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The Week Ahead

States Weigh Efforts To Curb Interstate Emissions; SAB Launches IRIS Review Panel

Posted: April 1, 2013

Downwind states struggling to curb ozone emissions from upwind pollution sources will hold a series of meetings starting this week on how to resolve their air quality problems. The Science Advisory Board's (SAB) standing committee that EPA launched to review its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) chemical assessments is holding its inaugural public meeting.

Interstate Emissions

Efforts by downwind states to curb interstate transport of emissions from upwind states will be a major focus this month, starting with a meeting of the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) of northeast and mid-Atlantic state air regulators later this week in Washington, D.C.

The talks are just the start of several major events where interstate emissions are expected to be a key topic of discussion, including EPA air chief Gina McCarthy's April 11 Senate confirmation hearing to be the next agency administrator, and a series of EPA-state talks on curbing air pollution.

The OTC states have long warned that they will struggle to meet EPA's national ambient air quality standards for ozone and other pollutants without federal assistance in reducing emissions from power plants and other industrial sources in states outside their jurisdiction. EPA's leading effort to help the states was the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) utility trading program, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down last year.

While the agenda for the OTC meeting is sparse -- it lists “modeling” and “mobile sources” as issues for discussion -- expect regulators to revive talks about how to handle the fallout of the CSAPR ruling, which EPA and environmentalists are urging the Supreme Court to overturn.

OTC members are also likely to discuss EPA's recently proposed “Tier III” fuel and vehicle air rule. Many states had long pushed the agency to issue the rule, saying that the proposal's bid to tighten the limit of sulfur allowed in gasoline will cut emissions and help them comply with federal air standards. Still, the rule faces push-back from refiners who say it is unnecessary.

EPA's McCarthy is likely to face questions over both Tier III and the interstate emissions issue during her tentative April 11 Senate Environment & Public Works Committee hearing, as well as a host of other agency policies criticized by GOP members of the panel.

It is unclear whether McCarthy or other EPA officials will also attend the OTC meeting -- the agenda posted to OTC's website only lists as speakers air regulators from the group's member states: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

Discussions at the OTC meeting could also preview a series of meetings EPA is organizing to get input from states “on the next steps to address the transport of air pollution across state boundaries,” according to the agency's website. The first meeting will take place April 8 at EPA's facility in Research Triangle Park, NC. A second meeting is slated for April 17 in Denver, CO, and a third will occur during the April 30-May 2 National Tribal Forum on Air Quality in Fountain Hills, AZ.

While EPA late last week filed a petition for a writ of certiorari for the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of the CSAPR ruling, the agency is pushing ahead with the stakeholder talks. An EPA spokeswoman last month told Inside EPA that the agency's forthcoming stakeholder outreach meetings are on fulfilling Clean Air Act duties and “are not about 'replacing CSAPR.'”

Some states are not waiting for the outcome of the high court appeal or the stakeholder meetings to force EPA action on interstate pollution. Several eastern states and environmentalists are suing EPA seeking a court-ordered mandate for the agency to require 28 states to craft plans for reducing their transported emissions that hinder air quality in downwind states, in lieu of an over-arching federal interstate air rule after an appellate court scrapped the utility trading rule.

Other states are weighing filing petitions with EPA under section 126 of the Clean Air Act, which gives the agency power to impose pollution cuts on industrial sources in one state that are adversely affecting the air quality in another state -- though some utilities oppose the process.

The agency is fighting a pending lawsuit in the 3rd Circuit filed by a power plant in Pennsylvania, which is challenging EPA's decision to grant a New Jersey section 126 petition seeking a federal rule forcing emissions from a Pennsylvania utility causing air quality problems in the Garden state. Appellate court judges at recent oral arguments appeared to be leaning toward upholding EPA's contested approach to directly regulate emissions from individual sources within a state that are causing air quality problems in neighboring states, sources say.

IRIS Reviews

Almost 18 months after EPA first proposed the idea, the standing SAB committee to review IRIS risk assessments is holding its first meeting April 2-3.

The agenda suggests panelists will consider a series of introductory issues, including updates from EPA officials on how they are moving ahead and reforming the program and how assessors weigh dose-response, weight of evidence and other key issues.

EPA proposed creating the panel in 2011 as it faced criticism from Republicans and industry groups in the wake of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel report criticizing its draft assessment of formaldehyde. Since then, Congress has also mandated the creation of new NAS committees that will provide additional advice on the controversial program as well as EPA's draft arsenic assessment.

The panel's launch is likely to further complicate efforts to reform the program given that the agency is also implementing its own reforms. The head of the NAS committee reviewing the program recently raised concerns over how the group can make recommendations on improving the process at the same time the agency is already implementing its own changes to the risk assessment program.

Other Events

EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, which advises the agency on a range of policy issues, is holding an April 4 teleconference at noon.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is hosting the latest in a long-running series of calls to weigh in on EPA reviews of its national ambient air quality standards. The April 1 call is to assess the agency's latest draft policy and scientific data to inform a potential revision to the federal ambient air standard for lead -- a pollutant for which there is no safe exposure level.

On April 2, EPA's Good Neighbor Environmental Board will hold a teleconference at noon to discuss the latest on U.S. efforts with Mexico to curb border pollution.

And the agency is taking comment until April 1 on its Dec. 31 Federal Register notice taking public comment on whether lead renovation, repair, and painting activities on public and commercial buildings create health risks and requests information on the manufacture, sale and use of lead-based paint since 1978, as well as information specific to public and commercial buildings such as: how lead-based paint is used, how often renovations are needed, work practices, and dust generation and transportation from exterior and interior renovations.