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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Water Rights Related to Oil Shale Development in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Concerns over fluctuating oil prices and declining petroleum production worldwide have revived interest in oil shale as a potential resource. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) identified oil shale as a strategically important domestic resource and directed the Department of the Interior to promote commercial development. Oil shale development would require significant amounts of water, however, and water supply in the Colorado River Basin, where several oil shale reserves are located, is limited. According to news reports, oil companies holding water rights in the region have not exercised those rights in decades, which has allowed other water rights holders to use the water for agricultural and municipal needs. Because of the nature of the water rights systems in the relevant states, these users might face significant limitations in their future use of water from the Colorado River Basin if the oil companies exercise their rights. This report will provide a brief overview of water rights in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, including changes that may be made to currently held water rights and the possibility for abandonment of unused water rights.


Date of Report: February 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: RS22986
Price: $29.95

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Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for Disaster Response, Recovery, and Mitigation Projects

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

In the aftermath of a major disaster, communities may need to rebuild, replace, or possibly even relocate a multitude of structures. When recovery activities take place on such a potentially large scale, compliance with any of a number of local, state, and federal laws or regulations may apply. For example, when older buildings must be repaired or demolished, provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) may need to be considered. If rebuilding will take place in a floodplain, provisions of Executive Order 11988 on Floodplain Management may apply. 

When federal agencies make decisions, such as funding applicant-proposed actions, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.) applies. For example, when federal funding is provided for disaster-related activities, applicants for those funds may be required to assess the environmental impacts of their proposed action. As commonly implemented, NEPA's environmental review requirements are used as a vehicle to identify any other environmental requirements that may apply to a project as well. This use of NEPA as an "umbrella" statute can lead to confusion. For example, before an applicant can commit or expend funds under the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the applicant must complete an environmental review of the project. A required element of that review is the applicant's certification that compliance criteria applicable to historic preservation, floodplain management, endangered species, air quality, and farmland protection have been considered. This review is required not only to meet NEPA obligations, but also to ensure that the project being funded does not violate applicable environmental law. From the applicant's perspective, this may blur the distinction between what is required under NEPA and what is required under separate compliance requirements identified within the context of the NEPA process. 

For many federal actions undertaken in response to emergencies or major disasters, NEPA's environmental review requirements are exempted under provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act). (The Stafford Act does not, however, exempt such projects from other applicable environmental requirements.) In the past, some Members of Congress have been interested in the NEPA process as it applies to disaster related projects. This interest has been driven, in part, by federal grant applicants who have been confused about both their role in the NEPA process and what the law requires. 

To address issues associated with the NEPA process, this report discusses NEPA as it applies to projects for which federal funding to recover from or prepare for a disaster has been requested by local, tribal, or state grant applicants. Specifically, the report provides an overview of the NEPA process as it applies to such projects, identifies the types of projects (categorized by federal funding source) likely to require environmental review, and delineates the types of projects for which no or minimal environmental review is required (i.e., those for which statutory or regulatory exemptions apply) and those likely to require more in-depth review. 
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Date of Report: February 3, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL34650
Price: $29.95

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Waiver Authority Under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Transportation fuels are required by federal law to contain a minimum amount of renewable fuel each year. This renewable fuel standard (RFS), established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct, P.L. 109-58) and amended by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140), requires that 12.95 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into gasoline and other transportation fuels in 2010. Most of this mandate will be met using corn-based ethanol. However, within the overall RFS there are secondary mandates for the use of cellulosic biofuels, biomass-based diesel fuels, and other advanced biofuels. Questions have been raised over whether there is enough feedstock supply and production capacity to meet these carveouts. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to waive the RFS requirements, in whole or in part, if certain conditions outlined in the law are present. In 2008 the governor of Texas requested a waiver of the RFS because of high grain prices, although that waiver request was denied because EPA determined that the RFS requirements alone did not "severely harm the economy of a State, a region, or the United States," a standard required by the statute. In February 2010, as part of a final rulemaking implementing the RFS as expanded by EISA, EPA waived most of the 2010 cellulosic biofuel carveout—EISA set the mandate at 100 million gallons but EPA is only requiring 6.5 million gallons, more than 90% less than scheduled by EISA. EPA cited a lack of current and expected production capacity, driven largely by a lack of investment in commercial-scale refineries. 

This report provides a brief overview of the RFS program and discusses the process and criteria for EPA to approve a waiver petition. 
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Date of Report: February 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: RS22870
Price: $29.95

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Cellulosic Biofuels: Analysis of Policy Issues for Congress

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Megan Stubbs
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Cellulosic biofuels are produced from cellulose (fibrous material) derived from renewable biomass. They are thought by many to hold the key to increased benefits from renewable biofuels because they are made from potentially low-cost, diverse, non-food feedstocks. Cellulosic biofuels could also potentially decrease the fossil energy required to produce ethanol, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

Cellulosic biofuels are produced on a very small scale at this time—significant hurdles must be overcome before commercial-scale production can occur. The renewable fuels standard (RFS), a major federal incentive, mandates the use of 100 million gallons per year (mgpy) of cellulosic biofuels in 2010. After 2015, most of the increase in the RFS is intended to come from cellulosic biofuels, and by 2022, the mandate for cellulosic biofuels will be 16 billion gallons. Whether these targets can be met is uncertain. Research is ongoing, and the cellulosic biofuels industry may be on the verge of rapid expansion and technical breakthroughs. However, at this time, only a few small refineries are scheduled to begin production in 2010, with an additional nine expected to commence production by 2013 for a total output of 389 mgpy, compared with an RFS requirement of 500 mgpy in 2012 (a year earlier). 

The federal government, recognizing the risk inherent in commercializing this new technology, has provided loan guarantees, grants, and tax credits in an effort to make the industry competitive by 2012. In particular, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 farm bill, P.L. 110-246) supports the nascent cellulosic industry through authorized research programs, grants, and loans exceeding $1 billion. The enacted farm bill also contains a production tax credit of $1.01 per gallon for ethanol produced from cellulosic feedstocks. Private investment, in many cases by oil companies, also plays a major role in cellulosic biofuels research and development. 

Three challenges must be overcome if the RFS is to be met. First, cellulosic feedstocks must be available in large volumes when needed by refineries. Second, the cost of converting cellulose to ethanol or other biofuels must be reduced to a level to make it competitive with gasoline and corn-starch ethanol. Third, the marketing, distribution, and vehicle infrastructure must absorb the increasing volumes of renewable fuel, including cellulosic fuel mandated by the RFS. 

Congress will continue to face questions about the appropriate level of intervention in the cellulosic industry as it debates both the risks in trying to pick the winning technology and the benefits of providing start-up incentives. The current tax credit for cellulosic biofuels is set to expire in 2012, but its extension may be considered during the 111th Congress. Congress may continue to debate the role of biofuels in food price inflation and whether cellulosic biofuels can alleviate its impacts. Recent congressional action on cellulosic biofuels has focused on the definition of renewable biomass eligible for the RFS, which is considered by some to be overly restrictive. To this end, legislation has been introduced to expand the definition of renewable biomass eligible under the RFS. 
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Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL34738
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

During the past two decades, while U.S. oil imports and consumption have steadily risen, oil spill incidents and the volume of oil spilled have not followed a similar course. In general, the annual number and volume of oil spills have shown declines—in some cases, dramatic declines. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaskan waters played a large role in stimulating actions that contributed to this trend, particularly the decrease in the annual spill volumes. The Exxon Valdez spill highlighted the need for stronger legislation, inflamed public sentiment, and spurred Congress to enact comprehensive oil spill legislation, resulting in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-380). This law expanded and clarified the authority of the federal government and created new oil spill prevention and preparedness requirements. Moreover, the 1990 legislation strengthened existing liability provisions, providing a greater deterrent against spills. After 1990, spill volume from oil tankers, the vessels that carry and have spilled the most oil, decreased significantly. 

