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Environmental Policy & Regulatory Briefing: May 16, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is suspending the next Inventory Update Reporting (IUR) submission period, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) section 8(a) regulations. The IUR requires manufacturers and importers of certain chemical substances included on the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory to report current data on the manufacturing, processing, and use of the chemical substances. The agency said it is suspending the next submission period to allow time to finalize modifications to the regulations, proposed in the Federal Register of August 13, 2010, and to avoid finalizing changes in the midst of the 2011 submission period. EPA said it will cement changes to the reporting requirements “in the near future,” superseding the suspension. The chair of the House energy and commerce committee, Fred Upton (R-MI), and environment and economy subcommittee chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), earlier this year called on the administration to withdraw the draft proposal, saying it would impose significant new costs without no benefit. “Today we see the consequences of this administration’s rush to regulate,” Upton and Shimkus said last week. “After significantly – and unnecessarily – expanding and complicating this program, the agency decided to suspend the next round of chemical reporting entirely while it sorts out the mess it has created.”

President Obama announced on Saturday that he is taking steps to speed up drilling for oil and gas on public lands and in public waters. The announcement included plans to expand drilling in Alaska, and possibly begin exploration off the Atlantic coast, the New York Times reported.  But the policies would not immediately open new areas to drilling, the Times said. Part of Obama’s aim was to respond to the Republican-led house, which in the ten days to May 14, passed three bills that would significantly expand domestic oil production. The GOP had said the administration was driving up gas prices and blocking job creation with anti-drilling policies.

On Friday the EPA said it will soon reach an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell over an air permit for an Arctic drilling project. The EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board had earlier sent the permit back to federal regulators, halting Shell plans to start drilling exploratory wells this summery, the Times reported. Now Shell plans to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea in July of next year, and Gina McCarthy, the head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the agency won’t stand in Shell’s way.

On Tuesday, the senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony on four offshore drilling bills, the Hill reports. Two of the bills, introduced by committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) last week, would impose more stringent safety standards, and would also increase loan guarantees for a planned natural gas pipeline in Alaska. Another bill would extend offshore leases for one year, and a fourth bill would create an office to coordinate offshore leasing in Alaska. Later in the week the committee will hear testimony on a bill to promote electric vehicles, the Hill says. And on Wednesday, energy secretary Steven Chu will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Department of Energy’s budget request for fiscal year 2012.

 bill requiring natural gas drillers in Texas to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, passed the state House last week. But the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the bill may have run into a major obstacle in the state senate – namely, that the head of the relevant committee only just learned of the proposal. Troy Fraser, the Republican who leads the Senate natural resources committee, expressed frustration that he only learned about the proposal last week. The committee would need to approve the bill for it to proceed.

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