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The Insider

The incoming Biden EPA faces the pressure of making early decisions on many key environmental actions, including how to reverse Trump EPA rollbacks and other efforts as well as how to craft greenhouse gas rules to achieve President-elect Joe Biden’s climate agenda.

Biden will take office Jan. 20, and his new administration will have to choose how to proceed in its expected attempt to reverse much of the Trump EPA’s policies and deregulatory agenda. This includes pressure to quickly rescind the agency’s controversial science transparency rule, rather than rely on Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to pull it back.

The science rule, published Jan. 6, has drawn fire from environmentalists, who say it is unlawful and would severely restrain EPA’s ability to rely on a range of studies needed to justify stringent standards.

CRA was used during the early days of the Trump administration to rescind several Obama rules, but applying it has its risks, including the potential for a heated political debate in what will be a narrowly divided Senate. One House leader is now signaling that the incoming administration should act without the CRA to pull back the rule.

Critics Seek To Avoid Use Of CRA To Rescind Trump EPA Science Rule
House science committee Chairman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is joining other critics of the Trump EPA’s science transparency rule in urging the Biden administration to quickly unwind the policy by administrative action as well as just-filed litigation, rather than having Congress rescind it using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

Other decisions the Biden administration must make soon after taking office is choosing which policy approach to pursue for setting greenhouse gas rules for vehicles, as it moves to implement Biden’s presidential campaign pledge to create aggressive fuel economy standards in order to eventually spur net-zero emissions and electrification of the vehicle fleet.

For instance, under consideration by the incoming administration now is whether to divide EPA’s setting of greenhouse gas standards from the Transportation Department’s fuel economy rules, which backers say could aid Biden in succeeding in his plan to significantly increase sales of electric vehicles.

In addition, a newly formed group of supporters of electric vehicles (EVs) is urging the Biden EPA to act to set stringent light-duty vehicle GHG emissions rules, accelerating electric vehicle purchases. The Zero Emissions Transportation Association is pitching the measure as part of Jan. 12 recommendations to the Biden EPA.

Biden Officials Said To Seriously Weigh ‘Decoupling’ EPA, DOT Auto Rules
Biden officials are seriously weighing whether to create some separation between EPA’s auto greenhouse gas standards and the Transportation Department’s fuel economy rules in an effort to be more aggressive on electrification, according to several sources, though observers disagree about exactly what such a “decoupling” effort would entail.

Industry Coalition Backing EVs Seeks Strict EPA Rules, Other Policies
A new coalition of industry groups supporting electric vehicles (EVs) is floating a policy blueprint calling for EPA rules to achieve “sharp reductions” in vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with other legislative and regulatory policies including infrastructure spending to spur the industry.

Confirmation of Biden’s incoming political appointees as well as climate and infrastructure legislation are expected to be high priorities in the Senate, according to incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). He told Democratic colleagues Jan. 12 of his plan to focus on the measures as part of an economic recovery effort.

Schumer Pledges Action On Climate, Infrastructure Amid Trump Sanctions
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he plans to stay focused on moving climate and infrastructure legislation as part of an economic recovery plan and confirming Biden administration nominees even as the Senate will have to consider the expected House impeachment of President Donald Trump following last week’s attack on the Capitol.

Meanwhile, quick confirmation of Biden’s expected nominee for EPA administrator could mean a short period of service for what appears to be a hand-picked acting administrator by the Trump administration.

During the waning days of Trump’s presidency, the president revised EPA’s line of succession, altering which career official will fill in as acting EPA Administrator once Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other top political appointees depart at the start of Biden’s presidency.

Charlotte Bertrand, a career official who quickly moved up the agency’s ranks during the Trump administration, is now expected to become acting administrator until a Biden appointee is confirmed, rather than the Region 2 deputy administrator. Observers say she has acted to slow progress in the water and pesticides programs.

Trump Alters EPA’s Succession Line, Opening Door To New Acting Chief
President Donald Trump has revised EPA’s line of succession, a move that paves the way for a longtime career staffer to serve as acting administrator once President-elect Joe Biden assumes office Jan. 20 following her mid-December promotion to a key role in Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s office.

The incoming administration also faces making decisions over union issues, as EPA union officials eye changes to its collective bargaining agreement and improved workplace protections during the pandemic.

EPA Union Eyes Biden For Contract Changes, More COVID-19 Safeguards
EPA union officials are looking to the incoming Biden administration to change how the agency and its employees interact, including revoking a collective bargaining agreement that the union now opposes, while better protecting staff against workplace COVID-19 exposures by allowing greater use of telework and other measures.