Considering that U.S. oil consumption and oil imports have increased in recent decades, the trend of declining spill incidents and volume in past years is noteworthy. However, the risk of a major oil spill remains. Although recent Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections indicate that oil imports are expected to level off in coming years, the United States is expected to continue importing a substantial percentage of the oil it consumes. The threat of oil spills raises the question of whether U.S. officials have the necessary resources at hand to respond to a major spill. There is some concern that the favorable U.S. spill record has resulted in a loss of experienced personnel, capable of responding quickly and effectively to a major oil spill. 

Prior to actions by the 109th and 110th Congresses, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was particularly vulnerable to a large and costly spill: Fund managers had projected the fund would be completely depleted by FY2009. Recent legislative developments have increased the oil spill liability limits and raised the tax rate that feeds into the trust fund. With these changes in effect, the most recent projection indicates that the fund will reach almost $1.5 billion by the end of FY2009 and crest $3.5 billion by FY2016. Although the trust fund is now less vulnerable to a major spill, some degree of exposure still remains, thus raising a central policy debate: How should policymakers allocate the costs associated with a major, accidental oil spill? For example, what share of costs should be borne by the responsible party (e.g., oil vessel owner/operators), the oil industry, and the general treasury? 

No oil spill is entirely benign. Even a relatively minor spill, depending on the timing and location, can cause significant harm to individual organisms and entire populations. Marine mammals, birds, bottom-dwelling and intertidal species, and organisms in early developmental stages—eggs or larvae—are especially vulnerable to a nearby spill. However, the effects of oil spills can vary greatly. Oil spills can cause impacts over a range of time scales, from only a few days to several years, or even decades in some cases. 

This report reviews the history and trends of oil spills in the United States; identifies the legal authorities governing oil spill prevention, response, and cleanup; and examines the threats of future oil spills in U.S. coastal waters. 
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Date of Report: January 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: RL33705
Price: $29.95

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The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): A Summary

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

This report summarizes the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the major regulatory programs that mandate reporting by industrial facilities of releases of hazardous chemicals to the environment, as well as local planning to respond in the event of significant, accidental releases. The text is excerpted, with minor modifications, from the corresponding chapter of CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the EPA, coordinated by Bonnie C. Gitlin, which summarizes 12 major environmental statutes. 

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (42 U.S.C. 11001-11050) was enacted in 1986 as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (P.L. 99-499). In Subtitle A, EPCRA established a national framework for EPA to mobilize local government officials, businesses, and other citizens to plan ahead for chemical accidents in their communities. EPCRA required each state to create a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), to designate emergency planning districts, and to establish local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) for each district. EPA is required to list extremely hazardous substances, and to establish threshold planning quantities for each substance. The law directs each facility to notify the LEPC for its district if it stores or uses any "extremely hazardous substance" in excess of its threshold planning quantity. LEPCs are to work with such facilities to develop response procedures, evacuation plans, and training programs for people who will be the first to respond in the event of an accident. EPCRA requires that facilities immediately report a sudden release of any hazardous substance that exceeds the reportable quantity to appropriate state, local, and federal officials. 

Subtitle B directs covered facilities annually to submit information about the chemicals that they have present to the LEPC, SERC, and local fire department. In addition, manufacturers and other facilities designated by EPA must estimate and report to EPA annually on releases from their facilities of certain toxic chemicals to the land, air, or water. EPA must compile that data into a computerized database, known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Generally, all information about chemicals that is required to be reported to LEPCs, SERCs, or EPA is made available to the general public, but EPCRA authorizes reporting facilities to withhold the identity of a chemical if it is a trade secret. Citizens are given the authority to bring civil action against a facility, EPA, a governor, or an SERC for failure to implement EPCRA requirements. 
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Date of Report: February 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RL32683
Price: $29.95

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Automobile and Light Truck Fuel Economy: The CAFE Standards

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Robert Bamberger
Specialist in Energy Policy

On May 19, 2009, President Obama announced a plan to integrate CAFE standards administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with automotive greenhouse gas emissions standards to be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On September 15, 2009, EPA and NHTSA issued proposed rules. The Administration has stated that the proposal would require an increase in fuel economy standards to as much as 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by model year (MY) 2016, four years ahead of the deadline set in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140). The Administration estimates that the total cost of complying with EISA and the new proposal will add $1,100 to the cost of an average MY2016 vehicle (compared to MY2011), although this additional purchase cost is expected to be paid back through lifetime fuel savings. The objective of the new greenhouse gas standards would be to reach reduction levels similar to those adopted by the state of California, although some specifics of the requirement would be different. However, while the rulemaking process will be combined, in their joint proposal, EPA and NHTSA recognize that some parts of the GHG program will not translate to the CAFE program, and vice versa. Therefore, EPA and NHTSA expect that the achieved fuel economy will be somewhat lower than 35.5 mpg as automakers will use credits from changes in air conditioner refrigerants and other greenhouse gas reductions to comply with the program, but which have no bearing on fuel economy. 

On March 27, 2009, NHTSA released a final rule establishing fuel economy standards for MY2011 passenger cars and light trucks. EISA restructured the automotive fuel economy program to establish a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 35 mpg by MY2020 for the combined passenger automobile and light truck fleet. However, to meet the combined standard, automakers will continue the practice of calculating the CAFE of their car and light truck fleets separately. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), issued in March 2008, covered MY2011-2015. To provide opportunity to conduct additional analysis to support the setting of standards for the later model years, the Obama Administration, on January 26, 2009, directed NHTSA to finalize a rule solely for MY2011. NHTSA expects that MY2011 rule will result in fuel economy for MY2011 passenger cars and light trucks at 30.2 mpg and 24.1 mpg, respectively. The combined fuel economy for both fleets is expected to be 27.3 mpg, somewhat lower than the 27.8 mpg originally proposed. The standards are "attribute" based; every new vehicle will have its own target, based on its size. 
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Date of Report: January 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R40166
Price: $29.95

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Arsenic in Drinking Water: Regulatory Developments and Issues

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-182) directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update the standard for arsenic in drinking water. In 2001, EPA issued a new arsenic rule that set the legal limit for arsenic in tap water at 10 parts per billion (ppb), replacing a 50 ppb standard set in 1975, before arsenic was classified as a carcinogen. The arsenic rule was to enter into effect on March 23, 2001, and water systems were given until January 2006 to comply. EPA concluded that the rule would provide health benefits, but projected that compliance would be costly for some small systems. Many water utilities and communities expressed concern that EPA had underestimated the rule's costs significantly. Consequently, EPA postponed the rule's effective date to February 22, 2002, to review the science and cost and benefit analyses supporting the rule. After completing the review in October 2001, EPA affirmed the 10 ppb standard. The new standard became enforceable for water systems in January 2006. 

