4 Trump air pollution rules are likely early targets for Biden EPA

November 25, 2020

Incoming leaders of the EPA air office will face a consequential choice: Which Trump administration rollbacks will they undo first according to a November 12, 2020 report from E & E News.

Given that rule-cutting was the heart of President Trump’s agenda, the targets are many.

Adding to the urgency of the task for President-elect Joe Biden’s team is his professed desire to speed ahead with economywide cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Here is a partial list of four existing Trump-era regulations that could be targeted:

Clean cars

The Trump administration divided its Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, which effectively gutted Obama’s biggest climate regulation, into two parts.

The first part of the rule revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which let the state set tougher tailpipe pollution rules than those of the federal government. The second part significantly weakened the Obama-era greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks.

Biden could direct EPA to restore California’s Clean Air Act waiver soon after Jan. 20. The former vice president could also instruct EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, to begin crafting more aggressive clean car standards.

Experts say the new standards could be so stringent that only zero-emission vehicles — including electric vehicles and hybrids — could comply by 2035 or 2040. Democratic state attorneys general and environmental groups have challenged the SAFE Vehicles Rule in lawsuits filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The litigation would be rendered moot if Biden moved to replace the rule.

Once in, always in

Under the Clinton-era “once in, always in” policy, power plants, factories and other major industrial sources of air toxics had to abide by strict control standards even when their emissions fell below the thresholds that first triggered those standards.

The Trump administration, arguing that the policy ran counter to the Clean Air Act, initially scrapped it with a memo in early 2018. EPA has since followed up with a formal repeal embodied in a rule set for Federal Register publication before the end of November.

To critics, the result will be more hazardous pollution that disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities. Those concerns could give added traction to efforts to reinstate the once-in policy in light of the incoming administration’s plans for a renewed focus on environmental justice.

Publication of the final rule could also be a prelude to a renewed legal challenge from environmental groups.
In a split ruling last year, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit threw out a suit contesting the 2018 memo on the grounds that it did not constitute a final agency action subject to judicial review. The plaintiffs’ petition for rehearing was later denied (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

Methane

EPA completed its rollback this summer of 2016 standards for oil and gas industry emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. With a pair of rulemakings that apply to new petroleum infrastructure, the agency both relaxed leak monitoring and repair requirements and got rid of direct methane restrictions in favor of an approach that focuses on release of volatile organic compounds (E&E News PM, Aug. 13).

The D.C. Circuit has since stayed the rollbacks from taking effect while it weighs the option of striking them down entirely in response to arguments from environmental groups and Democratic-run states (Greenwire, Sept. 17).

The newly released memo urges the air office to repropose an updated version of the 2016 standards “and take all other steps necessary to establish comprehensive regulation of existing sources in the oil and gas sector.”

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

This spring, EPA revoked the legally required determination that it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate releases of mercury and other hazardous pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. From a practical standpoint, that step had little immediate effect because almost all of the power industry had long since complied with the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

But with their legal underpinning now gone, a Colorado-based coal company is suing to fully scrap the regulations. In addition, revocation of the appropriate and necessary determination “creates risk for clean resources in competitive markets if coal plants are allowed to turn off pollution controls,” the memo says.
States and environmental groups are fighting the revocation in litigation that’s also pending before the D.C. Circuit.

What this means to you
The Biden Administration may quickly undo four existing Trump-era regulation roll-backs: 1: California’s Clean Air Act Waiver for tailpipe emissions. 2: Clinton-era once-in, always-in policy for major sources. 3: 2016 methane emission standards for the oil and gas industry. 4: Legal determination that was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate releases of mercury and other hazardous pollutants from coal and oil fired power plants.

MIRATECH can help
Contact MIRATECH for stationary engine emissions solutions in the USA.