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EPA’s Draft Strategic Plan Highlights Environmental Justice

Stephanie Salmon

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its new Draft Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2022-2026. The plan communicates the EPA’s vision, priorities and strategies for accomplishing its mission over the next four years and sets out the agency’s new climate change and environmental justice strategic goals. It emphasizes that these two overarching principles will be embedded in all EPA work. 

By September 2026, EPA plans to conduct 55% of all inspections annually at facilities that trigger “potential environmental justice concerns.” This represents a 100% increase from EPA’s current data. Furthermore, EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which tracks implementation of pollution prevention activities and serves as a source of publicly available chemical release and management information, will be expanded to identify vulnerable communities more accurately near TRI facilities. EPA expects such action will further support pollution prevention initiatives. These initiatives are aimed at reducing the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering a waste stream or released into the environment prior to recycling of discarded material, treatment, or disposal, as well as conserving the use of natural resources. The plan commits the agency to long-term performance goals of finalizing regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from light, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, electric-generating units, and the oil and gas industry.

Foundries operating near communities the EPA deems vulnerable or disadvantaged should expect increased inspection activity and greater scrutiny of new and renewed air permit applications. The strategic plan is open for public comment through November 12, and the final plan will be issued in February 2022 together with the EPA’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal. During the October AFS EHS Conference in Birmingham, the Strategic Plan and other key EPA initiatives impacting the U.S. metalcasting industry were discussed by several environmental law experts.    

USTR Outlines Biden Administration’s China Agenda

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai delivered a much-anticipated speech on the Biden Administration’s approach to the U.S.’s trade relationship with China in October. She emphasized that the Administration plans on holding China to the commitments it made during Phase 1 of the U.S.–China Trade & Economic Agreement and is committed to starting a targeted Section 301 tariff exclusion process.

The limited exclusion process announced by USTR does not apply to all products impacted by the Section 301 tariffs, which includes hundreds of castings, but is an opportunity to comment for or against reinstating 549 previously granted exclusions, most of which expired in December 2020. Only a dozen or so metal castings are on this limited exclusion list. The public comment period opened on October 12 and will close on December 1, 2021. 

Tai also raised serious concerns with China’s state-centered and non-market trade practices that were not addressed in the Phase 1 deal and promised to use the full range of tools available to defend American economic interests.    

EPA to Reduce and Regulate PFAS Chemicals by 2023

The Biden Administration announced on October 18 a multiagency, three-year strategy to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination nationwide by setting a timeline for drinking water limits and designating some substances a hazard under the nation’s superfund law. To facilitate the coordination of PFAS response activities across the government, the Biden Administration created the Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS, under the leadership of White House Council on Environmental Quality.

EPA also announced the release of its PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024, which describes specific regulations it will issue and research it will do to understand where additional controls may be needed.

The EPA’s planned rules include releasing by Fall 2023 final drinking water limits for the two most studied PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The agency will propose designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous superfund substances by Spring 2022. The agency will propose limits to the amount of PFAS that chemical, plastics, and synthetic fiber manufacturers can release into water by Summer 2023. The agency expects to propose limits for the electroplating and metal finishing industries by Summer 2024. 

Click here to read the column in the digital edition of November 2021 Modern Casting.