EHS Management

Environmental Daily Advisor 2012 Compliance Outlook

In this Environmental Daily Advisor video, Advisor editor Kelly Lagana interviews Clare Condon, managing editor of compliance content at BLR. Questions discussed include the current regulation outlook, as well as environmental regulations EHS managers should expect to see proposed or finalized in 2012.

KL: Hi everybody, I’m Kelly Lagana with BLR’s Environmental Daily Advisor. I’m here with Clare Condon. She’s the managing editor for the environmental compliance content here at BLR. Thanks for joining us today Clare for this video.

CC: Thank you, Kelly.

KL: I wanted to ask you a couple questions for our DA readers. How would you characterize the current environmental regulation and how it’s affected EHS managers in their day-to-day operations?

CC: The state of environmental regulation right now is actually a state of confusion. That has to make it tough for EHS managers who are trying to figure out what their obligations are.

The economy has trumped all issues over the past few years, and that has made it difficult for EPA to push through the more restrictive regulations that Lisa Jackson is interested in. A stunning example of this is when President Obama revoked his support for the proposed ozone standard. That’s a public smackdown on par with when President Bush reversed his policy on CO2 emissions as Christie Whitman was on her way to a major conference to announce that the US would lead the way.

Obama’s response…well, it was a response to the clamor from industry and the states because of the cost of the standard. However, the ozone standard is up for mandatory review in 2013. If Obama is reelected, you are going to see a push for an even more restrictive standard than the one that Jackson had proposed.

Also, Congress, the Republicans in the House are trying to push through a host of bills that would rein EPA in, but the Democratic senators are going to see that they don’t pass, so they’re going nowhere. It’s just very confusing for people.

Then, on the state level, you have states that are either refusing to implement programs like Texas with the greenhouse gas emissions permitted program. Other states are threatening to give back their authority for programs to the feds. That’s very difficult for EHS managers because a large part of their job is developing and maintaining relationships with regulators. It’s tough when you don’t know with whom you’re going to be dealing.

KL: Having said all that, what environmental regulations should EHS managers expect to see that will be maybe proposed or finalized in 2012?

CC: EPA is moving, I’d say marching, toward more transparency on the part of industry. The agency has been releasing hundreds of reports on chemical studies that used to be considered confidential business information: CBI – under TSCA. They want the industry to voluntarily even report more. EPA seems to want to forge the Toxic Substances Control Act, TSCA, to mirror the European Union’s REACH Directive. They’re doing this through regulation and guidance, which makes some congressional people crazy.

EPA will also continue its partnership with the Department of Transportation concerning GHG emissions and fuel economy standards. These current and future regulations are certainly going to make facility operations more expensive.

EPA is close to finalizing the Utility MACT and will be implementing the new cross-state air pollution rule. [The Utility MACT has been signed and CSAPR has been stayed by the courts since this was recorded.] Both these rules cap certain emissions on power plants. Some states and utilities are crying foul over the cost. Other states and utilities are saying “Bring it on,” because they’ve made the changes and they’re ready. So this is a lot of confusion for a major industry during an election year.

EPA’s dance with the energy industry is also no more apparent than with hydrofracking. A final study plan has come out on how the agency is going to assess the impact of fracking on drinking water. The agency is also developing guidance for Class 2 wells for these fluids. Now, everyone has his and her fingers crossed that it will show that there are no impacts on the environment.

KL: Wouldn’t that be nice?

CC: Or that fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes. That would be nice.

KL: That would be nice too.

CC: A major reform for EHS managers is EPA is revising the EPCRA Tier I and Tier II chemical reporting forms.

KL: Very important forms.

CC: Exactly. The agency wants to make them more “user friendly.” They may become more user friendly, but then they are also looking to include more information about how chemicals are managed onsite.

The Government Accountability Office recently came out with a report on the impact of pharmaceutical residue on drinking water. One thing EPA is doing is planning to propose that pharmaceutical waste be managed as universal waste. Some states are already doing that.

KL: So here we are. We’ve found ourselves in an election year. I’m just curious, because environmental topics aren’t huge in the presidential debates and with the candidates, but they are talked about and they are important to our readers. I just want to pick your brain. What type of issues and rules do you think are going to be important in these debates? What will be coming out of them?

CC: I think you’re going to showmanship on both sides. The Republicans will continue to question the legitimacy of EPA itself, with a host of rules to tame the agency. Democratic senators will try to save the agency. You have some republican presidential candidates who would even abolish EPA, or so they say. And they you can’t forget what’s going on in the courts. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an environmental case that will have ramifications on anyone who is looking to get a wetlands permit. Will the court rein in EPA and the Army Corp or bolster its efforts to regulate these controversial properties, some of which contain only puddles?

The Court also agreed to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of RCRA fines. It rests on technicalities, but it will be a major case for environmental. For both these two environmental cases and a major case on healthcare, the opinions will be coming down in the middle of a campaign, so this will lead to a rollicking election season.

KL: Sure it will.

CC: I expect at the very least though, that the 2012 election will bring some clarity for EHS managers.

KL: Good.

CC: People have seen that extreme partisanship has lead to dysfunctional, even nonfunctional government. So we’re going to see a tip one way or the other. If the Republicans gain major control, we’re going to see less regulation on a federal level and more state authority. If the Democrats gain more control, at the very least we’ll see some regulatory definitiveness and consistency, and more clarity for EHS managers.

KL: Well thank you. That was great information. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

CC: Thank you, Kelly.

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