Forgot password?
Sign up today and your first download is free.

The Week Ahead

Posted: July 28, 2014

EPA Climate Meetings Likely To Draw Thousands; Agency's Stormwater 'Vision' Expected

EPA is hosting four meetings on its proposed greenhouse gas rules for existing power plants which are expected to draw thousands of public commenters. A top agency water official is slated to detail the agency's “vision” for addressing stormwater now that the agency has decided not to proceed with regulatory measures.

Climate Change Policy

EPA is holding four public meetings -- in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC -- this week on its landmark proposed rule governing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants, events that are drawing participants from across state lines.

According to local accounts, advocates on both sides from Kentucky are planning to travel over 400 miles to the Atlanta meeting to present their views.

The Washington, DC, meeting will be held at EPA headquarters July 29-30, with hearings in Atlanta, GA and Denver, CO, the same days. The meeting in Pittsburgh is slated for July 31-Aug. 1.

The meetings are likely to review many of the comments the agency has already received on its proposed Clean Air Act section 111(d) existing source performance standard (ESPS) for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, as well as the thousands of additional formal comments it is likely to receive through the fall.

Speakers are likely to include environmental justice groups and supporters who say that the proposal does not adequately protect economically disadvantaged communities and minorities -- for instance, by allowing cap-and-trade programs that could create emission "hot spots" in equity areas.

A coalition of utilities, refiners and large industrial manufacturers last week threatened litigation if EPA does not make significant changes to its proposed rule, charging it will harm the nation's economy and grid reliability. And state energy regulators and industry lawyers are warning that EPA faces major legal hurdles if it is forced to impose federal requirements on states that fail to fully implement its ESPS, arguing such actions could infringe on state regulatory power and could invite conservative states to test the limits of EPA's authority.

With the hearings underway, the administration and its supporters are expected to continue to argue that the rule is essential given the high cost of inaction.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chairman of the Senate Climate Caucus as well as the environment committee's oversight panel, is holding a July 29 hearing, titled "Examining the Threats Posed by Climate Change.”

In a note to reporters, the senator's office said the hearing is intended to bolster the agency's proposed rule. “While opponents of EPA’s Clean Power Plan -- including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- plan to argue that it constitutes a 'war on coal,' Whitehouse’s hearing will focus on the harm that fossil fuels are already inflicting on communities across the country by endangering public health, compromising infrastructure, and harming resources that people depend on to make a living.”

Witnesses slated to testify include representatives of the re-insurance industry, which is expected to face significant new risks from climate change, local Florida officials, who are grappling with similar concerns, and Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, the long-time skeptic of climate regulations.

While no administration officials are slated to testify at the hearing, acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe will speak on the ESPS at a July 29 lunch hosted by the Natural Gas Roundtable, "Overview of the EPA's Proposed Clean Power Plan.”

The Republican message -- that EPA's proposed rule will undermine grid reliability and spike electricity prices -- is likely to get a more thorough hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which is holding a hearing July 29 titled “FERC Perspectives: Questions Concerning EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan and other Grid Reliability Challenges.” Panelists at the hearing consist solely of current FERC members, including acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur.

EPA has already faced criticism of the ESPS over its potential impact on reliability, and the planned hearing suggests a growing interest by lawmakers in conducting oversight of the proposed ESPS. And ahead of the hearing, committee members sent FERC a four-page list of questions about the commission's involvement in EPA's analysis of the ESPS' grid impacts, while prodding the commission to conduct its own independent analysis and raising a variety of concerns with EPA's plans.

Meanwhile, state regulators are preparing a series of seminars aimed at supporting compliance with the ESPS. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) is holding a July 28 workshop on complying with the ESPS focused on regional cap-and-trade and market-based tools, titled “Getting There Together: A NARUC Workshop on Regional Compliance Options for Sec. 111d.” Speakers there include EPA associate air chief and senior counsel Joseph Goffman, as well as a host of state air officials.

And later in the week, the Environmental Council of the States is hosting “Planning for CO2 Reductions Under 111(d)” July 31, with McCabe, Department of Energy (DOE) climate head Judi Greenwald and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioner Tony Clark set to discuss the rule.