Since the rule was completed, Congress and EPA have focused on how to help communities comply with the new standard. In the past several Congresses, numerous bills have been offered to provide more financial and technical assistance and/or compliance flexibility to small systems; however, none of the bills has been enacted. Although arsenic-specific legislation has not been offered in the 111th Congress, broader infrastructure financing bills have received attention.


Date of Report: January 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS20672
Price: $29.95

Climate Change: EU and Proposed U.S. Approaches to Carbon Leakage and WTO Implications

Larry Parker
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Jeanne J. Grimmett
Legislative Attorney

The United States has proposed, and the European Union (EU) developed, policies to mitigate the potential economic and environmental (i.e., "carbon leakage") impacts of carbon policies on energy- or greenhouse gas-intensive, trade-exposed industries. While studies have found little effect of carbon policies on EU competitiveness in the present, the EU decision to move toward auctioning of allowances in the future has spurred development of criteria to extend potential availability of free allowances to exposed industries to 2020. In a December 2009 decision, the European Commission (EC) listed 164 industrial sectors and subsectors deemed exposed sectors under appropriate European Parliament and Council directives. 

H.R. 2454, which passed the House on June 26, 2009, includes two strategies to address these concerns: (1) free allocation of allowances (similar to that of the EU), and (2) an international reserve allowance (IRA) scheme. Studies have suggested that a free allowance scheme appears effective in mitigating the trade-related impact of the carbon program on energy-intensive, tradeexposed industries. However, production cost for those industries (along with other industries) could increase because of the potential pass-through of compliance-related costs by upstream producers of various inputs into their manufacturing processes. Whether these costs would become significant would depend on the ability of upstream suppliers to pass on the costs, and the ability of the downstream industries to respond by increasing the efficiency of their operations or by substituting other, less-costly inputs into their processes. There are questions about whether the allowances provided by H.R. 2454's allocation scheme are sufficient. If the Environmental Protection Agency's estimates are correct, the allocation would appear sufficient. If industry estimates are correct, or if individual showings of eligibility prove significant, the pool of allowances provided by the bill would appear inadequate under the assumptions used here. Also, the data and administrative resources necessary to implement the program would be substantial. 

Although H.R. 2454 as passed would require EPA to establish an IRA program consistent with U.S. international agreements, questions may be raised as to whether proposed Part IV and its application would fully comply with U.S. international trade obligations. The distribution of free allowances may constitute actionable subsidies for purposes of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures by possibly qualifying as "foregone revenue" when auctioning of allowances would also be permitted. In addition, the requirement that importers purchase IRAs to accompany particular imports might be found to constitute a prohibited import surcharge or, if the product may not otherwise enter the United States, a prohibited quantitative restriction under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994. While the IRA program might be provisionally justified under GATT general exceptions for health protection or resource conservation, the GATT also requires that it not be applied "in a manner that would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade." Whether an IRA program can be applied consistently with these requirements may depend on the type of program that may be crafted by EPA under the proposed legislation—that is, on the elements that would be required under the bill and the administrative possibilities inherent in its discretionary authorities. Absent an international consensus on the types of trade-related measures that may be applied as part of a domestic climate change regime, adversely affected countries may seek to challenge these measures under WTO dispute settlement provisions. Since neither the distribution of emission allowances nor border restrictions imposed as part of a domestic greenhouse gas-reduction program have yet come before WTO dispute settlement panels, WTO obligations and exceptions remain untested in this complex regulatory environment.


Date of Report: January 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 71
Order Number: R40914
Price: $29.95 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Donald J. Marples
Specialist in Public Finance

Research on climate change has identified a wide array of sources that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Among the six gases that have generally been the primary focus of concern, methane is the second-most abundant, accounting for approximately 8% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2007. Methane is emitted from a number of sources. The most significant are agriculture (both animal digestive systems and manure management); landfills; oil and gas production, refining, and distribution; and coal mining. 

As Congress considers legislation to address climate change by capping or reducing GHG emissions, methane capture projects offer an array of possible reduction opportunities, many of which utilize proven technologies. Methane capture projects (e.g., landfill gas projects, anaerobic digestion systems) restrict the release of methane into the atmosphere. The methane captured can be used for energy or flared. Methane capture challenges differ depending on the source. Most methane capture technologies face obstacles to implementation, including marginal economics in many cases, restricted pipeline access, and various legal issues. 

Some of the leading methane capture options under discussion include market-based emission control programs, carbon offsets, emission performance standards, and maintaining existing programs and incentives. At present, methane capture technologies are supported by tax incentives in some cases, by research and demonstration programs in others, by regulation in the case of the largest landfills, and by voluntary programs. Congress could decide to address methane capture in a number of different ways, including (1) determining the role of methane capture in climate change legislation; (2) determining whether methane capture should be addressed on an industry-by-industry basis; and (3) determining if current methane capture initiatives will be further advanced with legislative action regardless of other facets of the climate change policy debate. What role methane capture would play in prospective legislation to control GHGs—whether methane sources would be included among those covered by a cap-and-trade system, for example, whether they would be a source of emission offsets from sources not covered by cap-and-trade, or whether their emissions might be subject to regulation—is among the issues that Congress faces. 

A few government programs have supported the capture of methane to mitigate climate change. The Methane-to-Markets Partnership, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an international initiative to reduce global methane emissions. EPA also oversees a variety of voluntary programs related to the Methane-to-Markets initiative (e.g., Coalbed Methane Outreach Program, Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, AgSTAR Program). 

This report discusses legislative alternatives for addressing methane capture, sources of methane, opportunities and challenges for methane capture, and current federal programs that support methane recovery. 



Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R40813
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): A Summary of the Act and Its Major Requirements

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

This report summarizes the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the major regulatory programs dealing with chemical production and distribution in U.S. commerce. The text is excerpted, with minor modifications, from the corresponding chapter ofCRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the EPA, coordinated by Bonnie C. Gitlin, which summarizes more than a dozen environmental statutes. Issues related to TSCA implementation are addressed in CRS Report RL34118, The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): Implementation and New Challenges, by Linda-Jo Schierow. 

The President's Council on Environmental Quality proposed comprehensive federal legislation in 1971 to identify and control potentially dangerous chemicals in U.S. commerce that were not adequately regulated under other environmental statutes. President Ford signed TSCA into law on October 11, 1976. Subsequently, four titles were added to address specific concerns—asbestos in 1986 (Title II, P.L. 99-519), radon in 1988 (Title III, P.L. 100-551), lead in 1992 (Title IV, P.L. 102-550), and, in 2007, environmental and energy issues in schools (Title V, P.L. 110-140). In 2008, Congress added provisions to Title I, Section 6 and Section 12, banning certain activities with respect to elemental mercury (P.L. 110-414). 

TSCA authorizes EPA to identify potentially dangerous chemicals in U.S. commerce that should be subject to federal control. The act authorizes EPA to gather and disseminate information about production, use, and possible adverse effects to human health and the environment of existing chemicals, and to issue "test rules" that require manufacturers and processors of potentially dangerous chemicals to conduct and report the results of scientific studies to fill information gaps. For chemicals new to U.S. commerce, TSCA requires pre-market screening and regulatory tracking of new chemical products. 

