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February 19, 2013
Adding climate change to the regulatory mix

Integrating climate change considerations into federal environmental programs, policies, and rules is a top goal in EPA’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which was completed in June 2012 and just recently released for public comment.

According to the Agency, the plan calls on existing authorities to review and adjust rulemaking in five areas to ensure that the heightened risks posed by climate change are properly considered.  Once made final, the plan will be in effect until 2015. 

Apart from certain air rules that directly address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and actions to comply with the renewable fuel standard, factoring climate change into EPA rulemaking has been sporadic.


The EPA believes it must take action to better account for how climate change will affect conditions in the following areas:

  • Air.  Climate change is expected to increase tropospheric ozone pollution in certain regions because of higher temperatures; contribute to particulate matter pollution because of the growing number of forest fires; increase indoor air pollution for a number of reasons, including increased precipitation causing more indoor dampness and the occurrence of mold; and pose risks to the protective stratospheric ozone layer because of changes in chemical transport, atmospheric composition, and temperature.
  • Water.  The strategy notes that climate change increases vulnerabilities to plentiful and clean water in 12 ways, including threats to water infrastructure due to extreme weather events and higher water temperatures that increase pollution, the spread of oxygen-depleting algal blooms, and harm caused to temperature-sensitive aquatic species.
  • Contaminated site cleanup.  Flooding from more intense and frequent storms and sea-level rise may lead to releases from contaminated sites.  Water-intensive cleanup remedies may become impractical if drought becomes more prevalent.  And increased storm activity may increase the generation of waste.
  • Chemicals. A changing climate can affect exposure to a wide range of chemicals.  For example, the EPA speculates that higher temperatures will cause insect populations to grow, cause more use of chemical pesticides, and expose more people to those chemicals. 
  • Enforcement.  If climate change causes more intense weather events and increases EPA’s involvement in disaster response and remediation, enforcement efforts (as well as efforts in other EPA programs) could be affected because of a scarcity of available staff and resources.

Entry points

According to the plan, there are a variety of entry points wherein climate change can be integrated into rules and policies.  These include during development of the rule itself; in related policy and guidance development; and in postrule permitting, monitoring, and enforcement.   

The plan states that the EPA intends to enhance the ability of rulemakers to address the implications of climate change through updates to the Action Development Process. This process was initiated by the EPA to guide the Agency’s rulemaking activities from the start of the process through the analysis of regulatory options to the final publication of a regulation. 

One specific action the plan mentions involves providing rulemakers with guidance on climate change and complementary training similar to the way those measures have been implemented to ensure that children’s health and environmental justice are considered in all rulemakings.

But overall, the plan is characterized by generalities and short on precise measures we can expect to see from the EPA.  We must wait to see how the EPA will use its existing authorities to factor climate change into rule development.

Click here for EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan.

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