AIR CARE: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday released its newest definition for ambient air in a move critics say will ease burdens on polluting industries.
On its surface, the guidance deals less directly with air quality than it does with fencing. Though seemingly unrelated, the Clean Air Act doesn’t apply to spaces where the public has been denied access–forcing polluting industries to surround their property with fencing.
The guidance posted Tuesday would allow industries to use other “non-physical barriers” to enclose those spaces, like no trespassing signs or even patrol by drones — something air quality experts say exempts industries from installing pollution controls.
“It’s an industry dream,” said John Walke, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that the definition for outside air “makes it more likely that industry can increase air pollution and worsen air quality in surrounding communities and escape pollution control measures.”
The definition is likely to be of greatest benefit to industries with large plots of land, like the timber and lumber industry or plants in rural areas, that would be expensive to fence in.
“If you focus on air quality, it makes no sense whatsoever because molecules move from Point A to Point B regardless of whether there are drones or a river or a fence,” Walke said, but he was disappointed the EPA is making it easier, not tougher, for companies to skirt the Clean Air Act.
EPA’s side: The EPA touted the new definition, part of a package of changes to the New Source Review (NSR) permitting process required of companies that build or modify a plant, as removing unnecessary obstacles to projects.
“NSR reforms are a key component of President Trump‘s agenda to revitalize American manufacturing and grow our economy while continuing to protect and improve the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
The EPA did not respond to questions from The Hill about how the ambient air definition would improve the environment.
Streamlining the New Source Review process was one of many requests made by industry after an open call from President Trump for ideas about how to reduce unnecessary regulations.
Tuesday’s guidance does not directly spell out what types of non-physical barriers qualify, but an earlier version gives examples of how businesses can block the public from coming near harmful air.
“These measures may include traditional fencing, but may also include video surveillance and monitoring, clear signage, routine security patrols, drones, and other potential future technologies,” the draft said.
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A GOAL FOR COAL: Acting Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said this week he has received a directive from President Trump to boost the struggling coal industry.
“What the president has directed us to do is to look for different ways to utilize coal,” Brouillette told the Washington Examiner in an interview Monday alongside former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The Senate confirmed Brouillette in a 70-15 vote Monday night. He has yet to be sworn in.
Brouillette appears set to follow Perry’s path in looking for ways to bolster an industry that has been losing ground to renewables and natural gas.
Renewable energy production in the U.S. surpassed coal-fired generation over the summer for the first time, and coal-fired power plants have been struggling to obtain financial backing.
During his confirmation hearing, Brouillette said he was in favor of an “all of the above” energy strategy but cautioned against moving away from fossil fuels that could support baseload power as the renewable energy industry develops more reliable long-term battery storage.
In Monday’s interview, Brouillette said the plan isn’t to subsidize coal or reinforce its standing in electricity generation but rather look for other ways to extract value from coal.
“There are other uses for this product in the marketplace today,” Brouillette said. “We can make carbon from it, we can extract rare earth metals from it. We can look at the residue, for instance, from coal ash, and pull out critical materials for battery storage. There’s a bright future for coal, we’re just going to continue to develop it as it goes along.”
The Department of Energy has attempted to boost the coal industry in the past, most recently while Brouillette was Perry’s deputy.
PERMITS, AHOY: The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to speed up the process by which industry permits are granted after they are challenged before the agency’s appeals board.
According to a proposed rule posted Tuesday in the Federal Register, the agency is looking to “streamline” permit disputes that can occur between industries seeking pollution permits and communities or individuals that are brought before EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB).
Under the new proposal, the timeline for EAB to make its decision on appeals will be shortened to 60 days. The new process would allow parties to challenge the permits through an EAB hearing or an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) but if there is no unanimous consent between the two groups, the industry permit becomes automatically final.
“If the parties don’t agree to proceed with either the ADR process or an EAB appeal, the permit would become final and could be challenged in federal court,” the proposed rule reads.
The EAB was established in 1992 as the final decisionmaker on all administrative appeals made to EPA’s statutes and acts as an alternative to court challenges. Critics say the new proposal could sway parties in the direction of more courtroom lawsuits over granted permits.
Other changes to the rule include a tightening of the EAB board’s ability to review permits independently without prior appeals being filed and changes that would no longer let parties file amicus briefs in support of other permit challenges. The proposed rule would extend to all permits issued by EPA under the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Resources Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.
EPA described the changes as a way to “promote internal efficiencies.”
Additionally, the new rule would set 12-year term limits for EAB judges and allows the EPA the executive authority to issue its own legal interpretation of any issue pending before the EAB.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Canadian energy company confirms 370 job cuts as it trims spending by $500 million, CTV News reports
Halliburton lays off 800 in Oklahoma, plant closure expected, Fox Business reports
Activist Greta Thunberg channels youth fury to U.N. climate summit, Reuters reports.
Tech aims to predict problems on power lines before disaster, The Associated Press
Privatizing state parks can save them — or wreck them, Stateline reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…
-New Energy secretary: Trump has directed agency to find ‘different ways to utilize coal’
-EPA proposes rule to speed up disputed industry pollution permits
-Analysis: Trump solar tariffs cost 62K US jobs
-Experts warn past decade probably hottest on record
-Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary