When the new Executive branch rolled into Washington, D.C. earlier this year, it seemed certain that at least some
of the signature environmental regulations promulgated by US EPA between 2008 and 2017 would be re-considered, scaled back, or undone.
During his tenure as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt played a prominent role in challenging many EPA requirements, which led many to believe he would work to take what some consider overly burdensome rules “off the books.”
For a while, things proceeded as expected. EPA announced delays of major Obama-era environmental rules, including:
Now, it seems, the tables have turned—today Pruitt and his EPA face their own set of legal challenges from Attorneys General and environmental groups across the US.
EPA Reverses Course on New Ozone NAAQS
On August 2, EPA announced it would reverse its decision to delay making area designations for the lowered ozone NAAQS finalized in 2015. This Final Rule lowered the permissible NAAQS from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb.
Once the new ozone NAAQS was finalized, EPA had two years—until October 1, 2017—to make what are called “area designations.” These designations determine which areas of the US are in compliance with the new standard, and which are not. Those that do not meet the new standard are deemed “non-attainment areas” under the new NAAQS. Stricter Clean Air Act reporting and pollution control requirements apply to construction and modification of facilities in these areas.
Administrator Pruitt announced he would use his authority to delay these NAAQS designations for one year, until October 1, 2018. This week, 15 State Attorneys General filed suit against EPA, claiming this delay was not covered under legal authority granted to the Administrator under 42 U.S.C. 7407(d)(1)(B)(i)—which states clearly that the deadline for area designations “may be extended for up to one year in the event that the Administrator has insufficient information to promulgate the decisions.” On August 2, EPA announced
it has more sufficient information than previously thought and now plans to complete the NAAQS designations by the October 1, 2017 deadline.
Regulating Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector
In June 2017, EPA announced it would stay for two years and ultimately re-consider New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that aim to cut emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas well and compression station sites.
A D.C. circuit court heard a suit against EPA’s stay of the NSPS and in July 2017 ruled that EPA must vacate its stay
. EPA did not appeal this decision.
EPA Sued Over Clean Air Act Risk Management Plan Delay
EPA also faces a lawsuit from a workers’ union and other groups over its June 14, 2017 Final Rule to delay implementation of new Clean Air Act Risk Management Plan requirements
intended to prevent large-scale chemical disasters.
Proposed in March 2016 and estimated to impact 12,500 facilities, the rule bolstered emergency preparedness requirements for facilities that store large volumes of hazardous chemicals.
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