White House outlines path for power plant rules, other environmental actions

Source: Jean Chemnick and Jason Plautz, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2013

U.S. EPA plans to make good on the president’s pledge to expedite regulations for new and existing power plant greenhouse gas emissions, according to a regulatory rundown released by the White House late last week.

The “Spring 2013 Unified Agenda” posted on the White House’s website shows that the agency plans to release a new proposal for greenhouse gas emissions for future power plants by September and a first-time proposal for existing power plants by next June. That timeline tracks with the memorandum signed by President Obama on July 25, which formed the centerpiece of his Climate Action Plan.

The agenda also lays the path for a number of expected clean air and chemical regulations, including limits on ozone pollution, limits on sulfur in gasoline and regulation of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

EPA sent the future power plant proposal to the White House for interagency review last week. The White House has said the existing source standard will be the product of extensive consultations with stakeholders including utilities, labor and the states — a process that observers say is likely to begin after Labor Day.

The memorandum calls for the existing power plant rule to become final by June 2015, but the regulatory agenda does not specify a date. It does call for EPA to release a final rule next month making a change to the Hazardous Waste Management System to allow for carbon sequestration.

The administration is required to publish a rundown of intended regulatory actions twice a year in the Federal Register under the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980.

Republicans have long complained that the White House has failed to deliver the agendas — typically due in April and October — on time. In 2012, the only document was published in December, prompting claims from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that the administration “broke the law … and broke the president’s promise to be transparent” (E&E Daily, Dec. 28, 2012).

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) proposed legislation that would fine EPA $20,000 a week for missing deadlines in its regulatory agenda-setting (Greenwire, Feb. 13).

James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform, said today that while he was happy to see the White House release an agenda reinforcing the president’s promises, it wasn’t enough to reassure him that the rules would move forward in a timely manner.

“Frankly, these rules have been delayed again and again and again,” Goodwin said. He noted that EPA previously committed to craft greenhouse gas rules for both new and existing power plants under the terms of a 2010 settlement agreement with states and environmental groups and has blown past deadlines to complete work on both.

“It’s nice to see these words on the paper all line up,” Goodwin said. “But I’m not going to be happy until I see actual action.”

The agenda also offers a series of long-term actions the agency plans to undertake after this year. But while EPA has committed to eventually craft rules for the petroleum refining sector under the terms of another settlement agreement, the regulatory road map does not indicate that those are on the horizon.

Republicans in the House are already moving to head off these and other environmental regulations, which they say would have disastrous economic effects.

House GOP leaders have said they will hold a vote before the August recess on a bill by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would make the Department of Energy responsible for vetting any new energy-related EPA regulations for economic cost. Rules deemed too costly could not be promulgated.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will vote on the bill Wednesday (E&E Daily, July 8).

According to the agenda, EPA is still planning to review national ambient air quality standards for ozone pollution, although it’s listed a long-term action with no firm date. EPA said last month that it is still conducting analytical work on the rule, which would likely put it on track to issue a proposal in late 2014 (Greenwire, June 21).

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said the listing likely meant that EPA won’t deal with the ozone rule — already quashed once by the White House — “until a court orders them to do so.”

The Tier 3 rule, which would slash the amount of sulfur in gasoline, is also listed as being finalized in December 2013. Environmentalists have urged EPA to ensure that it doesn’t slip past the end of the year and thus miss a model year of cars starting in 2017.

And a rule that would restrict formaldehyde emissions from wood products, including plywood and fiberboard, is listed as being completed in July 2014, despite a bill that required EPA to finalize the rule before the end of 2012. The standards — proposed at the end of May — would align the United States with California on limits for how much formaldehyde can be released from composite wood products sold or manufactured in the United States.

Also on tap: revisions to lead renovation rules, regulations on refrigerants used in automobile air conditioners, air quality designations for sulfur dioxide pollution and additions to EPA’s chemicals of concern list, due in October.

The agenda’s listing of a long-awaited stormwater rule as a long-term action came as yet another signal to stakeholders that the regulation has stalled at the agency.

The rule, which environmentalists say is critical to cleaning up polluted waterways, is expected to set first-ever national requirements for private property owners to curb stormwater runoff. But industry groups say it could be one of the most expensive regulations ever promulgated by EPA (Greenwire, July 5).

Under a 2010 settlement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, EPA was supposed to propose the rule in September 2011, but the agency received multiple deadline extensions. Frustrated with the lack of progress, the foundation last month moved to reopen the lawsuit if it cannot reach an agreement with the agency on a timeline for releasing the regulation (Greenwire, June 18).

Arctic drilling among new Interior regs

The White House agenda also notes several significant rulemaking efforts at the Interior Department, including new regulations for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and for the flaring and venting of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells on public lands.

Making its first appearance on the regulatory agenda is a proposed rule from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that would codify regulations for drilling in the oil-rich Arctic Ocean, where at least three major energy firms are pursuing exploration.

Former Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes in May said those regulations will mirror the voluntary steps Royal Dutch Shell PLC agreed to take during its 2012 Arctic exploration season, which included an oil spill containment plan and the ability to drill a relief well, among other steps

Hayes at the time said he believed the agency would issue draft rules by the end of the year.

“There will be clarity going forward,” Hayes said, noting that industry would be given flexibility for how it complies with performance-based standards.

It appears Interior has pushed to 2014 the release of a separate set of rules aiming to strengthen the integrity of blowout preventers, the hulking devices used to stanch the flow of oil or gas from an out-of-control well. BP PLC’s blowout preventer failed to prevent the escape of oil and gas from the Macondo well in April 2010, leading to the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

The blowout preventer rule was listed on the White House’s long-term agenda, and the proposed rule is tentatively scheduled for October 2014. The administration deemed it “economically significant,” which means it could be costly to implement.

“The industry has developed new standards for BOP design and testing that contain significant improvements to existing documents,” the White House said in its description of the rule. “By incorporating these new requirements into regulations and other supplemental requirements, the regulatory oversight over this critical equipment will be increased.”

The Bureau of Land Management is continuing to evaluate a proposed rule to establish standards to “limit the waste of vented and flared gas and to define the appropriate use of oil and gas for beneficial use.”

The rule appears to address a significant concern environmentalists have about the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells on public lands. Environmentalists claim current affordable technologies could keep more methane in pipelines to be burned for heat and power, but BLM has been hesitant to require that those technologies be used. BLM’s proposed “onshore order 9” is scheduled for release in May 2014, according to a description of the rule.

Environmental groups continue to pressure the agency for tougher regulations in federal court (Greenwire, June 17).

BLM also continues to pursue rules that would provide for the competitive leasing of wind and solar energy on public lands, for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing and to address the royalty rate for oil shale.

BOEM is also pursuing a rule that would set a preliminary term of one year for offshore wind companies that lease federal waters to submit a site assessment or general activities plan to encourage diligent development of renewable energy.