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The Week Ahead

Judges To Weigh Interstate Ozone Suit; SAB Debates Critiques Of Major EPA Rollbacks

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral argument this week in a closely watched suit filed by states aiming to force EPA controls on upwind emissions of ozone precursors. Meanwhile, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) is holding a call to advance a draft report that harshly criticizes several flagship EPA deregulatory measures.

Ozone

Oral argument in State of Maryland, et al. v. EPA is set for Jan. 16 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Delaware and Maryland, supported by intervenors New York State, New York City, New Jersey and several environmental groups, are asking the court to overturn EPA’s denial of multiple Clean Air Act section 126 petitions where downwind states asked the agency to impose direct emissions limits for ozone-forming pollutants on hundreds of upwind facilities in nine states. New York says those emissions contribute “significantly” to its problems meeting national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone. But EPA says the state has failed to meet its burden to prove such contribution.

Challengers say the court’s recent decisions faulting EPA’s interstate ozone policies, especially remand of the 2016 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule “update” over a failure to ensure that states will meet the NAAQS by statutory deadlines, requires vacating the petition denials.

Another milestone in ozone NAAQS litigation will arrive Jan. 17, when EPA, GOP-led states, industry and other groups suing over the 2015 rule that tightened the standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb) face a deadline to petition the Supreme Court for review of the D.C. Circuit decision in Murray Energy v. EPA, where a unanimous panel largely upheld the “primary” health-based aspect of the standard, and remanded the “secondary” environmental-based standard to the agency. If the decision stands it could severely curtail the Trump EPA’s discretion to set a relaxed ozone standard in the next round of NAAQS rulemakings.

SAB Meeting

The chartered SAB will hold a public teleconference Jan. 17 -- the first in a series that continues next week -- to consider whether to adopt draft reports that include harsh criticism of the scientific basis for four major EPA rulemakings. SAB is targeting the agency’s Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction rule; the relaxed vehicle-emissions standards developed jointly with the Department of Transportation; its proposed rollback of power plant mercury regulations; and its plan to limit the use of certain scientific information when crafting new rules.

But EPA is unlikely to drop or revise any of the four rules in response to the reports; Administrator Andrew Wheeler has already rejected SAB’s critique of the auto standards, saying the assessment may no longer be relevant because “a lot has changed” with the proposal.

Landfill Emissions

Jan. 14 is the court-ordered deadline for EPA to produce a federal plan for cutting landfill methane emissions in line with an Obama-era rule for the sector that the Trump administration has sought to delay. Under a federal district judge’s ruling in California, et al. v. EPA, et al., the agency is required to issue a methane plan for states that opt not to craft their own, after missing a 2017 deadline in the original rule. However, EPA is asking the 9th Circuit to extend that target while it appeals the case, based in part on a separate rule finalized last year that delays the deadline a federal plan until at least 2021.

Children’s Health

EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee will meet Jan. 15 in Washington, D.C. with an agenda focused on advancing recommendations for the agency’s children’s health messaging and overall risk communications.

Climate Change

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s panel on the Coast Guard and maritime issues will hold a Jan. 14 hearing on “The Path to a Carbon-Free Maritime Industry."

Also on Jan. 14, the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s panels on energy and the environment will hold a joint hearing on H.R. 5544, a newly introduced companion to an already-pending Senate bill that would give EPA new authorities to curb the production and use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants that act as potent greenhouse gases. The quick turnaround between the bill’s introduction and its first hearing appears to signal that HFC restrictions are gaining momentum in Congress.

On Jan. 15, the full House Science Committee will hold a wide-ranging climate hearing, under the banner of “An Update on the Climate Crisis: From Science to Solutions.”

Outside of Congress, on Jan. 14 Resources for the Future (RFF) will hold a press call on Jan. 14 to unveil what the group says is a “first-of-its kind” study on China’s nationwide emissions pricing policy. RFF says the regulations will “will more than double the CO2 emissions covered by emissions pricing worldwide,” and could thus represent a major step toward global carbon pricing.

CWA Regulations

Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell (MI) and Chris Pappas (NH) plan to introduce a resolution this week in opposition to EPA’s efforts to limit the scope of CWA jurisdiction, with a rollout slated for Jan. 14. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized last year their joint repeal of the Obama-era CWA standard that Republicans and industry attacked as unlawfully broad, and plan to enact a new, much-narrower standard early this year.

Environmental Summit of the Americas

The American Bar Association will host its Environmental Summit of the Americas, on the state of environmental law across North and South America, Jan. 15-16 in Mexico City. Topics on the agenda include climate change, plastics waste, corruption concerns in environmental permitting and more.

Regional Haze

Comments are due Jan. 13 on a supplement to EPA’s proposed approval of a controversial Texas sulfur dioxide emissions trading program that makes up part of the state’s plan to comply with haze reduction mandates. The agency proposed Nov. 14 to add an “assurance” mechanism to backstop emissions limits under the trading regime.

USMCA

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is slated to vote on a long-pending bill to implement the reworked North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The deal had been held up in Congress for months over an array of substantive debates including its environmental provisions.

EnviroAtlas

EPA will host a Jan. 15 webinar on updates to its EnviroAtlas mapping tool. The software is designed to “help inform policy and planning decisions that impact the places where we live, learn, work and play.”

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