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The Week Ahead

NAS Readies Advice On EPA Science; EPA Takes Comment On 'Exceptional Events' Guide

Posted: September 4, 2012

The National Academies' National Research Council is releasing a set of reports recommending ways for EPA to improve its exposure assessments and other hotly contested scientific data. Meanwhile, EPA this week closes the comment period on its proposed “exceptional events” guidance, which instructs states on how to exclude pollution from dust storms, wild fires, high winds and other events when calculating compliance with national ambient air quality standards. And the Science Advisory Board holds a conference call to discuss its recommendations for analyzing the costs of EPA rules.

Democrats are in Charlotte, NC, for their national convention Sept. 4-6. President Obama may give a shout-out to EPA's freshly released auto fuel economy rules when he accepts the Democratic nomination on Sept. 6. Republicans slammed EPA from the podium and in their party platform at the GOP convention last week in Tampa.

Congress reconvenes the week of Sept. 10, but it's unclear whether lawmakers will take a stab at moving the Farm Bill or any other substantive legislation prior to hitting the campaign trail later in the month.

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


EPA officials will probably get an earful from state officials in comments due Sept. 4 on the exceptional events guidance. The exclusions are vital for Western states, where emissions from these events could lead to NAAQS violations. But EPA has resisted requests from some states for more substantive regulatory changes.

EPA's Science Advisory Board holds a conference call Sept. 7 on the retrospective review of the cost of EPA regulations. EPA is reviewing regulatory costs in response to Obama's executive order calling on agencies to find rules that can be modified, streamlined or eliminated. EPA's science advisors appear likely to urge the agency to expand the scope of the review.

Comments are due Sept. 5 on the information collection request EPA issued on a rebate program that would pay for replacing older, high-emitting diesel engines with cleaner versions. EPA has proposed phasing out a diesel engine retrofit grants program in favor of the rebate approach.

Among the upcoming deadlines on a variety of state implementation plans (SIP), comments are due Sept. 4 on Kentucky's fine particulate matter (PM2.5) SIP, and Nevada's PM and ozone SIPs. Comments are due Sept. 5 on Alabama's PM2.5 SIP, Mississippi's haze SIP, Virginia's ozone SIP, and Florida's haze SIP decree. And comments are due Sept. 7 on the Nevada SIP disapproval.

The Good Neighbor Environmental Board, which addresses issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, holds a teleconference Sept. 6 to discuss water infrastructure issues.

Also On The Agenda

The Biotechnology Industry Council holds a press conference Sept. 5 at the National Press Club to tout its support for EPA's renewable fuel standard (RFS) and the “progress” the program is making. The group is also holding events at the Democratic convention after holding similar events last week at the GOP convention.

The group's press conference signals the industry's opposition to legislative changes to the program, despite a host of challenges. These include alleged fraud in the renewable identification number credit trading program and rising corn prices due to both the drought and increased demand for corn to produce ethanol. EPA is reviewing petitions from several states and the livestock industry to waive all or part of the RFS mandates. And lawmakers are considering options to either overhaul or dismantle the program.

Resources for the Future holds a climate change seminar Sept. 5 focusing on the effectiveness and impacts of so-called border measures meant to address “leakage” of carbon emissions from jurisdictions that have imposed controls into places that do not account for such emissions. The issue has taken on prominence in California, which is instituting the nation's only CO2 cap-and-trade system.

And the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) is slated to release two reports. On Sept. 5, the council is releasing “Science for Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead,” which assesses “EPA’s capabilities to develop, obtain, and use the best available new scientific and technological information and tools to meet challenges and opportunities across the agency's programs.”

On Sept. 7, the NRC is releasing a second report, “Exposure Science in the 21st Century,” which will present “a 20-year road map of how technology innovations and strategic collaborations can advance the field of exposure science, which examines the intensity and duration of contact that humans and other organisms have with chemical, physical, or biologic stressors. The report explores exposure assessment guidelines and practices used by EPA and other federal agencies along with ways to incorporate more exposure science into risk assessment, risk management, and other applications.”

The exposure report could serve as a companion to the NRC's landmark 2007 report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” which is driving significant changes in how EPA tests substances' toxicity.

A senior EPA scientist had urged the NRC panel in 2010 to include recommendations in the exposure science report on how the agency can ramp up its efforts to research exposure as well as hazard when assessing environmental risks, arguing that the existing limited human exposure studies are subject to "crude characterizations" and limited resources, and do little to protect public health.