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The Week Ahead

Climate Change Takes Center Stage At EPA; Congress Weighs Budget Cuts

Posted: February 25, 2013

Several events scheduled for the coming week are likely to highlight EPA and the Obama administration's stepped-up efforts to address climate change. Congress returns from its recess with much of the agenda focusing on budget cuts slated to take effect March 1.

At EPA

President Obama is expected to announce as soon as this week his decision to nominate EPA air chief Gina McCarthy as the agency's next administrator. Even before she was officially tapped, McCarthy spelled out a broad climate policy agenda for the agency in the president's second term that includes still-unidentified rules cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources, further reductions from fuels and vehicles, and expanding local programs to address emissions and the effects of climate change.

It will “take more than a village for this nation to successfully” meet the challenge of climate change, she said.

Agency officials are also likely to talk up their efforts to engage with the business community on voluntary efforts to address climate change. EPA is scheduled to host its 2013 Climate Leadership Conference Feb. 27-March 1, where “forward-thinking leaders from business, government, academia, and the non-profit community share best practices for integrating green strategies that benefit our environment while improving the bottom line.”

EPA is also highlighting research it is funding or conducting to assess the impacts of extreme weather events on environmental and human health.

The agency's National Center for Environmental Research is hosting a Feb. 26-27 meeting where staff from the agency's air and water offices will detail priorities and key research questions within their programs. EPA grant recipients will also discuss their research.

Sessions will focus on whether it is possible to predict the relationship between extreme weather events, such as heat waves and wildfires on air quality; what efforts are needed, and underway, to “bridge the gap between climate scientists and decision makers;” and the implications of climate change on stormwater management.

The meeting is the latest indication of how EPA and other agencies are stepping up their efforts to limit GHG emissions associated with climate change, while also adapting to its impacts.

EPA earlier this month indicated that adapting to climate change is now part of its underlying mission to protect human health and the environment and issued guidelines on steps the agency will take to adapt to global warming.

And the Government Accountability Office recently listed potential federal liabilities from climate change as a “high risk” area in need of reform.

A top official in EPA's air office is slated to discuss efforts to adapt to climate change at the Feb. 26-27 meeting of the agency's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. McCarthy is scheduled to address the meeting Feb. 27.

On Capitol Hill

Congress returns from its Presidents Day recess with lawmakers likely to be focused on whether to delay the mandatory budget sequester from taking effect March 1, though few observers expect a deal. While lawmakers have been out of town, President Obama and other administration officials have been calling for Congress to delay the $85 billion in across the board cuts ($700 million at EPA) and replace it with a more gradual focused effort.

EPA and House Democrats warn the cuts will harm a wide range of environmental programs by delaying permits for new industrial facilities, reducing oversight and enforcement of environmental laws, limiting cleanups of waste sites and hindering risk assessments of toxic chemicals.

While the administration pressures Congress to avert the sequester, EPA union officials are raising concerns that agency staff will face furloughs when the cuts take effect and are urging officials to consider cutting back both new and existing contracts to limit the furloughs.

Budget issues are also likely to get a lot of attention at the March 4-6 Spring meeting of the Environmental Council of the States, the group that represents state environmental commissioners.

State officials have said that they are less concerned about the impact of the sequester than they are about the prospect of Congress and the administration agreeing on a longer-term budget for the agency as the conventional budget process increases the prospects for more targeted cuts to agency funding for states.

In Court

Briefs are due to be filed in two closely watched lawsuits.

EPA is expected to urge the Supreme Court in a Feb. 25 brief to reject a request from the American Petroleum Institute (API) to review EPA's national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for nitrogen dioxide.

The high court's Jan. 22 announcement that it would not hear a similar case over EPA's sulfur dioxide NAAQS is likely not good news for API's pending request.

Environmentalists are slated to file a round of documents in their lawsuit challenging how the agency plans to address air pollution transport issues while it appeals the appellate ruling vacating its Cross State Air Pollution Rule.

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