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The Week Ahead

Deadlines Arrive For Comments On EPA Rollbacks Of Obama-Era CWA, MATS Proposals

Comments are due this week on a pair of high-profile deregulatory proposals that are likely to spur major court challenges: the Trump administration’s plan to narrow the scope of Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction, and the repeal of the cost-benefit finding that held the Obama administration’s mercury and air toxics standard (MATS) for power plants to be “appropriate and necessary.”

CWA Jurisdiction

Comments are due April 15 on EPA’s joint proposal with the Army Corps of Engineers to redefine the scope of waters subject to federal jurisdiction under the CWA. Environmentalists, conservation groups, Democrats and other opponents of the Trump administration are expected to outline sweeping legal attacks on the proposed rule, following months of criticism targeting its legal and scientific basis, as well as the agencies’ efforts to downplay any environmental impacts of the narrower jurisdiction standard. Meanwhile, industry groups and Republicans are likely to back the rule but also seek greater clarity on which waters will be covered.

MATS Rule

April 17 is the comment deadline for the EPA proposal to scrap its cost-benefit finding that justified the Obama-era MATS rule. The agency is planning to reverse its designation of the power plant air toxics standard as “appropriate and necessary” by discounting the rule’s “co-benefits” of reducing fine particulate matter (PM) pollution, which were responsible for the bulk of its environmental gains even though the rule does not directly regulate PM.

Revoking the finding would not formally repeal the MATS rule, but could render it legally vulnerable in future court challenges, giving critics a chance to argue that the agency is undoing the basis for the broader regulation. And whatever the agency decides in the final version on cost-benefits could set an important precedent for a host of future rulemakings.

Following the close of comments, the D.C. Bar Association will host an April 18 panel discussion on the proposal and its potential legal issues, with speakers including EPA Deputy General Counsel Justin Schwab.

TCE Assessment

The National Academy of Sciences panel working on a projected funded by the Defense Department (DOD) to review the human health risks of the common solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) will meet for the first time April 18-19 in Washington, D.C. The committee has been tasked with reviewing the "scientific and technical basis of DOD's proposed approach to developing an occupational exposure level (OEL) and cancer slope factor," or potency estimate for TCE "for settings in which vapor intrusion is the pathway of exposure." It follows EPA’s own efforts to address TCE, including a 2011 risk assessment, that have drawn persistent attacks from industry and agencies including DOD.

EFAB Meeting

EPA’s Environmental Financial Advisory Board (EFAB) will meet April 17-18 in Washington, D.C. The meeting agenda includes reports from EFAB panels studying stormwater financing options, performance metrics for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan and disaster resilience, among other topics, but EPA officials will also present on how the agency is implementing the 2018 water infrastructure law that established 32 new wastewater and drinking water mandates but with little added funding.

Climate Change

The third annual National Conference of Lawyers Committed to Addressing the Climate Emergency is set for April 18 over webcast. Speakers include Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is running in the Democratic presidential primary on a climate change agenda.

Citizen Science

EPA will host an April 17 webinar highlighting its research into the uses of low-cost air quality sensors, including “technology limitations, their value in various air monitoring situations, as well as the tools and resources that are available to provide assistance in their use.” Widely available consumer-grade monitoring equipment has played a major role in the rise of citizen science, and EPA is still wrestling with how to incorporate data from such equipment into its work.

Site Cleanups

The American Bar Association has scheduled an April 16 webinar on “failures” in Superfund and brownfields site remediation projects, in order to provide “real-world examples of both the common ‘mistakes’ and the proven ‘fixes’ for these types of projects.”

Small Business Impacts

EPA will host a conference with small contractors on April 16 at its Chicago, IL, offices. The goal of the event is to bring together “EPA program officials, acquisition personnel, other federal agency procurement officials and prime contractors in an effort to inform and educate small businesses about federal contracting opportunities, small business program updates and how to successfully prepare for future federal procurement opportunities.”

Good Neighbor Board

EPA’s Good Neighbor Environmental Board, which advises the agency on environmental and security issues at the U.S.-Mexico border, will hold an April 19 teleconference to work on its annual report, focused on energy infrastructure along the border.

ELAB Meeting

EPA’s Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board, which offers input to the agency on issues related to lab accreditation, will meet by teleconference on April 17.

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