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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: Congressional Responses and Options

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Larry Parker
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency's promulgation of an "endangerment finding" for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in December 2009, and its subsequent promulgation of GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles on April 1, 2010, have raised concerns among some in Congress that the agency will now proceed to control GHG emissions from stationary sources, including power plants, manufacturing facilities, and others. Stationary sources account for 69% of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. If the United States is to reduce its total GHG emissions, as President Obama has committed to do, it will be necessary to address these sources. 

EPA's regulations limiting GHG emissions from new cars and light trucks will trigger at least two other Clean Air Act (CAA) provisions affecting stationary sources of air pollution. First, effective January 2, 2011, new or modified major stationary sources will have to undergo New Source Review (NSR) with respect to their GHGs in addition to any other pollutants subject to regulation under the CAA that are emitted by the source. This review will require affected sources to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to address their GHG emissions. Second, all major sources of GHGs (existing and new) will have to obtain permits under Title V of the CAA (or have existing permits modified to include their GHG requirements). Beyond these permitting requirements, because stationary sources, particularly coal-fired power plants, are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, EPA is likely to find itself compelled to issue endangerment findings under other parts of the act, resulting in New Source Performance Standards for stationary sources or emission standards under other sections of the act. 

EPA shares congressional concerns about the potentially broad scope of these regulations, primarily because a literal reading of the act might require as many as 6 million stationary sources to obtain permits. Thus, on May 13, 2010, the agency finalized a "Tailoring Rule" so that it can focus its resources on the largest emitters while deciding over a six-year period what to do about smaller sources. The agency is still in the process of developing recommendations on what the BACT requirements will be and expects to issue guidance on that in the fall of 2010. 

Many in Congress have suggested that EPA should delay taking action on these sources or should be prevented from doing so. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to achieve such results: four resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (S.J.Res. 26, H.J.Res. 66, H.J.Res. 76, H.J.Res. 77) are aimed at EPA's determination under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act that GHGs cause or contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare; five other bills would either require EPA to reevaluate its endangerment finding (H.Res. 974), amend the Clean Air Act to provide that greenhouse gases are not subject to the act (H.R. 4396), limit EPA's GHG authority to motor vehicle emissions (S. 1622), or suspend EPA actions regulating stationary source emissions of GHGs for two years (S. 3072, H.R. 4753). 

This report discusses elements of this controversy, providing background on stationary sources of greenhouse gas pollution and identifying options Congress has at its disposal should it decide to address the issue. The report discusses four sets of options: (1) resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act; (2) freestanding legislation delaying or prohibiting EPA action; (3) the use of appropriations bills as a vehicle to restrain EPA activity; and (4) amendments to the Clean Air Act, including legislation such as H.R. 2454 or S. 1733, which would establish a new GHG control regime. 

Date of Report: June 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R41212
Price: $29.95

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