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The Week Ahead

EPA Poised To Unveil Vessel Permit; NRDC, EPA Weigh Settlement On Pesticide Safety

Posted: March 25, 2013

EPA is preparing to release its revised Clean Water Act permit governing discharges from commercial vessels. EPA and environmentalists are facing a court deadline to determine whether they can reach an agreement on how to ensure children are adequately protected from pesticides.

Vessel Permit

EPA is expected to release by March 29 its revised vessel general permit (VGP), which sets discharge requirements for larger commercial vessels that release ballast and other waters. Clearing the way for the measure's issuance, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicated March 25 that it has completed its review of the proposal.

Shipping and other industry groups have long been concerned that the measure could impose costly technology requirements, increasing costs for shippers and agriculture, manufacturing and other industries that transport products by water, especially those that use the Great Lakes and other inland waters.

While the administration has been seeking to align EPA's requirements governing a host of pollutants with those of the Coast Guard that apply to invasive species, the permit is likely to draw close scrutiny from House lawmakers and industry groups that are concerned about overly stringent requirements and potential conditions that Great Lakes and coastal states may attach to the federal permit.

After meeting with OMB recently, industry groups said they are skeptical as to whether they convinced federal regulators to address their concerns with a proposed version of the rule.

EPA says on its website that it expects a final VGP to be issued by March 29, with an effective date of December 19.

Pesticide Safety

EPA and environmentalists are facing a March 27 deadline to determine whether they can settle long-pending litigation over how and when to use additional safety factors to protect children from pesticide exposures.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York has given EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) until later this week to determine whether provisions in the agency's recently promulgated rule governing the use of human subjects in pesticide tests could help resolve the group's suit over EPA's registration of dichlorvos.

The environmentalists have long-sought to require EPA to apply an additional children's safety factor to its risk assessment, as Congress allowed in the 1996 pesticide law, which would lead to more conservative safety thresholds and stricter regulation of the chemical.

The appellate court has already ruled that EPA has discretion on when to apply the additional safety factor but called on the agency to better justify its approach. Once the agency did so, NRDC sued again.

Risk Assessment

The congressionally mandated National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel reviewing EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) chemical risk assessment program is holding a March 27-29 workshop, presenting the latest in a series issues it would like to address.

Issues to be considered include some major scientific and policy questions, including how EPA assembles and weighs the evidence for its assessments and what methods EPA uses to assess the risks.

At the panel's first meeting last year, top EPA officials detailed the latest in a series of reforms they are planning to make to the program.

EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) is hosting March 27 conference call that appears likely to move the board closer to completing its advice on how EPA should set a health protection goal to address ubiquitous drinking water contamination caused by perchlorate, a rocket fuel and fertilizer ingredient.

The goal, known as a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG), will eventually form the basis of an enforceable drinking water standard -- which will be the first since Congress amended the law in 1996.

Peter Grevatt, EPA's drinking water chief, said last week that the agency is delaying issuing the goal -- as well as several other measures -- until officials can resolve complicated scientific questions. He told drinking water utility officials that the agency is postponing its proposed maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for perchlorate until it has time to fully digest SAB's final advice. Both former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and current acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe have made it “very clear” to the agency's drinking water office that “our number one priority on perchlorate is to get the science right,” Grevatt said.

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