Federal agencies have a packed schedule for the coming year that includes expected rules targeting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, tightening control over hydraulic fracturing on public lands and updating efficiency requirements on a variety of appliances, according to a sweeping plan released by the White House today.
The fall issue of the biannual "Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions" -- which typically is published in October -- was not nearly as delayed as this year's spring version, which came out in July instead of its traditional April release (Greenwire, July 8). At the same time, its publication right before Thanksgiving will dampen the attention it receives.
The document contains the long- and short-term plans for every agency in the executive branch, detailing both the marquee and the mundane plans being carried out across the federal government.
But notably absent from the agenda is any mention of a controversial Securities and Exchange Commission rulemaking to force resource extraction companies to disclose payments to governments in the United States and abroad.
A U.S. district court judge this summer tossed SEC's original rule, which was developed pursuant to a mandate in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. The agency's next steps remain unclear.
U.S. EPA has a full plate with more than 140 items on the docket, including its high-profile regulations tightening carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing power plants. The rule for future power plants -- proposed earlier this fall -- does not have a finalization date listed but is expected to be done next year.
The rule for existing power plants is on pace for a proposal in June 2014 with finalization in June the following year, according to the agenda.
EPA also lists plans for a long-awaited review of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone pollution, although there is no date for a proposed rulemaking. EPA has said it is still performing analytical work on the rule, and observers expected a proposal would not be issued until late 2014.
The previous attempt to tighten the ozone standards was squelched by the White House in 2010, and environmental groups have expressed concern about the potential for EPA's plans to slip further.
The agency is also considering a NAAQS for lead, which is due to be proposed in July 2014. An implementation rule for the 2012 NAAQS for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is scheduled for May.
The agenda also confirms a February finalization date for the agency's Tier 3 rule lowering the level of sulfur in gasoline. The rule was expected to be done by the end of the year, but a high volume of comments will push it until February.
The agency's controversial proposal to scale back renewable fuel targets for the first time as part of the 2014 renewable fuel standard is listed to be finalized in February. Under the decision announced earlier this month, EPA will require that refiners blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum-based gasoline and diesel next year, a step back from previous targets.
Also on tap: revisions to lead renovation rules, policies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, regulations on refrigerants used in automobile air conditions and regulations on reporting the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
The Interior Department's regulatory agenda contains few surprises.
The agency, which oversees energy development, wildlife protections and recreation on roughly one-fifth of the nation's land and nearly all of its oceans, is still working on rules governing hydraulic fracturing, Arctic drilling, oil shale management and endangered species, among hundreds of others.
High-profile actions include the finalization of the Bureau of Land Management's sweeping hydraulic fracturing regulations, targeted for May 2014.
The rules, released in draft form last May, would require operators to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and demonstrate plans to maintain well-bore integrity and the management of flowback water.
BLM is also still mulling a new onshore oil and gas order that would establish limits for the venting and flaring of natural gas. The order, which would address the escape of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, could align with President Obama's plans to take executive action to curb global climate change.
A proposed rulemaking is scheduled for August 2014.
BLM by May 2014 also plans to release a proposed rule to implement a competitive process for commercial-scale wind and solar development on public lands. BLM has historically processed applications on a first-come, first-served basis, a process the agency has said stifles competition and has led to bureaucratic delays.
An advanced notice of the proposed rules was issued in late 2011.
BLM next May will also finalize a rule governing royalties for oil shale development in the West, the agenda says.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is mulling a bevy of Endangered Species Act regulations, including the near-term finalization of a draft rule to clarify the definition for when species qualify for "threatened" or "endangered" status.
By next month, the agency along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to issue a final policy interpreting the phrase "significant portion of its range" in the 1973 law.
The policy, which has drawn intense opposition from environmental groups and some Democrats, would essentially raise the threshold for when species can receive federal protections, but once they are listed, it would ensure those protections apply more broadly.
Fish and Wildlife next month is also scheduled to issue a proposed rule to redefine the ESA term "destruction or adverse modification" of critical habitat, which could largely influence which areas the agency sets aside for species' survival and recovery.
The bureaus of Ocean Energy Management and Safety and Environmental Enforcement in early 2014 are also expected to issue new rules updating standards for blowout preventers and codifying rules for oil and gas exploration off the Alaskan coast.
The Department of Energy will maintain its renewed focus on energy efficiency requirements for various consumer and industrial appliances, according to its agenda. Among the 82 activities listed on the agenda are new or updated rulemakings covering a variety of products, including residential boilers, vending machines and commercial ice makers.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has made efficiency a key focus of his tenure at DOE and has pushed the department to get back on track with efficiency rules that were delayed. Earlier this week, DOE published a proposal to make electric motors more efficient, marking the fourth efficiency rule rolled out since August (E&ENews PM, Nov. 25).
DOE says in a statement accompanying the agenda that its "regulatory activities are essential to achieving its critical mission and to implementing major initiatives of the President's National Energy Policy," which includes a major push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to confront climate change.
The department also points to its recently proposed efficiency standards for metal halide lamp fixtures, commercial refrigeration equipment, and walk-in coolers and freezers. Cumulatively, those rules would save consumers $11.1 billion to $31.6 billion in reduced energy costs, according to the agenda.
