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The Week Ahead

House, Senate Appropriators Weigh EPA's FY20 Budget; 5th Circuit Hears CWA Permit Suit

The House and Senate appropriations panels that oversee EPA's budget will hear from Administrator Andrew Wheeler this week on the agency's proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, which would slash its current funding by at least 25 percent. Meanwhile, EPA's mobile source review committee will meet to debate issues including emerging technologies to cut freight emissions.

EPA's Budget Request

Wheeler will testify twice to Congress this week at hearings on EPA's FY20 budget request, although he can expect questions from House and Senate lawmakers on topics beyond the funding proposal. He could face queries on EPA's deregulatory rollbacks of Obama-era rules, as well as controversial issues including its plan to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, and other topics of concern to members of the spending panels.

The House Appropriations Committee's interior panel with oversight of EPA's budget holds its hearing on the FY20 request April 2, with Wheeler as the sole witness.

On April 3, the Senate Appropriations Committee holds its EPA FY20 budget hearing, with testimony from Wheeler and EPA Chief Financial Office Holly Greaves.

Lawmakers will debate President Donald Trump's request to cut the agency's funding from its current $8.9 billion budget down to $6.1 billion. Several House and Senate members have said that Congress will not grant such a steep cut, reflecting a pattern of prior years where lawmakers have accepted some cuts to EPA's funding but not the massive cuts sought by Trump.

CWA Discharge Permit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will hear oral argument April 3 in a case contesting EPA's Clean Water Act (CWA) permit governing discharges from drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. In the case, Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. EPA, environmentalists are challenging the agency's reliance on an Interior Department environmental impacts analysis to renew a CWA general permit for offshore oil and gas drilling discharges in the Gulf of Mexico as being fully compliant with National Environmental Policy Act regulations.

Climate Change

Several House committees are holding hearings on climate change this week, including the House Energy & Commerce Committee climate panel's April 2 hearing on “Lessons From Across the Nation: State and Local Action to Combat Climate Change.” The hearing will hear from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and five U.S. mayors to assess “how state and local leaders are responding to the climate crisis in the wake of President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Also on April 2, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on “How Climate Change Threatens U.S. National Security,” with the witnesses including former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security Sherri Goodman, United States Energy Association Executive Director Barry Worthington, and Paul Weisenfeld.

The third House climate hearing will be held by the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to discuss “Generation Climate: Young Leaders Urge Climate Action Now,” although at press time no further details such as a witness list were available.

MSTTRS Meeting

EPA's Mobile Source Technical Review Subcommittee, part of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee that advises the agency on air policies, is meeting April 2 in Arlington, VA. The agenda includes an update on regulatory work by EPA's Office of Transportation & Air Quality, and discussions on data gaps in the non-road sector and new freight technologies.

'Once In, Always In'

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral argument April 1 in a suit filed by California and environmentalists over EPA air chief Bill Wehrum's decision to end the long-running “once in, always in” air toxics policy. In a January 2018 memo, Wehrum scrapped the policy that had until then said facilities subject to strict “major” source air toxics controls must always meet those limits even if they cut emissions to below major source thresholds. Critics say the memo will cause pollution increases and is unlawful, while EPA counters the memo is a lawful reading of the Clean Air Act and is not a final action subject to judicial review.

PFAS

Crowell & Moring is hosting an April 4 webinar on “Increasing Public and Regulatory Scrutiny of PFAS,” with speakers from the law firm and Geosyntec Consultants. “This webinar will present an overview of current and expected future PFAS regulations and their impact on business operations, including transactional due diligence, permitting, remediation, and risk communication and tort litigation,” says the event's website.

CASAC Nominations

EPA has set an April 1 deadline for submitting nominations of scientific experts to serve on the agency's independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). The panel consists of members who serve three-year terms advising the agency on the scientific data underpinning its Clean Air Act reviews of the six criteria pollutant national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS).

The panel is generating controversy under the Trump administration for its review of the agency's particulate matter NAAQS. CASAC is split over the review, with the panel's lone research scientist Mark Frampton strongly criticizing panel Chairman Tony Cox's new approach to reviewing data on PM's health effects. Frampton warns that it undermines and misstates the latest data on PM -- concerns he reiterated on a heated March 28 CASAC call.

Vehicle Policies

The Washington Auto Show starts April 5 and runs through April 14 in Washington, D.C., preceded by an April 3-4 public policy show featuring discussions on vehicle policy. The two day “MobilityTalks International” event features speakers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the auto industry and others on topics including automated vehicles and advanced vehicle technologies.

Meanwhile, the Society of Automatic Engineers is holding an April 3-5 “Government/Industry” meeting with federal officials and others discussing fuels, electric vehicles and other topics. The event aims to unite “government policy and regulatory makers with auto industry representatives to discuss the effect of government action and regulations for safety, emission control, and energy conservation on future vehicle design.”

RTR Reviews

Comments are due April 5 on a proposed settlement between environmentalists and EPA that would commit the agency to a series of deadlines for completing Clean Air Act-mandated risk and technology reviews (RTR) of air toxics rules for several sectors. The RTR program requires the agency to assess its air toxics standards for specific industries eight years after their implementation to determine whether they need to be revised, but EPA is behind schedule on several reviews.

The decree on which the agency is seeking comment would set deadlines for 2021 and later, ensuring the 2020 presidential election will decide whether a re-elected Trump administration will continue its practice of concluding RTRs by leaving such emissions rules unchanged, or a potential Democratic administration might tighten the rules.

BOSC Meeting

EPA is hosting an April 2-3 meeting of its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) Sustainable and Healthy Communities Subcommittee in Research Triangle Park, NC. The agenda for the meeting includes an overview of the panel's strategic research action plan.

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