Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Environmental Management

Environmental Regulatory Rollbacks Come to a Halt

Big changes have been promised from President Joseph Biden Jr., and he is wasting no time in getting started. On January 20, shortly after his swearing in ceremony, Biden’s chief of staff, Ronald Klain, issued a White House memo to all agency and executive department heads for a “regulatory freeze pending review.”

environmental law, regulation, and regulatory developments

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Since the Democrats now hold a slim majority in the Senate, the Biden administration is expected to lean heavily on the Congressional Review Act, which allows regulations during a certain lookback period to be undone. The current cutoff date for this “lookback period” is August 21, 2020.

The Transportation Department, the Commerce Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have the most eligible rules in the window, according to The George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center.

Several environmental regulatory rollbacks have come to a screeching stop.

“Among the environmental rules that may be prevented from immediately going into effect are rules that weaken protections for migratory birds, prevent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions for any sector beyond the power industry, and one that slows replacement of lead-tainted water lines,” according to The Hill.

Klain’s memo freezes any pending regulations and gives his office 60 days to review them to decide which ones will be dismantled. Rules that have not yet been published in the Federal Register are to be withdrawn from review by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), per the process for official withdrawal. Rules that have been published are to be given a 60-day extension on their effectiveness dates.

The memo also “directs all agencies to confer with the director of OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) before renewing any regulatory activity,” according to Government Executive.

An Executive Order released on January 20, 2021, identifies 10 environmental regulations immediately targeted for repeal, suspension, or revision:

  1. Reducing Methane Emissions in the Oil and Gas Sector: “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Reconsideration”;
  2. Establishing Ambitious, Job-Creating Fuel Economy Standards: “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part One: One National Program”;
  3. Establishing Ambitious, Job-Creating Fuel Economy Standards: “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks”;
  4. Job-Creating Appliance- and Building-Efficiency Standards: “Energy Conservation Program for Appliance Standards: Procedures for Use in New or Revised Energy Conservation Standards and Test Procedures for Consumer Products and Commercial/Industrial Equipment”;
  5. Job-Creating Appliance- and Building-Efficiency Standards: “Energy Conservation Program for Appliance Standards: Procedures for Evaluating Statutory Factors for Use in New or Revised Energy Conservation Standards”;
  6. Job-Creating Appliance- and Building-Efficiency Standards: “Final Determination Regarding Energy Efficiency Improvements in the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)”;
  7. Job-Creating Appliance- and Building-Efficiency Standards: “Final Determination Regarding Energy Efficiency Improvements in ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2016: Energy Standard for Buildings, Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings”;
  8. Protecting Our Air from Harmful Pollution: “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units—Reconsideration of Supplemental Finding and Residual Risk and Technology Review”;
  9. Protecting Our Air from Harmful Pollution: “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process”; and
  10. Protecting Our Air from Harmful Pollution: “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information.”

Companies are advised to buckle their seatbelts and prepare for a bumpy regulatory ride as the new administration shifts course.