Biden outlines regulatory plans for the rest of his term

By Kevin Bogardus | 07/08/2024 01:36 PM EDT

The president’s future regulations are vulnerable to being overturned if Donald Trump wins the White House in November.

President Joe Biden speaks to active-duty military service members and their families during a Fourth of July celebration at the White House.

President Joe Biden, pictured here Thursday, issued the spring Unified Agenda on Friday outlining his regulatory plans for the upcoming months. Susan Walsh/AP

President Joe Biden shared his road map for upcoming regulations that are under threat by a potential second Trump administration.

The White House on Friday released the spring Unified Agenda, showing agencies’ timelines for rules dealing with everything from natural gas power plants to household appliances. The document comes as Biden is in a fierce campaign dogfight with former President Donald Trump, who plans to pull back many of the rules if he wins the race.

The regulatory agenda “can usually best be seen as a wish list,” which is particularly tricky during an election year, said Stuart Shapiro, a dean and public policy professor at Rutgers University.


“The time frames listed there are usually ambitious, and administrations rarely complete anything near their complete list of intended actions,” Shapiro told POLITICO’s E&E News. “I find it is best seen as signaling to interest groups, ‘This is what we want to do.'”

This agenda also arrives after the Biden administration completed a regulatory sprint this spring as energy and environmental agencies finalized significant rules. That push was crucial to the president’s legacy, shielding those regulations from being overturned quickly next year if he loses the White House.

Under the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers can offer resolutions to ax rules, including if they were finalized during the law’s “look-back” window of the previous session’s last 60 legislative days. Some experts say that window has already opened, while others believe it could come later this summer. That deadline will be determined by when Congress adjourns later this year.

If Trump were to become president again and his GOP allies made gains on Capitol Hill, they could use that part of the law in 2025 to attack Biden’s regulations finalized late in his term.

“Now that the Congressional Review Act deadline is nearing, anything not yet issued is at risk of repeal if Trump wins and the GOP takes Congress,” Shapiro said. “If Biden wins, the agenda is a decent list of what he would try to do in a second term.”

Sam Berger, associate administrator of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, touted the proposed rules in a blog post Friday. He said the agenda continues “this Administration’s progress in delivering for the American people, including by investing in America, lowering costs for families, combating climate change, and growing the economy from the middle out and bottom up.”

Wayne Crews, a fellow in regulatory studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, said the administration has entered a lull as it manages the remainder of Biden’s first term and prepares for his second if the president’s campaign prevails.

“There’s no need to rock the boat now during an election year,” Crews said.

James Goodwin, policy director for the Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal-leaning regulatory think tank, said the agenda can spell out what the administration intends to do in a message to potential voters.

“The results, the effectiveness of the administration, in fulfilling the mandate that it received when it won the election,” Goodwin said. “It’s ‘promises kept’ may be the way to summarize that.”

Noting the uncertainty of the upcoming election, “anything that’s on here has little chance of being finalized if Trump wins,” Goodwin said, adding, “It really does come down to who wins, right? Elections have consequences.”

Other challenges lie ahead as the Supreme Court threw a wrench into the rulemaking process. Shapiro noted the recent decision overturning the Chevron doctrine, which said courts should yield to agencies’ reasonable regulations when their statutory authority is unclear, could affect the regulatory plan.

“I doubt it will affect the contents of the agenda much,” Shapiro said. “But it probably makes the time frames listed in the agenda even less realistic since now agencies have to craft rules that have a reasonable chance of surviving the new legal regime.”

EPA rules

EPA’s highly anticipated rule on greenhouse gas emissions from existing natural gas power plants is coming after Election Day.

The agency is expected to issue the proposed rule in December, according to the regulatory agenda. Those standards were originally part of EPA’s rule curbing power plants’ carbon emissions that were finalized earlier this year.

Of some 50 other Clean Air Act rulemakings on the roster, agency officials hope to release this month the final version of a far-reaching update to hazardous air pollutant reporting requirements. The update is undergoing a routine review at the White House regulations office.

Now slated for completion this September is one of the air office’s last remaining do-overs prompted by a Trump-era rollback: a final rule addressing the 2020 repeal of the “once in, always in” policy.

That approach, which dated back decades, required factories and other industrial plants to stick with the “maximum achievable” controls for air toxics even when their emissions fell below the thresholds that triggered that requirement in the first place. The draft rule, released last September, stopped short of exact restoration of the earlier policy; it has drawn flak from both industrial and environmental groups.

EPA expects to finalize restrictions for three widely used “high priority” chemicals each linked to cancer. The agency’s risk management rules on trichloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride are slated to be published this September, with perchloroethylene expected in August.

The Biden administration expects to wrap up the last of its rules on implementing the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act — updates to its framework for new chemicals reviews — by August.

Also on the agenda for the first time is 6PPD, a chemical used in tires and rubbers, and its byproduct 6PPD-q, which has killed large swaths of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. EPA expects to launch its information-collecting stage in December with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.

EPA is still on track to finalize a landmark regulation to virtually eliminate lead from drinking water by October, according to the agenda. The rule would give utilities 10 years to replace lead pipes, which have caused major public health crises in multiple cities.

