Tag Archives: EPA

President’s Spring Agenda Signals Continued Delays on New Rules

This post comes from the Center For Effective Government

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) quietly published its highly anticipated Spring 2013 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Unified Agenda) on July 3. The spring agenda, like the previous fall agenda, does not show a strong commitment to advancing public health, safety, or environmental protections. Rather, it shows only slight progress on rules that have been under development for years and does not suggest the administration will address the pervasive delays or lack of transparency that currently plague the rulemaking process.

What is the Unified Agenda?

The Unified Agenda is published semi-annually by OMB in accordance with Executive Order 12866. It includes an agenda prepared by each federal agency listing all regulations currently under development or review. The purpose is to: (a) improve coordination among various divisions of the federal government and (b) give the public notice of upcoming agency actions. For a more in-depth review of the Unified Agenda and each of its components, visit our Regulatory Resource Center here.

Rules that May Spring Forward

The spring agenda contains some positive measures. The agenda indicates that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions for new fossil fuel-fired power plants will move forward. Unfortunately, the rule will go back to the proposal stage, despite that fact that when the last agenda was released in December, the rule was in the “final” stages of development. The rule would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the air and contributes substantially to climate change. Fortunately, President Obama’s new climate change plan, announced in June, requires EPA to complete the proposal by September and also propose standards for existing power plants by June 2014. EPA sent the proposed rule for new power plants to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on July 2 but has not yet submitted a draft rule for existing power plants for review.

EPA will also move forward on issuing standards for coal ash. The rule was previously listed as a long-term action but has moved to the pre-rule stage in the spring agenda. Although the rule has yet to make it to the proposal stage, it is promising that EPA will restart its work on the coal ash standard.

However, many important rules remain stalled at the agency or at OIRA. For example, EPA reports that it expects to move forward later this year on its proposed Chemicals of Concern list rule. The rule would establish a list for chemical substances identified by EPA as those that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment. EPA sent the rule to OIRA for review in 2010 where it remains today. Until OIRA completes its review, EPA will not be able to move forward as planned.

Another important proposal that has been delayed for years is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule to protect workers from exposure to silica dust that can lead to fatal respiratory disease. OSHA’s regulatory agenda has featured this rule since 2011, but the agency has been unable to move forward because it has been held up at OIRA for over two years. According to the spring agenda, the proposal should be complete this month – two months later than noted in the fall agenda. But it seems unlikely that OIRA will complete its review in time for OSHA to publish it in the Federal Register by the end of this month.

Even if the administration is able to make headway on each of these proposed rules, the agency will still need to repeat the regulatory procedures and send the rule to OIRA for review at least one more time before the rules would become final.

Rules That Will Fall Back

The spring agenda identifies several key health and safety rules that will not be moving forward in the near term. In some cases, the administration has chosen not to move ahead, even if it means the agency will thwart congressional or judicial deadlines. Most frustrating for advocates, the administration is not required to explain why it has chosen to change the rulemaking status or stop work on a rule. Instead, the citizens that these agencies are supposed to protect are left to speculate in the dark.

Although EPA’s regulatory plan from the fall agenda indicated that the agency’s rule on the definition of solid waste was in the final stages of development, the rule has been moved to long-term action in the spring agenda. The rule would revise the 2008 final rule on the definition of solid waste to better protect public health and the environment. EPA had agreed to a judicially enforceable deadline as a result of litigation, but the deadlines have long since passed. According to OIRA’s regulatory dashboard, the agency has not yet determined when it plans to move forward with the rule.

EPA’s recently proposed rule setting emissions standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products was also moved to long-term action in the spring agenda. Congress enacted legislation in 2010 that requires EPA to issue national emissions limits equal to those already required by California law. At the same time EPA proposed the emissions limits rule, it also proposed requirements for third-party certifications of products subject to those emissions limits. Congress set a January 2013 deadline for EPA to finalize the new standards, but both proposals were stuck at OIRA under review for over a year until they were finally released this past May. Even though the notice-and-comment period for these rules remains open until Aug. 6, EPA has already decided not to move forward on completing the emissions limits in the near term. The third-party certification rule, however, is still on the agenda for the spring. EPA has not explained why it chose to move forward only on the third-party certification rule or why the agency effectively denied the public an opportunity to comment on the emissions standard.

