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U.S. District Court Finds EPA Exceeded Its Authority by Delaying Implementation of Formaldehyde Emission Standards

On April 6, 2018, a notice was published in the Federal Register by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcing that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order on March 13, 2018 invalidating the EPA’s delay of the formaldehyde emission standards’ implementation. The Court found that the EPA acted beyond the scope of authority granted to it by the Formaldehyde Standards in Composite Wood Products Act of 2010. The implementation date has therefore been moved up and composite wood products must be certified as compliant with the new formaldehyde emission standards by June 1, 2018. Formaldehyde is used in the manufacture and fabrication of various types of composite wood products, such as hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard – the pieces of wood in these products are bonded together with a formaldehyde-based resin. These composite wood products are incorporated into a variety of household products, including paneling, flooring, cabinets, shelving, and countertops, that, as a result, emit formaldehyde. The Formaldehyde Standards in Composite Wood Products Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2010 to protect public health from exposure to formaldehyde in composite wood products. The Act established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products manufactured and sold in the U.S. by adding to Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and it required the EPA to finalize a rule on the implementation and enforcement of the emission standards no later than July 1, 2013. The EPA published a proposed rule on June 10, 2013 accordingly (78 FR 34820) and then a final rule for the implementation of the formaldehyde emissions standards on December 12, 2016 (81 FR 89674). The December 2016 final rule identified February 10, 2017 as its effective date and December 12, 2017 as the first date on which compliance with the new standards would be required. After President Trump took office, the EPA delayed the effective date of the December 2016 final rule, alongside a number of other Obama Administration EPA rules – first until March 21, 2017 (82 FR 8499) and then until May 22, 2017 (82 FR 14324) – in order to allow the new administration to learn more about the new rules before they went into effect. The EPA then proposed, on May 24, 2017 (82 FR 23769), to extend the formaldehyde emissions standards’ compliance dates set by the December 2016 final rule (the first of which was December 12, 2017), citing the regulated entities delayed ability to begin the implementation activities necessary to achieve compliance before the required dates as a result of the two delays to the December 2016 final rule’s effective date. A one-year extension of the standards’ compliance dates was finalized in a final rule published on September 25, 2017 (82 FR 44533), resulting in December 12, 2018 being set as the date compliance with the new standards would first be required. On October 31, 2017, the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, and New Orleans-based group A Community Voice filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging the EPA’s delay of the formaldehyde emissions standards’ implementation. The Court, in an order filed February 16, 2018, granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgement and denied the EPA’s cross-motion for summary judgment. It found Congress was clear that compliance with the formaldehyde emissions standards regulation was to be required expeditiously (no later than 180 days) after the regulation was finalized, and the EPA therefore exceeded the authority granted to it by the Act by delaying the compliance dates to far exceed the Act’s 180-day deadline after the regulations were finalized on December 12, 2016. The Court vacated the EPA’s one-year extension of the compliance deadlines to December 12, 2018, as set out by the EPA in its September 25, 2017 delay rule. As a result of the lawsuit, composite wood products that are manufactured in the U.S. or imported into the U.S. must be certified as compliant with the formaldehyde emissions standards by June 1, 2018.   Source: Notice, “Court Order; Compliance Date; Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products,” 83 Fed. Reg. 14,375 (EPA, Apr. 4, 2018), https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/04/2018-06884/court-order-compliance-date-formaldehyde-emission-standards-for-composite-wood-products.

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