If EPA identifies unreasonable risks associated with existing or new chemicals, TSCA requires the Agency to initiate rulemaking to reduce risks to a reasonable level. EPA may regulate the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution, use, and/or disposal of chemicals. TSCA provides a variety of regulatory tools to EPA, ranging in severity from a total ban on production, import, and use to a requirement that a product must bear a warning label at the point of sale. However, TSCA directs EPA to use the least burdensome option that can reduce risk to a level that is reasonable, given the benefits provided by the chemical product or process. 

Title I of the original statute establishes the core program, directs EPA to control risks from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and bans certain activities with respect to elemental mercury. Title II directs EPA to set standards for asbestos mitigation in schools and requires asbestos contractors to be trained and certified. Title III directs EPA to provide technical assistance to states that choose to support radon monitoring and control. Title IV provides similar assistance with respect to abatement of lead-based paint hazards. Finally, Title V addresses environmental issues at schools, including energy efficiency. 


Date of Report: February 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL31905
Price: $29.95

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Pesticide Law: A Summary of the Statutes

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

This report summarizes the major statutory authorities governing pesticide regulation: the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and Section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), as well as the major regulatory programs for pesticides. Text relevant to FIFRA is excerpted, with minor modifications, from the corresponding chapter of CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the EPA, coordinated by Bonnie C. Gitlin, which summarizes more than a dozen environmental statutes. 

Congress enacted the original version of FIFRA in 1947, but a revision in 1972 is the basis of current pesticide policy. Substantial changes were made in 1988 and again in 1996. The 1996 FIFRA amendments were contained in the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which also amended the FFDCA. Congress first required limits on pesticide residues on raw food in 1954 amendments to the FFDCA. Limits were required for food additives (including pesticide residues in processed foods) in the 1958 FFDCA amendments. In the 1996 FFDCA amendments, Congress established a new standard of safety for pesticide residues in food (both raw and processed): maximum residue levels set by EPA must ensure with "a reasonable certainty" that "no harm" will result from pesticide exposure. 

FIFRA requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the sale and use of pesticides in the United States through registration and labeling of pesticide products. The sale of any pesticide is prohibited in the United States unless it is registered and labeled. EPA is directed to restrict the use of pesticides as necessary to prevent unreasonable adverse effects on people and the environment, taking into account the costs and benefits of various pesticide uses. In addition, FIFRA requires EPA to reregister older pesticides based on new data that meet current regulatory and scientific standards. Pesticides manufactured solely for export do not require registration. For pesticides to be registered for use in food production, FFDCA Section 408 authorizes EPA to establish allowable residue levels, called "tolerances," that ensure that human exposure to pesticide residues in food will be "safe." Foods with pesticide residues above the tolerance, or for which there is no tolerance established, may not be imported or sold in interstate commerce. A pesticide may not be registered under FIFRA for a food use unless a tolerance for that pesticide and food has been established under FFDCA. 

FIFRA directs EPA to make public any data submitted to support a registration application, if EPA registers the pesticide, but certain data are protected as trade secrets, and other registrants may not use the same data to support registration applications for similar pesticides for a period of 10 years. EPA continues to evaluate the safety of pesticides after they are registered, as new information becomes available. A pesticide registration may be canceled or amended if EPA determines that current use may cause unreasonable adverse effects.


Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL31921
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Biochar: Examination of an Emerging Concept to Mitigate Climate Change

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Biochar is a charcoal produced under high temperatures using crop residues, animal manure, or any type of organic waste material. Depending on the feedstock, biochar may look similar to potting soil or to a charred substance. The combined production and use of biochar is considered a carbon-negative process, meaning that it removes carbon from the atmosphere. 

Biochar has multiple potential environmental benefits, foremost the potential to sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years at an estimate. Studies suggest that crop yields can increase as a result of applying biochar as a soil amendment. Some contend that biochar has value as an immediate climate change mitigation strategy. Scientific experiments suggest that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly with biochar application to crop fields. 

Obstacles that may stall rapid adoption of biochar production systems include technology costs, system operation and maintenance, feedstock availability, and biochar handling. Biochar research and development is in its infancy. Nevertheless, interest in biochar as a multifaceted solution to agricultural and natural resource issues is growing at a rapid pace both nationally and internationally. 

Past Congresses have proposed numerous climate change bills, many of which do not directly address mitigation and adaptation technologies at developmental stages like biochar. However, biochar may equip agricultural and forestry producers with numerous revenue-generating products: carbon offsets, soil amendments, and energy. A clearly defined policy medium that may support this technology (e.g., soil conservation, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction) has yet to emerge. 

This report briefly describes biochar, its potential advantages and disadvantages, legislative support, and research and development activities underway in the United States and abroad.


Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RL31738
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CRS Issue Statement on Environmental Cleanup and Waste Management

Jonathan L. Ramseur, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Although environmental cleanup and waste management policies have a common goal— to reduce risk to human health and the environment—they raise distinct policy questions that are generally addressed with different policy approaches. For instance, environmental cleanup issues generally require reactive public policies that seek to address an existing problem: environmental contamination. Waste management issues, on the other hand, typically deal with current waste materials, and thus involve proactive policies, initiated to prevent environmental damages. 

Environmental cleanup issues continue to generate interest among policymakers. For much of the 20th Century, the standard method of waste disposal was to bury the waste or dump it in a nearby waterway. This resulted in thousands of contaminated properties owned by private parties and the federal government, some of which posed dangerous threats to human health. This problem is nationwide. To address this problem of waste from past activities, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA, commonly referred to as Superfund). CERCLA authorizes the federal government to clean up contaminated sites in the United States and to make the "potentially responsible parties" connected to those sites financially liable for the cleanup costs. CERCLA created the Superfund program to carry out these authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for administering the program.


Date of Report: January 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 5
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): Fact Sheet on Three International Agreements

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemicals that do not break down easily in the environment, tend to accumulate as they move up the food chain, and may be harmful to people and wildlife. Between 1998 and 2001, the United States signed two international treaties and one executive agreement to reduce the production and use of POPs and to regulate the trade and disposal of them. President Bush signed and submitted the two treaties to the Senate for advice and consent. If the Senate consents by a two-thirds majority, and if Congress passes legislation that would be needed to implement the treaties and the executive agreement in the United States, then the treaties could be ratified and the agreements would become binding U.S. law. Two U.S. statutes are inconsistent with the agreements: the Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs production and use of chemicals in U.S. commerce, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which regulates the sale and use of pesticides within the United States. Proposals to amend these statutes were considered but not enacted in the 107th, 108th, and 109th Congresses. In the 111th Congress, S. 519 would amend pesticide law to permit implementation of the agreement.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemicals that can harm human health and wildlife, do not break down easily in the environment, and tend to accumulate as they move up the food chain. Many POPs are transported in the air and water across international boundaries. Most POPs are synthetic, industrial chemicals or pesticides, but a few are unintentional byproducts of processes such as combustion.


