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The Week Ahead

Trump’s NEPA Overhaul Faces Scrutiny; Panel Weighs EPA’s ‘Systematic’ TSCA Approach

The White House is holding a second public hearing this week on its planned overhaul of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementation. Meanwhile, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel is launching a peer review of EPA’s controversial “systematic” approach to data quality reviews it uses to consider chemicals’ risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).


The second public hearing on the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) proposed overhaul of NEPA implementing rules is set for Feb. 25 at the Department of Interior (DOI). The proposal is facing broad legal push-back, with critics warning of a backlash through new state or federal legislation if the rules take effect.

Meanwhile, motions for summary judgment are due Feb. 24 in WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility v. David Bernhardt et al.,, environmentalists’ suit arguing that DOI’s NEPA reviews for thousands of leases covering oil and gas drilling rights to 1.9 million acres of federal land are inadequate and unlawful because they failed to fully analyze the leases’ implications for climate change.

TSCA Reviews

The NAS panel tasked with reviewing EPA’s guidance on how to gather and evaluate scientific evidence that factors into its TSCA risk assessments will hold its first in-person meeting Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C. The systematic review guide has drawn criticism from environmentalists, EPA advisors and others, who have charged that it allows the agency to ignore or downgrade studies finding harms caused by chemical exposures.


The American Bar Association will host a Feb. 26 webinar on the newly finalized Clean Water Act (CWA) rule defining “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) subject to federal jurisdiction, titled “WOTUS 2020: Will We Ever Have Clarity?” The rule, jointly crafted by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, would narrow CWA jurisdiction beyond any prior standard, though how it will be applied remains uncertain and subject to court challenges that will likely take years to resolve.

Climate Change

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a Feb. 26 legislative hearing to debate dueling Republican and Democratic climate-change bills: Democrats’ H.R. 5435, which would direct DOI to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions from public lands by 2040, and the GOP-backed H.R. 5859, the “Trillion Trees Act,” which is part of Republicans’ effort to counter Democratic climate legislation by focusing on natural and man-made carbon sequestration, such as through planting new trees.

The Environment & Energy Study Institute will hold a Feb. 24 briefing in Washington, D.C., titled “A Security Threat Assessment of Global Climate Change.”

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) will host a Feb. 25 panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on the array of strategies and legal theories that plaintiffs have used to push climate-change litigation in state and federal courts.

Also on Feb. 25, the D.C. Bar Association has set a panel discussion on the legal battle over EPA’s efforts to roll back the Clean Air Act waiver that allows California to set, and other states to adopt, vehicle emissions standards that go beyond federal limits.

Nuclear Cleanups

An NAS panel reviewing the Departments of Energy and Defense programs for cleaning up contaminated nuclear sites will hold its first public meeting on Feb. 24 in Washington, D.C.

Water Utilities

The American Water Works Association, which represents a variety of drinking water systems, and the Water Environment Federation, which represents water quality professionals, will hold their joint Utility Management Conference Feb. 25-28 in Anaheim, CA.

On Feb. 25, EPA will host a webinar for small drinking water utilities on “challenges and treatment solutions” for their specific needs.

FY21 Budgets

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over EPA Superfund and clean water programs, will hold a Feb. 26 markup to consider its members “budget views and estimates” for fiscal year 2021, following the White House’s proposal for a FY21 budget that would cut EPA’s funding by 26 percent.

On Feb. 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold its own hearing on the FY21 request, focused on budget levels for research and development programs at various agencies with Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as its sole witness.


The House Transportation & Infrastructure committee will also hold a Feb. 27 “members’ day” hearing to hear legislators’ priorities for the next Water Resources Development Act, the biennial legislation that authorizes Army Corps infrastructure projects and often includes water policy measures.

Risk Assessment

EPA’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals will meet Feb. 25-26 in Arlington, VA, to peer review the agency’s draft risk evaluation of the once-common solvent carbon tetrachloride. That evaluation found few unreasonable risks from the substance, which will likely renew debate over whether the agency is adequately assessing risks of uses that are already subject to other regulations.


On Feb. 28, the Supreme Court is slated to consider a Maryland county’s petition to take up a case over implementation of the landmark CWA cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Supreme Court in Maryland Department of the Environment v. County Commissioners of Carroll County upheld a novel state-crafted water permit limiting Carroll County’s stormwater releases in order to comply with the Bay plan, but the county and its allies say letting the decision stand would block cities and counties from correcting the misclassification and overregulation of their storm sewer systems.


EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) will meet Feb. 25-27 in Jacksonville, FL.

Water Criteria

EPA will host a Feb. 26 webinar on scientific research that helps support crafting and implementation of water quality criteria for microbe levels.

Joint Research

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 jointly hold a Feb. 27 webinar to highlight “Advances in the Development of Environmentally Friendly Pyrotechnic and Propellant Formulations.”

Computational Toxicology

EPA’s Computational Toxicology Communities of Practice will meet Feb. 27 on use of the species sensitivity distributions software “toolbox” to account for interspecific variability in toxicity.


EPA will host a Feb. 25 webinar highlighting recent updates to its EnviroAtlas tool.