Much has been made of President Obama’s recent announcement that his administration will issue rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. But in the midst of preparations for the Independence Day celebration, EPA published a document that’s likely to have far more of an impact on most of us – its semiannual regulatory agenda describing the status of, and plans for, all of its major rulemakings. What it reveals is an ambitious plan to issue a slew of new and revised regulations over the next several years. By giving us this peak under the blanket, EPA has revealed how broadly it intends to reach and provides a good roadmap to understand the impact of EPA’s rules.

EPA’s plans promise new air, water and waste rules affecting a broad range of industrial sectors, including agriculture, oil and gas exploration, power generation, real estate development, mining, health care and pharmaceuticals. It’s difficult to imagine a sector in which EPA is not planning to take some action.

The highlights:

  • EPA intends to issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in September 2013 to “address water quality impacts from forest road discharges.” Although the Agency just issued a rule confirming that forest road discharges do not require permits, this proposal apparently will include “flexible” non-permitting approaches which “leverage” best management practices. Forest managers are not getting off so easily.
  • EPA intends to complete its review of the impact on small entities of its permitting rule for discharges from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation by October 2013. EPA appears to be looking for proposed changes to reduce these impacts, a positive sign for small and medium farms.
  • EPA intends to complete its rulemaking to issue updated effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the team electric power generating point source category in 2014. This rule has long been sought by environmental groups and promises to impact such facilities significantly, particularly in light of the many other air, waste and water regulations that have affected and are promised for this sector. Some would call this a continuation of the Obama Administration’s war on coal.
  • EPA intends to continue working with the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a rule defining the scope of the federal government’s authority over ”waters of the United States,” in light of the Supreme Court several decisions on this topic. EPA, however, did not identify any date by which a proposed rule would be issued, suggesting that any such proposal will not occur for some time. Moreover, Congress is considering taking action to prevent EPA from issuing such a rule. All of this means that the uncertainty regarding which wetlands and waters are subject to Clean Water Act permitting will continue for some time.
  • EPA intends to issue a proposed rule in 2014 establishing effluent guidelines and standards for oil and gas extraction from coalbed methane and shale (i.e., fracking). This could be the first EPA rule addressing the environmental issues associated with fracking, but it probably won’t be the last.
  • EPA intends to continue developing a rule governing stormwater discharges from newly developed and redeveloped sites. EPA is subject to a consent decreer requiring that the rule be proposed by June 2013, but missed that deadline. This rule will significantly impact the real estate and construction industries and is likely to mandate actions to manage and control stormwater discharges from developed sites. Statements by EPA staff suggest that the rule could impose stricter requirements for greenfield sites as compared to redeveloped sites in urban areas.
  • EPA is considering whether to propose restrictions on discharges from dental offices to control the disposal of amalgam fillings, mercury and other contaminants, and could mandate adoption of best management practices for dentists. EPA rules could affect how your cavity is filled!
  • After many stops and starts, EPA again announced its intention to consider issuing a rule establishing standards for management of coal combustion residues, but provided no insight as to when it intends to complete this rulemaking. This has been one of the most controversial rules that EPA has proposed, drawing substantial comments from industry, states and NGOs. The rulemaking may take several years to be completed. EPA has suggested that the adoption of effluent guidelines for electric generating units (mentioned above) could affect how EPA ends up regulating these residues (with the implication that the adoption of the guidelines could reduce the stringency of EPA’s approach to coal combustion residues).
  • In 2008, EPA issued a proposed rule to establish management standards for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, but the rule was never finalized. The rule would potentially affect a wide-swath of hospitals, pharmacies and health care facilities. EPA’s regulatory agenda indicates that EPA intend to take up the rule, issuing a new proposal in early 2014.
  • In 2006, EPA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to revise new source performance standards and emissions guidelines for municipal solid waste landfills (primarily to address methane emissions). EPA is now subject to a consent decree to complete this rulemaking by May 2014, but its agenda indicates that the Agency intends to complete this effort by July 2014.
  • EPA intends to review and potentially revise the new source performance standards for grain elevators. The Agency claims that such a review is needed because of increased grain storage resulting from the growth in ethanol production.
  • EPA intends to issue several rules incorporating or updating electronic reporting requirements in the NPDES (Clean Water Act), Toxics Release Inventory (EPCRA), hazardous waste manifests and other reporting (RCRA) and New Source Performance Standard (Clean Air Act) programs. Electronic reporting will simplify EPA and state data analysis and increase their enforcement capabilities. The movement to electronic reporting is inevitable.

These are but a few of the regulatory actions that EPA intends to take over the next few years. Now is the time to pay attention to these efforts, both to influence how they are developed and to begin planning on how you intend to comply.