Date of Report: February 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number:RS22379
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Chemical Regulation in the European Union: Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

On June 1, 2007, the European Union (EU) began to implement a new law governing chemicals in EU commerce, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). It is intended to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals while at the same time protecting the competitiveness of European industry. REACH evolved over eight years and reflects compromises reached among EU stakeholders. The final regulation reduces and coordinates EU regulatory requirements for chemicals new to the EU market and increases collection of such information for chemicals already in the EU market, thus potentially removing disincentives to innovation that existed under the former law. It also shifts responsibility for safety assessments from government to industry and encourages substitution of less toxic for more toxic chemicals in various chemical applications. U.S. chemical industry representatives believe that REACH is "impractical." In contrast, some public-interest groups are urging U.S. legislators to adopt a similar legislative approach.

Depending on one's point of view, new chemicals legislation in the European Union (EU) is likely to vastly improve environmental and public health protections and serve as a model for future U.S. law, or it might unnecessarily burden commercial enterprises with regulations and interfere with international trade. The subject of such conjecture is a new EU law for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) in EU commerce, which went into force June 1, 2007.


Date of Report: February 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number:RS22673
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Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Mountaintop removal mining involves removing the top of a mountain in order to recover the coal seams contained there. This practice occurs in six Appalachian states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio). It creates an immense quantity of excess spoil (dirt and rock that previously composed the mountaintop), which is typically placed in valley fills on the sides of the former mountains, burying streams that flow through the valleys. Critics say that, as a result of valley fills, stream water quality and the aquatic and wildlife habitat that streams support are destroyed by tons of rocks and dirt. The mining industry argues that mountaintop mining is essential to conducting surface coal mining in the Appalachian region and that surface coal mining would not be economically feasible there if producers were restricted from using valleys for the disposal of mining overburden. 

Mountaintop mining is regulated under several laws, including the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). In June 2009, officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Department of the Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining a series of administrative actions under these laws to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of mountaintop mining. The plan includes a series of near-term and longer-term actions that emphasize specific steps, improved coordination, and greater transparency of decisions. This report provides background on regulatory requirements, controversies, and legal challenges to mountaintop mining. Congressional attention to these issues, including legislation that seeks to restrict the practice (H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, and S. 696, the Appalachia Restoration Act), also is discussed.


Date of Report: February 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number:RS21421
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CRS Issue Statement on the Clean Air Act and Air Quality Standards

James E. McCarthy, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Broad questions regarding the effectiveness of economic versus regulatory approaches to controlling air pollution, the role of federal versus state governments in controlling emissions, and the respective role of existing EPA authority versus new legislation are the underlying issues as the 111th Congress considers amendments to the Clean Air Act and conducts oversight of EPA regulatory actions. Specific issues include what role the Clean Air Act will play in the prospective regulation of greenhouse gas emissions; how to control emissions of a wide range of pollutants from electric power plants, many of which operate without state-of-the-art pollution controls; and whether existing standards for ambient air quality need strengthening. 

The clean air debate overlaps to a large extent the debate regarding control of greenhouse gases GHGs). Many of the bills introduced to cap GHG emissions would amend the Clean Air Act. The leading approach—a national cap on emissions, with a trading system for emission allowances— builds on the experience of the Clean Air Act's acid precipitation program. As it considers greenhouse gas legislation, Congress will need to decide not only whether to enact greenhouse gas limits, but, if so, whether legislation will be based on a cap-and-trade system, carbon taxes, emission standards for specific sectors, or some combination of the above, and the degree to which federal controls will preempt state regulations, among many other issues.


Date of Report: January 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 3
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The Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permits Program: Issues and Regulatory Developments

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorize various types of development projects in wetlands and other waters of the United States. The Corps' regulatory process involves two types of permits: general permits for actions by private landowners that are similar in nature and will likely have a minor effect on wetlands, and individual permits for more significant actions. The Corps uses general permits to minimize the burden of its regulatory program: they authorize landowners to proceed with a project without the time-consuming need to obtain standard individual permits in advance. About 90% of the Corps' regulatory workload is processed in the form of general permits. 

Nationwide permits are one type of general permit. Nationwide permits, which currently number 49, are issued for five-year periods and thereafter must be renewed. They were most recently reissued in total in March 2007. The current nationwide permit program has few strong supporters, for differing reasons. Developers and other industry groups say that it is too complex and burdened with arbitrary restrictions that limit opportunities for an efficient permitting process and have little environmental benefit. Environmentalists say that it does not adequately protect aquatic resources, because the review procedures and permit requirements are less rigorous than those for individual or standard permits. At issue is whether the program has become so complex and expansive that it cannot either protect aquatic resources or provide for a fair regulatory system, which are its dual objectives. Controversies also exist about the use of specific nationwide permits for authorizing particular types of activities, such as surface coal mining operations. 

In addition to general objections, interest groups have a number of specific criticisms of the permits, such as requirements that there must be compensatory mitigation for impacts of some authorized activities, impacts of regional conditioning through which local aquatic considerations are addressed, and the need to define "minimal adverse effects" for purposes of implementing the nationwide permit program. Coordinating implementation of the nationwide permits between federal and state governments also raises a number of issues. Of particular concern to states is tension over whether their authority to certify the nationwide permits is sufficient to assure that water quality standards or coastal zone management plans will not be violated. 

Congressional interest in wetlands permit regulatory programs has been evident in the past in oversight hearings and in connection with bills to fund the Corps' regulatory programs. For some time, there has been a stalemate over legislation that would revise wetlands regulatory law and that could, if enacted, modify the nationwide permit program. During this time, no consensus has emerged on whether or how to reform overall wetlands policy legislatively.


Date of Report: February 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Estimates of Carbon Mitigation Potential from Agricultural and Forestry Activities

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

In the United States, the agriculture and forestry sectors account for 6%-8% of current estimated total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. Combined, these sectors are estimated to emit more than 500 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (MMT CO2-Eq.) each year, most of which is emitted from the agriculture sector. 

Current estimates of the combined amount of carbon sequestered by the agriculture and forestry sectors is reported at more than 1,100 MMT CO2-Eq. per year, most of which is attributable to carbon stocks and uptake by trees in the forestry sector. 

Numerous studies estimate the additional GHG mitigation potential of farm and forestry activities. Among these, two commonly cited studies are those conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Compared to current estimated mitigation potential levels, USDA and EPA projections provide a mostly positive picture of the potential for farm and forestry activities to mitigate GHG emissions. USDA and EPA project added mitigation potential of 590 to 990 MMT CO2-Eq. annually, thus increasing to roughly double current levels, assuming a high-end value or market price for carbon. At lower carbon prices, estimated additional mitigation potential is lower, but could still add about 40 to 160 MMT CO2-Eq. annually above current sequestration levels. 

These estimates are useful indicators of the potential for carbon storage in the agriculture and forestry sectors, which some in Congress see as potentially available for carbon offset allowances as part of a cap-and-trade program. A cap-and-trade system—as part of a GHG emissions reduction and trading program—is one possible approach being considered by Congress to address GHG emissions in the ongoing climate change debate. 

