EPA has ‘extremely ambitious’ timeline for climate rules

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2018

EPA is aiming to complete at least two major overhauls of Obama-era climate rules in less than a year. It’s a goal analysts call ambitious and will help the agency meet the president’s rule-busting agenda.

EPA says it intends to finalize both its replacement for the Clean Power Plan and changes to standards related to methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in roughly six months.

The rapid timelines came out this month as part of the Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which tracks federal agency progress on rulemaking.

EPA released its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, to replace the CPP, on Aug. 31 and now predicts it will finalize the regulation in March.

The agency is taking two related actions to change the Obama team’s regulation on new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

In October, EPA announced certain technical changes, which it expects to complete by April. The agency then expects to release a broader proposal in December. Final action is due by June.

The estimated completion dates are part of another ambitious deregulatory fiscal year for EPA and other arms of the federal government.

Collectively, agencies are projected to cut $18 billion in regulatory costs next fiscal year, not counting finalized changes to the corporate average fuel economy standards.

To help meet that goal, EPA has a negative $817.8 million regulatory budget for fiscal 2019. That follows the agency slashing $1.2 billion in regulatory costs in fiscal 2018.

Regulatory budgets come from the president’s executive order calling for agencies to cut two regulations for every new one. Agencies that were able to achieve that standard were expected to reduce regulatory costs further to achieve negative budgets.

‘Very challenging’

Janet McCabe, the acting air chief at EPA under President Obama, called the quick turnaround on the rules “extremely ambitious.”

“If you build in the 90 days presumptive OMB [Office of Management and Budget] review, that only leaves 3-4 months to read and assimilate the comments, do whatever additional analytic work required or desired, make changes to the rule (if any) and out all the documentation together,” she wrote.

In an email, McCabe said of the Trump EPA’s plans: “Very challenging even for a more straightforward rule.”

The timing of the final rules’ release for the first half of 2019 doesn’t seem like a coincidence to James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.

“I almost wonder if there is some sort of concerted effort to finalize certain rules to make sure they go through judicial review during the Trump administration,” Goodwin said.

The Obama administration had ambitious timelines for several major actions, as well, only to see some of them delayed by years.

Susan Dudley, former OIRA administrator under President George W. Bush, acknowledged the “tension between getting something done during a political tenure and taking the time to develop supporting justification that will withstand legal challenge.”

She pointed out that if EPA was able to complete its replacement for fuel economy standards, the “Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Proposed Rule for Model Years 2021-2016,” that rulemaking alone would not only more than meet EPA’s overall target of slashing more than $800 million in costs, it would also surpass the overall governmentwide target of $18 billion.

EPA expects to finalize this rule by the end of next year for a savings of between $120 billion and $340 billion.

In a press release following the unified agenda’s release, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler praised the agency’s rule-cutting efforts, noting the agency had finalized 28 significant deregulatory actions since the start of the Trump administration. The agency is planning 25 “priority actions” in fiscal 2019, including the ACE and SAFE rules.

“We are providing the states and regulated community the regulatory certainty they need to advance new technologies, improve environmental protections, and enhance economic growth,” Wheeler said in a statement.

How other agencies compare

An analysis of federal agency regulatory cost reductions from fiscal 2018 by Daniel Pérez, a policy analyst at George Washington University, found EPA was among a handful of agencies to exceed the Trump administration’s expectations for slashing regulatory costs.

The Department of Transportation similarly surpassed its anticipated costs savings. Both EPA and DOT cut $1.2 billion in regulatory costs.

More than half of the $23 billion in savings came from $12 billion in regulatory cuts from the Department of Health and Human Services, which had only been expected to cut $410 million.

Other departments failed to meet the administration’s targets for fiscal 2018. The Department of the Interior, for example, slashed $2.5 billion, but fell short of expectations.

The Energy and Agriculture departments were also well below their targets, each slashing around $400 million in regulatory costs.

Agencies other than EPA also face significant cuts to their regulatory budgets in fiscal 2019. DOT has a negative $1.9 billion budget. Interior will be aiming to slash $793.6 million in regulatory costs, and DOE is expected to reach a net zero regulatory budget this coming fiscal year.