White House updates rule-busting agenda

By Niina Heikkinen | 05/22/2019 01:32 PM EDT

The Trump administration’s latest regulatory agenda details plans for replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule. Agencies are also mulling actions on energy efficiency, offshore drilling, coal ash and drinking water contaminants.

President Trump waved from the balcony of the family residence of the White House in this file photo from last month.

President Trump waved from the balcony of the family residence of the White House in this file photo from last month. Shealah Craighead/White House/Flickr

The White House this morning released its progress report on efforts to kill or curtail regulations across the government.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the biannual report, which tracks agencies’ short- and long-term regulatory goals, with little fanfare.

"This Agenda update shows our commitment to regulatory reform and a preview of the actions agencies have planned for the next 12 months," acting OIRA Administrator Paul Ray said in an emailed statement to E&E News.


"This will be another impactful year for local communities, small businesses, and individual Americans, as they witness elimination of barriers to financial success and personal liberty," said Ray.

Unlike the Fall Unified Agenda, the new report did not include any overall statistics on the number of rules repealed, revised or passed, or detail any specific cost savings to the federal government.

In a brief description of the Unified Agenda on Reginfo.gov, OIRA noted that agencies were still working to identify ineffective rules. This agenda has also added a feature to better track individual rulemaking by adding a "unique identifier."

EPA, CEQ, climate

EPA is planning to release a proposed rule this month to make key policy amendments to the Obama administration’s rule on methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas sources. A final rule could come by December.

In a separate but related rulemaking, the agency is planning to move forward with technical amendments to the methane rule for oil and gas on private lands. They should be done by September.

EPA is still planning to release its replacement for the Clean Power Plan, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, in June. The draft recently went to OIRA for review.

Also in June, the agency anticipates releasing a final rule extending deadlines for states to cut greenhouse gases from municipal solid waste landfills.

The agency has moved its effort to change cost-benefit analysis at EPA into its long-term agenda, with a timeline to be determined.

EPA announced this week that instead of crafting a single rule addressing cost-benefit analysis across the agency, individual program offices will be drafting individual rules (Climatewire, May 22).

The White House Council on Environmental Quality expects to take another step next month in its proposed rewrite of its National Environmental Policy Act regulations, which guide implementation of the law across the federal agencies.

Comments on the initial stage of the rulemaking — prompted by an executive order nearly two years ago — ended in August. The next step is a notice of proposed rulemaking, which will likely provide more insight into how, exactly, CEQ wants to change standards first implemented in 1978.

EPA intends to issue the final version of its contentious 2018 plan for "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" by year’s end, or slightly ahead of the previously announced timetable. Under the original proposal, agency staff would generally be able to tap scientific studies in drafting major new regulations only if the underlying data is "transparent" and "reproducible."

Critics charge that the plan is geared to undercutting the agency’s ability to address significant new public health and environmental threats. In a spending bill report released yesterday, a House Appropriations subcommittee also voiced qualms (E&E News PM, May 21).

Air pollution

EPA has now set a November completion date for its bitterly contested plan to scrap the legal basis for its 2012 regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions of mercury and other air toxics.

After releasing the proposed rule last December, the agency has received almost a half-million comments. The proposal was the subject of a House hearing yesterday (E&E Daily, May 22).

By next month, the agency also intends to make a final decision on a related plan to carve out a partial exemption from the regulations for a small group of power plants that burn coal refuse for fuel, according to the agenda.

Around the same time, EPA hopes to release a proposed rule aimed at eventually formalizing an earlier decision to scrap the Clinton-era "once in, always in" policy for major sources of hazardous air pollutants. As of this morning, the proposal was still undergoing a standard review by OIRA.

A proposed rule to change "project emissions accounting" requirements under the New Source Review pre-construction permitting program is set for publication in July.

On another hot-button topic, the agency plans to release its preliminary decision in a legally required review of particulate matter air quality standards by next March. The review has been engulfed in controversy after EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last fall fired an expert panel that was assisting in the assessment.

Under a self-imposed schedule, EPA intends to make the final decision on whether any changes to the existing particulate matter standards are warranted by the end of next year.

Following a closely watched review, the agency intends to proceed in July with a proposed "course of action" for dealing with emissions of cancer-causing ethylene oxide from commercial sterilization facilities.

By this September, EPA intends to release a supplemental notice of the potential withdrawal of Obama-era control techniques guidelines for existing oil and gas production facilities that were geared to cutting emissions of ozone-forming compounds.

By next month, it expects to issue the final rule on reconsideration of issues stemming from a 2015 update to air toxics regulations for refineries.

Many of the other rulemakings on the list released today relate to legally required residual risk and technology reviews for various industrial sources of hazardous pollutants.

Transportation and infrastructure

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plan to finalize their rollback of Obama-era clean car standards in June. The two agencies are proposing to freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026 and prevent California from setting its own tougher emissions limits for cars.

Absent from the near-term agenda is mention of EPA’s proposed action related to glider kits, which are new truck cabs with refurbished diesel engines.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt argued that the agency lacked the authority to regulate glider kits under the Clean Air Act.

The omission from the agenda signals a retreat from Pruitt’s legally vulnerable argument by new Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who is widely seen as a more cautious deregulator.

EPA is looking to roll out the details of its Cleaner Trucks Initiative — an effort to update nitrogen oxides emission standards for heavy-duty trucks — in February 2020. That means the initiative is unlikely to take effect in President Trump’s first term.

Coal ash

In a striking development, EPA now plans to create a federal coal ash permitting program to supplement a state initiative that has so far drawn lackluster participation.

Under the agency’s first-ever regulations for coal ash disposal in 2015, the main enforcement mechanism was citizen lawsuits.

Congress, at the prodding of the utility industry, then authorized the creation of state permitting programs the next year. So far, however, only Oklahoma has gotten EPA approval to proceed, and environmental groups are challenging that decision in court.

EPA now intends to issue a draft blueprint in July to establish a federal program that would apply to coal ash landfills and storage sites located on tribal lands and in states that aren’t handling permitting themselves. The agency plans to issue the final version of the plan by next May.

In the meantime, EPA officials are still grappling with the fallout of a ruling last August by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which found that some parts of the 2015 regulations are too weak.

In July, the agency intends to publish a proposed rule to address some parts of the court’s ruling; the final version is scheduled for completion in December, according to the agenda.

Along the same timetable, the agency is also pursuing a separate round of "targeted changes" to address two provisions of the 2015 regulations flagged by the court, according to a summary.

This round of amendments, dubbed "Phase 2," is now undergoing a standard review by OIRA. It follows a "Phase 1" round released last year.

Energy efficiency, nuclear

A host of appliance standards moved to the forefront of Department of Energy consideration this go-around in a possible sign the administration wants to appease lawmakers on rules that have fallen behind schedule.

Among the notable appliance standards that saw movement in this agenda are: efficiency improvements for pool heaters, residential furnaces and water heaters, and clothes washing equipment.

A notice of proposed rulemaking on pool heaters, residential furnaces and commercial water heaters could come as soon as September, according to the agenda.

Clothes washing standards moved into the pre-rule phase, with a request for information set for February 2020.

DOE also provided indications it would wrap up consideration of a set of two controversial rulemakings on lightbulb and conservation standards.

The actions have infuriated Democrats and environmental groups. Final rules for each are likely to come in October and November, respectively, the agenda said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears poised to release a proposal related to the regulatory framework of active plants versus facilities being decommissioned.

According to the agenda, the proposed rule could come as soon as next month, with a final rule set for the spring of 2021. The NRC issued a draft proposed rule in May 2018.

The regulations surrounding plants under decommissioning have come to the forefront of nuclear policy after a wave of shutdowns caused nearly 10 plants to close prematurely over the past decade. Additional reactors are poised to join them in coming years.

The NRC’s proposal would make it easier for operators to secure license changes to reduce the emergency planning and physical security requirements.

Those ideas have earned the scorn of some Democratic lawmakers and state officials who fear regulators would not properly address radiological danger.


EPA is planning to put forth two drinking water regulations this year. A proposed Lead and Copper Rule is expected in July, and a rule setting maximum contaminant levels for perchlorate is expected by December.

The agency is also planning a number of Clean Water Act-related regulations. One proposal to limit the time and scope of state reviews for federal permits is expected in August, and another proposal to restrict when EPA can veto dredge-and-fill permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in November.

EPA and the Army Corps are planning this year to finalize their repeal and replacement of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which clarified which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The final repeal rule is expected in August, while a finalized new definition of "waters of the United States," or WOTUS, is planned for December.


After pressure from lawmakers for EPA to address toxic chemicals found in drinking water, the agency is moving forward with several proposals to handle per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The agency may propose a rule in October to designate the two types of PFAS — perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate — as "hazardous substances" under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

EPA plans to make a "regulatory determination" of those two types of PFAS, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, by next year. A proposal could come in December.

EPA is also considering adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory Program. The agency wrote in the agenda, "In considering listing, the EPA must determine whether data and information are available to fulfill the statutory listing criteria and the extent and utility of the data that would be gathered."