For policy decision-making, however, the results of studies such as those conducted by EPA and USDA to assess the carbon mitigation potential of farms and forests should be viewed with caution. These studies were published in 2004 and 2005, respectively, and use complicated simulation models largely based on data and market assumptions present in the late 1990s to early 2000s. Consequently, the available input data and modeling assumptions are limited in the extent to which they are able to accurately reflect both actual current conditions and longer-term future conditions. Given that these studies were developed prior to a variety of recent policy, market, and economic changes, some researchers now acknowledge that the published results of these studies are almost certainly outdated. Other related concerns include criticisms by prominent researchers of these modeling approaches and estimates. In addition, in the absence of defined policies outlining how an emission trading system would be designed and implemented, these models are limited in the extent to which they can depict future conditions under a regulatory system for sequestering carbon on farms and forests. 

In 2009 EPA updated its simulation models and underlying data and modeling assumptions. These changes to EPA's simulation models have implications for the agency's analysis of the overall estimated mitigation potential from agriculture and forestry activities, particularly for certain sequestration categories. Of particular concern to many in the U.S. agriculture sector, EPA's current estimates of the mitigation potential from agriculture soil carbon activities—such as conservation or no-till practices that preserve soil carbon—are sharply lower than previous EPA estimates.


Date of Report: January 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R40236
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alternative Fuels and Advanced Technology Vehicles: Issues in Congress

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles are seen by proponents as integral to improving urban air quality, decreasing dependence on foreign oil, and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. However, major barriers—especially economics—currently prevent the widespread use of these fuels and technologies. Because of these barriers, and the potential benefits, there is continued congressional interest in providing incentives and other support for their development and commercialization. 

Alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles have were addressed early in the 111th Congress, as both the House and Senate versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1) contained provisions supporting their development and deployment. While some of these provisions were removed in conference, the final version contains provisions for tax incentives, federal grants and loans, and other federal support for alternative fuels and advanced vehicles. 

On February 3, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new rules for the renewable fuel standard (RFS) that was expanded by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140). In 2010, the RFS will require the use of 12.95 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels in transportation fuel. Within that mandate, the RFS will require the use of 0.95 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, including 6.5 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels. EISA also requires that advanced biofuels (as well as conventional biofuels from newly built refineries) meet certain lifecycle greenhouse gas reduction requirements. EPA's methodology and conclusions on various biofuels' lifecycle emissions have been controversial. 

The 111th Congress is likely to further discuss alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles as it addresses other key topics. These include their role in any federal policy to address climate change, and their role in federal energy policy. The 111th Congress may also play an oversight role in the development of major regulations: the Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of the RFS; the Department of Transportation's implementation of new fuel economy standards enacted in 2007; and the Department of Agriculture's implementation of a new Farm Bill enacted in 2008. Further, some key tax incentives for biofuels expired at the end of 2009, and may be extended in the second session of the 111th Congress.


Date of Report: February 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40168
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention: Summary of Federal Mandates and Financial Assistance for Reducing Hazards in Housing

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Many U.S. children have unacceptably high levels of lead in their blood, which may result in reduced intellectual ability, learning disabilities, or other health concerns. A key source of lead exposure often is house dust containing lead-based paint (LBP) from deteriorated or abraded surfaces of walls, door jambs, and window sashes. The federal Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act (LBPPPA), as amended, establishes requirements and authorizes funding for the detection and control of LBP hazards in federally assisted housing. The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 (Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, Title X; P.L. 102-550) authorizes federal grants to state and local governments to provide assistance to private owners of other housing (i.e., not federally assisted) for low-income residents for LBP hazard reduction. The federal strategy to reduce childhood exposure to LBP promotes interim measures, rather than complete removal of LBP, to eliminate by 2010 hazards from housing units constructed prior to 1960. In 2000, President Clinton's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children suggested that the use of financial incentives, such as tax credits or deductions, might be explored to reduce LBP hazards in housing for additional low-income families not served by HUD grants and moderate-income families with young children. Legislation (S. 1245) to provide such incentives has been introduced into the 111h Congress.


Date of Report: January 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: RS21688
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Biofuels Incentives: A Summary of Federal Programs

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

With recent high energy prices, the passage of major energy legislation in 2005 (P.L. 109-58) and 2007 (P.L. 110-140), and the passage of a new Farm Bill in 2008 (P.L. 110-246) there is ongoing congressional interest in promoting alternatives to petroleum fuels. Biofuels—transportation fuels produced from plants and other organic materials—are of particular interest. 

Ethanol and biodiesel, the two most widely used biofuels, receive significant government support under federal law in the form of mandated fuel use, tax incentives, loan and grant programs, and certain regulatory requirements. The 22 programs and provisions listed in this report have been established over the past three decades, and are administered by five separate agencies and departments: Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Internal Revenue Service, and Customs and Border Protection. These programs target a variety of beneficiaries, including farmers and rural small businesses, biofuel producers, petroleum suppliers, and fuel marketers. Arguably, the most significant federal programs for biofuels have been tax credits for the production or sale of ethanol and biodiesel. However, with the establishment of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) under P.L. 109-58, Congress has mandated biofuels use; P.L. 110-140 significantly expanded that mandate. In the long term, the mandate may prove even more significant than tax incentives in promoting the use of these fuels. 

The 2008 Farm Bill—The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008—amended or established various biofuels incentives, including lowering the value of the ethanol excise tax credit, establishing a tax credit for cellulosic biofuel production, extending import duties on fuel ethanol, and establishing several new grant and loan programs. 

Some key biofuels incentives have expired or are set to expire (e.g., tax credits for biodiesel and renewable diesel), and there is congressional interest in extending these credits. 

This report outlines federal programs that provide direct or indirect incentives for biofuels. For each program described, the report provides details including administering agency, authorizing statute(s), annual funding, and expiration date. The Appendix provides summary information in a table format.


Date of Report: January 27, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R40110
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Aviation and Climate Change

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Aircraft are a significant source of greenhouse gases—compounds that trap the sun's heat, with effects on the Earth's climate. In the United States, aircraft of all kinds are estimated to emit between 2.6% and 3.4% of the nation's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, depending on whether one counts international air travel. The impact of U.S. aviation on climate change is perhaps twice that size when other factors are considered. These include the contribution of aircraft emissions to ozone formation, the water vapor and soot that aircraft emit, and the high altitude location of the bulk of aircraft emissions. Worldwide, aviation is projected to be among the faster-growing GHG sources. 

If Congress or the Administration decides to regulate aircraft GHG emissions, they face several choices. The Administration could use existing authority under Sections 231 and 211 of the Clean Air Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA has already been petitioned to do so by several states, local governments, and environmental organizations. Congress could address aviation or aviation fuels legislatively, through cap-and-trade or carbon tax proposals, or could require EPA to set emission standards. 

Among the legislative options, the cap-and-trade approach (setting an economy-wide limit on GHG emissions and distributing tradable allowances to emitters) has received the most attention. Most cap-and-trade bills, including the House-passed energy and climate bill, H.R. 2454, would include aviation indirectly, through emission caps imposed upstream on their source of fuel—the petroleum refining sector. By capping emissions upstream of air carriers and eventually lowering the cap more than 80%, bills such as these would have several effects: they would provide an incentive for refiners to produce lower-carbon fuels; they would increase the price of fuels, and thus increase the demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft; and they might increase the cost of aviation services relative to other means of transport, giving airline passengers and shippers of freight incentives to substitute lower-cost, lower-carbon alternatives. 