Still, some regulations to reduce the spread of “forever chemicals” through rivers and streams are months or years away. One upcoming rule, which would set wastewater standards for PFAS from chemical and plastic plants, will be proposed by September of this year — three and a half years after the agency announced the rule.

On biofuels policy, EPA said it would combine next year’s announcement of minimum biofuel blending through the renewable fuel standard with proposed changes to improve the program’s implementation. A notice of proposed rulemaking is slated for March, with a final rule envisioned for December 2025.

Interior rules

The Interior Department anticipates a busy December, including action on several long-awaited policies that got pushed back until after the November election.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is now scheduled to announce by Dec. 4 a decision on whether to designate the monarch butterflyas threatened or endangered. The agency was initially set to announce its decision in September, but it secured a 90-day delay.

Rules governing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are also now set for a December decision. The agency had once appeared close to completing its work on a permit system, but a proposed rule was yanked from the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs last December.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested creation of a new permitting system that might allow companies to accidentally harm or kill a certain number of birds if they also take certain steps to mitigate harm.

December is also the target date for the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a proposal to promote the “biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health” of the FWS refuge system.

This has excited considerable interest, with the Fish and Wildlife Service having received more than 146,000 public comments on its proposal.

The Biden administration also continues to stiffen offshore oil rules and may limit who can drill for oil in the ocean.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement plans to finish a rule this summer that would force offshore oil companies to obtain a bond to cover penalties before they can contest them at the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

The agency also aims to update 22-year-old oil spill response regulations.

In a potentially significant shift for offshore oil companies, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to ink long-awaited “fitness to operate” standards in January of 2025. The rules would limit which companies are allowed to drill for oil and gas in the ocean by judging their financial status, environmental record or other metrics.

The National Park Service said it will issue a public notice by December on a proposed rule that would eliminate fees for commercial “low impact” filming, even if the footage is used to generate income.

And by May of next year, NPS said it would issue similar notices for proposed rules that would designate routes for off-road vehicles at Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida and for horses and bicycles at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Energy rules

The Department of Energy is rolling out new regulations on the energy efficiency of household appliances. That regulatory program — enacted into law decades ago — obligates DOE to periodically increase energy efficiency requirements for appliances.

DOE plans to finalize regulations on commercial ice-makers in September, commercial refrigerators and freezers in November, walk-in coolers and freezers in November, residential boilers in December, and other appliance categories.

The Biden administration’s plans on appliance efficiency come amid Republican pressure to rein in regulations. This week, the House will vote on two Republican bills that aim to make it more difficult to regulate refrigerators and dishwashers.

Critics of the appliance regulations say they increase costs, but DOE says the regulations proposed and finalized under Biden “save the average family $100 a year through lower utility bills.” DOE also says the regulations together will cut 2.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas.

In the final months of this year, DOE also plans to update eligibility and other requirements for its weatherization assistance program, which helps tens of thousands of low-income households retrofit homes.

Agriculture and NOAA rules

The Department of Agriculture said it would seek to codify its higher blends infrastructure program, which helps expand availability of higher-ethanol fuels. That proposed rule would be ready in May 2025, the USDA said.

EPA also said it would publish a final rule in August updating the worker protection standards for pesticide use, including regulations around who’s permitted to be within a certain zone where pesticides are being applied.

The Forest Service said it would propose regulations in January to advance carbon stewardship in national forests through vegetation management and land use. But timing for a separate notice of proposed rulemaking on forest and grassland climate resilience, responding to Biden’s executive order on forests and climate, remains to be determined, the USDA said.

On a more bipartisan effort, the USDA said it’s drawing closer to creating the greenhouse gas technical assistance program provided for in the Growing Climate Solutions Act. A notice of proposed rulemaking is slated for August, with a final rule to come in October.

Before the end of 2024, the Forest Service expects to finalize a rule that would allow it to consider carbon storage projects on forest system land. The rule would exempt carbon capture and storage from an existing Forest Service prohibition on the permanent or “perpetual” use of national forests and grasslands.

The Forest Service released a proposed rule in November and had aimed to issue a final rule in spring of this year. The Unified Agenda said a “final action” would come around December.

NOAA said it would take final action by November on its long-delayed rule to impose speed limits on more boaters along the Atlantic coast with hopes of reducing collisions with endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The agency had promised to finalize the rule last year but missed its deadline.

Treasury rules

The agenda also reflects the administration’s push to finalize a host of new rules tied to implementing the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the nation’s biggest climate law.

The Treasury Department is moving to complete a proposal floated in May that would give big breaks to clean energy projects built in 2025 and potentially decades into the future.

The Unified Agenda for the first time includes a proposal to add credits under Sections 45Y and 48E of the IRA for electric power projects that eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, including those that use fossil fuels. According to the agenda, Treasury plans to wrap up public comment in August.

Also on the horizon is a proposed rule, which the agency originally released in December, to create production credits for clean hydrogen under the IRA, also known as 45V. In recent months, companies poised to produce hydrogen have urged the Biden administration to move faster to implement and finalize the credits.

Despite those calls, Treasury is slated to review public comments to the proposal through July with no date set for finalizing the rule.

Reporters Carlos Anchondo, Ellie Borst, Brian Dabbs, Michael Doyle, Marc Heller, Rob Hotakainen, Hannah Northey, Sean Reilly, Heather Richards and Miranda Willson contributed.