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Daily News

April 01, 2020

EPA is urging a federal appeals court to reject environmentalists’ request to stay litigation challenging its rollback of Obama-era chemical disaster safety mandates as the agency weighs their reconsideration petitions, arguing a stay runs counter to the Clean Air Act (CAA) even if petitions for rule reconsideration are pending.

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EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is asking the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to rescind its March 31 alert of the “urgent” need to notify communities near 16 industrial facilities of cancer risks from the sites’ ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions, saying the agency had no notice that OIG considered its current approach inadequate.

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A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit at recent oral argument probed EPA and Sierra Club over the group’s lawsuit challenging a revised agency policy for reviewing objections to Clean Air Act “Title V” permits, a change that environmentalists say makes it harder to challenge unlawfully weak permits.

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In a rare win for environmentalists under the Trump administration, EPA has granted a petition filed by the Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) for it to object to a Clean Air Act permit Texas proposed for a Dow facility -- agreeing with the groups that the permit lacks enough information to justify its emissions limits.

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March 31, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she wants to include assistance for the water sector in the next round of coronavirus legislation, though utility sources say it remains unclear whether that assistance will include increasing EPA infrastructure programs or other measures, especially given a focus on crafting a bipartisan bill.

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EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued an “urgent” notice calling on the agency to notify residents near 16 facilities that emit ethylene oxide (EtO), mostly in Texas and Louisiana, that they face significant cancer risks from the chemical, but EPA officials say they plan to do so only after more analysis of the potential threat.

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EPA and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) just-issued rollback of vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards acknowledges that the policy could impose up to $22 billion in net costs to society, a finding that critics are pouncing on as an indication of the rule’s legal vulnerability.

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California officials and legal experts are floating several legal arguments they might use to challenge the Trump administration’s rollback of vehicle greenhouse gas standards, but some sources say critics might hesitate to ask a federal appellate court to stay the implementation of the new rules because of coronavirus-related effects on the auto sector.

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Massive cuts in air pollution as a result of sweeping restrictions on travel and economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic might temporarily ease states’ attempts to attain federal ambient air limits, Northeastern air officials say, but there are also serious doubts about the legitimacy of air quality readings gathered during the virus crisis.

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Air quality researchers are weighing how to assess health effects of sudden and steep drops in air pollution in countries around the world as a result of economic slowdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, although one researcher says such a “natural experiment” might have limitations because of the unusual nature of the crisis.

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March 30, 2020

EPA is moving ahead with a planned scientific review of its just-released draft evaluation of asbestos, which found the substance poses unreasonable risk to workers, consumers and others, despite calls from science advisors and other critics who had urged the agency to delay the review until after the coronavirus pandemic.

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EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) has voted to review the agency’s proposed changes to its lead and copper drinking water rule (LCR) after a majority of members agreed March 30 there was value in examining several aspects of the rule, including its cost-benefit analysis, exposure modeling, and the effectiveness of risk communication efforts.

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EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is declining to review the scientific and technical basis for the agency’s August proposal to scrap direct methane standards for the oil and gas sector, with many advisers citing the limited time they would have to conduct a thorough analysis before EPA finalizes the rule.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has denied EPA’s request to reconsider a three-judge panel’s landmark ruling that expands a controversial “constructive submission” judicial doctrine forcing the agency to develop waterbody cleanup plans when states have failed to act, opening the door to a possible Supreme Court appeal.

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As they seek to stall legal challenges, critics of EPA’s rule rolling back Obama-era chemical disaster safety mandates are urging the agency to reconsider the measure, arguing in administrative petitions that officials “cherry pick[ed]” new data, ignored significant continuing chemical accidents and relied on new rationales.

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Environmentalists are mounting an 11th-hour effort calling on the White House and EPA to propose tightening the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) ambient air limits as recommended by agency career staff, even as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler prepares to sign a proposed rule expected to recommend retaining the existing limits.

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Just days before releasing their final rollback of Obama-era vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards, Trump administration officials have been scrambling to show the rule has net positive benefits to society given that recent drafts show the flagship rulemaking would impose greater overall costs than benefits.

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The Trump administration’s imminent rollback of Obama-era auto greenhouse gas rules will embrace several regulatory flexibilities the agencies originally proposed to jettison -- though it is likely to end “multiplier” credits for electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids while extending them for natural gas vehicles, sources say.

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March 27, 2020

Weeks after barring EPA and the Justice Department from using supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) in civil settlements, Jeffrey Clark, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) environment chief, says he is now weighing whether he can also prohibit their use in citizen enforcement suits, while also suggesting he may seek to limit the suits themselves.

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EPA’s sweeping new enforcement “discretion” guidance allowing facilities to indefinitely deter routine civil compliance actions due to the coronavirus pandemic has no precedent in agency history, observers say, and was a surprise for many attorneys representing industrial facilities covered by the blanket guidance.

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