Congress may be stalled out, but the EPA certainly isn't

The Environmental Protection Agency took a strategic timeout on their zealous regulatory agenda in the run-up to last November’s election, lest their many ambitious plans for job-killing regulations should put a damper on President Obama’s prospects. Post-election, however, it has been full steam ahead for the independent agency, and they are finally starting to release some of the some of the rules and regulations to which we are all going to be forced to adjust over the coming years.

On Friday of last week, the EPA issued a new soot rule under the auspices of the all-purpose Clean Air Act, via Fox News:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued its first major regulation since the Nov. 6 election, imposing new air quality rules on soot pollution in what critics called evidence of a post-election “regulatory cliff.”

The EPA rule reduces by 20 percent the maximum amount of soot released into the air from smokestacks, diesel trucks and other sources of pollution.  …

But the new soot standard has been highly anticipated by environmental and business groups, who have battled over whether it will protect public health or cause job losses.

“There is no compelling scientific evidence for the policy decision to develop more stringent standards. The existing standards are working and will continue improving air quality,” API Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman said in a statement. “We fear this new rule may be just the beginning of a ‘regulatory cliff’.”

And just today (man, this White House certainly does seem fond of Friday announcements, no?), the EPA issued a few more items — a host of new Clean Air rules for “industrial boilers, incinerators, and cement kilns“, which environmentalists are complaining are still too weak despite the ensuing costs to the domestic manufacturing sector, reports WaPo:

For the first time, large boilers and cement kilns will face strict limits on mercury, acid gases and fine particulate matter, or soot. But the EPA will give boiler owners three years to meet the new standards, with a possible extension for another year after that, meaning the earliest they will take effect would be in 2016. Cement plants will not have to comply with the new limits until September 2015, two years after they were originally set to take place. …

Although the most restrictive limits will affect just 1 percent of the nation’s nearly 1.5 million boilers, industry had fought restrictions in the past because these facilities are integral to the operations of hospitals, paper plants and factories. Boiler operators had sought to delay the rules by five years, until 2018. …

Donna Harman, president and chief executive of the American Forest and Paper Association, said in an interview that the Obama administration has come to recognize that her industry and others faced the daunting prospect of competing against other sectors to install new pollution controls on a tight deadline.

“This is one of the most costly and complicated rules, and there’s going to be a lot of competition for these resources [to upgrade boilers and incinerators] all at the same time,” Harman said. “You can put a stricter and arbitrary deadline, but if it can’t be done, it can’t be done.”

The EPA has also issued an “update” to on the “ongoing hydraulic fracturing study” that can still neither confirm-nor-deny any “any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources,” the ready-to-be-peer-reviewed final draft of which is not scheduled for release until 2014. My suspicion here is that the administration is okay with dragging their feet a bit to give themselves plenty of time to scrounge up some ostensible reasons that hydraulic fracturing needs to be put under stricter controls — I don’t think even the White House has quite decided in which direction they want to take natural gas yet, but the more excuses they can come up with to expand federal oversight, the better for them.