DOE also is undertaking a retrospective analysis on three rulemakings: efficiency standards for battery chargers and external power supplies, procedures to obtain a waiver from certain testing requirements, and potential identification of alternative methods to rate appliance efficiency and determine compliance with applicable standards.
The agenda also shows continued delays for a rule to phase out fossil fuels as an energy source in new or renovated federal buildings. The requirement established in the 2007 energy law has proved especially vexing to implement, and supporters of the coal and natural gas industries say it should be scrapped.
DOE over the summer seemingly acknowledged difficulties implementing the law and said it would produce a supplemental phaseout rule by this fall (Greenwire, July 9). Now, according to the updated agenda, a supplemental rule is not scheduled to be proposed until at least January.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also has a busy agenda, working on about a dozen proposed rules and eight final rules that touch on everything from security issues to nuclear waste storage and reactor designs.
On the safety front, NRC is working through a host of rules to firm up U.S. reactors' plans for withstanding flooding and severe earthquakes.
The rules reflect lessons the agency learned from a 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan that erupted after the island country was hit with a magnitude-9 earthquake and 45-foot tsunami, crippling three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
NRC has said all top-tier actions stemming from Fukushima should be finished by the end of 2016 (ClimateWire, March 7, 2012).
The commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking last March, dubbed the "station blackout" rule, to ensure power-hungry nuclear plants in the United States have the right strategies or equipment on- and off-site -- to cool a reactor's core and hot, spent fuel in nearby pools for an indefinite amount of time if outside power is cut. Comments on the proposed rule were due May 4.
NRC is also revamping seismic studies for U.S. reactors, and agency officials had hoped that any changes in plant designs based on new evaluations of seismic risks would be complete by the end of 2019. Industry, however, has asked for more time to incorporate guidance from the Electric Power Research Institute.
The commission is also continuing the difficult work of revamping its policies for waste storage, even in the absence of a national repository. The commission in September proposed a rule in response to a federal court ruling that found existing policies for waste storage violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately consider the implications of storing spent fuel at reactors for years after operations had ceased (Greenwire, Sept. 13).
The analysis NRC issued alongside the proposed rule concluded there are no environmental issues that would preclude the storage of hot, radioactive waste near reactors for up to 60 years after plants are closed. The rule has drawn the support of the nuclear industry and proponents of nuclear power, while sparking concern among environmental groups that say the analysis is limited and flawed.
Coal and mining
EPA may in the coming weeks release a rule first proposed in 2011 to exempt certain underground CO2 injections from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste regulations. The idea is to promote carbon capture and sequestration efforts.
The agency also listed in the regulatory agenda potential actions to increase oversight of uranium extraction facilities and radon emissions from conventional uranium milling facilities. Environmentalists have for years been pressing for the rules.
Listed under "long term actions" is EPA's rulemaking on the disposal of coal combustion waste material. The agency, by court order, is scheduled to file a timeline for completion in the coming weeks.
Also tucked away in long-term actions is an effort to boost financial assurance requirements for hardrock mines under the Superfund law. Environmental advocates worry about the agency abandoning the effort.
BLM signaled its intent to move forward next year with new rules to govern methane releases from underground coal mines on federal land. Environmental groups want the regulators to mandate capture and possible sale of the powerful greenhouse gas.
BLM is also reviewing a proposal to boost the royalty rate for highwall coal mining, often described as a hybrid between underground and surface coal extraction.
The Office of Surface Mining is moving forward with a plethora of high-interest proposals, including measures to govern the use of coal ash in mine reclamation, boost rules for coal slurry impoundments, encourage the use of coal reclamation dollars for hardrock mine cleanups through liability protection and prevent mine operators from idling projects to delay cleanups.
However, the most controversial rulemaking in OSM's roster remains the so-called stream protection rule to protect waterways from strip coal mining. OSM has promised to release a proposal next year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to tackle more than 140 proposed and final rules regarding fisheries management, from catch-share quotas and electronic monitoring to the establishment of critical habitat for endangered species.
Of note is one regulation that would soon reopen federal waters that were closed to fishing after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Following the explosion of the BP Macondo well and subsequent oil spill, an emergency rule to ban fishing was issued in May 2010 to prevent interference with safety personnel. The regulation has been in effect ever since.
The rule will be terminated because the emergency no longer exists, the agenda said.
The agenda also lists a series of forthcoming hazardous material regulations required by the surface transportation bill signed into law in 2012. MAP-21 requires the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to set new benchmarks for the evaluation and approval of special permits for the transportation of chemicals and other hazardous materials.
The agency will also consider stricter safety rules for the transportation of hazardous material by rail and regulatory changes that cover liquids transported in onshore pipelines.
According to the agenda, the Department of Transportation is also moving forward with the second phase of a rule intended to alert consumers about the benefits of alternative fuel vehicles. DOT is required to raise awareness about hybrid and electric vehicles under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The change would require alternative fuel vehicles to display a special label and include updated energy efficiency information in the cars' owner's manuals.
Reporters Jason Plautz, Phil Taylor, Manuel Quiñones, Hannah Northey, Daniel Bush and Jessica Estepa contributed.
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