Environment: House Continues Focus On Reining In EPA Authority | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 4 | p. 25
Issue Date: January 23, 2012 | Web Date: January 24, 2012

Environment: House Continues Focus On Reining In EPA Authority

Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: EPA, Congress, IRIS, risk assessment, regulatory reform

A top priority for the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology this year, a committee aide says, is improving science at the Environmental Protection Agency by renewing the law that authorizes R&D at the agency—the Environmental Research, Development & Demonstration Authorization Act.

A number of Republicans on the committee said last year that changes to the agency’s science program are needed to halt what they view as economically harmful regulations from EPA.

“The right reforms to EPA R&D programs will not only improve trust in the science that informs regulatory decisions, it will also provide a framework to prioritize the most important functions and reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending elsewhere,” says Rep. Andy P. Harris (R-Md.). Harris chairs the Science, Space & Technology Subcommittee on Energy & Environment.

In addition, the House science committee will continue holding oversight hearings this year on EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a research program that assesses the hazards from exposure to chemicals. “The committee continues to have serious concerns regarding the quality of the assessments produced and transparency of the IRIS process,” the panel’s aide tells C&EN. Lawmakers will closely monitor EPA’s implementation of the National Academy of Sciences recommendations, made last year, for improving the program, he says.

Congress will also face pressure from chemical manufacturers to pass legislation that would delay new EPA rules governing toxic air emissions from industrial boilers. To meet a court-ordered deadline, the agency in March 2011 issued a set of control standards for mercury and other air pollutants from boilers.

But in May, shortly before the rules were to enter into force, EPA announced that it would delay the effective date of the standards until after it revised the regulations to address cost and feasibility concerns raised by various industries.

In December, EPA proposed tweaks to the rules that agency officials say will make implementation 50% less costly for industry than the original proposal. EPA plans to finalize the changes in April. But on Jan. 9, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturned EPA’s decision to delay the start date for the standards, saying the action was not legally justified.

By requiring the rules to take effect now, the order creates uncertainty for business and puts U.S. investment at risk, says Calvin M. Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group. “The decision reaffirms the need for legislation to ensure industry has adequate time to comply,” he remarks.

The Senate, Dooley asserts, should “quickly approve” the EPA Regulatory Relief Act (S. 1392), which would direct EPA to develop new rules that are easier to implement and delay the compliance deadline for industry until at least 2018. The Republican-dominated House passed a companion bill (H.R. 2250) on Oct. 13, 2011. However, the measure faces an uphill fight in the Democrat-led Senate, and the White House has threatened a veto.

Meanwhile, three bills are pending in the Senate that would restrict federal agencies’ ability to regulate. The House passed the measures last month (C&EN, Dec. 12, 2011, page 6).

Chances are fairly slim, however, that the Senate will take up two of those measures, H.R. 10 and H.R. 527, says Jessica Randall, federal regulatory program analyst at OMB Watch, a watchdog group that focuses on regulation and the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB).

H.R. 10 would require Senate and House approval of major regulations—those with an annual impact on the economy of $100 million or more—before they could take effect. H.R. 527 would require agencies to conduct more analysis of the impact of planned regulations on small businesses than is currently required.

But a number of senators have expressed interest in debating the third bill, the proposed Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 3010), Randall tells C&EN. This measure would add to the numerous procedures that agencies must follow before issuing a rule. The legislation would also provide more opportunities for industry and activists to challenge federal regulations. OMB Watch and other groups say H.R. 3010 would essentially halt federal rule-making for public health, workplace safety, and environmental standards.

The White House has indicated that President Barack Obama would veto any of the three regulatory reform bills, should the Senate pass them.

 
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