Besides regulating emissions directly or through a cap-and-trade program or carbon tax, there are other tools available to policy makers that can lower aviation's GHG emissions. These include implementation of the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System (not expected to be complete until 2025, although some elements that could reduce aircraft emissions may be implemented sooner); research and development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines; and perhaps the development of lower-carbon jet fuel. 

This report provides background on aviation emissions and the factors affecting them; it discusses the tools available to control emissions, including existing authority under the Clean Air Act and proposed economy-wide cap-and-trade legislation; and it examines international regulatory developments that may affect U.S. commercial airlines. These include the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme for greenhouse gases (EU-ETS), which is to include the aviation sector beginning in 2012, and discussions under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). 



Date of Report: January 27, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Biochar: Examination of an Emerging Concept to Mitigate Climate Change

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Biochar is a charcoal produced under high temperatures using crop residues, animal manure, or any type of organic waste material. Depending on the feedstock, biochar may look similar to potting soil or to a charred substance. The combined production and use of biochar is considered a carbon-negative process, meaning that it removes carbon from the atmosphere. 

Biochar has multiple potential environmental benefits, foremost the potential to sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years at an estimate. Studies suggest that crop yields can increase as a result of applying biochar as a soil amendment. Some contend that biochar has value as an immediate climate change mitigation strategy. Scientific experiments suggest that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly with biochar application to crop fields. 

Obstacles that may stall rapid adoption of biochar production systems include technology costs, system operation and maintenance, feedstock availability, and biochar handling. Biochar research and development is in its infancy. Nevertheless, interest in biochar as a multifaceted solution to agricultural and natural resource issues is growing at a rapid pace both nationally and internationally. 

Past Congresses have proposed numerous climate change bills, many of which do not directly address mitigation and adaptation technologies at developmental stages like biochar. However, biochar may equip agricultural and forestry producers with numerous revenue-generating products: carbon offsets, soil amendments, and energy. A clearly defined policy medium that may support this technology (e.g., soil conservation, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction) has yet to emerge. 

This report briefly describes biochar, its potential advantages and disadvantages, legislative support, and research and development activities underway in the United States and abroad. 



Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R40186
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Methane Capture: Options for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Donald J. Marples
Specialist in Public Finance

Research on climate change has identified a wide array of sources that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs). Among the six gases that have generally been the primary focus of concern, methane is the second-most abundant, accounting for approximately 8% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2007. Methane is emitted from a number of sources. The most significant are agriculture (both animal digestive systems and manure management); landfills; oil and gas production, refining, and distribution; and coal mining. 

As Congress considers legislation to address climate change by capping or reducing GHG emissions, methane capture projects offer an array of possible reduction opportunities, many of which utilize proven technologies. Methane capture projects (e.g., landfill gas projects, anaerobic digestion systems) restrict the release of methane into the atmosphere. The methane captured can be used for energy or flared. Methane capture challenges differ depending on the source. Most methane capture technologies face obstacles to implementation, including marginal economics in many cases, restricted pipeline access, and various legal issues. 

Some of the leading methane capture options under discussion include market-based emission control programs, carbon offsets, emission performance standards, and maintaining existing programs and incentives. At present, methane capture technologies are supported by tax incentives in some cases, by research and demonstration programs in others, by regulation in the case of the largest landfills, and by voluntary programs. Congress could decide to address methane capture in a number of different ways, including (1) determining the role of methane capture in climate change legislation; (2) determining whether methane capture should be addressed on an industry-by-industry basis; and (3) determining if current methane capture initiatives will be further advanced with legislative action regardless of other facets of the climate change policy debate. What role methane capture would play in prospective legislation to control GHGs—whether methane sources would be included among those covered by a cap-and-trade system, for example, whether they would be a source of emission offsets from sources not covered by cap-and-trade, or whether their emissions might be subject to regulation—is among the issues that Congress faces. 

A few government programs have supported the capture of methane to mitigate climate change. The Methane-to-Markets Partnership, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is an international initiative to reduce global methane emissions. EPA also oversees a variety of voluntary programs related to the Methane-to-Markets initiative (e.g., Coalbed Methane Outreach Program, Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, AgSTAR Program). 

This report discusses legislative alternatives for addressing methane capture, sources of methane, opportunities and challenges for methane capture, and current federal programs that support methane recovery. 


Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R40813
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Nitrous Oxide from Agricultural Sources: Potential Role in Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction and Ozone Recovery

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Gases other than carbon dioxide accounted for nearly 15% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007, yet there has been minimal discussion of these other greenhouse gases in climate and energy legislative initiatives. Reducing emissions from non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide (N2O), could deliver short-term climate change mitigation results as part of a comprehensive policy approach to combat climate change. 

Nitrous oxide is 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to affect climate change; and moreover, results of a recent scientific study indicate that nitrous oxide is currently the leading ozone-depleting substance being emitted. Thus, legislation to restrict nitrous oxide emissions could contribute to both climate change protection and ozone recovery. 

The primary human source of nitrous oxide is agricultural soil management, which accounted for two-thirds of the N2O emissions reported in 2007 (approximately 208 million metric tons CO2 equivalent). One proposed strategy to lower N2O emissions is more efficient application of synthetic fertilizers. However, further analysis is needed to determine the economic feasibility of this approach as well as techniques to measure and monitor the adoption rate and impact of N2O emission reduction practices for agricultural soil management. 

As Congress considers legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions (both H.R. 2454 and S. 1733 would require that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by 83% in 2050), among the issues being discussed is how to address emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. Whether such emissions should be subject to direct regulation, what role EPA should play using its existing Clean Air Act authority, whether the sources of N2O should be included among the covered entities of a cap-and-trade system, whether N2O reductions should be considered offsets to be purchased by the covered entities of a cap-and-trade system, and what role USDA should play in any N2O reduction scheme are among the issues being discussed. How these issues are resolved will have important implications for agriculture, which has taken a keen interest in climate change legislation.


Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R40874
Price: $29.95

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Clean Water Act: A Summary of the Law

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

The principal law governing pollution of the nation's surface waters is the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Clean Water Act. Originally enacted in 1948, it was totally revised by amendments in 1972 that gave the act its current shape. The 1972 legislation spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvement that have since been expanded and are still being implemented by industries and municipalities. 

This report presents a summary of the law, describing the essence of the statute without discussing its implementation. Other CRS reports discuss implementation, including CRS Report R40098, Water Quality Issues in the 111th Congress: Oversight and Implementation, and numerous products cited in that report. 

The Clean Water Act consists of two major parts, one being the provisions which authorize federal financial assistance for municipal sewage treatment plant construction. The other is the regulatory requirements that apply to industrial and municipal dischargers. The act has been termed a technology-forcing statute because of the rigorous demands placed on those who are regulated by it to achieve higher and higher levels of pollution abatement under deadlines specified in the law. Early on, emphasis was on controlling discharges of conventional pollutants (e.g., suspended solids or bacteria that are biodegradable and occur naturally in the aquatic environment), while control of toxic pollutant discharges has been a key focus of water quality programs more recently. 

Prior to 1987, programs were primarily directed at point source pollution, wastes discharged from discrete sources such as pipes and outfalls. Amendments in that year authorized measures to address nonpoint source pollution (stormwater runoff from farm lands, forests, construction sites, and urban areas), now estimated to represent more than 50% of the nation's remaining water pollution problems. 

