Lawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits

Lawmakers criticize EPA draft rule for curbing rights to challenge pollution permits
© Aaron Schwartz

Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns over a forthcoming environmental rule that could limit the rights of individuals and communities to challenge granted federal pollution permits.

Three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday taking issue with reported changes that they warned could "benefit wealthy industry groups at the expense of everyday Americans unable to afford lengthy litigation battles."

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban House panel advances flavored e-cigarette ban MORE (D-N.J.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDemocrats request info on Google-Ascension partnership Trump health chief declines to detail ObamaCare replacement plan A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE (D-Colo.), and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths MORE (D-N.Y.).

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The letter follows reports that the EPA is preparing a final regulation that would no longer allow individuals or communities to challenge the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) on any decisions about how much pollution is legally allowed at nearby power plants. However, the rule would reportedly allow the industry to continue to appeal denials.

“We believe the reported changes would threaten human health and the environment,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday.

They added that the House panel is “troubled by EPA’s reported efforts to limit the ability of communities to challenge the Agency’s permitting decisions.”

“Additionally, we are concerned that EPA is contemplating actions which could undermine the EAB’s ability to effectively and independently adjudicate permits, limit the scope and nature of EAB’s review, or foreclose administrative appeals altogether,” they wrote.

While the EPA has not finalized the regulation, it is expected to be released soon.

The EPA did not immediately return requests for comment on the lawmakers’ letter. The agency has not officially confirmed or denied the existence of the forthcoming rule.

“EPA is always interested in improving its processes while maintaining environmental protection. Contrary to the speculation by certain parties, EPA is working to protect the public interest and transparently carry out its work,” a spokesman said in a statement in July.

An internal June 19 EPA email obtained by The Hill characterized the proposed procedural rule as an attempt to “streamline and modernize the role of the Environmental Appeals Board in EPA’s permitting process.”

The email sent to staff from Carol Ann Siciliano, the EPA’s acting deputy general counsel for environmental media and regional law offices, noted that the rule proposal was a top priority for EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules Congressional watchdog warns a majority of Superfund sites are vulnerable to climate change: report MORE.

In their letter, the lawmakers requested that Wheeler confirm the forthcoming EAB proposal and provide additional details, including how the changes under consideration might impact low-income and minority communities. Additionally, they asked the EPA to set up a briefing with the committee over the rule.