8 rules on the new air chief’s agenda

By Niina H. Farah | 07/01/2019 01:23 PM EDT

Anne Idsal begins this week as EPA’s new acting air chief with a full plate of unfinished regulatory actions before her.

EPA headquarters in Washington.

EPA headquarters in Washington. Francis Chung/E&E News

Anne Idsal begins this week as EPA’s new acting air chief with a full plate of unfinished regulatory actions before her.

People tracking EPA’s deregulatory proposals don’t anticipate Bill Wehrum’s
abrupt exit last week will have much effect on the pace of work, even as Idsal gets up to speed on the full scope of the agency’s ambitious agenda.

"It’s unlikely that the Air Office’s deregulatory tempo will change regardless of Wehrum’s departure," said former EPA senior official Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, which tracks environmental deregulation under the Trump administration.


"The transition from Wehrum to Anne Idsal, a political appointee who had already been serving in the EPA, reminds me of the sports cliche, ‘it’s next man/woman up’ so the game can go on," he wrote in an email.

The president has yet to propose a long-term replacement for Wehrum, meaning Idsal could remain in the role for weeks or months. Here’s a list of regulatory actions now under her purview:

Clean cars

Parked cars. Photo credit: Laitr Keiows/Wikimedia Commons
Clean car rules are still pending at EPA’s air office. | Laitr Keiows/Wikimedia Commons

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule would replace more ambitious Obama-era emissions controls.

The Trump administration would hold vehicle standards at 37 mpg through 2026. President Obama had sought to increase vehicle fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

In a marathon five-hour hearing last week, Wehrum suggested the new standards would be "kind of a wash" on emissions when comparing them to the previous administration’s action.

Outside research, however, suggests the rule would result in higher emissions from the transportation sector (E&E Daily, June 21).

The hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee turned out to be one of Wehrum’s last public appearances as an EPA official defending the agency’s agenda.

The administration projected earlier this spring it would release its replacement rule in June, but that deadline has lapsed. Wehrum had said after the June hearing the rule would be released in the coming weeks.

New Source Review

Hunter coal-fired power plant in central Utah. Photo credit: Tricia Simpson/Wikipedia
The Hunter coal-fired power plant in central Utah. | Tricia Simpson/Wikipedia

Many EPA observers are watching closely for how the agency moves forward with changes to its New Source Review program.

The Trump administration has sought to change when power companies have to apply for pre-construction permits when making upgrades or expansions.

The reforms were initially proposed as part of the Affordable Clean Energy rule but were separated out in the final version.

Under the draft ACE rule, states could allow power plant operators to forecast the potential impact of proposed changes in terms of an hourly emissions rate instead of overall annual emissions (Greenwire, Aug. 21, 2018).

A senior administration official told reporters in a press briefing ahead of the ACE rule release to expect NSR revisions from the agency in the next two or three months.


Methane flame in Colorado. Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians/Flickr
Flaring at a well site at Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado. | WildEarth Guardians/Flickr

EPA wants to change the 2016 New Source Performance Standards controlling methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

An Obama-era rule was part of a broader push across North America to slash methane emissions from oil and gas by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels by 2025.

The Obama team also wanted to tackle existing sources but had only just started collecting information on how it could proceed.

Current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated the administration was rethinking regulating the sector as a single source. Instead, the agency could regulate oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage separately.

Wheeler suggested in May that these smaller regulatory categories may end up having such low emissions that they would not qualify for regulation (Energywire, May 24).

The administrator said he anticipated the agency would release a proposal "in the next few months." Those draft changes have been under review at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs since June 10.

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Smokestacks at Big Bend Power Station. Photo credit: Mrs. Gemstone/Flickr
Smokestacks at Big Bend Power Station in Texas. | Mrs. Gemstone/Flickr

EPA wants to make changes to the legal underpinnings of an Obama rule controlling toxic emissions from power plants.

EPA says it doesn’t want to repeal the rule itself. Instead, the administration objects to how its predecessor justified the costs of regulating mercury and other toxic air pollutants from the power sector.

The Obama administration estimated that most of the rule’s monetizable benefits came not from direct reductions of mercury emissions but from the accompanying drops in fine particle pollution.

The Trump team contends there is "gross imbalance" of monetized costs and benefits used to justify the regulation (E&E Daily, May 20).

Critics of the proposed changes see the reversal as part of a larger trend toward downplaying the use of "co-benefits" when justifying rules.

EPA stated in the Spring 2019 Unified Agenda it plans to complete its plan to get rid of the Obama administration’s legal basis for the rule this November.

Cost-benefit reviews

Anne Idsal at a podium. Photo credit: @EPARegion6/Twitter
EPA’s acting air chief Anne Idsal participating in a children’s health symposium during her time as EPA’s Region 6 administrator. | @EPARegion6/Twitter

EPA’s air office is expected to come out with a draft proposal on how it conducts cost-benefit analysis in its rulemaking.

As with the agency’s actions on mercury, critics warn EPA’s rule would preclude the consideration of at least some co-benefits associated with regulating a targeted pollutant.

The administration had initially planned to draft a cost-benefits rule that would apply across the agency but ultimately decided to have each program office prepare one separately, an approach preferred by industry groups.

Wheeler said in May a proposal from the air office would come out later this year.

Emissions from new or modified plants

Dave Johnston power plant in Glenrock. Photo credit: PacifiCorp
The Dave Johnston power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. | PacifiCorp

While the Trump administration has just finalized its replacement for the Clean Power Plan, EPA has yet to finish its replacement for a related rule covering emissions from new and modified power plants.

EPA’s final New Source Performance Standards action would raise the level of allowable carbon emissions for large power plants from 1,400 pounds per megawatt-hour to 1,900 pounds per MWh.

It would also shift the "best system of emissions reductions" away from the use of partial carbon capture and storage technology (Climatewire, Dec. 7, 2018).

EPA projected in the Spring 2019 Unified Agenda that it would finalize the rule, also a rollback of an Obama-era action, in September.

Airplane emissions

Plane on tarmac. Photo credit: Harry Pherson/Flickr
A plane lands at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. | Harry Pherson/Flickr

The Trump administration is planning to draft regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft. The proposed standards and test procedures are expected to be "at least as stringent" as rules set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2017.

Critics of following ICAO’s lead have called the international standard "basically meaningless" because industry efficiency improvements were already outpacing ICAO (Climatewire, July 21, 2016).

EPA had first moved to begin regulating emissions from aircraft when it established an endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions for aircraft in 2016. That determination requires the agency to draft regulations to control emissions from the sector.

EPA says it will release a proposed rule in September, according to the Unified Agenda.

Wood heaters

Wood stove heater. Photo credit: Steven Johnson/Flickr
EPA’s residual wood heater rule is still pending. | Steven Johnson/Flickr

EPA is working on easing emissions requirements for the wood stove industry outlined in 2015 New Source Performance Standards.

The Obama-era rule was the first update to the stove standards since 1988 and would have required the redesign of wood-heating appliances to reduce fine particle pollution, which poses risks to heart and lung health. The rule would have also increased appliances’ performance and made them more efficient.

The agency under the Trump administration has proposed extending the amount of time higher emitting hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces can stay on the market. The rule would allow units manufactured before a May 2020 compliance date to be sold for two additional years.

The agency also sought comment on whether it should extend the amount of time retailers could sell their existing inventory and whether the agency should amend its pellet fuel requirements (E&E News PM, Nov. 26, 2018). EPA estimates the final rule will be done in October.

Reporter Sean Reilly contributed.