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The Week Ahead

EPA Reaches Decision Point On Timing For Tighter Particulate Matter Rules

Posted: August 27, 2012

Particulate matter (PM) standards are high on the agenda this week: EPA must decide whether it will agree to a proposed consent decree with states and environmentalists on setting a Dec. 14 deadline for issuing a final PM national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS). The agency also closes the public comment period on its pending PM NAAQS proposal, which has drawn criticism from industry and mostly praise from environmentalists.

State environmental regulators hold their annual conference; this year they are meeting under the shadow of a recent court ruling that could unravel plans for combating PM and ozone in eastern states. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is holding forums on the role of natural gas in electricity generation, an issue drawing intense scrutiny as EPA rules help accelerate the shift from coal to gas.

Capitol Hill is quiet as the Republican National Convention takes center stage in Tampa, FL. Congress reconvenes the week of Sept. 10 for a short session before adjourning until after the elections.

Here's more on upcoming events at EPA and elsewhere:

At EPA

EPA has proposed a stronger standard for emissions of particulate matter (PM) which industry says will throw many areas out of compliance with the federal standard.

Environmentalists have long campaigned for a tighter standard. However, activists criticized EPA's proposal to exempt some facilities that are well along in the permitting process from the stronger requirements. Comments are due on that proposal Aug. 31.

EPA must also decide by Aug. 31 whether it will sign a proposed consent decree mandating that the PM standard be finalized by Dec. 14. Critics including Senate Environment & Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-OK) say that deadline comes much too soon. For one thing, Inhofe wants the agency to await the outcome of an Inspector General investigation into EPA management of scientific advisory panels, including the one that contributed to the development of EPA's PM proposal.

Inhofe, some state regulators and industry question the health benefits of a tighter standard and say the schedule spelled out in the proposed consent decree would not allow for adequate public comment.

Prospects of new powers for Inhofe should Republicans take control of the Senate after the elections could provide the Obama administration with motivation to finalize the standard as quickly as possible.

EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) holds a conference call Aug. 31 to complete its review of EPA's approach for estimating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the combustion of biomass. A SAB panel has urged EPA to substantially overhaul the framework for CO2 emissions, although one member strongly dissented, saying the panel is not addressing “fundamental” problems with the framework for making the estimates.

Also on tap at EPA this week, an SAB panel holds a conference call Aug. 28 on the agency's ecological assessment action plan. The panel has previously praised the agency for trying to make a handful of major policy changes intended to boost the importance of ecological risk assessment in agency priorities, but they also criticized EPA for not addressing climate change.

On the same day, comments are due on the Integrated Risk Information System study of trimethylbenzene, a chemical found in petroleum products, engine exhaust and in some hydraulic fracturing fluids.

And on Aug. 29, EPA holds a webinar on cumulative risk assessment as part of a monthly series.

Also On The Agenda

The Environmental Council of the States holds its annual meeting Aug. 27-29 in Colorado Springs. ECOS air, water, waste and compliance committees will hold sessions. The air committee session will give state regulators a chance to speak among themselves about the impacts of last week's appellate court decision rejecting EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which has thrown a wrench into state implementation plans for smog and haze.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe will participate in a session Aug. 27 on “how modern technologies (both electronic and monitoring) can be used to improve our delivery of environmental protection in the 21st century based on a joint governance approach.” Perciasepe will also deliver a luncheon speech on Aug. 28.

Watch out for our coverage of the conference, including our preview story on ECOS' plans to weigh resolutions at the event on possible advice for how EPA should address levels of polychlorinated biphenyls in wastewater discharges due to use of the material in products, such as printed material, that is recycled.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officials this week continue their series of forums on natural gas and electricity coordination with meetings Aug. 28 in Portland, OR, and Aug. 30 in Washington, DC. The Washington meeting is to discuss gas-electricity issues related to the Mid-Atlantic states.

FERC officials met last week with gas and electricity industry representatives from the Southeast in Washington, DC, and from the Northeast in Boston.

The increasing reliance on natural gas for power generation “does lead to concerns about the reliability of the electric system and the reliability of [supplying] gas to gas customers if we don't do careful planning,” FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur said at the Boston meeting, according to the Boston Globe. “I don't think there's a reason to panic, but I absolutely think there's a reason to plan.”

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