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The Week Ahead

SAB Reviews EPA’s Rollback Of Major Obama Rules; Agency Weighs Input On Utility ELG

EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is holding several meetings this week to debate the agency’s rollbacks of major Obama-era climate, air and water rules. Meanwhile, the agency is taking public comments on a host of other proposals and regulatory drafts, including revisions to the 2015 Clean Water Act (CWA) effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) for power plants.

SAB Meetings

The chartered SAB is holding three public teleconferences this week, on Jan. 21, 22 and 25, to continue discussions that began Jan. 17 about letters the board will send EPA on its rollbacks. They are reviewing four high-profile EPA rules: a rollback of Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards; a narrower CWA jurisdiction standard; a reversal of the cost-benefit finding that justified the 2015 mercury and air toxics standards (MATS); and a plan to limit the use of certain scientific studies in rulemaking.

The Jan. 17 session was mainly devoted to public comments, in which environmentalists called for SAB to take a more-stringent stance against EPA’s new MATS policy. Board members began discussing the CWA rule at the end of that session but were unable to agree on how to proceed, and are resuming talks on how to proceed with the four letters on Jan. 21.

Utility ELG

Jan. 21 is the deadline for comment on EPA’s proposed revisions to the Obama-era power plant ELG. The new rule would loosen best available technology economically achievable effluent limitations and pretreatment standards for flue gas desulfurization wastewater and bottom ash transport water, but allow facilities to accept stricter requirements in exchange for longer compliance deadlines. The agency predicts enough utilities will accept that deal to make the new ELG more protective than its predecessor, but environmentalists say that assumption is unfounded.


Also due Jan. 21 are comments on the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program’s draft systematic review protocol document for its risk assessment of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The protocol is an essential component of any systematic review; it outlines an approach to searching, analyzing and ranking scientific literature that the IRIS program has been adopting over the past several years, including the criteria for the most relevant data for the assessment.

Maine Water Standards

Jan. 21 is also the deadline for comments on EPA’s proposal to withdraw the Obama administration’s controversial rejection of some state-crafted CWA water quality standards in Maine, after it won a voluntary court-ordered remand of the decision in 2018. The rejections centered on the level of pollution that can be considered safe for tribes reliant on subsistence fishing, which was a nationwide focus for the Obama EPA’s water office. Dischargers feared the limits could lead to unlawfully strict permit terms in other states as well as Maine.

NMP TSCA Assessment

Another Jan. 21 comment deadline applies to the draft Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) risk assessment of the solvent n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), where the agency finds that various uses of the chemical pose unreasonable risk to workers, consumers and bystanders.

NSR Permitting

And comments are due Jan. 21 on a proposed rule to correct what EPA says are “errors” in regulations governing the Clean Air Act’s new source review permit program, including rewriting grammatically incorrect language and removing court-vacated rule text.

TSCA Chemical Reviews

Comments are due Jan. 24 on EPA’s planned new “approach” to reviewing new chemicals under the 2016 reforms to TSCA. Those revisions set a new mandate for the agency to publish a determination for every new chemical on whether it meets the law’s “unreasonable risk” standard, but it has largely been unable to do so within the law’s pre-existing 90-day deadline, creating a backlog of applications. EPA’s original approach drew a lawsuit from environmentalists who said it was not stringent enough.

Computational Toxicology

EPA’s Computational Toxicology Communities of Practice will meet Jan. 23 to discuss the Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility tool.

Integrated Planning

EPA will host a Jan. 21 webinar on its framework for integrating municipalities’ CWA wastewater and stormwater responsibilities into a single compliance schedule, codified in the 2019 Water Infrastructure and Improvement Act.

Renewable Energy

The American Bar Association is hosting a Jan. 22 webinar on federal and state issues surrounding the growth of renewable energy and advanced battery technology to facilitate wind, solar, hydropower and other renewables.

CWA Compliance

EPA and the Association of Clean Water Administrators will co-host their annual symposium on the agency’s national compliance initiative for significant non-compliance (SNC) with CWA standards or permits, Jan. 22-24 in Dallas, TX. The agenda includes discussions of the challenges that lead to SNC, and EPA’s agenda for achieving compliance including new guidance and work with states.


EPA will host a Jan. 23 webinar through its Sustainable Materials Management program on packaging and transport of lithium-ion batteries for recycling.

Climate Change

The Society of Petroleum Engineers will host a Jan. 22 presentation in Arlington, VA, on the prospects for wide-scale deployment of carbon capture, use and storage technology.

The Brookings Institution will host a Jan. 24 forum with former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former Irish President Mary Robinson titled “Climate Threats And Climate Justice: Action And Adaptation For Sustainable Development.”

Also on Jan. 24, the Center for American Progress will host a “trans-Atlantic conversation” on addressing climate change and “greening” economies, with former California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and Robert Habeck, co-chair of Germany’s Green Party.

SAE Meeting

The Society of Automotive Engineers will hold its annual government/industry meeting Jan. 22-24 in Washington, D.C.


EPA’s SmartWay program, a voluntary initiative to reduce emissions from the freight sector, will hold a Jan. 22 webinar to demonstrate its software tool for calculating and reporting truck emissions.