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The Week Ahead

Senate Poised To Vote On McCarthy's EPA Nomination; EPA Weighs EDSP Screening List

Posted: July 15, 2013

Senate Democrats are poised this week to force a vote on EPA air chief Gina McCarthy's long-delayed nomination to be the next agency administrator. In the House, divisions are emerging among Republican lawmakers over a push for repeal of the agency's renewable fuel standard. And EPA is taking comment on its plan to narrow a first-time list of drinking water contaminants that will be subject to testing under its endocrine disruptor screening program.

In Congress

EPA air chief Gina McCarthy's long-delayed nomination to be the next agency administrator could finally get a Senate floor vote this week, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) threatening to force a vote and change Senate rules over what he says is GOP obstructionism of Obama administration nominees, including McCarthy and other pending candidates.

McCarthy's nomination has faced a series of hurdles, beginning with Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee ranking member David Vitter's (R-LA) efforts to delay a panel confirmation vote on the nominee. Vitter wanted EPA to address a series of questions he had about an alleged lack of agency “transparency” before allowing a vote.

EPA took some steps to address Vitter's concerns -- for example, creating a website listing notices of intent to sue the agency and petitions for rulemakings submitted to EPA -- that the senator said were adequate to allow a panel vote and a full Senate floor vote on McCarthy.

But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has placed a hold on the nomination preventing a floor vote, refusing to lift the block until the Obama administration resolves his concerns about inter-agency disputes over a Missouri flood control project in his state. However, Reid's threat signals Democrats are prepared to file cloture votes and change Senate rules to move McCarthy and other nominations.

Democrats and Republicans are slated to meet later July 15 to discuss the potential change, referred to as the nuclear option, with the GOP opposing Reid's threat to change the Senate rules.

The majority leader has scheduled cloture votes on the seven nominees at issue -- McCarthy, Richard Cordray to head the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, three members of the National Labor Relations Board, Fred Hochberg to lead the Export-Import Bank and Thomas Perez to be secretary of Labor -- to begin July 16. If cloture is invoked, eight hours of debate would be allowed on all of the nominees except Perez, who would be subject to up to 30 hours of debate.

Meanwhile, the conservative Republican Study Committee's (RSC) Energy Task Force is holding an “informational” hearing July 17 on adverse impacts of EPA's renewable fuel standard (RFS), which could highlight divisions among House GOP lawmakers on whether to repeal the program.

At the hearing, representatives from the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Turkey Federation, National Council of Chain Restaurants, and National Marine Manufacturers Association will testify. The groups have previously criticized the RFS for various reasons, for example with fuel producers saying the program sets unachievable targets, and food producers claiming that diverting corn to ethanol to meet the RFS' ethanol goals is driving up the cost of corn.

The hearing coincides with the American Petroleum Institute's July 15 announcement of a new advertising campaign making the case for repealing the RFS due to its costs.

But the effort faces an uncertain fate in the 113th Congress, as some key corn-state Republicans support the program. The RSC -- representing the conservative members of the House GOP -- calls the RFS a “burdensome” policy in a July 12 announcement of the event.

However, the RFS still has some GOP supporters in Congress, including Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). And other GOP lawmakers on the House & Energy & Commerce Committee, such as Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Bob Latta (R-OH) have resisted joining the calls for repeal of the program, instead asking questions about whether there is a need for reform of the RFS. The split position among GOP lawmakers on the RFS could therefore complicate the push to scrap the program.

Meanwhile, EPA took comment until July 15 on its proposalto allow additional biofuel pathways such as biogas to qualify toward its RFS cellulosic production targets in a bid to help fuel producers meet the ambitious goals. The goal is to try and spur more diversity among the types of renewable fuels that can count toward meeting the RFS cellulosic goal, including the use of biogas from landfills to produce electricity for use in electric vehicles, the agency says. Other qualifying fuels include blends of butanol that achieve major greenhouse gas cuts.

But critics say the agency's nascent plan is unlikely to end attacks on existing RFS goals and could slow investment in other advanced biofuels.

Other hearings this week in Congress include a July 18 House Oversight & Government Reform Committee energy panel review of the Obama administration's recently revised social cost of carbon (SCC) estimates. The hearing will give advocates and opponents of climate controls a key venue to discuss the merits of the increased values for presumed costs of climate change that could be used to justify new carbon rules.