Conclusion

The spring 2013 agenda indicates that some important standards will be forthcoming. But unless the Obama administration acts aggressively to ensure these rules are finalized, our health, safety, and environment will continue to be compromised. The administration needs to resolve the pervasive delays and lack of transparency in the rulemaking process to show its commitment to completing these important public protections.

EPA’s regulations would not be a burden on the natural gas industry, says Bloomberg Government

Before reading the article, take this poll: 


Vignesh Gowrishankar’s Blog
 – Posted: August 1, 2012

Bloomberg Government (BGov) recently released a report [subscription required for full report] that assesses the business implications of the EPA’s regulations to control air pollution from the natural gas industry. While NRDC does not agree with some of the report’s specific cost estimates, NRDC does echo some of the key findings of the report: that the regulations will not be a burden on natural gas producers; that the price of natural gas drives production levels, while regulatory compliance costs have a minimal to imperceptible impact on production; and that the regulations will be lucrative and create jobs for many well service providers and equipment manufacturers, especially small and medium sized ones, which will be vital in this economy.

According to the report, the EPA estimated that the regulations would necessitate upfront industry-wide investments of $170 million, which would be more than compensated for from the sale of captured methane and natural gas liquids, thus generating a net profit of approximately $15 million. Unsurprisingly, in November 2011, the American Petroleum Institute (API) claimed sky-high annual costs of compliance, with an estimate of more than $2.5 billion (yup, with a ‘b’). In comparison, the BGov report estimates a net cost between $300 and $500 million.

At the outset, NRDC takes issue with BGov’s cost estimates for green completions, a process that captures vented, leaked or otherwise wasted natural gas from wells as they are being fracked and readied for natural gas extraction. BGov assumed 15 days for completing a well, at a cost of $4,500 per day. In addition, the report assumes $15,000 for set-up and transportation costs. That’s a total of $82,500. We think that number is too high for a few reasons

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Public Citizen – Groups to FDA: Get Toxic Chemicals Away From Drugs and Biological Products

By: Christine Hines


Public Citizen recently joined with other consumer and patient groups in a letter urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban phthalates from drugs and biologic products.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals known as “plasticizers” that are used in consumer and pharmaceutical products. For example, they are used to soften plastics – like those used in products such as baby teething rings and pacifiers. These chemicals, including dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), have been linked to cancer, as well as developmental and reproductive defects.

Phthalates are being phased out of consumer products – a 2008 federal law banned these phthalates in children’s products. The European Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency also have noted the health risks of the chemicals. The EPA said it is concerned about phthalates because of “their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to these chemicals.”

The organizations’ letter to the FDA was a response to the FDA’s draft guidance to industry, which recommended that the pharmaceutical industry avoid the use of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in their drug and biologic products.

While the draft guidance was a step in the right direction, the FDA should go further, especially since safer alternatives are available, the organizations said in the letter.

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Dirty secrets behind the campaign to poison your air

John Walke’s Blog

Posted April 23, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

By John Walke, Clean Air Director/Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council

Sometimes a moment captures dirty, squirming truths like a rat trap. That happened last week in the Senate.

The Senate’s clean air subcommittee convened a hearing on EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards (MATS) for power plants that burn coal and oil. These landmark standards will prevent 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,000 heart attacks and up to 11,000 premature deaths every year starting in 2016. [pdf]

Staff for Republican Senators invited two former Bush administration officials to criticize these health standards: Susan Dudley, former head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air chief turned utility industry lawyer/lobbyist.

Mr. Holmstead headed EPA’s air office during most of the Bush administration when it evaded the power plant air toxic standards required by the Clean Air Act. Instead Mr. Holmstead oversaw EPA’s adoption of substitute rules that allowed all power plant air toxins save mercury to go unregulated; set weaker mercury standards whose ultimate reductions were delayed by nearly two decades; and prescribed a cap-and-trade program for the neurotoxin, mercury. A federal appellate court overturned the Bush administration rules in a scathing ruling [pdf] that compared the agency’s legal reasoning to the capricious Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland.”

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Economic Policy Institute – Report to Congress confirms large benefits, modest costs of new EPA rules

The Office of Management and Budget just posted a draft of its annual report to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulations. This official documentation of all major regulations reviewed by OMB includes an individual listing of the benefits and costs of all such rules finalized by the Obama administration through Sept. 30, 2011 (the end of fiscal year 2011). This listing, Table D-3 found on pages 126-128, includes nine final rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and two final rules issued jointly by EPA and the Department of Transportation.

