Obama admin updates sweeping regulatory agenda

By Manuel Quiñones | 11/20/2015 01:21 PM EST

The Obama administration has released updated timelines for a wide array of regulatory actions, including efforts for states to comply with greenhouse gas reductions. Agencies will also tackle numerous air pollution standards, drilling and mining regulations, water and agriculture rules and chemical restrictions.

The Obama administration has released updated timelines for a wide array of regulatory actions, including efforts for states to comply with greenhouse gas reductions.

Agencies will also tackle numerous air pollution standards, drilling and mining regulations, water and agriculture rules and chemical restrictions.

U.S. EPA plans to release its final model of carbon trading schemes for complying with the Clean Power Plan in August, said the latest version of the unified regulatory agenda.


The Clean Power Plan requires states to put in place plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The agency’s trading models published in October are meant to guide states as they design those plans.

A state implementation plan that adheres to the model trading rules would likely be approved, EPA has said.

The agency’s proposal contains two types of models: One for achieving rate-based CO2 reductions from power plants and one for achieving CO2 emission caps. The agency is allowing states to choose either method of compliance for the Clean Power Plan.

EPA has also proposed a federal implementation plan for states that do not submit their own plans, as several opponents of the Clean Power Plan have threatened. But the agency did not issue a timeline for releasing that final federal plan.

EPA has indicated that it will only finalize FIPs for individual states when states definitely say they won’t comply or submit plans that are noncompliant.

EPA is also aiming to finalize its regulations to cut methane and volatile organic compounds from the oil and gas sector in 2016, said the regulatory agenda. Along with the Clean Power Plan, the rules are a key part of the Obama administration’s climate vision.

Air pollution, DOE

On the air front, EPA plans to issue final revisions to its "exceptional events" rule next August after releasing a notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this month.

The proposal is getting close attention in light of the agency’s new 70-parts-per-billion standard for ground-level ozone; the agency has said that the exceptional events rule could be a tool for addressing high levels of background ozone not due to local human activity.

EPA has also set an August time frame for a final rule on its interstate ozone transport regulations. A final rule on its review of the national ambient air quality standards for lead is scheduled for June.

The agency also plans to put out a proposal next month for cost consideration in setting mercury and air toxics standards. EPA intends to follow up with release of a final rule in May.

The Department of Energy is planning to move ahead on energy efficiency rules or energy conservation standards for a range of appliances, including central conditioners and heat pumps, small electric motors, portable air conditioners, general service lamps, residential dishwashers, ceiling fans, chargers and dedicated-purpose pool pumps.

It also plans to move to a final rule on energy conservation standards for residential non-weatherized gas furnaces, which has divided many efficiency and industry stakeholders (Greenwire, July 14, 2015).

President Obama has pledged to cut carbon emissions 3 billion tons by 2030 through final energy efficiency standards on appliances and federal buildings, and has only completed standards covering about 2 billion of those tons.

Interior, Forest Service

The Bureau of Land Management plans to release a proposed rule as early as next month to curb the venting and flaring of natural gas from drilling projects on public lands. The rule seeks to prevent the waste of publicly owned minerals and maximize revenue for taxpayers.

BLM plans to propose a rule by next spring requiring that applications for drilling permits be filed electronically, a move that aims to expedite the review and approval process for new and modified wells.

By next March, the agency is set to release a proposed rule that could result in higher royalty and rental fees charged to companies that produce oil and gas on public lands, as well as higher bond payments and civil penalties for violations.

BLM as soon as this month is scheduled to release a proposed rule that would amend its land-use planning process. The regulation would "improve the ability of BLM [to] plan better and respond more readily to conditions locally and on a broader scale," according to a description on the White House Office of Management and Budget website.

Also, by the end of the year, BLM is aiming to release a final rule providing a competitive bidding process for solar and wind development rights on BLM lands.

Interior’s offshore bureaus have two big final rules on the horizon.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in early 2016 will likely release its final rule governing the design, manufacture and repair of blowout preventers and other well specifications designed to prevent a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Around the same time, BSEE along with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is set to release a final rule governing oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters. The rule will provide a regulatory road map for future exploration, even as global oil and gas companies have recently pulled out of the U.S. Arctic.

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are due to release rules tightening oversight of oil and gas development within their boundaries. While drilling is not common at national parks and wildlife refuges, the agencies must provide reasonable access for companies to drill into privately owned minerals below the federally owned surface.

FWS is scheduled to release a proposed rule as early as next month, and NPS has a final rule due early next summer.

The Forest Service next April is set to release a proposed directive with the Small Business Administration that would affect the small business timber set-aside program, which is designed to protect market access for small forest products manufacturers.

The directive "would better reflect the current timber sale program, make the recomputation process as fair as possible, and simplify the process by which market share is determined," according to OMB.

The Forest Service is also scheduled by next March to issue a final directive governing the issuance of permits for commercial filming and photography in wilderness areas.

Coal and mining

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is planning to finalize its stream protection rule — one of the most controversial administration actions affecting coal — by next August. The agency is currently considering comments on proposed language.

OSMRE says it will finalize two rules this month, one dealing with the temporary cessation of mining operations and another with making sure companies pay for regulatory oversight. The latter would apply only to states and tribes where the agency has direct supervision.

A proposed rule to regulate blasting at strip coal mines could come next February along with a proposal to oversee the placement of coal ash in old mines, and a dam safety rule may emerge next April.

The Office of Natural Resources Revenue may finish a rule to overhaul coal valuation by early next year, along with a less controversial action to update leasing rules to conform with the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

At BLM, regulators may finish a proposal by next April boosting the royalty rate for highwall mining. The timeline of a measure to address methane emissions from coal mines on federal lands remains to be determined.

