Forecast of the Federal Environmental Policy in 2022

January 14, 2022
Michael Dillon, Esq. and Zachary J. Koslap, Esq.
MGKF Special Alert - Federal Forecast 2022

With the Biden administration’s first year in office coming to a close, the President’s environmental policy pledges made at the start of his administration are beginning to take shape.  Many of these pledges can be characterized as either responding to or changing course from the previous administration’s goals or expanding the federal government’s focus on policy areas of importance to the President, including climate change and environmental justice in particular.  This federal forecast provides an overview of significant activities that have occurred in 2021 that are bound to shape to the direction of the administration’s environmental policy goals for 2022.  Looking forward, we can expect the Biden administration to build on the regulatory and policy efforts already underway. 

On the topic of climate change, the Biden administration has taken a number of steps, with additional actions anticipated in the coming year.  The United States’ participation in the United Nation’s Glasgow Climate Change Conference made major headlines toward the end of 2021, where the country rejoined the collective efforts to limit global temperature rise.  Domestically, the administration began a multifaceted approach in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from mobile and stationary sources, including through the phase down on the production and import of hydrofluorocarbons and the final rulemaking that establishes more robust GHG standards in cars and light trucks.  Recently, the administration has announced that the federal government will transition to renewable energy by 2050, which includes transitioning to the use of zero-emission vehicles by 2035 and modernizing federal buildings to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. 

The first year of the Biden presidency has also shown that the administration intends to increase the focus on environmental justice through federal agency action.  The administration’s government-wide Justice40 Initiative, for example, has a goal of directing 40 percent of the overall benefits of applicable federal spending to overburdened communities.  The EPA in particular has taken steps in developing strategies that prioritize community engagement in overburdened communities, such as coordinating with state enforcement counterparts and encouraging enforcement personnel to participate in community engagement efforts  At the same time, EPA plans to take a more active role in state permitting actions involving overburdened communities.  We expect that the Biden administration and the EPA specifically will continue to advance environmental justice considerations simultaneous with their development of other policy goals and enforcement objectives. 

For example, EPA has made clear that going into 2022 it intends to increase its enforcement actions in overburdened communities.  In addition to a broader increase in Superfund enforcement bolstered by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s revival of an excise tax, we anticipate EPA will more heavily scrutinize Superfund sites in overburdened communities and expedite remedial design/remedial action negotiations.  Further, EPA has indicated that it will continue to work closely with state and local air agencies to improve compliance in areas not meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), many of which are overburdened communities. 

More broadly, we anticipate EPA to continue the rulemaking efforts it began in 2021.  EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, are likely to propose a new definition of Waters of the United States in 2022, with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule vacated by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in 2021.  We also anticipate EPA to continue its rulemaking efforts to regulate PFAS through drinking water, wastewater, and emissions standards, and potentially to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances.  EPA also will reconsider its decision in December 2020 to retain the PM NAAQS, which EPA believes may not be adequate to protect public health and welfare as required by the Clean Air Act. 

The federal section of this forecast provides additional details on many of the Biden administration’s environmental policy objectives.