If the monetized benefits and costs of these 11 individual rules are tabulated (hereafter referred to as the “Obama EPA rules”), the results are strikingly positive. As the table at the end of this post indicates:

  • The benefits of the finalized Obama EPA rules are valued at $98 billion a year (all figures in 2010 dollars). Most of the benefits come from saving lives and other health benefits, but also include economic benefits such as reduced fuel expenditures by consumers or increased worker productivity.
  • The compliance costs of the Obama EPA rules amount to just $8.3 billion a year, or far below one one-thousandth of the economy.
  • The net benefits from these rules is $90 billion a year. The ratio between benefits and costs is 12-to-1.
  • Using methodology I wrote up previously, I estimate the economic benefits from the joint EPA/DOT rules alone, connected to fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for cars, amount to about $13 billion a year, or more than the compliance costs for all 11 Obama EPA rules.

Since the OMB report is designed to cover data only through the end of the previous fiscal year, it does not include EPA’s “air toxics” rule that was finalized on Dec. 16, 2011. This rule has significant compliance costs, amounting to $10 billion a year, but much larger benefits, amounting to $64 billion a year (using the midpoint of the benefit range). Combining this rule with the rules in the OMB report, the benefits of Obama EPA rules finalized to date amount to $162 billion a year, compared to compliance costs of $18.3 billion a year (about one one-thousandth of the economy). The net benefit figure for this combination of EPA rules is $144 billion a year.

Read the full story here.

Clean Air Watch – EPA to Congress: low-sulfur gas would cost only a penny a gallon

Here is a letter to Congress from the US EPA clarifying the the scope and cost of gasoline changes related to the so-called Tier 3 clean-car program under consideration.

photo by hectore via flickr

This ought to put to rest the oil industry charges that EPA is planning to do more than just reduce sulfur in gasoline levels, and that the changes would cost as much as a quarter a gallon. This letter backs up what we have been saying since last October: EPA can make real smog reductions just by reducing the sulfur content of gas, and the cost is so small that no one would notice. Note, by the way, that the projected cost of a penny a gallon wouldn’t happen until 2017.

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460

FEB 27 2012

OFFICE OF
AIR AND RADIATION

Honorable Ed Whitfield U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Whitfield:

Thank for your letter of December 19, 2011, co-signed by 67 of your colleagues, sharing concerns a bout the potential impacts and the rulemaking processes of two upcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules: the ”Tier 3″ light-duty vehicle emissions and gasoline standards, and the refinery sector rulemaking.

The EPA is developing the Tier 3 standards to respond to the critical need to improve air quality, and to enable a harmonized national vehicle emissions control program. This rule would reduce motor vehicle emissions and help state and local areas attain and maintain the existing health-based air quality standards in a cost-effective and timely way. Lower sulfur gasoline is necessary to operate the pollution control equipment to achieve new Tier 3 vehicle standards, and will facilitate the development of lower cost technologies to improve fuel economy. Improvements in fuel economy reduce gasoline consumption and save consumers money.

Read the full story here.

OMB Watch — President Obama: You Had Me Until Fracking

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his support for the development of clean energy sources that will create jobs and protect the environment. But while developing clean energy is essential for moving us into the 21st century energy marketplace, the way we build our clean energy future also matters. We must develop energy without harming public health and the environment.

photo by pingting via flickr

A natural gas extraction process, commonly referred to as fracking, was cited in last night’s State of the Union as an example of clean energy. But using fracking to extract natural gas is anything but clean. In fact, the process produces more greenhouse gas emissions over time than traditional methods of oil drilling or coal mining, according to a Cornell University Study. In addition, fracking poses a great risk to public health and property, as evidenced by the multiple documented cases of severe water contamination near fracking sites, including water than can be actually set on fire as it comes out of the faucet.

Though Obama pledged to “develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” it is unclear as to how this would be accomplished. A loophole in the 2005 energy law (often called the Cheney or Halliburton loophole) granted oil and gas industries an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This means the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot require drilling companies to disclose the toxic chemicals used in fracking, or limit their activities in order to protect drinking water. And, following an order from Congress, the EPA has not yet finalized an important national study on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water. Thus, the public remains in the dark about the chemicals used in fracking, as well as the risks they pose to their drinking water.

Read the full story here.