Regulations expected in March on carbon emissions, stress tests

The regulatory agenda is typically published twice a year and lays out priorities for each agency, along with an estimated timeline of the production of the rules. The administration only published one Unified Agenda last year, far past the deadline.

Many are watching that timeline to prepare themselves for upcoming rules. In March, several long-awaited environmental, transportation, financial and homeland security rules are scheduled to roll out.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to finalize a rule that would establish carbon dioxide limits for power plants in the United States. The standard would not be retroactive and only applies to new coal-powered and other power plants.

The greenhouse gas emission standards would be set at 1,000 pounds per kilowatt-hour. To put that in perspective, the average coal-powered plant currently emits anywhere between 1,600 and 1,800 pounds of greenhouse gasses per kilowatt-hour, according to an EPA report.

In 2009, the electric power sector contributed nearly 40 percent of all CO2 emissions, according to an independent Energy Information Administration study.

The importance of the rulemaking, the EPA said in its proposal, is the risk of “the current and future threat of climate change to public health and welfare.” In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the regulator had the authority to create rules to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

In 2011, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue new regulations regarding the controversial “advanced imaging technology” body scanners used in airports to screen passengers before flights.

The court determined that the Transportation Security Administration, an agency within the DHS, would have to write new regulations with a request for comment. It also ruled that the TSA must give passengers the option to opt out, which is currently allowed, but many consumers of unaware of it, the court said.

The TSA is under a judicial deadline of this month to at least solicit comment on new rules for airline passenger screening.

THE COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is required to write rules for annual “stress tests” to be conducted by the financial institutions under its watch. Those tests are used to evaluate how well institutions with more than $10 billion or more in assets can handle market risk.

Thus far, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller and of the Currency have all issued stress-test regulations, but the CFTC has yet to propose any.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Following recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been formulating regulations that would require “motor coaches,” including school busses, to install seatbelts for both the driver and all passengers.

The rule has come under scrutiny from anti-regulation groups, who point to the estimated $12,900 cost per vehicle price tag attached to the new regulation.

The DOT calculated that it could add, in total, $25 million to the average 2,000 busses sold each year. In its 2010 proposal, the department even tacked on a maximum lifetime cost of $1,800 per vehicle, from increased gas usage due to the extra seatbelt-related weight.

Retrofitting the fleet of busses and motor coaches could cost anywhere from $176 million to $1.2 billion, depending on a variety of factors, according to the proposal Federal Register.

However, the DOT also estimates that the new regulations could save up to eight lives every year and prevent up to 800 minor to serious injuries caused by crashes.