EPA, which in March began seeking comments on a proposal to increase training for workers exposed to methylene chloride, said today that the timing for any such draft rule is "to be determined."

Democrats and public health advocates have called for the agency to do more to protect workers from the toxic paint stripper, which has killed dozens of people in recent years (Greenwire, April 26).

EPA will also finalize an "economically significant" rule for lead dust hazard standards in June, as required by court order.

Natural resources, Interior

The administration is making headway on the strategy Trump laid out in his "America-First" offshore order at the start of his term.

Interior officials this month finalized changes to a key rule created by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The changes drew sharp criticism from experts who noted that the new provisions mirrored industry standards.

In his April 2017 offshore order, Trump touted the regulatory revisions as necessary to "maintain the Nation’s position as a global energy leader."

The administration also appears to be on track to propose and finalize rules governing offshore rig decommissioning and air quality control this spring.

On land, Interior pushed to July a target to change Onshore Orders 3, 4 and 5, which updated the Bureau of Land Management’s energy measurement and site security practices.

The orders were designed to address inadequacies identified by the Government Accountability Office, but Trump’s BLM wrote in a recent review that the orders may unduly burden oil and gas operators.

Interior also extended a long-term plan to replace Obama-era standards for valuing federal oil, gas and coal. A federal court in California last month struck the administration’s repeal and reinstated the Obama action.

Included in the agenda for the first time is the Interior Department’s proposed overhaul of how it handles Freedom of Information Act submissions. The department expects to take final action by June.

BLM is proposing a rule to change the way it revises and amends resource management plans (RMPs) "to streamline and clarify land use planning processes."

The Obama administration also attempted to revise RMPs with its so-called Planning 2.0, but Congress in 2017 voted to kill it.

The proposed rule comes two years after former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed BLM to identify revisions to the land-use plan amendment process that address "planning and environmental analysis processes" (E&E News PM, April 18, 2017).

National Park Service, NOAA

The National Park Service said it will finalize a rule by October that will change procedures that deal with demonstrations and special events on the National Mall.

The Park Service is proceeding with the rule even though it has been widely criticized by opponents who fear it would restrict demonstrations and violate free-speech rights.

The rule will modify processes for permit applications and identify specific locations where events will be allowed, not allowed, or allowed but subject to new restrictions.

The Park Service also has a number of other smaller rule changes in the works, including new regulations for off-road vehicles at Fire Island National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore and designating an airstrip at Death Valley National Park.

NOAA said it’s in the final stages of rules that would designate two new national marine sanctuaries: the Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary in Wisconsin and the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary in Maryland.

NOAA is also planning new rules to revise its seafood inspection programs and to create comprehensive fishery management plans for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Forests and agriculture

The Forest Service plans to release a notice of proposed rulemaking for the Alaska roadless conservation rule in July.

The Department of Agriculture set timelines for several actions tied to the 2018 farm bill, including interim final rules for the Conservation Reserve Program by November and the Conservation Stewardship Program by October, and the end of a comment period on changes across conservation programs on July 5.

USDA said it will publish an interim final rule on a hemp production program by August, according to the agenda.


No regulations are in the works at Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, except a civil penalty inflation adjustment.

At EPA, no mention was made once again about the Obama-era proposed rule to impose new groundwater protections at in-situ uranium operations (Greenwire, Jan. 6, 2017).

But the Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to finish two new rules this year born out of its review of how to make existing regulations "less burdensome" on industry that itself stemmed from a Trump executive order to cut "red tape."

In September, MSHA will release a "direct final rule" on surveying equipment not allowed in underground coal mines.

Another direct final rule due out in October will revise standards for approving mine safety modifications when it comes to electronic detonators used for explosives and blasting in hardrock mines.

Despite powered haulage equipment — trucks and conveyor belts — continuing to be a leading cause of mining deaths, the agency does not plan to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on that issue until March 2020.

MSHA will continue to gather input until July 9 on the implementation of 2014 coal dust regulations designed to protect miners from a primary cause of recently resurgent black lung disease.

The same month, MSHA will make a request for information on new standards for crystalline silica, another cause of miner lung disease.

The comment period for miners’ exposure to carcinogenic diesel exhaust, which started in 2016, was pushed back again to September 2020, and the proposed rulemaking on proximity detection systems — monitors that alert miners to mobile machinery — has an undetermined next action date.

Reporters Maxine Joselow, Nick Sobczyk, Ariana Figueroa, Pamela King, Corbin Hiar, Marc Heller, Rob Hotakainen, Scott Streater, Jennifer Yachnin, Jeremy Dillon, Dylan Brown, Ariel Wittenberg and Sean Reilly contributed.