At the end of September, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued yet another memorandum regarding emissions resulting from startup, shutdown, and malfunctions (SSM) at stationary sources of air pollutants, such as refineries, manufacturing facilities, and power plants. This newest memo announces a return to the policy EPA announced in 2015, when it asked 45 states and local jurisdictions to change their locally written and previously EPA-approved rules. EPA’s goal in 2015 was to eliminate state rules that allow relief from penalties for “SSM” emissions. In 2020, the Trump EPA issued a memo allowing such rules under certain circumstances, but the newest EPA memo puts those rules back on the chopping block. This post provides a brief recap of the long-running debate over SSM emissions and a look forward into what is to come under EPA’s latest policy shift.

Continue Reading Penalizing Unavoidable Air Emissions: The Fight Over SSM Continues

In their article “Are We There Yet? The Challenges of Litigating Clean Air Act Rules,” Mack McGuffey and Melissa Horne discuss the difficulties of getting final answers from the courts in the increasingly polarized political environment of Clean Air Act rulemaking.

Continue Reading Troutman Pepper Environmental Attorneys Author Articles in ABA’s Natural Resources & Environment Summer 2021 Edition

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was adopted in 1996 to give Congress a more powerful check on agency regulation that outpaces congressional intent. But now, for the first time, Congress has used that powerful authority in reverse. By disapproving a de-regulatory action — the rescission of the Subpart OOOOa new source methane standards for the oil and gas sector — Congress has brought a dead rule back to life. The birth, death, and now re-birth of Subpart OOOOa (often pronounced “quad-O-A”) raises several new and important questions.
Continue Reading Subpart OOOOa: What Happens When Congress Revives a Repealed Rule?

Now that we’re past July 4th and on the downhill side of summer, thoughts are turning to what EPA and the courts might do this fall with the many air quality and climate change issues before them. Here is a list of some of the most closely watched rulemakings on EPA’s recently released regulatory agenda and some key issues to watch for under the new Biden EPA. The ID numbers below for each agenda item contain links that will take you directly to the webpage tracking the status of the action.

Continue Reading What’s Next? EPA’s Air Agenda Highlights Priorities

Although the Biden administration has yet to issue many new substantive air quality regulations, Biden’s EPA recently issued two rules revoking Trump-era procedural regulations that should pave the way for a more aggressive regulatory agenda. On May 13, EPA rescinded the “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process Rule” (Cost-Benefit Rule), a requirement governing cost-benefit analyses for Clean Air Act (CAA) rulemakings, and on May 18, the agency revoked the “EPA Guidance; Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions Rule” (Guidance Document Rule), which required all “significant” EPA guidance to undergo a public notice and comment process prior to issuance, modification, or withdrawal.

Continue Reading Biden EPA Rescinds Trump’s Cost-Benefit and Guidance Document Rules

Although environmental justice (EJ) is not a new concept in the context of air permitting, the Biden administration’s increased focus on identifying and addressing disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color is likely to spur an increase in EJ claims being raised as part of the public review process for both new air permits and permit renewals. Many, if not most, states do not have statutory or regulatory requirements dictating how EJ concerns must be considered in the air permitting context. Similarly, while there is a patchwork of EJ requirements applicable to federal agency actions, most are imposed by executive order and are not prescriptive in nature, meaning that there is no robust legal framework for considering EJ concerns in the air permitting context at the federal level either. Accordingly, while potential permittees and current permit holders seeking to renew or modify their air permits should be aware that there is an increased likelihood that EJ concerns may be raised by third parties or permitting agencies, there is little certainty about how these concerns will be implemented in the course of permit issuance.

Continue Reading Environmental Justice to Play Significant Role in Air Permitting Process Under Biden Administration

On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a Trump-era rule that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for almost any class of stationary sources, except for fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The court’s decision, issued at the request of the new Biden EPA, clears the way for new sector-by-sector GHG regulations should the new administration seek to set new GHG standards under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Continue Reading Rule Limiting EPA Regulation of GHG Emissions Vacated by D.C. Circuit

On January 19, the last full day of the Trump administration, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the Trump EPA’s replacement rule for the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was a cornerstone of the Obama EPA’s efforts to address climate change and would have required electric utilities to shift generation from fossil fuels to renewable resources. That aggressive rule was halted by an unprecedented stay of the rule by the Supreme Court, but a decision on the merits has never been issued because the Trump administration took office and put the litigation on hold. In its January 20 opinion, the D.C. Circuit has now issued the first decision on the merits of the legal issues underlying both ACE and the Clean Power Plan.

Continue Reading Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule Vacated, But Appeal Still Possible

Just before the inauguration of President Biden, the Trump administration surprised many by failing to revise the stringent CO2 standard for new coal-fired power plants. That standard, adopted by the Obama administration, is based on the use of carbon capture and sequestration — a technology only installed once in the U.S. at a facility that has now been mothballed. When the Trump administration proposed to repeal and replace that standard in 2018, the chance of it surviving in its current form seemed slim. However, as the clock ran out, the Trump EPA failed to finalize its 2018 proposal and instead issued a “significant contribution finding” that attempts to limit regulation of greenhouse gases from new sources to electric utilities alone. While likely to be reversed quickly by the Biden EPA, that determination erects one more barrier to broad regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (Act).

Continue Reading Trump EPA’s Last-Minute Surprise on Climate Standards for New Coal-Fired Utilities Intended to Block Similar Standards for Other Sectors

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its decision to retain the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) under the Clean Air Act. However, the new Biden EPA is all but certain to reevaluate the standards and likely to reach different conclusions.

PM2.5 is a mixture of small liquid or solid particles found in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometers (μm) in aerodynamic diameter. O3 is a reactive gas that is formed through chemical reactions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere. Under the CAA, EPA must ensure the ambient standards for both pollutants are established at a level “requisite to protect the public health” with “an adequate margin of safety,” and EPA must review the NAAQS every five years to determine whether the standards should be retained or revised.

Continue Reading EPA Declines to Revise Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter and Ozone