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Environmental Policy & Regulatory Briefing: May 10, 2011

Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday sent letters to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and Department of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu seeking information on new Obama administration EPA rules impacting the electric power sector. The letters, authored by Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) along with Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), seek information about EPA’s plans for implementing the regulations, and about the agency’s decision-making process and analysis supporting development of these rules. They also seek information regarding the extent to which EPA has consulted or coordinated with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy in development and planning for implementation of these regulations. The committee says it’s concerned that the Obama EPA has been regulating too much too fast, without fully analyzing the feasibility and economic impacts of its new rules. For a copy of the letter to EPA, click here. For a copy of the letter to DOE and FERC, click here.

EPA is taking final action to approve a revision to the State Implementation Plan (SIP), submitted by Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to EPA on December 9, 2010, for parallel processing. DEP submitted the final version of this SIP revision on February 9, 2011. The SIP revision, which incorporates updates to DEP’s air quality regulations, includes two significant changes impacting the regulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) under Connecticut’s New Source Review (NSR) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program. First, the revision provides Connecticut with authority to issue PSD permits governing GHG. Second, the SIP revision establishes appropriate emission thresholds for determining which new stationary sources and modification projects become subject to Connecticut’s PSD permitting requirements for their GHG emissions. EPA has established a docket for this action under Docket Identification No. EPA-R01-OAR-2010-0996. All documents in the docket are listed on the http://www.regulations.gov Web site.

EPA has proposed a program to certify applicators of restricted use pesticides (RUPs) in Indian Country located within EPA Region 8. RUPs are potentially hazardous chemicals that require special training and techniques to be used safely. To ensure the safe handling of hazardous pesticides, federal law requires that EPA approve the certification of all RUP applicators, including those who work in Indian Country. While states employ their own programs, currently, most of Indian Country is not covered by a certification mechanism. To fill this gap, EPA has issued a Proposed Federal Plan for Certification of Applicators of Restricted Use Pesticides within Region 8 Indian Country. Under the proposed plan, RUP applicators will need to apply for a federal certificate on the date that the plan becomes final. The Plan will allow private applicators to become certified in two ways: either by applying directly to EPA by showing proof of training and completing a questionnaire, or by simply providing a copy of a valid state, tribal or federal certification from an area that is contiguous with the reservation boundary. Commercial applicators can provide a copy of a valid state, tribal, or federal certification from an area that is contiguous with the reservation boundary. For more information on EPA’s restricted use pesticide certification program, and to provide comments (by June 6, 2011) on the rulemaking, click here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday announced that it will begin to excavate contaminated soil on the Ellenville Scrap Iron and Metal Superfund site in Ellenville, N.Y and move it to the landfill on the property. The landfill will then be securely capped to prevent contaminants from leaching out of the landfill into the ground water. The excavation of the soil, which is contaminated with hazardous chemicals and metals, is the first part of a site cleanup plan EPA selected in September 2010. Any of the excavated soil or materials that are characterized as hazardous waste will be shipped off-site for proper disposal. EPA will hold a public information session on Wed., May 11 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Ellenville Government Center at 2 Elting Court in the Village of Ellenville, to discuss its work at the site. EPA will perform its work at the Ellenville site in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The cleanup, which is expected to cost about $8 million, is being paid for by EPA, with NYSDEC contributing 10 percent of the funding. Cleanup work at the site is expected to be completed this fall. For more information about the site, click here.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Gerry Cauley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), announced today that they are combining the efforts of their separate inquiries into the causes of the electric outages and natural gas delivery disruptions that occurred in the Southwest during an unusual cold spell in early February of this year. FERC and NERC have been sharing information but conducting separate inquiries into the matter. FERC and NERC staffs will issue a joint report on findings and recommendations and present them to the Commission and to the NERC Board of Trustees. FERC Docket No.: AD11-09-000

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Western Environmental Inc. to take immediate steps to address potentially harmful emissions coming from its Mecca, Calif. waste handling facility. The facility is located on the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Reservation. Western Environmental’s facility handles solid, semi-solid and liquid waste, including petroleum contaminated soil and biosolids from sewage treatment plants. Mounds of untreated contaminated soil have accumulated at the site and now stand more than forty feet high. In December 2010, after receiving complaints of odors that sent people to the hospital, the Air District and the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health dispatched staff to perform air sampling in the community and at the facility. The order requires the facility to use stabilizing agents or cover sheeting on the stockpiled material to prevent the release of noxious air emissions.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced $2 billion in high-speed rail awards providing an investment to speed up trains in the Northeast Corridor, expand service in the Midwest and provide new, state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars. Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications. The Department’s Federal Railroad Administration selected 15 states and Amtrak to receive $2.02 billion for 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years. For more information, click here.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requesting input from stakeholders and the public relating to the development of a user fee program for biosimilar and interchangeable biological product (351(k)) applications. Biological products are produced in a living system such as a microorganism, plant, or animal cell, while small molecule drugs are typically made through chemical synthesis. The Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, creates an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products that are demonstrated to be highly similar (biosimilar) to, or interchangeable with an FDA-licensed biological product. It directs the FDA to develop recommendations for a 351(k) user fee program for fiscal years 2013 through 2017. The recommendations must be presented to Congress by January 15, 2012. For more information, Click here.

Participants at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development have made important progress on key issues such as mining, transport and waste management and a successful outcome is within reach, the commission’s chairman said today. László Borbély, Romania’s Minister for Environment and Forests, told journalists that a draft outcome document should be ready in time for the commission’s high-level segment, which starts on Wednesday. “There are many competing ideas that countries still have to iron out,” he said. “I think most important, however, is that there is a good negotiating atmosphere that can help us reach a successful outcome.” Government ministers from about 50 countries are expected to attend the high-level segment, which is designed to give impetus to preparations for the Fourth UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, which will be held in the Brazilian city in June 2012. Mr. Borbély said five main issues were still under consideration by delegates to the commission, which began on 2 May and is expected to wrap up this Friday – mining, sustainable consumption and development, transport, chemical use, and waste management.

Renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind, biomass and hydropower could meet nearly 80 per cent of the world’s energy supplies by 2050 if governments pursue policies that harness their potential, a United Nations-backed report released today says (PDF). The findings of more than 120 researchers working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that if the path of renewable source is fully followed, greenhouse gas emissions could stay low enough to keep the rise in global temperatures by the middle of the century to below 2 degrees. The report’s findings were issued today after a four-day meeting of scientists wrapped up yesterday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with the aim of providing policy-makers with an assessment of the potential of renewable energy sources.

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