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The Week Ahead

Courts To Hear Key Cases, EPA Tackles Pesticide Issues

Posted: October 15, 2012

Federal appeals courts will hear oral arguments this week in at least three major cases affecting energy and environmental policy -- a suit seeking to subject utility poles to water and waste permits; a challenge to EPA's fine particulate matter (PM2.5) implementation rules; and a lawsuit challenging the Interior Department's listing of the polar bear as a species “threatened” by climate change.

EPA is taking part in a major two-day conference of pesticide officials to weigh major issues including the latest on the agency's endocrine disruptor screening program (EDSP); human aquatic health benchmarks; and the use of biocides in hydro-fracking. The agency is also closing the comment period on a proposed consent decree to set a deadline for EPA to revise its decades-old new source performance standard (NSPS) air rule for "kraft" pulp mills.

In Court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is slated to hear oral arguments Oct. 17 in a suit environmentalists filed seeking more stringent rules for states on controls to cut PM2.5 emissions to comply with the agency's PM2.5 national ambient air quality standard. Environmentalists argue that EPA erred in its existing rules by adopting a more lenient approach to reducing PM2.5 than the Clean Air Act requires.

The same court will also hear oral arguments Oct. 19 in a lawsuit filed by environmentalists challenging the Department of Interior's listing of polar bears as “threatened” rather than “endangered.” The suit is part of an ongoing legal effort by environmental groups geared both toward raising general awareness of climate change and forcing more thorough reviews of the climate-related impacts from federal actions, including permit approvals.

Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit is slated to hear oral arguments Oct. 16 on whether to reinstate a novel citizen suit claiming wood preservative chemicals on utility poles are polluting water and dirt as unpermitted releases in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and should be subject to CWA and RCRA permit requirements. Industry groups are fighting the suit, warning the court that it could potentially expand regulation under the two laws to a wide array of building materials that Congress never intended, affecting the agriculture, railroad, transportation and marine industry sectors.

At EPA

Pesticide regulations and policies affecting states are at the forefront of an Oct. 15-16 meeting of the the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials/State Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Issues Research and Evaluation Group Pesticides Operations and Management Working Committee. The meeting is taking place in Arlington, VA, to weigh important pesticide issues.

According to a Federal Register notice announcing the event -- which is open to the public -- panel members will discuss an update on the EDSP; persistent herbicide residues in compost and plant materials; and a reporting of bee kills.

Honey bee deaths will also be the focus of a separate Oct. 15-16 meeting in Alexandria, VA, to discuss declining bee populations and colony collapse disorder, in which foraging adult bees fail to return to the hive, leaving the colony to demise. The use of systemic pesticides is seen as one of many potential contributors to colony collapse. Researchers and stakeholders will meet to discuss the latest data on honey bee health and identify possible new areas of research or action.

Comments are due Oct. 15 on EPA's proposed consent decree with environmentalists that would set a May 15 deadline for the agency to issue a proposal on whether to revise its kraft pulp mill NSPS, or to find that no update to the rule's controls is necessary. If the agency issues a proposed change to the NSPS, it will have to issue a final rule by March 14, 2014. The consent decree resolves a suit environmentalists filed to force what they say is a long-overdue tightening of the rule for the mills, which use chemicals to dissolve wood chips into fibers to make paper products.

EPA is seeking new candidates to fill vacancies on its Environmental Financial Advisory Board (EFAB), which advises the agency on issues such as creating incentives to boost private investment in environmental services. EFAB is also slated to hold an Oct. 17 webinar meeting on topics including energy efficiency and drinking water pricing and infrastructure investment.

Other EPA webinars taking place this week include a tribal health research webinar on Oct. 17, and a separate web-based meeting on cumulative risk assessment on Oct. 17.

Also On The Agenda

The 20th annual Nonpoint Source Monitoring Workshop started Oct. 14 in Tulsa, OK, and runs through Oct. 17. EPA Region VI officials and others are attending the event to discuss topics such as effectiveness monitoring to achieve watershed goals and urban water quality.

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