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USEPA Administrator Testifies Before Senate Committee

This week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.  The purpose of the hearing was to review the Agency’s activities during the COVID-19 crisis and provide committee members the opportunity to question the Administrator on issues beyond the crisis. Below is a summary of hearing’s discussion as it related to water resources issues at USEPA.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked Wheeler what can be expected from the Agency’s MCL for PFOS and PFOA that the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act requires the Agency to finalize within one year.  Wheeler said that USEPA is working to reach a determination, but admitted that the Agency may not make it within the one-year deadline.  Wheeler followed up by stating the USEPA continues to enforce PFAS contamination clean ups around the country, especially as it relates to the Department of Defense and contamination from firefighting foam.

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) asked Wheeler if the Agency has determined how its groundwater regulation will be impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision on the County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund.  Wheeler explained that the Agency is reviewing the Maui decision and has yet to determine how USEPA groundwater laws will be impacted.

Finally, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) expressed her concern over a recent enforcement discretion policy USEPA issued that allows utilities to miss permit deadlines if the lapse is due to COVID-19 related impacts.  Duckworth stated her concern that the policy gives power plants and industry a blanket non-enforcement policy standard and asked Wheeler if USEPA is requiring regulated companies that are missing their enforcement deadlines reasoning for the lapse Wheeler stated that no company is allowed to increase emissions under the enforcement policy and the Agency mandates that companies specify the reasoning for missing deadlines as they relate to COVID-19.

New State and Local Government Assistance Bill Introduced In Senate

This week, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced bipartisan legislation to help support states and local governments facing economic strains due to COVID-19 facing states and local governments by providing. The State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act (S. 3752), provides $500 billion in emergency funding to help states and local governments manage COVID-19 related expenditures, increase testing capabilities, support contact tracing activities, assist hospitals, small businesses, schools, and help local residents maintain critical services access.

Importantly, the SMART Act eliminates the 500,000-population threshold for funding eligibility that has been a requirement to receive funding under the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. However, the SMART Act does not extend funding eligibility to special districts.

USEPA Readies Regulatory Transparency Rule  

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), in compliance with Executive Order 13891, provided advance notice of a proposed rule for developing and issuing guidance documents and to establish a petition process for public requests to modify or withdraw an active guidance document.  Public comment on the proposed rule will be open for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  Publication is expected in the coming days.

In a press statement announcing the proposed rule, USEPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler expressed that, “for the first time ever, USEPA is proposing a rule that codifies procedures to ensure the public can engage in the development and review of agency guidance. Today’s action is a major step toward increasing transparency in USEPA processes and ensuring that USEPA is not creating new regulatory obligations through guidance.”

Federal Agency Updates

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Whole-of-America Update – Detailing the federal government’s actions to address COVID-19 impacts across the country.

White House Administrative Action Updates

Executive Order on Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery – Directs federal agencies to address economic impacts from COVID-19 that inhibit economic recovery and homeland security by modifying, waiving or providing regulatory exemptions.