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The Week Ahead

EPA Ambient Air Standards Face Scrutiny; House Weighs Review Of Key Toxics Law

Posted: June 10, 2013

EPA's ambient air standards for ozone are the focus of several hearings and conferences this week, in addition to scientific workshops on at least two other federal ambient air limits. House lawmakers are assessing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as senators eye reform of the law.


EPA officials, state regulators and lawmakers will be scrutinizing the agency's national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) with a series of scientific workshops and other events.

The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) of Northeast and mid-Atlantic states is holding its annual meeting June 13 in New Haven, CT, with air regulators from the group's member states discussing options for curbing upwind ozone-forming emissions that are hindering their ability to attain EPA's ozone standard -- most recently revised to 75 parts per billion (ppb) in a 2008 rule.

That rule is the subject of a pending federal appeals court challenge, in which some OTC states and environmentalists have sued claiming the 75 ppb limit is too weak. EPA is working on a revision to the 2008 rule that could result in a potential tightening of the standard -- and the air regulators could discuss both the upcoming court decision and NAAQS revision at the meeting.

The OTC agenda includes a discussion of emissions modeling and “principles” for how the group wants EPA to target interstate transport of air pollution that contributes to ozone formation.

Lawmakers will also be assessing the science behind EPA's ozone standard, which several Republicans and industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute say is too stringent. The House science committee's environment panel will hold a June 12 hearing titled “Background Check: Achievability of New Ozone Standards.” Although the committee has not posted the witness list, former Bush EPA air chief Jeff Holmstead is slated to be a witness.

Critics who maintain the ozone NAAQS is too stringent say that a limit even tighter than 75 ppb would push most of the United States into a nonattainment classification. States try to avoid these designations because they require regulators to impose stricter pollution controls on industrial sources of ozone-forming emissions, which critics say drives businesses away from such areas.

In addition to the ozone standard, EPA has five other NAAQS and will be discussing the science behind two of those standards at workshops later this week.

EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment -- part of the Office of Research & Development -- is holding a June 11 workshop in Research Triangle Park, NC, on preliminary draft materials that will inform the agency's review of its nitrogen dioxide NAAQS.

The agency will also host a June 12-13 “kickoff” workshop to seek input on scientific data associated with sulfur oxides (SOx) as part of its review of the sulfur dioxide NAAQS. Panelists for the event include scholars from various universities; state health department officials; EPA staff; and consultants, among others, says the "SOx Kickoff Workshop" website.

In addition, the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials/State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group is holding a two-day meeting starting June 10 in Arlington, VA, to discuss issues including pesticide registrations and the status of a pollinator protection policy.

EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will jointly host a June 12 webinar on children's health issues, with a focus on Bisphenol A exposures.

Meanwhile, a newly formed federal advisory group is soliciting public input on how EPA and other agencies should craft a fiscal year 2015-19 action plan for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, updating a current plan that guides restoration activities at 30 heavily contaminated "areas of concern" in the lakes. EPA is also seeking public comment on a draft framework to aid the agency in applying lessons learned from individual Great Lakes cleanups on a program-wide level. The 18-member Great Lakes Advisory Board is scheduled to hold a June 12 teleconference where public comment will be received on a series of charge questions about the plan.

And EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council holds a June 13 call on the agency's research programs and the scientific foundation needed to address and prevent environmental inequities, as well as a discussion of EPA's draft guidance on assessing equity in regulatory analysis.

In Congress

While a bipartisan group of senators seeks momentum for a recently introduced billto reform TSCA, a House subcommittee is also signaling an interest in reviewing the 1976 law.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee's environment and the economy panel will hold a June 13 hearing on Title I of TSCA, the first time in the 113th Congress that House lawmakers have examined the issue. “With increased attention being given to TSCA, the subcommittee will focus solely on obtaining a better understanding of this complex statute and its implementation, as well as discuss the law’s impact on jobs, the economy, as well as health and safety,” the panel says.

In the past, the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), has said he is willing to consider piecemeal reforms to the law but has not been willing to consider legislation backed by Democrats and environmentalists to overhaul the law and give EPA more power to review chemicals and restrict their use in the marketplace if they are deemed unsafe.

The House hearing might give lawmakers a chance to comment on the bipartisan TSCA reform bill introduced recently by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking member on the Senate environment committee, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) shortly before his death. The bill has won support from industry groups and the Environmental Defense Fund. But several other environmental groups, California officials, as well as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chair of the Senate environment committee, and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have concerns about the bill and want to amend it.

Other hearings in the House include the science panel's ozone review and a June 13 House Energy & Commerce Committee power panel hearing on the Department of Energy (DOE) budget, at which DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz is slated to testify.

In the Senate, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is hosting a June 11 “environmental leaders' day” that will include an address by former Vice President Al Gore. Other speakers include DOE's Moniz, House energy panel ranking member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “The day will also feature breakout sessions focusing on clean energy, energy diversity, healthy communities, and coastal hazards,” according to a Whitehouse advisory.

Clean energy will also be the topic of discussion when Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) gives a speech on energy efficiency June 13 as part of the 24th Annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, D.C.

And the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee is slated to hold a June 12 hearing on the nomination of Federal Trade Commission official Howard Shelanski's nomination to head the White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs. The office reviews major agency regulations, but Whitehouse and other Democrats recently urged it to release several EPA rules and other agencies' policies that they say have been held up for months.

Other Events

The R Street Institute and Heartland Institute will jointly host a debate on a carbon tax at a June 13 event in Washington, D.C. The event will likely give carbon tax critics a chance to discuss the White House's recent decision to boost the value it assigns to the social cost of carbon, in some cases doubling the $21-per-ton average it had previously assigned to the measure, an approach that will likely aid efforts to justify the costs of upcoming EPA climate rules and other carbon policies.

Meanwhile, the American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education is hosting a wide-ranging conference June 12-14 in Washington, D.C., on environmental litigation. According to the agenda, topics include strategies for trying and defending Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and citizen suits.

Utilities are discussing key issues including cybersecurity and electric grid expansions at the Edison Electric Institute's annual convention in San Francisco, CA, which started June 9 and ends June 12.