09 January 2018

Sidley Environmental Trends

Topics discussed this week include:

  • DOI proposes opening nearly all federal coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.
  • BLM rescinds 2015 Obama administration fracking rule.
  • EPA issues advance notice soliciting comment on Clean Power Plan substitutes.
  • EPA draft risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic to humans.
  • Virginia DEQ publishes draft regulation to join RGGI.

DOI proposes opening nearly all federal coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced a plan to open up nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas exploration leases over the next five years. The plan, outlined in a draft proposal of the department’s 2019-24 Outer Continental Shelf and Gas Leasing Program, will make 25 of 26 offshore planning areas available for lease. This includes all areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and many Arctic Ocean areas restricted by the Obama administration, representing the largest number of proposed lease sales available in U.S. history. DOI’s next steps will include preparing a draft programmatic environmental impact statement and a proposed program, both of which will be available for public comment. Until the 2019-24 program is finalized, DOI will continue to implement the more restrictive 2017-22 plan developed by the Obama administration.

Updated, 1/9/2018: On Tuesday, January 9 the DOI announced that it is removing the entire Florida coast from the list of oil and gas exploration leases proposed in the Department’s 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf and Gas Leasing Program. The decision came after Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke met with Governor Rick Scott of Florida.

BLM rescinds 2015 Obama administration fracking rule. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has rescinded a 2015 Obama administration regulation governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public lands. Among other things, the 2015 fracking rule set minimum standards for well construction and integrity testing, managing and storing fluids, and requiring public disclosure and reporting of fracking fluids. The 2015 fracking rule was immediately challenged in federal court and has never gone into effect. BLM estimates that rescinding the 2015 fracking rule will save regulated industry $14 million to $34 million annually in avoided compliance costs.

EPA issues advance notice soliciting comment on Clean Power Plan substitutes. In an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on potential replacements for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which had established greenhouse gas emission guidelines for existing electricity generating units (EGUs). This advance notice is separate from the agency’s proposal to fully rescind the Clean Power Plan. In the ANPRM, the agency is soliciting comment on the appropriate scope of such a rule and associated approaches, information on emission reductions systems that are available to EGUs and the proper balance between state and federal roles in regulating emissions from EGUs.  Comments are due Feb. 26.

EPA draft risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely carcinogenic to humans. The EPA has released a draft human health and ecological risk assessment concluding that the pesticide glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. Glyphosate is the primary ingredient in the herbicide product Roundup — one of the most widely used weed-killing products around the globe. EPA’s preliminary conclusion is at odds with that of California, where regulators have concluded that glyphosate is cancer-causing and triggered restrictions and listings under the state’s Proposition 65 regulations. Glyphosate has also engendered controversy in Europe, where regulators voted in late 2017 to reinstate a five-year lease for the chemical amid campaigns to ban it. EPA will now open the draft risk assessment to public comment and continue to prepare a proposed interim registration review decision for glyphosate, slated for publication in 2019.

Virginia DEQ publishes draft regulation to join RGGI. On Jan. 8, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Pollution Control Board published in the Virginia Register draft regulations governing the commonwealth’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a voluntary carbon credit and emissions cap-and-trade program administered by nine northeastern U.S. states. Virginia will be the tenth state to participate should the draft regulations become final. The draft is now open for a three-month public comment period.

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