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The Week Ahead

CEQ Weighs Input On NEPA Overhaul; Congress Reviews Agencies' FY21 Budget Requests

Comments are due this week on the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) proposal to rewrite the rules that govern EPA and other agencies’ implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Meanwhile, House and Senate appropriators are holding hearings on the White House’s fiscal year 2021 environmental budget requests.

NEPA

March 10 is the deadline for public comments on CEQ’s sweeping proposal to limit the number of major federal actions subject to NEPA review while also restricting the scope of the reviews, including by eliminating the need to consider indirect and cumulative impacts. Environmentalists and Democrats are seeking more time to comment, pushing back against the planned change in early comments, and weighing litigation. That includes a pending open-records suit where the Southern Environmental Law Center is seeking a court order to block further action on the overhaul until CEQ turns over the documents at issue.

Appropriations

The House and Senate appropriations committees are holding a series of hearings this week to scrutinize the Trump administration’s FY21 budget requests for a host of agencies with environmental oversight duties.

The House panel’s subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, which has jurisdiction over EPA’s budget, will hold a March 10 “member day” hearing to hear from legislators on FY21 priorities. Also on March 10, the panel on water resources and natural development will hold a hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers’ FY21 budget request, in preparation for a spending bill that usually includes Clean Water Act policy provisions. Finally on that day, the financial services and general government subcommittee will hold its hearing on the budget request for the White House Office of Management & Budget, which coordinates review of rulemaking actions at EPA and other agencies.

On March 11, the House panel’s energy and water subcommittee will hold a hearing on FY21 budget requests for three Department of Energy offices with environmental duties: the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Office of Science and the Office of Environmental Management.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s panel on energy and water development will hold its own hearing on the Corps request March 11.

Nominees

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hold a March 11 hearing to consider Doug Benevento, who has held a series of political posts in the Trump EPA, to be the agency’s new deputy administrator. The panel will also consider the nominations of David Wright and Christopher Hanson to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Climate Change

The Senate is beginning debate on S. 2657, a measure that seeks to boost research funding for a range of low-emissions energy technologies. At press time, senators were in talks on an amendment that would give EPA new authorities to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), refrigerant chemicals that act as a potent greenhouse gas.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s panel on the environment will hold a March 12 hearing on the effects of “continued federal inaction” on climate change. Also on March 12, Senate Democrats’ unofficial Special Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on the economic risks of climate change.

A National Academy of Sciences panel considering paths to accelerating decarbonization in the United States will meet March 10-11 in Washington, D.C.

Resources for the Future will host a March 13 panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on potential measures that could add “certainty” that a future carbon tax would produce emissions cuts.

Comments are due March 13 on EPA’s draft greenhouse gas inventory that found the country’s net emissions spiked 3.2 percent in 2018 due to increased fossil energy consumption, even as the administration has continued touting long-term GHG reductions as it seeks to roll back climate policies.

PFAS

Alongside its FY21 proceedings, the House Appropriations Committee panel on military construction, veterans affairs, and related agencies will hold a March 11 hearing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposures among military servicemembers.

Superfund

The American Bar Association will host a March 11 webinar on recent developments in litigation over Superfund cleanups and natural resource damages claims.

CFATS

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a March 11 business meeting where it will vote on a series of bills including reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), which has become a top priority on both sides of the aisle as it is due to expire in April, though the parties are at odds over whether and how to amend it in that process, raising the possibility of a shorter-term extension.

Vehicle Emissions

March 9 is the deadline for comments on three automakers’ pending applications for “off-cycle” emissions-reduction credits, which EPA can award for emissions cuts not captured by its usual testing.

Resiliency

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute will host a March 13 briefing on “Coastal Resilience in the Southeast,” focused on policies, initiatives and “nature-based solutions” to combat erosion and bolster resilience to storms and sea level rise.

Contaminant Detection

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), which are joint projects between EPA and the energy and defense departments, will co-host a March 12 webinar on methods of detecting the degradation of chemical contaminants, and locating their sources.

International Emissions

Comments are due March 10 on EPA’s draft guidance for states seeking Clean Air Act section 179B waivers of some federal air standards, which based on the claim that areas in their jurisdiction would either be in attainment or be able to attain national ambient air quality standards “but for” emissions originating outside the United States. The draft details a high bar that states will face to prove those claims, in particular making it difficult to cite pollution from Asia to support a section 179B finding.

Pollinators

EPA will host a March 10 webinar on methods for schools to create monarch butterfly habitats, as part of the agency’s overall agenda of protecting “pollinator” insects that support ecosystems.

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