What to expect from EPA in 2014
By Sara Wyant
Federal law requires that all federal agencies release their regulatory agenda biannually, in the spring and again in the fall. And this year, the White House quietly released its long-list of proposed regulatory activities, called the “Unifed Agenda” while most people were celebrating Thanksgiving.
It’s a non-binding document but provides a preview of what you can expect each agency to focus on for the coming year. Unsurprisingly, the Barack Obama administration’s plans for the Environmental Protection Agency are long and ambitious, calling for agency work on approximately 140 rules.
With a variety of deadlines, both near and far, EPA’s planned regulatory actions that will most directly affect agriculture include:
Review 2003 CAFO rules. In accordance with statute, EPA says it has spent much of this year reviewing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation rules last updated in 2003. The agency’s agenda indicates its review would conclude sometime at the end of last month, though EPA said it had not yet completed the review as of Dec. 10. An extended comment period that ran through the beginning of this year solicited input on the “continued need for the rule,” whether the rule duplicates any other federal or state government efforts, whether the rule is needlessly complex and whether changes in technology or economic conditions should prompt a re-write.
In comments, National Farmers Union’s Roger Johnson stressed “uniform administration” of the CAFO policy, though he praised the environmental responsibility the regulations are meant to promote. Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argues “any further expansion of the CAFO program would have a devastating effect on small operations,” and says industry “has improved its environmental footprint significantly.” Green groups like the Sierra Club say too many CAFOs continue to receive taxpayer subsidies even as they are cited for infractions.
Clarify definition of “waters of the United States.” The definition of a seemingly innocuous phrase has created quite a headache for EPA, which says it will begin to clear up confusion by posting a notice of proposed rule making for “waters of the United States” this month. The definition of the term under the Clean Water Act determines which bodies are covered by the landmark pollution legislation, and will affect any producer who uses pesticides. In a high level meeting with commodity groups and USDA and EPA officials in September, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tried to quell fears of over-regulations by promising the agencies would be “careful to look at science and the implications of pesticide use on various commodities.”
Continue work on greenhouse gas emission standards for electric utility generating units. In June, President Obama announced his administration would use the Clean Air Act to issue emission guidelines for existing electric utility generating sources. EPA’s work on that rule will continue, with a notice of proposed rulemaking set to be released by June 2014 and a final rule to follow a year later. The agency estimates this regulation won’t cost the government more than $100 million, though it could have a serious impact on rural electric systems, which often depend on older, “dirty” coal technology to generate power. “The president’s plan with all these new regulations—that is going to steal all of that investment money that we need right here to help our communities grow and prosper for our children and our grandchildren,” said National Rural Electric Association CEO Jo Ann Emerson in August, when Obama first announced his new regulations.
Finalize 2014 RFS volume standards. This year’s controversial Renewable Fuel Standard will be finalized in the beginning of next year. EPA formally launched a 60-day public comment period on the proposal last week by publishing in the Federal Register its plan to cut total biofuel blending from 18.15 billion gallons specified for 2014 in the 2007 legislation to 15.21 billion gallons. The measure also would drop the corn ethanol requirement from 14.4 billion gallons to a little more than 13 billion gallons, an amount even less than the 13.8 billion gallons required this year. Furthermore, it would keep the 2014 biodiesel requirement at about the same 1.28 billion gallons called for this year, despite the fact that U.S. producers are on track to generate 1.7 billion gallons by the end of 2013.
Livestock producers cheered the move, although many believe it doesn’t go far enough toward full repeal of the mandate. Corn and soybean growers argue that EPA should reconsider their proposal and require even higher levels of blending.
Revise ag worker protections against pesticides. EPA says that in March, it will tackle regulations to protect agriculture workers against pesticide exposure by posting a notice of proposed rulemaking. EPA also says it plans to make changes to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and its own Worker Protection Standards, which it hopes to align more clearly with rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Finalize rule for underground storage tanks. Due out in May of next year, the EPA’s proposed UST revisions would add secondary containment requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping; operator training requirements; periodic operation and maintenance requirements; and new release prevention and detection technologies. USTs are used in a variety of agricultural operations to store water, petroleum for on-farm equipment and various waste products.
Update NPDES program. EPA says it will post a notice of proposed rulemaking in March 2014 as its first step in updating its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Most of the agency’s plans concern streamlining permit application forms and cutting down on paperwork. For example, EPA says, it plans to put forward a proposal to allow states to post notices of draft NPDES permits on their websites rather than publishing them in newspapers, as is done today.
Finalize source performance standards for grain elevators. EPA says it will finalize its review and revision of performance standards for grain elevators in October 2014. Grain elevator technology has changed rapidly since the regulation’s last update in 1986—the reason, EPA says, it began its review this month. “The rule has seen increased activity of late due to the increase in ethanol production that has lead to bumper crops of corn being grown, which, in turn, has led to a need for increased grain storage,” the EPA agenda notes.
Editor’s note: Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant can be reached at www.agri-pulse.com.