EPA Identifies Rulemaking Priorities for 2021 and Beyond

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EPA Identifies Rulemaking Priorities for 2021 and Beyond

By: George Colvin, CPG, CHMM

Twice a year, a number of federal agencies combine efforts to publish a comprehensive report describing regulations currently under development or recently completed. These reports are bundled together and published as the Unified Agenda. The agency-specific semiannual Regulatory Agenda is published twice a year. The fall version, which also includes the Regulatory Plan, is typically released sometime between October and December. The spring version generally is published sometime in April through June.  The Regulatory Agenda is a web-based list of rulemaking actions, with limited additional detail provided.  The Regulatory Plan is a written plan that discusses agency priorities and information on those upcoming regulatory actions which the federal agency feels are the most important. 

The Spring 2021 Regulatory Agenda is the first for the Biden administration and although the agenda serves as a loose aspirational guide, it does provide a glimpse into the administration’s environmental priorities.  The Spring EPA Regulatory Agenda includes:

  • 64 completed actions (actions or reviews the agency has completed or withdrawn since publication of last agenda)
  • 128 active actions
  • 55 long-term actions (items under development but for which the agency does not expect to have a regulatory action within the 12 months after publication of this edition of the Unified Agenda).

The actions are organized by applicable EPA office such as Office of Environmental Information (OEI), Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), Office of Research and Development (ORD), Office of Water (OW), Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA), and Office of Environmental Information (OEI).  For each of the current 247 agenda items, the Regulatory Agenda provides a summary of the rulemaking, its priority, legal authority, legal deadline, statement of need, alternatives, costs and benefits, risks, timetable, sectors affected, and agency contacts.  Of the combined 183 active and long-term actions on the Spring 2021 list, 50% are through Office of Air and Radiation, 22% are from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, 14% are from the Office of Water, and 9% are from the Office of Land and Emergency Response.

Several themes are apparent from the Biden administration’s first regulatory agenda. First, the shift in focus from deregulation to regulation. Second, the focus on air-related actions, representing 50% of the actions. Third, the number and urgency of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) actions, including:

  • National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandated addition of certain PFAS to the toxics release inventory (TRI) for reporting year 2021 – final rule stage
  • Unregulated contaminant monitoring rule (UCMR 5) for public water systems – final rule stage
  • Clean Water Act effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers point source category – prerule stage
  • Reporting and recordkeeping for PFAS under Section 8(a)(7) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – proposed rule stage
  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) National Primary Drinking Water Regulation Rulemaking – long term action
  • Designating PFOA and PFOS as CERCLA hazardous substances – long-term action

You can access current and past regulatory agendas through either RegInfo.gov or Regulations.gov.

Near-term EPA priorities also can be gleaned from the budgeting process.  The Biden administration released its fiscal year 2022 budget request in late May.  The request petitions Congress to increase EPA’s annual funding by 21 percent.  The EPA FY 2022 Budget in Brief is a comprehensive and easy to read summary of the proposed 2022 budget, with priorities clearly identified.

George H. Colvin is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years of consulting experience. Much of his experience has focused on RCRA Corrective Action, RCRA closure, and groundwater investigation, monitoring, and cleanup. He holds a BS in Geology from Ohio University and MS in geology and hydrology from Vanderbilt University. He is a Certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists, a registered geologist in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager.