EPA to move quickly on 2015 ozone designations — Wehrum

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2017

U.S. EPA is “working actively” to finish past-due attainment designations for its 2015 ground-level ozone standard and will soon be giving states the required four-month notice when the agency’s decisions differ from their recommendations, air chief Bill Wehrum told an agency advisory panel this afternoon.

EPA officials then intend to complete the designation process for the 70-parts-per-billion standard as quickly as possible, Wehrum said at a meeting of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. Asked in a brief interview afterward whether he expected the process to conclude by this spring, he replied, “That’s fair.”

The attainment designations, which mark a key step in the compliance process, were legally due at the beginning of October.

While EPA has effectively declared about 85 percent of the nation’s counties to be in attainment for the 70 ppb standard, it has yet to deal with areas that are likely failing to meet the limit and thus will eventually have to take added steps to curb emissions that contribute to creation of ozone, a lung irritant linked to asthma attacks in children and other problems. A coalition of Democratic-led states, along with environmental and public health groups, both recently filed lawsuits to force action on the remaining designations.

Wehrum, sworn in about a month ago as assistant administrator in charge of the Office of Air and Radiation, also named EPA’s New Source Review program as a top priority for revisions. Over the course of about an hour, he also signaled his intent to forge ahead with the Trump administration’s bid to scale back the Clean Power Plan, saying afterward that he hopes to get EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s signature on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking within a matter of days.

“We’re going to do a good job on the regulations, and that’s going to take time,” he told the advisory panel, “but it’s not going to take any more time than it needs to, from my perspective.”

This was perhaps Wehrum’s first extended public appearance since rejoining the Office of Air and Radiation.

In the George W. Bush administration, he worked at the office from 2001 to 2007, first as counsel and then as acting chief. He had since returned to private law practice, where he represented industry clients including some — such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Forest and Paper Association — that are also represented on the panel.

The committee, often known by its acronym CAAAC, was created to advise EPA on implementation of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and includes participants from industry, state and local regulatory agencies and environmental groups. The panel typically meets twice a year. Today’s all-day session, held at a Washington hotel with about three dozen members in attendance, will be its only meeting of 2017.

Asked by a panel member about the perception that the Trump administration is bent on a wholesale rollback of Obama-era regulations, Wehrum replied, “I would call that an intent to get it right.”

One in, two out

Earlier in the day, however, another senior EPA official touted the agency’s efforts to comply with White House directives to curb regulations.

“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made,” said Brittany Bolen, deputy associate administrator for policy. She told committee members that EPA in fiscal 2017 met the administration’s “one in, two out” goal of finalizing two “deregulatory actions” for every new proposed regulation, at no overall net added cost.

The administration’s approach appeared to have at least qualified support from several industry and state government representatives.

Bob Morehouse, director of the Air Permitting Forum, which focuses on implementation of air pollution regulations, said the industry coalition doesn’t want regulatory reform to interfere with EPA’s handling of its statutory responsibilities. He then offered technical suggestions on ways the agency could improve its New Source Review program that gives permits for new plants and major expansions of existing facilities.

But Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, dismissed the entire effort as misguided.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation,” Shelley said.

While the idea of regulatory reform sounds good, he added, the administration’s direction makes clear that the initiative “is about easing burdens on industry” at the expense of public health and safety.

A similar split emerged when Daisy Letendre, a senior adviser in EPA’s Office of Policy, discussed the recently launched “Smart Sectors” initiative to foster more collaboration with specific industry and agricultural sectors while improving environmental outcomes.

“We are effectively changing the way EPA does business,” Letendre said after listing dozens of meetings with trade groups and other entities.

But Adrienne Hollis, director of federal policy at the organization We Act for Environmental Justice, said a proposed EPA “transformation strategy” highlighted by Letendre did not mention public health.

“I’m wondering if that was just an oversight,” Hollis said, adding that a number of environmental protections have already been lost. “I just want you to assure me that you do consider communities as part of your partners when you’re looking at reducing burdens.”

Letendre said, “We certainly hear and understand those concerns.” She noted the Office of Policy also houses EPA’s community revitalization and environmental justice programs. Any community issues flagged through feedback from Smart Sectors participants “is always, always being shared” with those offices, Letendre said.