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“Economic development and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand”

That pronouncement comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency region 6 office, which has jurisdiction for Texas, among other states. It accompanied EPA’s announcement Friday that the agency had finalized the permit enabling ExxonMobil to proceed with a planned multi-billion dollar expansion of our chemical facility in Baytown, TX.

It’s good that EPA recognizes environmental stewardship to be a key component of our plans for Baytown.

We are also encouraged that EPA recognizes what the expansion will mean for the region’s economy.

ExxonMobil’s project is designed to capitalize on the abundance of natural gas brought about by the country’s shale energy revolution. It calls for construction of a state-of-the-art cracker and facilities to convert ethane, found in natural gas, into premium polyethylene products for use in a range of products, such as packaging to keep food fresh. It will create about 10,000 jobs at the peak of construction and add about 350 permanent jobs to the company’s existing Baytown workforce of 6,500.

BaytownThe expansion will add another 3,800 spinoff jobs in the area and increase regional economic activity by $870 million per year and local tax revenues by $90 million per year.

The significance of EPA’s decision goes far beyond this project. Permitting approval times are a guidepost for how effectively the U.S. is capturing the benefits of the shale energy revolution.

There are nearly 150 proposed major chemical projects around the country linked to shale energy – worth a staggering $100 billion in capital investment. The speed with which regulatory authorities act on these projects (as well as other non-chemical industry proposals) can go a long way toward helping pull the U.S. out of its economic doldrums.

The State Department has taken well over five years to consider the proposed Keystone XL pipeline even though reviews show the project would have no adverse environmental effects, and it would increase U.S. GDP by $3.4 billion.

Similarly, the Energy Department is taking far too long to process applications from companies (including an ExxonMobil joint venture) hoping to export liquefied natural gas. Numerous experts – including economists, think-tank scholars, and even secretaries of energy under the two previous presidents – have concluded that LNG exports would benefit the economy and advance the national interest.

Continued delays by State and DOE are costing the country in jobs, economic activity, and badly needed government revenues.

Timeliness is of the essence when it comes to federal permitting. The country and the economy would be better off if more people in Washington got that message.


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