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The Week Ahead

D.C. Circuit To Hear Suit Over EPA Science Policy, Agency Seeks Input On TSCA Reviews

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral argument this week in a case challenging EPA’s policy barring scientists who receive government grants from serving on agency advisory panels. Meanwhile, the agency is seeking public comment on its plan for evaluating chemicals under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

EPA Science Policy

Oral argument is set for Feb. 19 in Physicians for Social Responsibility v. Wheeler, where a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit will consider one of the many pending suits over former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive barring researchers who receive federal grant funding from serving on advisory boards. The physicians’ group is appealing a district court order dismissing the case on the grounds that Pruitt’s directive is not a binding “final action.” But the plaintiffs are hoping to take advantage of a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that held the policy to be arbitrary and unlawful.

TSCA Reviews

Comments are due Feb. 18 on EPA’s updated “working approach” to deciding when new chemicals in commerce satisfy the TSCA requirement that they present no “unreasonable risk.” The new policy replaces a 2017 guidance that the agency dropped after environmentalists challenged it in court, and so far the updated version has drawn criticism not just from those groups but also from industry, with both sides seeking more transparency -- though for different elements of the program.

NEPA Reform

Feb. 18 is also the deadline for comments on a pending proposal from the Army Corps of Engineers to rework how it reviews projects’ environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposal is distinct from, but linked to, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s proposed overhaul of its NEPA rules, which has drawn broad pushback and likely will lead to legal challenges.

Truck Emissions

EPA is taking comment through Feb. 21 on its call for input on the planned “Cleaner Trucks Initiative” to tighten standards for nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other air emissions from heavy-duty trucks, which industry has welcomed as a way to head off any more-stringent rule California might craft. The agency’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking does not float any specific new NOx standards but instead asks for comment on more general topics such as strengthening and improving in-use testing programs; a possible new “low-load” cycle to ensure vehicles operate cleanly at multiple speeds; and ways to ease the current burden of annual certification of engine families in cases where there have not been major technology changes.

Climate Change

The American Bar Association’s Climate Disruption and Decarbonization Conference is set for Feb. 19 in White Plains, NY. The agenda covers legal issues in renewable energy transitions, the role of local law in cutting carbon emissions, the “explosion” in climate litigation under a variety of statutes and legal theories, and a keynote address by former George W. Bush EPA General Counsel Roger Martella.

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) will host a Feb. 20 panel discussion in Nashville, TN, on how state and local governments in the Atlantic Southeast region are dealing with the threat of sea-level rise.

Also on Feb. 20, the Environmental & Energy Study Institute will host a release event in Washington, D.C., for the latest edition of its Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.

And the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy has set a Feb. 21 webinar on “the challenges associated with communicating about the need for and options associated with carbon removal.”

Financial Assurance

Comments are due Feb. 21 on EPA’s proposal to set no new financial assurance rules for the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry, the result of a court-ordered deadline for the agency to consider whether various sectors must provide assurances to cover any future cleanup costs under section 108(b) of the Superfund law.


EPA will host a Feb. 19 webinar on its National Stormwater Calculator software tool that helps users consider how to use green infrastructure and other methods to meet stormwater-retention goals. The talk will focus on its applications in the Great Lakes region.


On Feb. 20, EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management program will host a webinar on its recent report on materials and waste-management statistics in 2017, including figures on the construction, demolition, recycling and waste-combustion sectors.


ELI will host a Feb. 19 webinar on litigation over asbestos cleanups, including the doctrines that govern private-party and government liability. EPA is poised to open a two-part risk evaluation of the notorious carcinogen following an appellate ruling that ordered officials to evaluate the risks from its “legacy” uses.

EPA Enforcement

A Feb. 18 EPA webinar will provide an overview of the agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database of enforcement actions.


Also on Feb. 18, EPA will host an informational webinar on its EcoTox TARGET Challenge, a competition for researchers to “develop a technology for measuring global gene expression at a cost and scale that allows analysis of thousands to tens of thousands of samples per year.”