An amicus brief in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from power plants was the most read Energy and Climate Report story for the week ending Feb. 27. The EPA’s budget, difficulties in gaining Senate approval for top EPA officials, along with remarks by the agency’s second-in-command and upcoming testimony by its top official before Congress rounded out the top five story list. 

EPA Has Tools to Resolve Conflicting Clean Air Act Amendments, Professors Tell Court

Conflicting amendments under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act are ambiguous, but can be resolved using existing statutory interpretation methods, law professors—whose comments are covered in this story—told a federal appellate court in response to a lawsuit filed by energy companies over EPA carbon rules for power plants.

When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990, the House and Senate approved conflicting amendments to Section 111(d). The Senate amendment prevents the EPA from regulating pollutants under Section 111(d) if they already subject to hazardous air pollutant standards under Section 112. The House amendment can be read as barring the agency from regulating industrial sources under Section 111(d) if they are subject to standards under Section 112. Both provisions were included in the final 1990 Clean Air Act.

The EPA should be given deference by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to interpret ambiguous statutory language as it proposes carbon dioxide emissions limits for existing power plants, the law professors, who are represented by Katherine E. Konschnik from the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative, said in an amicus brief.

EPA to Get Much Less Money in FY 2016 Than Requested, House Appropriators Say

As covered in this story, the EPA’s request for $8.59 billion in funding for the coming fiscal year was met with skepticism among the top Republican appropriators in the House during a Feb. 26 hearing.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee that “the president is not only sending a clear signal about the resources EPA needs, … [his funding request] is also part of an overall federal budget that does not accept the overall bad policy-making of sequestration. The President's budget finds a way to avoid sequestration.”

However, Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the EPA budget, said it would be futile to entertain the president's proposed 5.6 percent increase in spending on the agency.

Long Confirmation Process Discourages Many Candidates, Pending EPA Nominee Says

Lengthy delays faced by EPA nominees in the Senate confirmation process are “tough” and discourage many potential candidates from being considered for roles within the agency, according to one of those nominees, Ann Dunkin, whose remarks are covered in this story.

Dunkin, tapped to be assistant administrator for environmental information and current chief information officer at the EPA, told Federal News Radio that candidates “incur a lot of personal cost” due to the delays and said 10 of the 14 spots at the agency requiring Senate confirmation are currently vacant.

“This, typically has not been such a long process, and so it's kind of been uncharted territory,” Dunkin said. “This process right now certainly makes it harder, and I hope that the president and Congress are able to find out a way to clear up this gridlock.”

Costs, Benefits of Climate Change a Problem of Timing, Officials Say

Climate change is a “difficult” and “wicked” problem because of the difference in timing between its costs and benefits, the second-highest-ranking official at the EPA—whose remarks are covered in this story—told the 2015 Climate Leadership Conference.

“The costs of actions to address climate change are tangible and present, while the benefits [of doing so] are in the future,” Stanley Meiburg, who is serving as EPA's acting deputy administrator while awaiting confirmation for the role, said.

Meiburg was quick to add that “many of the actions we take to address climate change now do have contemporaneous benefits,” such as reducing conventional air pollution. “But it's also true that we're engaged here in a present enterprise whose focus is the future,” he said.

Senate Environment Committee to Hear From McCarthy

As covered in this news brief, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is scheduled to testify March 4 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

McCarthy will be the only witness and will discuss the fiscal year 2016 budget. The EPA administrator testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee Feb. 26 and before two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees the day before.

Discussion is likely to include a number of regulations, including proposed carbon pollution limits for power plants. President Barack Obama is seeking a $451.8 million increase in funding in his fiscal year 2016 budget request for the agency.

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