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The Week Ahead

EPA Judges Speak On Environmental Law; House Weighs Future Of Brownfields Program

Two judges on EPA's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) that reviews administrative challenges to many agency decisions are set to make a rare public appearance this week to discuss emerging issues in environmental law. Meanwhile, the House infrastructure committee is holding a hearing on the future of the brownfields program -- which could be a top priority for the Trump EPA or a target for cuts.

Environmental Law

EAB Judges Mary Kay Lynch and Kathie A. Stein will speak at a March 29 event hosted by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) in Los Angeles, CA. The topic for the discussion is “Emerging Issues in Environmental Law,” though the announcement does not name specific subjects Lynch and Stein will address in their talks.

On March 31, ELI is hosting its annual law and policy conference March 31 in Washington, D.C. The agenda includes an analysis of the policy implications of the White House's budget proposal -- including its proposed massive cuts to EPA -- as well as discussing options for climate change offset fees and comparisons of industry's comments on environmental rules with firms' actions under those rules as shown by their financial disclosures.

Brownfields

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's (T&I) water resources and environment panel is holding a March 28 hearing on the role EPA's brownfields redevelopment program plays in community revitalization. Legislators in both parties and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have all touted the brownfields program as effective and popular, but the Trump administration is nonetheless seeking major cuts to its funding in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Climate Order

President Donald Trump is expected on March 28 to sign an “energy independence” executive order targeting a wide range of Obama administration climate policies, including reworking the Clean Power Plan greenhouse gas standards for power plants. EPA's Pruitt said in March 26 remarks that “our action starting on Tuesday, shortly after the executive order, will make sure whatever steps we take in the future will be pro-growth, pro-environment, but within the framework of the Clean Air Act. And it will be legal.”

Pesticides

March 31 is the judicial deadline for EPA to make a final decision on whether to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, in response to environmentalists' decade-old petition that argued in poses neurodevelopmental risks to children. However, industry is itself petitioning EPA to halt the process, as well as any other regulatory decisions based on human studies of exposure to certain pesticides until the agency crafts a transparent process for evaluating such data when used in risk assessments.

Integrated Planning

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee's subcommittee on water is holding a March 28 hearing on three pending bills, including S.692 -- which would codify EPA's Clean Water Act (CWA) integrated planning policy that aims to allow cities to address their CWA wastewater and stormwater requirements on a pollution priority basis rather than all at once. Similar bills failed to move during the Obama administration, but supporters hope the Trump White House will back them.

TSCA Reform

EPA Assistant General Counsel Brian Grant is among the speakers scheduled to present at a March 27 event on how the agency is implementing the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act, hosted by the law firm Covington and consulting company Gradient, in Washington, D.C. EPA recently took public comments on proposed rules designed to act on the new toxic law's mandates for assessing the safety of chemicals and taking inventory of chemicals used in commerce.

Supreme Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote March 27 on the nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch's opposition to Chevron deference, under which judges defer to EPA and other agencies' reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutes, was a focus of his confirmation hearing, signaling that he could scale back EPA's regulatory authority if confirmed -- though Democrats are signaling that they will filibuster his confirmation in the full Senate.

Climate Change

The full House science committee is holding a March 29 hearing on “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.” Discussions will likely focus on garnering support for GOP efforts to scale back federal climate research efforts, especially since several scheduled witnesses reject mainstream scientific conclusions that human-released greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The Georgetown Climate Center is hosting a March 29 webinar touting the launch of its Adaptation Equity Portal, an “online database of climate adaptation resources that provides case studies, tools, guidelines, and practical examples for integrating climate policy with environmental and social justice goals.”

Air Toxics

March 29 is the deadline for public comments on EPA’s proposed update to air toxics standards for publicly owned treatment works. The rulemaking floated at the end of the Obama administration would tighten emissions standards for the facilities, despite the agency’s finding in a mandatory risk-and-technology review that the existing limits are adequate to protect public health.

CEC Advisory Meeting

The EPA committees that advise Administrator Pruitt in his role as the U.S. Representative to the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) -- known as the National Advisory Committee (NAC) and Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) -- will meet March 28-29 to craft recommendations on CEC's draft operating plan for 2017-18, and other issues.

Drinking Water

EPA is hosting a March 28 webinar for small drinking water systems focused on models, technologies and data resources that can support the systems’ sourcewater protection efforts.

The agency is also hosting a March 29 webinar reviewing the effects of drinking water conservation measures on water quality.

Human Testing

The National Academy of Sciences has set March 28 for the release of its recommendations to strengthen EPA's human exposure studies program, which performs controlled experiments exposing volunteers to air pollutants in order to better inform the agency's rules. But the report could spark controversy as some who have sought to shut down the agency’s human testing are gaining influence in the Trump administration.

EPA Science

The homeland security subcommittee of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises the agency Office of Research & Development on science issues, has scheduled a March 28 teleconference to consider its latest draft report.

Environmental Justice

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) is holding a March 29 teleconference, although the council has yet to publish an agenda for its meeting. NEJAC faces an uncertain future in the Trump administration as the White House budget request is targeting the equity program for elimination, and long-time environmental justice chief Mustafa Ali has resigned.

Chemistry Caucus

The Congressional Chemistry Caucus, a group of legislators focused on chemical regulatory issues, is meeting March 29 in Washington, D.C.

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