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The Week Ahead

Lawmakers, EPA Weigh Future Of RFS Waiver Policy; Senators To Question IG Nominee

EPA is holding a public hearing on its proposal to account for small refiner waivers in its renewable fuel standard (RFS) volumes rule, just as House Democrats are targeting the waiver process in their own hearing. In the Senate, lawmakers are holding a confirmation hearing for Sean O’Donnell to be the next EPA Inspector General (IG).

RFS

EPA will hold an Oct. 30 public hearing in Ypsilanti, MI, on its “supplemental” RFS proposal that would increase biofuel blending targets to make up for small-refiner waivers whose use has risen dramatically under the Trump administration. The agency is considering using a three-year average of RFS biofuel blending volumes waived for small refiners to increase the percentage blend rate that refiners must achieve in 2020. But the plan poses major legal questions, and it is unclear what impact it will have beyond 2020.

EPA’s hearing follows an Oct. 29 Congressional hearing scheduled by the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s panel on the environment. The committee will focus on the same waivers, and EPA’s ability to issue them without public notice -- framed as “Protecting The RFS: The Trump Administration's Abuse Of Secret Waivers.”

EPA IG

EPW will hold an Oct. 30 confirmation hearing to weigh O’Donnell’s nomination as the next EPA IG. O’Donnell, a career federal staffer who now works as a Department of Justice trial attorney, would succeed former IG Arthur Elkins, Jr. after the latter retired last year. EPA Deputy IG Charles Sheehan is currently leading the office in an acting capacity. While Democrats have not raised any major objections to O’Donnell as the next IG, he could nonetheless face tough questions from the minority who have a series of pending requests for the watchdog office to investigate a host of Trump EPA policies.

Air Permitting

Comments are due Nov. 1 on EPA’s proposed rule to revoke the long-standing “once in, always in” air permitting policy that locked “major” air toxics sources into stringent emissions controls even after they cut pollution releases below the threshold for less-stringent “area” sources. The proposal, issued in July, would codify a January 2018 memo by former agency air chief Bill Wehrum that ended the 1995 policy. A court challenge to that memo failed when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that it was not a reviewable “final action,” but the rulemaking will not face that hurdle.

PM NAAQS

San Francisco’s Bay Area Air Quality Management District is holding an Oct. 28 “symposium” on particulate matter (PM) pollution just as EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is considering whether to recommend that the agency tighten its national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for PM levels. A majority of that panel appears poised to back retaining the current standards, but a minority is agreeing with EPA staff’s argument that the NAAQS should be more stringent, likely blocking any consensus.

Vehicle Emissions

The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee’s panel on the environment will hold an Oct. 29 hearing on the Trump administration’s plan to largely freeze Obama-era vehicle emission standards. EPA and the Department of Transportation have jointly proposed that freeze while also taking the novel step of withdrawing California’s Clean Air Act waiver to enforce its own vehicle rules -- which has set off an all-out policy war between the Trump administration and the Golden State.

ASTSWMO Meeting

The Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) will hold its annual meeting Oct. 30-31 in Washington, D.C. The agenda covers a wide range of federal and state policy subjects, including controls on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), state adoption of EPA Resource Conservation & Recovery Act regulations, the interplay between recycling and waste-disposal programs and more.

Great Lakes

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) will host a policy seminar on the Great Lakes Oct. 29 in Chicago, IL. The event includes panel discussions on toxic algal blooms that have become more prevalent in recent years, and on disputes over water rights in the region. It follows EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s recent pledge to maintain funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, after the Trump administration in past years sought major budget cuts to that program.

Plastics

The House Natural Resources Committee’s panel on water and oceans will hold an Oct. 29 oversight hearing on the impacts of plastic waste pollution in oceans and waterways. Industry, lawmakers, environmentalists and EPA are all trying to step up their focus on plastics, but with varying levels of success -- as seen by the agency’s initial failure to convince the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to block limits on shipping the waste overseas for recycling.

Water Infrastructure

The full House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will hold an Oct. 29 markup to consider, among other bills, H.R. 1497 to reauthorize and more than double funding for EPA’s clean water state revolving fund.

Pesticides

Members of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (FIFRA SAP) will hold an Oct. 28 conference call to prepare for their November 19-22 in-person meeting to review EPA’s approaches for quantitative use of surface water monitoring data in pesticide drinking water assessments.

Climate Hearings

The House Small Business Committee’s panel on innovation and the workforce will hold an Oct. 29 hearing on “Creating the Clean Energy Workforce.” Also on Oct. 29, Senate Democrats’ “Special Committee on the Climate Crisis” will hold a hearing on “anonymous funding of climate obstruction and what can be done to fight it."

On Oct. 30, the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s environment panel has a hearing on decarbonizing the U.S. power sector. Later in the day, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on “opportunities in agriculture.”

CSB Meeting

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) will hold a public business meeting on Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C.

TSCA

Comments are due Oct. 28 on EPA’s proposed rule under section 6(h) of the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to manage risks from persistent and bioaccumulative toxics (PBT). The proposal selects five PBT chemicals for possible risk management activities but declines regulation of others that environmentalists say are active dangers, meaning the final rule is likely to draw court challenges from all sides.

The law firm Wiley Rein will host an Oct. 31 webinar on how EPA is considering work and consumer exposures to toxic chemicals in its risk assessments under the new TSCA.

Climate Technology

ELI will host an Oct. 30 “master class” on climate adaptation issues in Washington, D.C.

The Bipartisan Policy Center will host an Oct. 31 forum on technologies that can remove ambient carbon from the air in order to mitigate climate change.

The Energy & Environmental Study Institute will host a Nov. 1 briefing on “practical solutions” for climate adaptation in Washington, D.C.

Algal Blooms

Comments are due Oct. 31 on EPA’s “notice of intent to develop a policy” on harmful algal blooms and resulting hypoxia that would designate the phenomenon as “an event of national significance.”

Contaminated Sediment

EPA will host an Oct. 30 “virtual workshop” on risk assessment at contaminated sediment sites.

Air Toxics

Oct. 31 is the deadline for comments on EPA’s proposed risk and technology review (RTR) for air toxics rules governing the lime manufacturing sector. As with most of the Trump EPA’s RTRs, the proposal finds no need to tighten the existing rules, but seeks to remove exemptions for periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction in order to comply with court rulings on such provisions.

Drinking Water

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators’ annual conference runs Oct. 28-31 in Tampa, FL. The agenda includes an update on EPA’s drinking water priorities from Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water Director Jennifer McLain and discussions on PFAS controls, among other subjects.

EPA will host an Oct. 29 webinar for small drinking water systems on funding opportunities for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.

Coatings

The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, which are joint projects between EPA, the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, will jointly host an Oct. 31 webinar on the development of non-toxic, sustainable coatings for military platforms.

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