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The Week Ahead

House GOP Poised For Floor Action On EPA Measures; EPA Weighs Perchlorate, PM Limits

Posted: July 16, 2012

Efforts to curb EPA's authority are never far removed in the House, where Republicans this week will put the finishing touches on a regulatory reform package expected to reach the floor the week of July 23. If enacted, the legislation would have a dramatic effect on a host of EPA activities by tying regulatory actions to the overall strength of the economy, prohibiting presidents from issuing major“midnight” rules and barring EPA from entering so-called “sue and settle” agreements with environmentalists.

Coming Up . . .

But the legislative year is rapidly coming to a close: Congress will be in session the next three weeks before taking a five-week summer recess. After that, the House plans to be in session for only three weeks prior to Election Day.

The Senate Democratic leadership has taken the annual spending bills for fiscal year 2013 off the table for the stretch between now and the elections, and House Republican leaders are likely to focus on show votes that highlight contrasts between the two parties. Bills addressing EPA's regulatory authority fall into that category.

At EPA, there are no major regulatory announcements expected this week -- in fact, the agency appears on course to issuefew, if any, controversial rules between now and Election Day.

Two major EPA proposals are due for their first public reviews this week: EPA's proposed drinking water goal for the rocket-fuel ingredient perchlorate -- the first such limit since Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1996 -- and the agency's recently proposed particulate matter (PM) air quality standard.

Neither is slated for promulgation before the election but two major regulations could be released before November: air and waste rules for incinerators and boilers, and new vehicle greenhouse gas standards, both of which have some industry support.

Check out a special report this week at InsideEPA.com that examines the unfinished 2012 agenda at EPA and on Capitol Hill.

On Capitol Hill

Congressional Republicans this week will finish crafting their strategy and messaging for the three measures due up the week of July 23, which they are billing as “Red Tape Week.” H.R. 4078 would block EPA and other federal agencies from issuing major rules until unemployment drops below 6 percent, and H.R. 4607 would block outgoing administrations from issuing “midnight” regulations.

The third bill, H.R. 3862, targets legal settlements between EPA and environmentalists that Republicans say effectively shut regulated entities out of the process. The House Judiciary Committee will have to file report language in the coming days in order for H.R. 3862 to be considered in tandem with the other bills.

Environmentalists are already rallying against all three of the bills with action alerts to their members, so lawmakers should expect to receive calls and e-mail traffic for and against the legislation this week.

While the Senate will not be taking up spending bills before the election, House lawmakers are slated to take up the FY13 Defense appropriations bill later this week. That measure includes money for cleanups at some shuttered defense installations, though states are concerned about cuts to cleanups at formerly used defense sites. The bill also restricts spending on advanced drop-in biofuels. President Obama has vowed to veto the version approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

Since the Senate isn't moving on any individual spending bills, the defense measure -- as well as the Interior-Environment appropriations bill that carries EPA funding -- will likely be wrapped into a catch-all spending package, possibly during a “lame duck” session after the election.

The House will also consider the Sequestration Transparency Act, H.R. 5872, which would require the Obama administration to detail how it will carry out automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect next year in the absence of a budget agreement between the White House and Congress. The cuts would be divided between defense and domestic spending and could have severe implications for EPA, which has already adopted an attrition strategy to deal with budget cuts.

Environmentalists have joined with other groups to urge lawmakers to limit cuts to non-discretionary programs, like EPA spending. “We strongly urge a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to [EPA and other non-defense discretionary] programs, which have already done their part to reduce the deficit,” they said in a July 12 letter to the House.

There is a move afoot to expedite House consideration of a bill that would provide liability relief to power plants that operate out of compliance with emission standards when electric grid reliability is threatened. That measure has yet to be scheduled for floor debate.

The Farm Bill -- which contains various EPA pesticide, alternative fuel and conservation provisions -- has yet to be scheduled for House floor debate, and may be delayed indefinitely due to GOP conservatives' concerns over its spending levels. The House bill would block several controversial EPA pesticide policies and end mandatory funding for some biofuels programs. The Senate passed its version last month.

House committees will be acting on various environmental issues this week. The House Energy & Commerce energy and power subcommittee holds a field hearing on EPA's proposed greenhouse gas rule for utilities July 16 in Abingdon, Va. The same subcommittee holds a hearing July 17 on alternative fuels and vehicles, with a focus on the renewable fuel standard. EPA's Margo Oge will testify.

The panel also holds a legislative hearing July 18 on a measure to ease EPA's methyl bromide pesticide rules for farmers.

The Natural Resources Committee on July 18 will mark up a bill, H.R. 6082, to replace the Obama administration's offshore drilling plan with a more pro-development approach. The House Oversight Committee will continue its scrutiny of administration support for the solar industry at a July 18 hearing, and will examine bureaucratic “red tape” allegedly blocking job creation -- a probe that could reach into environmental policies.

Elsewhere, the American Council on Renewable Energy holds a transportation forum July 17 in Washington, DC, marking that group's expansion from its historical focus on electricity generation into biofuels and other transportation sector issues. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies holds its summer conference July 15-18 in Philadelphia. And Deloitte Marketpoint hosts a panel July 18 in Washington, DC, to discuss regulatory and other impacts on electricity supply.

At EPA

EPA will be hosting a set of public hearings on its recently proposed PM national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS). The first is in Philadelphia July 17, the second in Sacramento July 19. According to their talking points, environmentalists are already planning to lobby the agency to adopt an even stricter PM2.5 limit than what it proposed while the American Petroleum Institute and others in industry are expected to call for the agency to retain the current 15 parts per billion limit.

Expect the agency to hear concerns from states, environmentalists and industry. Hearing details

Speaking of PM, EPA's National Center for Environmental Research is hosting a STAR applied science seminar July 18 on air pollution exposure and risk for stroke and other heart health concerns -- though likely none of the new research will influence the pending NAAQS. The seminar will feature the latest research from Dr Greg Wellenius, Brown University, and Dr Murray Mittleman, Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Wayne Cascio will provide an EPA perspective.

There are also likely to be fireworks at the EPA Science Advisory Board July 17-18 panel hearing on the agency's recently proposed health goal for perchlorate in drinking water -- which will eventually drive an enforceable standard, the first since the passage of SDWA amendents. The proposal also marks the first time the agency has used special methods to assess chemical risks to pregnant women and children.

The American Chemistry Council is already urging the panel to step outside of its charge and consider whether EPA adequately justified its decision to regulate the contaminant. “Regulation of perchlorate under the SDWA does not provide any meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction,” the industry group says in comments submitted ahead of the hearing. Drinking water utilities also want the panel to consider the charge EPA crafted because of concern the agency is for the first time regulating based on a “non-adverse effect.” Utilities have in the past raised concerns that if EPA sets an enforceable drinking water limit for the chemical, as the agency is working toward, it will set a worrisome precedent for efforts to set new or strengthen existing rules for other contaminants that many believe may not present significant public health benefits.

Finally, comments are due to EPA by July 19 on the agency's plans to strengthen consideration of anti-discrimination requirements in its grant award process, including revising its Title VI Civil Rights Act rules, which are expected to help the agency avoid new petitions alleging discrimination but will likely do little to address the decades-old backlog of unanswered petitions.

Submit tips and comments to Charlie Mitchell (cmitchell@iwpnews.com)

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