Sep 19 2011

Two (More) Steps Back: EPA Postpones Two More Rules

Published by at 10:37 am under News

EPA Headquarters in Washington D.C., via wikimedia

 

Coming close on the heels of the postponement of a long-anticipated overhaul of the ozone air pollution regulations, the EPA has announced that it will be delaying two more regulations: rules for greenhouse gas emissions from major stationary sources and a chemical assessment of trichloroethylene (TCE).  TCE is particularly important as it is a major contaminant present at most Superfund sites and commonly used in products like metal degreaser.  Though the greenhouse gas rule is more notorious, the delay there is probably less controversial.  Environmentalists seem generally understanding that a complicated undertaking like stationary source greenhouse gas limits is likely to take longer than originally thought.  The September 30 deadline set by court order is currently being renegotiated between the EPA and environmental groups that originally brought the case.

However, it comes at an awkward time, paired as it is with the ozone rule and TCE assessment delays.  Both have been roundly criticized as examples of the Obama White House meddling in decisions that should be based on science.  Specifically, the White House is charged with putting pressure on the Integrated Risk Information System program (IRIS), which was put on the Government Accountability Office’s “high risk list” for government agencies they deemed as troubled.  President Obama had promised to invigorate IRIS and hired new high ranking staff in a effort to do just that.  Now, environmentalists see the delay on TCE as a move away from that promise as election season draws nearer.  Mostly, they place the bulk of the blame on Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff, and his empowerment of Cass Sunstein, who has written extensively on the dangers of over-regulation.  Mr. Sunstein runs the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which green watchdogs say is where regulations go to die.  Certainly Mr. Sunstein should take at least partial responsibility for the ozone rule’s postponement; the final link on this page discusses the letter he sent to the EPA asking them for what is now only the first of several delays.

NYTimes: “Greens See Politics Trumping Science as EPA Delays Chemical Assessment”

President Obama’s decision to abandon U.S. EPA’s new air pollution standards for ozone early this month sparked angry reactions from environmentalists and made headlines nationwide.

But Obama’s administration made another controversial regulatory move the same day that few noticed: EPA delayed the release of its assessment of health risks posed by trichloroethylene (TCE), according to multiple sources, including an EPA official.

More than 10 years in the making, the health assessment is a step that might lead to standards on TCE, a common industrial solvent that is suspected of causing cancer.

NPR: “EPA Postpones Power Plant Emissions Rule”

STEVE INSKEEP, host: News about the Arctic ice coincides with this news from the United States: The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to postpone new rules that would limit emissions of climate-warming gases from power plants. This is the second time this month the EPA has either withdrawn or postponed new pollution rules that industry did not like. Here’s NPR’s Christopher Joyce.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The EPA got itself into hot water with environmental groups early this month when it scrapped new rules to limit industrial emissions of ozone. Ozone can cause health problems. Now, the agency says it cannot make a September 30th deadline for new rules that would limit greenhouse gases that warm the climate. The U.S. Supreme Court says EPA has the authority to do that, but industry and many members of Congress have fought the plan. Some environmental groups say both decisions look as if President Obama has caved in to opponents who say the rules would hurt the economy. Another view, however, is that controlling greenhouse gases is very complex…

NYTimes:  “Greenhouse Gas Rule Delayed” 

To the surprise of almost no one, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed on Thursday that it would not meet a Sept. 30 deadline for issuing rules governing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major sources.

The agency had been under court order to present proposed rules for limiting such emissions by the end of the month but has negotiated an extension while it wrestles with the complex technical and economic issues raised by the proposal.

An E.P.A. official said that a new timetable for issuing the regulations would be forthcoming “soon.” He said that the decision to delay the proposed rule was driven by agency considerations and not by political pressure from the White House.

– NYTimes“Stung by the President on Air Quality, Environmentalists Weigh Their Options”

For environmental groups, it was the final hard slap that brought a long-troubled relationship to the brink.

In late August, the State Department gave a crucial go-ahead on a controversial pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Then on Friday, leading into the holiday weekend, the Obama administration announced without warning that it was walking away from stricter ozone pollution standards that it had been promising for three years and instead sticking with Bush-era standards.

John D. Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group based in New York, likened the ozone decision to a “bomb being dropped.”

Legal Planet: “The Ozone Rule: What Sunstein Didn’t Say”

On September 2, Cass Sunstein wrote a letter to Lisa Jackson about the ozone rule, “requesting” that EPA withdraw the regulation.  Beyond the fact that it was written at all, the letter is remarkable for its significant silences…

The evasive gaps in the letter convey a clear message: the White House made a political decision, plain and simple.  Principle had nothing to do with it.

Jackson could have eliminated the need for the letter by taking the initiative in withdrawing the rule.  Instead, she apparently insisted on a public request from Sunstein to make it clear that she was complying unwillingly. That’s to her credit.

 

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