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Amid Hill Budget Standoff, Agencies Move Climate Regulatory Policies

October 6, 2021

As congressional Democrats struggle to reach agreement on sweeping budget “reconciliation” legislation to fund most of Biden administration’s climate agenda, regulatory agencies are moving on several fronts to set new requirements to eliminate potent greenhouse gases and promote low-carbon energy.

In one recent action, EPA is floating a “supplemental” proposal that would impose “narrowed use limits” for climate-warming hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) blends in certain foam products, expanding on a June 2020 proposal that would have categorized the blends as “acceptable” under the agency’s Significant New Alternatives Policy program despite their global warming potential (GWP):

Tightening Trump Plan, EPA Floats Time-Limited HFC Blend Use For Foam

EPA is tightening a Trump-era proposed rule that would allow unlimited use of certain climate-warming hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) “blends” in the foam insulation sector, floating a supplemental plan that would instead allow the use of such blends only for roughly the next year.

The upcoming proposal will allow for the use the HFCs blends for only about a year, until Jan. 1, 2023. That date coincides with a proposed phase out deadline for HFC-134a in foam insulation in a series of petitions to EPA from environmental and some industry groups. EPA officials have said they are poised to act on the petitions later this month, under a December 2020 statute giving the agency comprehensive authority to limit HFC production and use due to their climate impacts.

Also, EPA late last month excluded gas-powered furnaces, boilers, and dryers from the “Most Efficient” category of the agency’s Energy Star program:

EPA Drops Gas Appliances From Energy Star’s Top Efficiency Rating

EPA is dropping natural gas-powered appliances from qualifying for the Energy Star program’s top tier efficiency standard in 2022, bolstering local calls to block use of the fossil fuel while also highlighting federal recognition that such appliances are relatively less efficient than all-electric models and could help the Biden administration’s climate goals.

The updated guidelines reference the Biden administration's net-zero emissions by 2050 goal and efforts protect consumer health. They will also “better appeal to the Most Efficient target audience -- environmentally-conscious consumers,” according to a Sept. 28 EPA announcement.

The guidelines signal federal interest in potentially moving away from gas-powered appliances and toward electric models, says Denise Grab, a manager on the carbon-free buildings team at RMI, a clean energy research nonprofit. This recognition in the Energy Star program is a signal that EPA is starting to recognize “the problems associated with these appliances and starting to grapple with what to do about it,” she said.

On the renewable energy front, a political deadlock at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has allowed power market rules affecting 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states to go into effect to the applause of clean-energy advocates:

FERC Deadlock Allows PJM Rule Backing Renewables To Take Effect

Closely watched power market rules that could ease requirements for renewables and other low-carbon generators in the country’s largest grid region will now take effect after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) deadlocked on whether to approve the regulatory changes.

The “capacity” market rules by PJM Interconnection reverse a Trump-era federal policy intended to favor fossil-fuel generators in markets that are intended to secure sufficient long-term power needs. The move is being hailed by renewable energy advocates and could help the Biden administration achieve its climate policy goals, including a transition to a net-zero emissions electricity sector by 2035.

“The Commission did not act on PJM’s filing because the Commissioners are divided two against two as to the lawfulness of the change,” FERC says in its Sept. 29 notice announcing that the PJM’s “focused” Minimum Offer Price Rule is going into effect.

At the same time, FERC Chairman Richard Glick is renewing his pitch for robust climate change analysis when reviewing natural gas pipeline projects, in a Sept. 24 letter to Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee ranking member John Barrasso (R-WY):

Glick Renews Call For FERC To Bolster Climate Reviews Of Gas Pipelines

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Richard Glick (D) is reiterating his push for the panel to bolster its climate change reviews of natural gas pipelines, telling a top GOP senator that several recent court decisions have faulted FERC’s analysis on this issue.

Glick expresses concern that FERC has “often cut corners in a manner that fell short of” its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Natural Gas Act. In his letter, Glick argues this limited analysis “dramatically increases the risks that courts will invalidate the Commission’s decisions,” which in turn adds uncertainty and costs to the projects.

And in California, air regulators face competing arguments over deadlines for commercial and government use of zero-emission trucks:

Truck Fleets, Environmentalists Clash Over Stringency Of CARB ZEV Rule

Private and public owners of medium- and heavy-duty truck fleets are clashing with environmentalists over how stringent the California air board should make its proposed regulation requiring fleets to purchase zero-emission models beginning in 2024, while also hotly debating projected compliance costs.

In Sept. 27 comments, a coalition of environmental, equity, health and labor groups charges that California Air Resources Board staff “have so far failed to incorporate several crucial improvements” to align the regulation with any realistic chance of meeting the state’s climate and air quality targets.

In contrast, the Port of Oakland, which has a fleet of about 100 trucks, argues that the “aggressive timeline for this Proposed Regulation and the lack of commercial availability of zero-emissions trucks will lead to actions that defeat the purpose of the Proposed Regulation,” according to its Sept. 27 comments.

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