Source: Bloomberg/ | Andrew Childers | November 17, 2016

The Obama administration aims to cement its greenhouse gas regulations in the time remaining, but some of the largest greenhouse gas decisions will slide to President-elect Donald Trump, according to the updated federal regulatory agenda.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to complete a rule for approving states’ plans (RIN:2060-AT23) to implement the Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon dioxide limits on power plants—a rule Trump has pledged to pullback.

Also on the EPA’s agenda for the next two months will be updating its mandatory greenhouse gas reporting program (RIN:2060-AS60), setting leak detection requirements for oil and gas wells (RIN:2060-AS73) and establishing limits on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (RIN:2060-AS80), which are potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing and fire suppression. All of those rules would be open to repeal under the Congressional Review Act.

Trump has vowed to undo President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for limiting carbon dioxide from power plants and taking steps to curb emissions of short-lived but potent greenhouse gases such as methane and HFCs.

Outstanding Decisions Left to Trump

Now outstanding decisions on the future of some of the Obama EPA’s signature climate rules will be made by Trump appointees, including an ongoing review of the combined fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions limits for passenger vehicles through 2025.

According to the agenda, there is no timeline for that review, which would see the standards for model years 2022 through 2025 revised from the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon currently projected. The Trump administration also will complete revisions to the EPA’s greenhouse gas permitting program for stationary emissions sources after the U.S. Supreme Court held that the provisions only apply to sources required to obtain permits for emissions of conventional air pollutants.

The Obama EPA has proposed exempting facilities that emit less than 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually from the permitting requirements, but the regulatory agenda has no deadline for that rulemaking to be completed.

The EPA also has no schedule for completing a rule to aid states in implementation of the new, more stringent ozone standards set in 2015, according to the regulatory agenda.

EPA Implements Revised Toxics Law

The EPA also will continue its work to implement updates to the Toxic Substances Control Act, according to the agenda.

The regulatory agenda includes six new chemical rulemakings triggered by this past summer’s Toxic Substances Control Act overhaul. The rules would implement diverse provisions of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Pub. L. No. 114-182), which amended TSCA on June 22.

The rules would:

• establish procedures to update the TSCA inventory of chemicals;

• describe how the EPA would determine which chemicals are high or low priorities for risk evaluation;

• establish the procedures the agency would use to evaluate chemical risks;

• set fees industry would pay to help defray the cost of EPA’s chemicals oversight;

• lay out the process chemical manufacturers or processors would use to substantiate confidential business information claims for specific chemical identities; and

• describe reporting requirements that will apply to any company that manufactures mercury or mercury-added products or otherwise intentionally uses mercury in a manufacturing process.

The mercury reporting regulation would apply to pharmaceutical and other manufacturers even if they aren’t typically covered by TSCA.

Water Rules Coming in Final Months

The EPA also expects to complete some of its pending water regulations in the time remaining for the Obama administration.

The EPA also is expected to propose a rule (RIN:2040-AF67) in December setting out public notification requirements in the Great Lakes for contaminated discharges from combined sewer overflows.

A final general permit (RIN:2040-AF57) to regulate discharges from small municipal storm sewer systems is scheduled for release this month. Also expected any day is the fourth update (RIN:2040-AF49) to the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In addition to specifying monitoring requirements, it will identify new contaminants to be tracked. Proposed in December 2015 and sent for White House review in August, the rule identifies some 30 new contaminants with a focus on blue-green algae, such as the type that polluted the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014.

Updates Planned to Lead, Copper Rule

The agency also is expected to propose in mid-2017 updates (RIN:2040-AF15) to its lead and copper rule setting technology-based standards to limit concentrations of the metals in drinking water. The drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., caused by high levels of lead that leached into residents’ tap water, has added urgency to the updates, and some members of Congress have recommended that the agency propose a rule sooner.

The final rule is due in early 2018, according to the agenda. During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump called the Flint crisis a “horror show” that wouldn’t have happened on his watch. He has made infrastructure improvements a key priority.

In an interview with The Detroit News, Trump said: “I think it’s a horror show that it was allowed to happen and to be honest with you it should have never, ever been allowed to happen. That was really the problem. This is a situation that would have never happened if I were president.”

Pesticides Rule Expected

The EPA is on track to finalize, potentially within days, a set of regulations that would boost standards on pesticide applicator licensing. The fall regulatory agenda stated that these regulations (RIN:2070-AJ20) would be made final before the end of this month.

The agency also included details of its economic analysis for these regulations. They would impose costs on pesticide applicators and on states of almost $50 million a year but would also induce cost savings of more than $80 million, mostly from the prevention of pesticide-related injuries.

This fall’s regulatory agenda also contained two significant items related to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, a database of industrial pollution from across the country.

The EPA is still on track to formally propose regulations (RIN:2070-AK16) by January that would add a sector of the oil and gas industry to its list of industries that must report pollution data to the TRI. These regulations would only apply to natural gas processing facilities, not to the broader drilling industry.

In addition, the EPA said it would make a decision by April on a petition it received from an environmental group asking it to require TRI reporting for 25 new chemicals (RIN:2070-AK26).

Radioactive Waste Disposal Rule Slides

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it won’t issue a final rule for its low-level radioactive waste disposal until March 2017. In the spring regulatory agenda, the NRC had said it would publish the final rule by November 2016.

The final rule will amend the agency’s regulations on the disposal facilities to require new site-specific technical analyses and criteria for low-level radioactive waste acceptance.

A new addition to the NRC list is a pre-rule stage of rulemaking on emergency preparedness of small modular reactors, with NuScale Power LLC’s first small modular reactor application expected to be submitted for NRC review by December. The NRC plans to issue its regulatory basis for such SMR rulemaking in March 2017.

Also, the Energy Department has had to re-evaluate its proposed rule to make more stringent energy efficiency standards for gas residential furnaces after strong opposition from industry. The agency issued a supplemental notice to its proposed rule in September and has comments now due on Nov. 22.

Superfund Vapor Intrusion

The agency plans to finalize a rule in January that considers contaminated vapor that enters buildings from the ground as criteria for Superfund site listings and cleanups. The rule (RIN:2050-AG67) will allow EPA to directly consider human exposure to contaminants that enter building structures through the subsurface environment.

— With assistance from Susan Bruninga, Rebecca Kern, Pat Rizzuto and David Schultz

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington, D.C., at