On January 7, federal agencies, including EPA, published in the Federal Register the Agency’s proposed regulatory agendas for 2014. EPA’s agenda was generally consistent with the unified agenda published prior to Thanksgiving.
EPA’s agenda will propose final or substantial action on a range of issues including climate change, reforming certain chemical regulations, and updating water regulations. Many of these have long been in the regulatory pipeline. For example, EPA’s rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions for new fossil fuel-fired power plants will apparently finally go forward in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emission. EPA also is prepared to issue a final rule in the long-delayed changes to the definition of solid waste. And it appears that the agency will propose rulemaking in the latter half of the year to obtain data on the chemicals in materials used in hydraulic fracturing. While this is a significant agenda, there is continued uncertainty and delay with respect to issuance of a final rule on coal ash management, ozone pollution, and certain drinking water standards.
Despite this somewhat mixed bag, the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives announced that it will begin its legislative activity with a bill intended to curb EPA actions. Specifically, the House is expected to consider H.R. 2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act. In its latest version, H.R. 2279 combines three that were approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last year. The original H.R. 2279 would remove a requirement that EPA review regulations under the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act every three years. Subsequent action combined two other proposals: the first is the Federal Facility Accountability Act, which would require all federally-owned facilities to comply with state requirements on hazardous substances, and the second, the Federal and State Partnership for Environmental Protection Act, would require consultation with the states before federal environmental laws are enforced. In discussing the proposals as a part of its agenda for beginning the second session of this Congress, Republican leaders described the expanded H.R. 2279 as being intended to reduce red tape and limit actions that inhibit job creation while, at the same time, keeping a healthy environment.
While the House agenda does not commonly signal legislation that ultimately makes its way through the entire Congress for the President’s signature, it does tend to indicate the increasing attention that members of the House are putting on environmental issues. For example, this follows legislation approved by the House and having bipartisan support in the Senate to restrict EPA’s authority over regulation of coal ash. Thus, the actions reflect a continued, and arguably widening, gap between the administration’s policies and those of the Republican leadership House of Representatives. This can potentially become all the more significant if the Republicans succeed in getting control of the entire Congress during mid-term elections.