Democrat calls Pruitt move on Clean Air Act reviews ‘illegal’

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, May 11, 2018

Initial congressional reaction to a newly announced overhaul of EPA policies for setting air pollution standards broke sharply along party lines, as several congressional Republicans today hailed it as a needed fix to a flawed process while one Democrat labeled it an “illegal” attempt to bypass a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

“I applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to improve implementation of the Clean Air Act,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement soon after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the changes in an 11-page memo this morning.

Besides giving certainty to states and businesses, Barrasso said, the overhaul will also ensure that the agency “considers all relevant data and information when it makes decisions.”

A spokeswoman for EPW ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) had no immediate comment this afternoon. But Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in a news release that the planned changes to the review mechanisms for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and five other pollutants would take the United States back to the day “when cities were shrouded in lethal air pollution.”

By requiring EPA to take potential economic effects into account during the NAAQS review process, Beyer added, Pruitt is attempting to circumvent the high court’s 2001 decision in the case known as Whitman v. American Trucking Associations that the agency cannot consider implementation costs in setting air quality standards.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is supposed to review the standards for ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and carbon monoxide every five years to assess whether they protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. In reality, EPA rarely, if ever, meets that timetable (Greenwire, May 10).

In the memo, Pruitt says EPA will now “look for efficiencies and opportunities” to streamline reviews so they finish on time.

Agency officials are now also supposed to strive to issue implementation regulations at the same time they revise the standards for any of the six pollutants. The lag time has been a particular source of industry complaints in the agency’s handling of its ground-level ozone standard.

After tightening the standard to 75 parts per billion in 2008, the agency did not issue the formal implementation regulations until March 2015, only seven months before it again reset the threshold to 70 ppb. As a result, critics said, states and local governments now have to juggle implementation of two separate standards.

“We hope today’s announcement leads to better, more effective regulations and improved air quality,” Ross Eisenberg, vice president for energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.

Also welcoming the policy changes was Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), lead sponsor of H.R. 806, a bill that would delay implementation of the 70 ppb standard until 2025.

In a statement released by EPA, Olson thanked Pruitt and said he looked forward to working with him “as we continue to move towards standards that improve air quality while reducing unnecessary red tape.”

After passing the House last year, Olson’s bill is still awaiting action by the Senate EPW Committee.