TOP ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES TO WATCH WHEN CONGRESS RETURNS

Washington Capitol

Here’s a list of some top environmental and energy-related news stories to watch when Congress returns from summer recess Sept. 6 and Washington D.C. kicks into full gear.

Clean Power Plan Litigation Heads to Court. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear argument Sept. 27 over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the backbone of President Obama’s domestic efforts to address climate change. The court will hear more than three hours of argument on issues such as whether the rule impermissibly forces utilities to shift from coal-fired generation to cleaner alternatives, constitutional challenges to the rule and whether the EPA is barred from regulating carbon dioxide from power plants since it has already regulated their toxic emissions. Andrew Childers will cover the news every step of the way.

Environment Riders Loom Over Appropriations Process. Federal appropriations will expire Oct. 1, and lawmakers are poised to pass a stopgap funding bill to authorize spending beyond the November election. Dozens of environmental riders torpedoed Democratic support for Interior Department and EPA legislation during the summer appropriations process, and those proposals, such as a Clean Power Plan block, are sure to emerge during the scramble for longer-term fiscal year 2017 funding. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently said the stopgap can’t extend into the 2017 calendar year, setting the stage for a December fight over President Obama’s environmental platform. Brian Dabbs is the one to watch for the story.

EPA’s Implementation of Amended TSCA. The EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics will work to propose four rules in December. Those rules will propose: an approach to determine what chemicals are actively in commerce; a strategy to prioritize chemicals as to whether they are low or high priorities for risk evaluations; ways the agency will evaluate health and ecological risks; and fees that companies would pay the agency to help it recoup some of the costs expended on reviewing their products. Pat Rizzuto is all over it.   

Zika Emergency Funding. When Congress left for its summer recess, it failed to pass a nearly $1.9 billion emergency funding package that the president had requested to fund the government’s response to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak. If Congress does approve the president’s request, there may be more funding for the development of new mosquito-killing insecticides. David Schultz will have the story.

Flint Awaits Congressional Funding Decisions. Flint, the Michigan city of 100,000 that has been mired in a lead-contaminated water crisis, still hasn’t been appropriated recovery funds from Congress. The money has been a contentious issue since early 2016, when conflict over it held up a major energy bill in the Senate. The latest vehicle for the funds is the water resources bill, but it’s TBD whether it will make it into the final bill. Rachel Leven is covering.

EPA Regulation on Infrastructure Finance Program Coming. The EPA is expected to finalize rule in October to begin implementing the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority.  The program would allow water utilities, including the one in Flint, to obtain Treasury-backed credit to secure loans for infrastructure projects worth at least $20 million. Amena Saiyid is reporting.

Energy Bill Negotiations Head Into Home Stretch. House and Senate negotiators seeking to hammer out the differences between the two chamber’s energy bills (H.R. 8, S. 2012) have until the end of the congressional session to finish their work. While both bills would expedite the Energy Department’s approval process for natural gas exports, broad differences remain on issues related to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, California drought legislation, and federal efforts to prevent and fight forest fires. Ari Natter is the one to watch for this story.

Volkswagen Settlement Heads Toward Approval. A federal district court in San Francisco is scheduled to hold an Oct. 8 final approval hearing on a $14.7 billion settlement in the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Owners of affected diesel vehicles will be able to sell their cars back to the automaker soon after approval is granted. Patrick Ambrosio will have the news.  

Water Resources Development Act of 2016 to Get Big Push. Senate and House committees approved two very different versions of a bill to authorize water infrastructure projects. The Senate included much aid for drinking water and wastewater systems. Supporters of the legislation will try to get a version passed and sent to the White House in September. Alan Kovski is on it.

EPA Implementation of Amended Toxics Law Challenged. A number of EPA deadlines for rulemaking are being closely watched by industry and environmental groups as they see how the EPA will prioritize, evaluate and manage chemical risks. Lawsuits and advocacy around EPA decisions are inevitable. Steve Gibb is watching.

Arguments Over Clean Water Rule Lawsuit Begin.  Litigation over the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule clarifying Clean Water Act jurisdiction heats up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit this fall. State, business and municipal, and association challengers file briefs Sept. 30, arguing why the clean water rule is illegal. The EPA and the corps have until Nov. 30 to defend the rulemaking. Amena Saiyid will have the story.

Terminix Legal Troubles. Pest control company Terminix has been unable to resolve a criminal case brought against it after the fumigation poisoning of a vacationing family in the Virgin Islands. Though it has reached agreements with prosecutors to pay $10 million in fines, the judge in the case has refused to approve of these agreements. If the company can’t come to an agreement the judge will approve, the case will be going to a jury trial early next month. David Schultz will have the news.

And Then There Were Three FERC Commissioners.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be down to three commissioners, who are all Democrats, early this fall after the lone Republican Commissioner Tony Clark leaves the agency. This will be the first time there will be an all Democrat panel. At full staffing, it is a five-member panel with a majority from the party in power. It will likely stay at three members until a new administration takes over next year. Rebecca Kern is following.