Rush to regulate

At a time when you'd expect the US Environmental Protection Agency to be winding down some initiatives, it seems to be winding up.

At a time when you'd expect the US Environmental Protection Agency to be winding down some initiatives, it seems to be winding up.

It's not uncommon for an agency to tie up a few loose ends in the final months of an administration, but usually it defers the controversial issues and regulations to the incoming president's team.

However, Carol Browner, EPA administrator, is pushing her agency to complete as much of the Clinton administration's environmental agenda as possible.

For example, EPA is expected to issue a final New Source Review rule by December.

Currently, an NSR is required if an operational change increases a plant's emissions significantly. Companies say EPA's shifting interpretations of the NSR rules have made compliance a major headache.

Recognizing the problem, EPA intends to revamp the NSR rules. Industry is concerned that EPA will require NSR permitting for any operational changes, even if they reduce emissions.

Sulfur rule

EPA plans to issue a final regulation by December to slash the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97%, from the current 500 ppm to 15 ppm, beginning in 2006.

The action is a companion rule to EPA's effort to reduce gasoline sulfur levels. Refiners have proposed a 50-ppm level for diesel, warning that a lower limit would cause fuel shortages.

Bob Slaugher, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association's general counsel, said, "Everybody who has looked at the impact of that rule on diesel supplies specifically and petroleum product supplies in general, predicts a disaster.

"EPA has done no real analysis on how going that low to 15 ppm, that fast, will impact supply. We're convinced it's going to lead to a 10-20% reduction in diesel supply."

Because the agency is under no statutory deadline to issue a rule, oil groups have urged it to study the issue before acting-so far, to no avail.

Slaughter said, "We've come to the conclusion [that] the only reason they will not wait is because they want to do it before this administration ends."

TMDL rule

Another obvious example of EPA's rush to regulate is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulations limiting polluted rainwater runoff into US waters.

Refiners were concerned that stationary sources, such as their plants, would bear the brunt of the rule. They wanted EPA to ensure the burden was fairly distributed.

Due to widespread opposition to the rule, Congress inserted a provision in a spending bill to block EPA from issuing the regulation.

But before that bill could be signed into law, EPA pushed its TMDL regulation through on July 13.

Now Congress needs a two-thirds majority vote to block the rule, all but impossible in the weeks remaining before adjournment.

Congressmen were livid. Rep. Bud Schuster (R-Pa.), the House transportation and infrastructure committee chairman, said, "EPA arrogance under this administration has risen to new heights. EPA is taking this action in the face of overwhelming opposition ... and in direct defiance of a directive by Congress to forego finalizing or implementing these new rules."

More in Government