EPA proposes rule to speed up disputed industry pollution permits

EPA proposes rule to speed up disputed industry pollution permits
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The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to speed up the process by which industry permits are granted after they are challenged before the agency’s appeals board.

According to a proposed rule posted Tuesday in the Federal Register, the agency is looking to “streamline” permit disputes that can occur between industries seeking pollution permits and communities or individuals that are brought before EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). 

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Under the new proposal, the timeline for EAB to make its decision on appeals will be shortened to 60 days. The new process would allow parties to challenge the permits through an EAB hearing or an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) but if there is no unanimous consent between the two groups, the industry permit becomes automatically final.

“If the parties don’t agree to proceed with either the ADR process or an EAB appeal, the permit would become final and could be challenged in federal court,” the proposed rule reads.

The EAB was established in 1992 as the final decisionmaker on all administrative appeals made to EPA’s statutes and acts as an alternative to court challenges. Critics say the new proposal could sway parties in the direction of more courtroom lawsuits over granted permits.

Other changes to the rule include a tightening of the EAB board’s ability to review permits independently without prior appeals being filed and would no longer let parties file amicus briefs in support of other permit challenges. The proposed rule would extend to all permits issued by EPA  under the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Resources Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act.

EPA described the changes as a way to “promote internal efficiencies.”

Additionally, the new rule would set 12-year term limits for EAB judges and allows the EPA the executive authority to issue his or her own legal interpretation of any issue pending before the EAB.

“EPA proposes several additional reforms designed to provide tools to better allow the Administrator to exercise his or her statutory authority together with appropriate checks and balances on how the Board exercises its delegated authority,” the rule reads.

The final rule does not go as far as limiting community voices across the country to challenge decisions on how much pollution is legally allowed to be released at nearby power plants, as was proposed in a previously leaked version of the rule. 

Lawmakers in August sent a letter to EPA taking issue with the proposed changes that they warned could "benefit wealthy industry groups at the expense of everyday Americans unable to afford lengthy litigation battles."