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Rep. Waxman Challenges EPA on BHP Billiton LNG Handling

Veteran California Congressman, Rep. Henry Waxman, earlier this month challenged the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its handling of the reviews of the proposed offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal by Australian resources giant, BHP Billiton. Waxman expressed concerns in a Jan. 16 letter that the federal agency was rolling over for proponents of the LNG floating terminal.

At issue is an EPA requirement that would normally require BHP Billiton to obtain air quality offsets within the local air pollution district onshore (Ventura County Air Pollution Control District).

Waxman, as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked for a copy of EPA's analysis regarding the LNG project and copies of communication between the agency and the company by Feb. 13. The Congressman said the EPA late in the process reversed itself after BHP Billiton contacted the White House Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining, and that the company spent $1.8 million in California lobbying for its proposal last year.

Waxman reminded the EPA that his House committee has the responsibility to investigate allegations of "unusual and potentially suspect" agency actions. Therefore, he requested that EPA provide its "factual and legal" analysis used to make its June 29, 2005 determination that "offsets are not required for sources constructed in the area where BHP plans to site its project."

"It has come to my attention that EPA has reversed its interpretation of the governing laws and regulations in examining the air permit application for this project," Waxman wrote to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. Waxman reminded Johnson that EPA had publicly stated three times over the past three years that Billiton's proposed LNG project would need to meet EPA requirements in the Ventura County district.

A spokesperson for BHP Billiton in Oxnard, CA, said Friday the company has not been contacted by the congressman, and it respects his right to raise questions with the federal agency. In the meantime, the company is awaiting a final environmental assessment (EIS/EIR) and the start of public hearings on the documents some time in March. The EIS/EIR has been jointly developed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, and California State Lands Department.

Waxman said that despite Billiton's arguments that the Ventura District's rules should not apply to its proposed project, in June 2004, the EPA confirmed to the Coast Guard that the developer's arguments had "not changed [EPA's] position on applicability of the Ventura District rules to the proposed deep-water port." EPA subsequently reversed its position in mid-2005, concluding offsets were not required..

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