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The Week Ahead

Congress Resumes Review Of EPA Policies, EPA Weighs Lead Paint, Coalbed Methane Rules

Posted: June 3, 2013

Lawmakers are returning from their Memorial Day recess with plans to resume oversight of several EPA policies and practices. EPA is moving ahead in its consideration of measures addressing lead paint in commercial buildings and coalbed methane drilling for natural gas.

In Congress

In the House, the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on regulatory reform, commercial and antitrust law is slated to hold a June 5 hearing on H.R. 1493, a bill that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says is the “most effective” means of giving industry the right to intervene in so-called “sue-and-settle” suits where EPA settles environmentalists’ litigation by setting deadlines for new or pending rulemakings.

After a federal appellate court denied industry standing to intervene in a settlement governing EPA's effluent limits for power plants, the Chamber began intensifying calls for lawmakers to back the pending legislation that seeks to make it easier for industry to intervene in civil suits, participate in the crafting of settlements and allow for greater public comment, arguing that legislation is the “most effective” solution to the issue.

The group May 20 issued a report, “Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors,” noting that it is not just judicial limits on intervenors’ standing that makes it difficult for third parties to join the settlements. “Congress is also to blame for letting the sue and settle process take on a life free of congressional review,” the report says.

Also on June 5, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's subcommittee on energy policy, health care and entitlements is slated to hold a hearing entitled, “Up Against the Blend Wall: Examining EPA’s Role in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS),” where EPA could face pressure to address refiners' concerns that the program is causing spikes in gasoline prices.

The “blend wall” is the point at which the market becomes saturated at 10 percent ethanol (E10) blends posing hurdles in meeting the RFS goal of 36 billion gallons of ethanol blended by 2022 without using higher blends, given that only E10 blends are widely available.

Refiners have long been concerned that they have breached the “blend wall,”resulting in large price volatility in the market for renewable fuel credits. As a result, they say Congress should repeal the RFS to remove regulatory constraints.

But after a recent meeting with administration officials, refiners said they did not expect EPA to use its existing Clean Air Act authority to ease price concerns.

The Senate is likely to take time out to remember Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), environmentalists' long-time champion and the lead sponsor of bipartisan legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act. Lautenberg died June 3 from complications from viral pneumonia.

At EPA

EPA June 3 is slated to wrap up a public comment period on how it should proceed with plans to develop rules governing renovation and repair of most commercial and public buildings that contain lead paint, although the agency also plans to hold a public meeting June 26 where interested parties may provide additional data.

But the agency already is facing questions from real estate groups and some lawmakers who argueEPA must first complete a final rule determining that renovation activities create a public health hazard before issuing further regulation.

EPA is holding a workshop June 4-5 in Fresno, CA, in collaboration with the California Water Institute at Cal State University Fresno, where it will provide an update on its efforts to implement a 2011 Science Advisory Board (SAB) reporton the sources and risks of nitrogen that moves between air, water and soil and can cause smog and climate change in the air, algal blooms in water and acidification in soil.

EPA says future research is critical in improving the agency's ability to understand the pathways of reactive nitrogen compounds into drinking water and fine particulate matter air pollution.

EPA's SAB is scheduled to hold a teleconference meeting June 5 to discuss next steps in its novel effort to identify regulatory proposals before their issuance and review the underlying science. Last month three work groups recommended the full panel only weigh in on one of three rules under consideration -- EPA's planned effluent limitation guidelines for the coalbed methane sector.

The work groups said SAB should wait until EPA issues an advance notice of proposed rulemaking before providing comments on revised radiation protection standards for nuclear power plants and that a petroleum refinery air toxics rule should not be a priority for SAB.

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