EPA may complete rulemaking to boost oversight of uranium mining and milling operations by next April. A related proposal to protect groundwater from in-situ leach uranium extraction could be complete by Dec. 2016.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is weighing comments on a proposal to protect workers from mining equipment and is collecting information on potential rules on diesel emissions and refuge alternatives.

MSHA may propose a rule to protect workers from respirable silica by next April. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration may also issue its final rule on silica by next February.

Water policy

With several major water rules finalized in the past year — namely the Waters of the U.S. rule and new limits for toxic discharges from coal-fired power plants — EPA’s water office is now preparing to tackle the next tier of issues before the Obama administration heads for the exits.

Before the end of the year, the office plans to put out proposals for updating small suburbs’ stormwater permits and set monitoring standards for as many as 30 contaminants that currently aren’t tracked by drinking water systems.

A settlement agreement the agency reached with environmental groups earlier this year mandates the stormwater permit update (E&ENews PM, Sept. 16). New drinking water monitoring standards are required every five years under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Among its efforts next year, the water office is preparing to issue new selenium standards for California’s San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region, said the regulatory agenda.

The Bay Delta region’s soils naturally have elevated levels of selenium, but agricultural drainage and other processes can concentrate it. Meanwhile, the toxic chemical accumulates in animals as it works its way up the food chain. In the 1980s, thousands of birds in the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge died or were born without limbs after nesting in ponds of contaminated irrigation runoff.

When EPA issued new, numeric water quality standards for the state of California in 2000, it promised the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service that it would take a closer look at the selenium issue and later revise the standards to better protect wildlife.

That closer look — in the form of a report from the U.S. Geological Survey — was completed in December 2010, and now the agency is moving forward with revisions of the selenium standards.


The Agriculture Department will continue to implement its programs from the 2014 farm bill through 2016, including a consolidated conservation easement program and two initiatives that offer financial and technical support to farmers to adopt conservation practices on private lands.

The final Agricultural Conservation Easement Program rule is set for April 2016. The final Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program rules are both slated for March 2016.

USDA will also finalize a contentious regulation to tighten the definition of growers who are "actively engaged" in farming, in an effort to narrow the scope of those eligible to receive government subsidies. The actively engaged final rule is set for the end of this year.

The National Organic Program within USDA is set to finalize standards for pet food, beekeeping products and farmed fish next spring. A notice of proposed rulemaking for organic pet food guidelines is set for April 2016, with a final rule possible by next November.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will release an aquaculture proposed rule this month, according to the agenda, with a final rule set for July of next year. Some environmental groups, like the Center for Food Safety, have criticized the rulemaking, saying that farmed fish, by its nature, cannot conform to the standards of sustainability upheld by the National Organic Program (Greenwire, Oct. 21, 2014).

The Agricultural Marketing Service will also issue two final rules in May for beekeeping products and for the raising of livestock for dairy products, an effort to level the playing field in the organic milk industry.

EPA expects to release a final rule next October to revise the certification program for applicators of restricted-use pesticides, the class of agricultural pest controls that pose the greatest risk to human health. The proposal is intended to reduce the risk of harm from misapplying the pesticides and regulate the use of the chemicals consistently across states.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s position limits rule, written to curb excessive speculation in commodity markets like agriculture and energy, is expected to be finalized by the end of this year and go into effect next February.


EPA is still working to propose banning two different chemicals under a rarely employed section of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

EPA plans to unveil its proposals by March 2016 under Section 6 of the law — the same section the agency used in a failed attempt to ban asbestos in 1991 — to restrict the use of trichloroethylene, or TCE; N-Methylpyrrolidone, or NMP; and methylene chloride. EPA had previously planned to release its proposals by January.

The agency again pushed back the timeline to finalize its rule on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. It now expects to release a final rule by May, a delay from its previous estimate of this month.

The administration is delaying a proposed rule to require companies making nanoscale materials to give EPA certain information meant to help the agency learn more about the chemicals. EPA now expects to finalize the requirement by October 2016. Its earlier estimate was June 2016.

The agency expects to finalize by February simplified training program requirements for companies that remove lead paint. It also effectively scrapped issuing a controversial proposal to require public and commercial buildings to follow certain lead abatement regulations that currently applies only to homes.

EPA previously said it would not issue a notice of proposed rulemaking until August 2016, but has decided to delay that to April 2017, well after a new administration has taken office.

The agenda pushes back a proposal from September to November to update EPA’s risk management program from September to November. However, the agency had already said it didn’t expect to publish a proposed rule until early 2016 (Greenwire, Nov. 17).

EPA plans to finalize a rule to prevent hazardous waste disposal of pharmaceuticals by September 2016. The agency released its proposal in September (Greenwire, Sept. 1).

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is still working on banning additional phthalates, plasticizers linked to health problems, in children’s products and child care articles.

The Department of Homeland Security has effectively abandoned a rule to regulate the sale and transfer of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The agency had previously planned to complete the rule earlier this year. The next step is "undetermined," the agency now says, with no estimated date given.

DHS also plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to update the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program by July 2016.

Congress and regulatory officials have scrutinized ammonium nitrate in the wake of the 2013 fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, where a cache of the fertilizer in a wooden warehouse killed 15 people. Despite the interest, regulatory agencies have done little to change companies’ legal obligations for handling the product.

Reporters Kevin Bogardus, Christa Marshall, Sam Pearson, Amanda Reilly, Sean Reilly, Annie Snider, Tiffany Stecker and Phil Taylor contributed.