DOE is holding a two-day seminar on the future of biofuels, titled “Biomass 2014: Growing the Future Bioeconomy”, where officials and industry representatives will discuss challenges in developing the fuels and accounting for their GHG impacts.

But the future of GHG policy for biofuels is in question, as industry groups are still weighing their response to a federal appeals court's ruling that found unlawful EPA's decision to temporarily defer GHG permit requirements for the sector, which could subject the industry to greater regulatory requirements if it stands. But in their new filing, the biomass sector groups say the court should reconsider its decision in light of the Supreme Court ruling upholding much of EPA's GHG regulatory agenda.

Regulating Stormwater

How is EPA planning to regulate stormwater now that it has shelved several rulemaking efforts?

Deborah Nagle, director of EPA's water permits division, could provide some of the answers. Nagle is slated to provide the July 29 keynote address to EPA Region VI's annual stormwater conference in Fort Worth, TX, where she will discuss the “future vision” on EPA stormwater policies.

Nagle is expected to provide an update on the agency's plans after officials shelved a rulemaking that had been expected to set numeric stormwater retention standards for all new construction and redevelopment projects. Officials have also rejected a petition from environmentalists to subject additional stormwater sources to permit requirements. The agency's decisions are leading environmentalists to increasingly sue industrial facilities in Clean Water Act citizen suits over their stormwater releases in an effort to strengthen their permit requirements without waiting for direct action by EPA or state regulators.

Other speakers set to address technical and policy issues from every corner of the sector. Topics on the agenda include green infrastructure, EPA's vision for the Total Maximum Daily Load waterbody cleanup program, the use of stormwater fees to fund infrastructure construction, water quality monitoring and modeling approaches and more.

The Region VI conference will also host a discussion of integrated design for storm and sanitary sewers, soon after the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held a July 24 hearing to consider pilot programs for the initiative -- though the panel faced competing calls from municipal and utility officials who are pushing three different bills for how to address the issue.


EPA's toxics office is set to hold an expert forum July 29-30 on alternatives to the degreaser trichloroethylene (TCE), where speakers will apply results from the agency's June 25 assessment of TCE that identified health risks to workers exposed to the substance during degreasing in small shops and also in drycleaners when TCE is used as a stain remover.

The agency's TCE “workplan” assessment, which identified several health and ecological risks from exposures, is the first EPA has completed under a novel effort to evaluate and possibly regulate “existing” chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The program will eventually lead to 83 priority "workplan" chemical risk assessments. Unlike the hazard assessments conducted for the agency's Integrated Risk Information System program, the new workplan assessments consider specific chemical uses.

In other toxics news, a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Science Advisory Panel is meeting July 29-Aug. 1 to discuss new methods to estimate chemical exposure levels. The panel's advice could eventually help EPA adopt high throughput screening and other computer-based assessment methods to estimate exposure and other risks for its chemical regulatory programs, especially its endocrine disruptor screening program.

Finally, EPA's Science Advisory Board is set to peer-review the draft Report on the Environment July 30-31. The latest draft report, an extensive document intended to measure the health of the environment and its impacts on Americans, was published in April and contains first-time indicators on sustainability, including metrics on energy use, freshwater withdrawals, hazardous waste and municipal solid waste.

Gulf Spill

Meanwhile, Congress is looking at the state of the Gulf of Mexico four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, “Revisiting the RESTORE Act: Progress and Challenges in Gulf Restoration Post-Deepwater Horizon.” The hearing will examine implementation of the 2012 act, which sought to allocate funding for environmental restoration in the Gulf, as well as implementation of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund and other policies meant to rehabilitate damage from the spill.

The hearing comes as experts are gathering in New Orleans, LA, for the Conference on Ecological and Ecosystem Restoration, running July 28-Aug. 1, which will focus on efforts to reverse damage to “aquatic, marine, and terrestrial environments” -- in particular the Gulf, but also EPA's cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay as well as implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act in general.

Discussion of the Gulf spill comes as litigation continues over how courts will rule on liability for the disaster. Most recently, a key federal appeals court in June upheld a lower court ruling that held two oil companies, rather than the rig operator, strictly liable for civil penalties due to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, rejecting arguments from the firms that the government claimed could significantly undermine the law's deterrent effect against harmful discharges.