And the House Energy & Commerce Committee on July 17 starts a two-day markup of several energy bills, including legislation that would bar EPA from issuing rules deemed to have “significant” adverse economic effects and another that would speed permit decisions for natural gas pipelines ahead of a planned floor vote on the bills later this month.

At EPA

EPA is taking comment through July 16 on its narrowed list of drinking water contaminants that will be subject to testing under its endocrine disruptor screening program (EDSP), dropping 25 substances from its previous list due to challenges identifying parties responsible for chemicals that are no longer manufactured, have been banned, or are not suitable for testing.

The agency June 14 published a Federal Register notice listing 109 drinking water contaminants, including some pesticides, that it is planning to require industry to screen for potential interaction with the human endocrine system or hormone system. EPA also published an information collection request it is submitting to the Office of Management & Budget for approval, a step EPA must take before it can order companies to test substances and submit the data.

Release of the documents marks an important step in the agency's slow implementation of the EDSP, which is a two-tiered testing process, in which an 11-assay Tier 1 screens chemicals the agency believes may interact with human androgen, estrogen or thyroid hormones, potentially disrupting important developmental processes. If a chemical is flagged in Tier 1 tests, further, more expensive testing would be required under Tier 2 of the program, which is intended to provide data for risk assessment and possible regulation.

EPA July 17 will convene the second in a series of peer review workshops on its draft Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) “workplan” risk assessment for trichloroethylene uses in degreasers and arts and crafts. The Defense Department is using the recent assessment by EPA's toxics office as a new avenue to criticize the agency's 2011 Integrated Risk Information System assessment of TCE, which strengthened the agency's risk values and opened the door to stricter cleanup requirements.

The agency's Science Advisory Board (SAB) will hold a July 19 teleconference to conclude its discussions on whether to grant environmentalists' request for a novel pre-publication review of a pending agency refinery air toxics rule and scientific issues associated with the rule.

An earlier SAB workgroup said such a review should not be a high priority. But board members on a June 5 conference call indicated they might go against the earlier recommendation of the group and decided to continue discussions on the refinery rule after environmentalists raised questions about the adequacy of EPA's planned approach.

Meanwhile, EPA's Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board on July 17 will hold its monthly conference call to discuss key laboratory issues facing the agency.

And the agency will hold a July 17 public hearing in Cheyenne, WY, on the agency's June 10 proposal to partially approve and partially reject the state's plan for complying with the federal regional haze reduction program. States are required under the program to craft air pollution reduction plans in order to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas. The agency will hold a second hearing on its proposal next week, taking place July 26 in Casper, WY.

Heavy duty vehicle manufacturers have until July 17 to comment on a direct final rule EPA issued June 17 that would make various changes to the agency's landmark, first-time greenhouse gas and fuel economy rules for heavy-duty vehicles. The revisions include eliminating duplicative reporting requirements and reducing unnecessary testing burdens, according to EPA.

Other Events

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, will give the keynote speech at the third annual Energy Outlook event July 16 in Washington, D.C.

The event, sponsored by the law firm Dentsons and consulting firm Navigant, will focus on major developments in the energy sector and includes a review of U.S. energy policy, a discussion of Canada's oil and gas “bubble” and other panels, according to the agenda.

Military environmental issues are the focus of a July 17 Environmental Law Institute event, where former and current government defense environment officials will speak about the challenges facing the Defense Department (DOD) on site cleanups and other topics. Among the panelists are former Bush DOD Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environment & Installations Alex Beehler, and James Van Ness, serving in the same role as an acting capacity for the Obama administration.

Water officials and others are meeting July 17-18 in Cincinnati, OH, for the National Roundtable on New Tools for Water Quality. The event's website says that attendees will review the “financial, regulatory and demographic challenges and opportunities” on water quality trading.

And the Institute For Energy Research (IER) will hold a July 17 panel meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss a potential carbon tax. According to an announcement of the event, “Each member of IER’s panel will give a 20-minute discussion relevant to his area of expertise, and show that the American public has been misinformed on the economics literature assessment of a U.S. carbon tax. Taking into account political realities, in addition, a unilateral U.S. carbon tax would not deliver on the promises of its supporters.”

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