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 Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug Intercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 MORE (D-N.J.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteOvernight Health Care: WH says more than one million vaccine doses administered in 24 hours | Texas faces tipping point as COVID-19 spreads | House Democrats press insulin manufacturers for lower prices House members to urge FDA to remove in-person requirement for abortion medication House Democrats press insulin manufacturers for lower prices MORE (D-Colo.), and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoManchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill House Democrats outline plan for transition to clean electricity The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Final countdown: Senate inches toward last infrastructure vote 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 & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Former EPA chief to chair pro-Trump think tank's environmental center Lobbying world 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.