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The Week Ahead

EPA Weighs Input On NSR Accounting Reform, Washington Water Criteria Withdrawal

EPA is taking comments this week on high-profile rule proposals, including a rewrite of how facilities account for predicted emissions changes under the Clean Air Act new source review (NSR) air permit program, and the withdrawal of Obama-era federal Clean Water Act (CWA) standards for Washington that the state government is seeking to keep in place.

NSR Accounting

Oct. 8 is the deadline for comments on EPA’s proposal that would codify a controversial memo easing methods of “project emissions accounting” under the NSR program. The proposed rule is based on guidance issued in 2018 that already faces a legal challenge. It would allow industry to include both emissions increases and decreases in the first step of NSR analysis, in order to determine whether a particular project results in a net increase in pollution that would then require more in-depth analysis -- and possible regulation -- of other emissions at the same facility.

Water Criteria

Comments are due Oct. 7 on the agency’s May 10 decision and Aug. 6 formal notice that it is withdrawing Obama-era CWA criteria for Washington and formally reviving a set of state-crafted standards that the prior administration said were too lenient. EPA’s actions respond to a 2017 industry petition to reconsider the 2016 rule, but Washington has already sued over the move in federal district court, arguing that the agency is acting unlawfully and failed to consider the implications of unwinding two years of policy built on the federal rule.

SIL Guidance

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral argument Oct. 7 in environmentalists’ challenge to a 2018 EPA guidance that set “significant impact levels” (SILs) for fine particulate matter and ozone. Regulators can use SILs to determine if a source is likely to trigger a significant increase in emissions that would require review under the prevention of significant deterioration program; if projected emissions fall below the SILs, they are considered de minimis and permit applicants need not undertake a more-onerous analysis of likely emissions impacts. However, petitioners in Sierra Club v. EPA, et al., say that practice violates the air law’s bar on emissions that “cause or contribute to” violations of federal standards.

Inside EPA will have full coverage of the argument later today.

Risk Assessment

Oct. 11 is the deadline for comments on EPA’s draft risk evaluation of the chemical 1-bromopropane (1BP). The draft has drawn a mixed reaction so far, with some observers and advisors praising its clarity while more critical speakers say it was too narrowly focused, particularly in the decision to exclude consumer exposures to 1BP from the assessment.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will hold the first oral arguments of its 2019-20 term this week. Currently the high court is slated to hear two environmental cases in the coming months, and accepted a third for review in its first orders of the term last week.

County of Maui v. Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, et al., set for argument Nov. 6, tests whether the Clean Water Act imposes liability for groundwater pollution that flows to surface waters. Industry groups, many states, the Maui, HI, county government and EPA itself through a recent guidance document all argue that the law categorically excludes any groundwater-based pollution, while environmentalists say that position would open a dangerous “loophole” in the CWA. Despite those arguments, however, the case could be mooted if the Maui county government settles as its council recently voted to do.

Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) v. Gregory A. Christian, et al., is calendared for Dec. 3 and asks the justices to decide how broadly to read the Superfund law’s bar on judicial review of ongoing remedies. Montana’s supreme court ruled in 2017 to allow local landowners to proceed with their suit seeking damages under state law that will result in a stricter cleanup than the one EPA approved, which ARCO itself and the Trump administration say violates the statute. However, the high court has never before ruled on whether the Superfund bar on suits over ongoing cleanups extends to state damages claims.

Finally, the justices announced on Oct. 4 that they will hear an appeal brought by Dominion and other energy firms of the 4th Circuit’s ruling that scrapped an approval by the Forest Service for construction of the contentious Atlantic Coast Pipeline, finding that the service lacked authority to authorize an Appalachian Trail crossing. The same pipeline has also faced litigation over consideration of its downstream greenhouse gas impacts.


The tcbiomassplus conference runs Oct. 7-9 in Rosemont, IL. The agenda focuses on science and policy issues surrounding the use of biomass for power, including hydrothermal liquefaction, gasification and pyrolysis.

Landfill Emissions

Oct. 7 is the deadline for comments on EPA’s proposed federal plan for limiting methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills. The new plan outlines flexible compliance options for states and industry to follow, but could prove moot given the agency’s recent extensions of compliance dates for states to issue their own plans or face direct federal standards.


Rosemarie Kelly, EPA’s civil enforcement director, will speak on an Oct. 10 American Bar Association webinar concerning environmental enforcement issues, including “key trends, priorities, and compliance strategies.” Other speakers include former Obama-era EPA criminal investigations chief Doug Parker and Cornell resource policy and management professor Richard Stedman.

EPA is taking comment through Oct. 11 on a proposed Clean Air Act settlement with U.S. Steel to resolve the firm’s challenge to a 2013 federal implementation plan that set new emissions limits for its MinnTac taconite facility in Mountain Iron, MN, under the regional haze program.

Food Waste

A National Academy of Sciences panel studying a “systems approach” to food waste reductions will meet Oct. 7-8 in Washington, D.C., to hear from industry, academic and state-government speakers on ways to encourage consumers to reduce food waste. Government agencies as well as environmental groups and industry associations have seized on food waste as a prime target for sustainability initiatives, since efforts to cut waste produce both social benefits and environmental ones.

Emergency Management

EPA’s Office of Research and Development will host an Oct. 9 “virtual workshop” on emergency management at mine and mineral processing facilities.

Diesel Emissions

Comments are due Oct. 7 on EPA’s proposal that would delay deadlines for new boats to be equipped with Tier 4 engines, from 2017 to 2024 for some types of vessels. EPA is making the move in response to a lack of available engines meeting the Tier 4 standards, which require aftertreatment technologies to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Water Supply

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) will host an Oct. 10 webinar on approaches to “reconciling” the siloed policy areas of water quality protection and water quantity management. Speakers include Roger Gorke, a senior policy advisor at EPA’s water office.

Environmental Justice

EPA’s environmental justice office will hold an Oct. 8 webinar on “progress and challenges” in the implementation of California’s law recognizing a “human right to water.”

Air Modeling

EPA will host an Oct. 8 webinar showcasing recent updates to its Community Multiscale Air Quality Model.


ELI will host an Oct. 8 panel discussion in Seattle, WA, on the causes, costs and impacts of wildfires in the West.