Feds Release 2015 Unified Agenda for Federal Regulations

The White House unveiled its semiannual regulatory agenda right before the Memorial Day weekend. The Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, also known as the Unified Agenda, details the rules that are under development throughout the federal government and covers more than 60 departments, agencies and commissions. 

The Unified Agenda identifies the regulations federal entities consider a priority and includes anticipated release dates for final rules related to high-profile issues affecting the states, including an August deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize carbon emission regulations for existing power plants and the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers' Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule. The final WOTUS rule was released May 27.

The Waters of the U.S. rule, issued in response to several U.S. Supreme Court cases, aims to clarify the federal regulatory reach over certain waters and wetlands. The rule states that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams, as well as wetlands near rivers and streams, are subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction and automatically are protected under the act. The rule also recognizes that other waters may have a nexus to navigable waters and jurisdiction over these waters would be determined on a case-by-case basis. 

The proposed rule raised concerns by many in the agricultural community who argued the proposal was too broad and would hinder agricultural practices by placing certain erosional features and ditches under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule also has become a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers in both the House and Senate putting forth proposals to send the agencies back to the drawing board. 

At a recent hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, Kansas Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Susan Metzger argued that the rule would increase the number of Kansas’ stream miles covered by the Clean Water Act regulations by more than 400 percent. According to Metzger, the rule as proposed would force the state to spend its limited budget on federally required analyses rather than on voluntary restoration programs that have proved successful.

In August, EPA will release its final rules on the Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants in states, Indian Country and U.S. territories, and the carbon pollution standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants. The same month, EPA also will release a proposed federal plan for meeting Clean Power Plan goals in areas where compliance plans are not submitted by the states.  

State governments have a deep interest in the outcome of these regulations, as state environmental agencies must develop and implement compliance plans to meet the revised standards or face significant economic consequences. In developing these plans, state officials will need to meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also keeping energy supplies affordable and reliable. 

Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed allowing states to opt out of their EPA-assigned emissions standards under the proposed Clean Power Plan. Lawmakers opposing the rule also hope to use the appropriations process to delay the deadline for states to make emission reductions, lower the standards or collaborate with the utility industry to find a viable, alternative option.

Overall, the Unified Agenda reports on the status of 3,260 rules and regulations at various stages of implementation. Among these rules is a subset known as “economically significant,” or rules projected to have economic impacts of at least $100 million annually for federal state, local and tribal governments, and the private sector. State and local leaders will be combing through the agenda in the coming days to identify the rules that are unduly costly or unnecessary to their communities. The Council of State Governments will continue to monitor the progress of these regulations and report on those that are of significant interest to our members.