Time’s about up for OIRA on Coal Ash Rule

Coal ash pond Today, Jan. 14, marks day 90 of the White House’s review of EPA’s proposed coal ash regulation. As I blogged on Monday, the rule has been discussed at dozens of meetings featuring the EPA, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and various stakeholders. My updated count has industry stakeholders at 22 meetings and environmental stakeholders at four.

Ninety days is more than enough time to review a regulation. Considering 26 meetings have been held, we also know that OIRA has expended much effort and staff resources deliberating on the coal ash rule – certainly more effort than the typical regulation OIRA reviews. (Rulemaking agencies must send OIRA draft versions of proposed and final rules for clearance.) Presuming EPA sent OIRA a strong rule, it’s time for OIRA to decide whether or not the agency is allowed to go forward.

OIRA has a real opportunity on its hands with this regulation. It has the opportunity to reflect President Obama’s commitment to limiting special interest influence in Washington, and it has the opportunity to prevent major disasters like the 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee and protect communities from potentially serious health risks. (Read more on why coal ash regulation is needed at Earthjustice’s website.)

It’s also important to remember that this is a proposed rule, not a final rule. If OIRA gives EPA the green light, we can begin a real public debate on the issue. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, EPA will have to publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register and accept public comment on it (probably for 60 days). EPA can also choose to hold hearings during the comment period.

EPA submitted the rule to OIRA Oct. 16. Under OIRA’s own policy, it may only review a regulation for 90 days. Unfortunately, if OIRA exceeds that time limit neither EPA nor the public can do anything to pry it from the White House’s grasp. (OIRA updates its review statistics once per day, so we won’t know until tomorrow if the rule was cleared today.) OIRA, with the blessing of the rulemaking agency, may also extend the review by 30 days. In that event, a designation that the review has been extended will appear in the list of rules under review. A review may only be extended once.

Update (1/15/10): The review has been extended, giving OIRA up to 30 more days to review the rule.

Image courtesy of Richard Webb via geograph.org.uk. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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