me. That’s why I came here. I wanted to hear what the Jefferson County (plant) managers had to say,” said Rep. Babin, whose district encompasses the Port of Houston, Port of Baytown, Port of Orange, the Orange County side of the Port of Beaumont, as well as the ExxonMobil Baytown Complex — one of the world’s largest industrial complexes — and the Bayer Baytown Industrial Park, the largest of Bayer’s U.S. chemical processing sites. Babin’s district also includes Newton, Jasper, Tyler, Polk, Orange, Hardin, Liberty and Chambers counties, as well as portions of southeastern Harris County. He served on the Lower Neches Valley Authority for 15 years and currently serves on the House Committee on Transportation.
“I got a lot out of this because some of these folks I’d never met before," Babin continued. "There’s nothing like putting a face with a company and hearing their concerns, whether it be overtime, the Clean Power Plan or national security.”
“This area is, I would argue, the driver in the Texas economy and is a driver in the national economy,” added Rep. Randy Weber. “This is the center of it right here. If you combine Dr. Babin’s district and mine, this (area) is absolutely critical to our nation’s economy and our nation’s national security.”
EPA ozone regulations were one of the main subjects discussed at the meeting.
“It’s unbelievable the kind of regulatory bureaucracy that we have. These bureaucrats, who aren’t elected by anyone, just dream up ways to make your lives tougher and more miserable,” Babin said. “You hear talk about people in Port Arthur having to live in a dirty world, but just think about a world that doesn’t have any jobs.”
Babin said EPA has suggested it is seeking to strengthen the air quality standard due to health concerns. Yet the EPA’s own research suggests otherwise.
“Much of their research shows no significant improvement in health benefit and, in some cases, the EPA’s research shows even greater harm coming from a standard intended to improve health,” he said.
In June, Babin voted to pass the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775), legislation that he co-sponsored to allow states the opportunity to pursue cost-effective and practical ways to implement the EPA’s ozone standards.
“I understand the unique impact and extreme difficulties that the EPA’s new ozone regulations will impose on our jobs and economy in Southeast Texas,” Babin said. “EPA continues to target our petrochemical industry with more job-killing regulations. …
“Our bipartisan legislation allows states to address ozone levels through an open, transparent and fair process that improves air quality without adding job killing and unachievable regulations.”
“The EPA’s proposed regulations go way too far,” he added. “In fact, under the 0.65 parts per billion ozone standard that has been mentioned as a new standard, a significant portion of the U.S. would be out of compliance. This would mean areas like Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Big Bend National Park would not meet EPA’s ozone standard.”
The bill has been received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Chris Birdwell said “burdensome EPA regulations” are one of the things that, as site manager of the ExxonMobil Beaumont Chemical Plant, keeps him up at night, and he appreciates the efforts by Babin and Weber to curtail these regulations.
New Golden Triangle Business Roundtable Executive Director Dennis Isaacs said although the Clean Power Plan doesn’t directly apply to Southeast Texas area industry, it could lead to “a one size fits all mentality” by the EPA. Isaacs served on the Texas Air Control Board, now known as TCEQ, as well as worked at the EPA’s Air Compliance Branch in Dallas, Gulf States Utilities in Beaumont and with DuPont as environmental manager for 22 years.
“It’s targeting coal power facilities. We’re not heavily laden with coal power in Southeast Texas, fortunately. We use good, cheap natural gas. But the precedent that is going to be set that started with the Paris Treaty that came to the United States with greenhouse gas control is all about combustible emissions.”
The Paris Treaty is a provision of the Clean Air Act that authorizes the EPA to require states to address emissions that endanger public health or welfare in other countries if those countries extend the same protections to the U.S.
“(Our plants) are full of industrial boilers and heaters,” Isaacs said. “You set a precedent with coal-fired facilities and the trickle down effect is, eventually, one size fits all. There is no science to back it up, but what’s good for the coal-powered industry could eventually trickle into our industry and impact our ability to operate right here.”
Isaacs said the EPA is also attempting to redefine what a navigable water stream is through water regulations.
“They’re messing with that definition,” he said. “Something as simple as a ditch crossing the back of your five acres can now be under the regulatory control of Region 6 Dallas EPA. You think about the ramifications that will overburden not only industry but the public.”
On another topic, VP Site Manager at BASF Greg Masica said attracting and developing STEM workers continues to be of utmost importance to chemical manufacturing corporations like BASF. High school curriculum must remain flexible and not all-inclusive, Masica argued.
“The key is there has to be flexibility,” Masica said. “It can’t be a one size fits all approach. If we try to force fit the one size fits all, a lot of people don’t complete their high school degrees and now we have a bigger problem. Gainful careers, across the board, whether it be in the crafts — welders or instrumentation technicians — they need to be very well-educated in order to have those types of positions.”
Other topics discussed included national security.
In July, Babin introduced an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016 (H.R. 636), which included a set of strict new guidelines for the operation of drones near chemical plants and oil refineries.
It was signed into law Friday, July 15.