Under this act, federal jurisdiction is broad, particularly regarding establishment of national standards or effluent limitations. Certain responsibilities are delegated to the states, and the act embodies a philosophy of federal-state partnership in which the federal government sets the agenda and standards for pollution abatement, while states carry out day-to-day activities of implementation and enforcement. 

To achieve its objectives, the act embodies the concept that all discharges into the nation's waters are unlawful, unless specifically authorized by a permit, which is the act's principal enforcement tool. The law has civil, criminal, and administrative enforcement provisions and also permits citizen suit enforcement. 

Financial assistance for constructing municipal sewage treatment plants and certain other types of water quality improvements projects is authorized under title VI. It authorizes grants to capitalize State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds, or loan programs. States contribute matching funds, and under the revolving loan fund concept, monies used for wastewater treatment construction will be repaid to a state, to be available for future construction in other communities.


Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL30030
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Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (USTs): Prevention and Cleanup

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

To address a nationwide water pollution problem caused by leaking underground storage tanks (USTs), Congress authorized a leak prevention, detection, and cleanup program in 1984, under Subtitle I of the Solid Waste Disposal Act. In 1986, Congress established the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund to provide a source of funds to support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states in remediating leaks from petroleum USTs. EPA and states primarily use LUST fund appropriations to oversee LUST cleanup activities by responsible parties and to clean up sites where owners fail to do so. The LUST Trust Fund is funded primarily through a 0.1 cent-per-gallon motor fuels tax. 

Despite much progress in the program, challenges have remained. A key issue has been that state resources have not met the demands of administering the UST leak prevention program. States have long sought larger appropriations from the trust fund to support the LUST cleanup program, and some also sought flexibility to use fund resources to administer and enforce the UST leak prevention program. Another issue has concerned the detection of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in groundwater at many LUST sites and in some drinking water supplies. This gas additive was used widely to meet Clean Air Act requirements to reduce auto emissions. However, MTBE is very water-soluble, and, once released, it is more likely to reach water supplies and often is more costly to remediate than conventional gas leaks. 

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), the 109th Congress expanded the leak prevention provisions in the UST program, imposed new program responsibilities on EPA and states, and authorized use of the LUST Trust Fund for prevention as well as cleanup activities. The law also repealed the Clean Air Act oxygenated fuel requirement that had prompted the extensive use of MTBE. 

In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140), the 110th Congress amended the Clean Air Act to authorize EPA to regulate fuels and fuel additives for the purpose of protecting water quality, as well as air quality. 

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), the 111th Congress appropriated from the LUST Trust Fund $200 million for the LUST cleanup program. In the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-8), Congress provided another $112.6 million from the fund for cleanup and leak prevention and detection activities. For FY2010, in P.L. 111-88, Congress provided $113.1 million from the fund, including $78.67 million for LUST cleanup activities, and $34.43 million for UST leak prevention, detection, and other program responsibilities added by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This report reviews the UST and LUST programs and related issues and developments. 



Date of Report: January 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RS21201
Price: $29.95

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Calculation of Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Kelsi Bracmort
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA; P.L. 110-140), significantly expanded the renewable fuel standard (RFS) established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005; P.L. 109-58). The RFS requires the use of 9.0 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2008, increasing to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Further, EISA requires an increasing amount of the mandate be met with "advanced biofuels"—biofuels produced from feedstocks other than corn starch and with 50% lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels. Within the advanced biofuel mandate, there are specific carve-outs for cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel substitutes (e.g., biodiesel). 

To classify biofuels under the RFS, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must calculate the lifecycle emissions of each fuel relative to gasoline or diesel fuel. Lifecycle emissions include emissions from all stages of fuel production and use ("well-to-wheels"), as well as both direct and indirect changes in land use from farming crops to produce biofuels. Debate is ongoing on how each factor in the biofuels lifecycle should be addressed, and the issues surrounding direct and indirect land use are particularly controversial. How EPA resolves those issues will affect the role each fuel plays in the RFS. 

EPA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on May 26, 2009, for the RFS with suggested methodology for the lifecycle emissions analysis. EPA is expected to promulgate regulations on biofuels lifecycle emissions in the next few months, although this rulemaking is already overdue under EISA. As EPA's decisions will affect the marketability of each combination of fuel type, feedstock, and production process, there is growing congressional interest in the topic. Congressional action could take the form of oversight of EPA's rulemaking process, or could result in legislation to amend the EISA RFS provisions. Further, related legislative and regulatory efforts on climate change policy and/or a low-carbon fuel standard would likely lead to interactions between those policies and the lifecycle determinations under the RFS. 

On January 12, 2009, the state of California finalized regulations for a state low carbon fuel standard (LCFS). The LCFS requires increasing reductions in the average lifecycle emissions of most transportation fuels. The rule does not require total emissions to decrease, but the emissions intensity (emissions per unit of energy delivered) must be 10% below that of gasoline and diesel fuel by 2020. California concluded that some biofuels lead to higher emissions (i.e., lower emission reductions) than what EPA has proposed. In other cases, the California estimates are more favorable to biofuels. This difference highlights the ongoing debate over lifecycle analysis methods.


Date of Report: January 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R40460
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ozone Air Quality Standards: EPA’s Proposed January 2010 Revisions

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed proposed changes to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone on January 6, 2010. The proposal appeared in the Federal Register on January 19. NAAQS are standards for outdoor (ambient) air that are intended to protect public health and welfare from harmful concentrations of pollution. By changing the standard, EPA would be concluding that protecting public health and welfare requires lower concentrations of ozone pollution than it previously judged to be safe. Under the proposed standards, as many as 96% of the counties that currently monitor ozone might need to take action to reduce emissions. The proposal would also, for the first time, set a separate standard for public welfare, the principal effect of which would be to call attention to the negative effects of ozone on forests and agricultural productivity. 

The ozone standard affects a large percentage of the population: as of November 2009, 122 million people (about 40% of the U.S. population) lived in areas classified "nonattainment" for the primary ozone NAAQS. As a result of the standard's strengthening, more areas will be affected, and those already considered nonattainment may have to impose more stringent emission controls. 

The proposed revision would lower the primary (health-based) standard from 0.075 parts per million – 75 parts per billion (ppb)—averaged over 8 hours to somewhere in the range of 70 to 60 ppb averaged over the same time. Using the most recent three years of monitoring data, 515 counties (76% of all counties with ozone monitors) would violate the new standard at 70 ppb; 650 counties (96% of those with monitors) would be in nonattainment if the standard is set at 60 ppb. By comparison, only 85 counties have monitors showing exceedance of the currently implemented 1997 standard. Thus, the change in standards will likely have widespread impacts in areas across the country. (The counties that might exceed the proposed standard are shown in Figure 2 of this report.) 

The proposed standards, when finalized in August 2010, will set in motion a long and complicated implementation process that has far-reaching impacts for public health, for sources of pollution in numerous economic sectors, and for state and local governments. The first step, designation of nonattainment areas is expected to take place in the summer of 2011, with the areas so designated then having 3 to 20 years to reach attainment. 

The proposed standards raise a number of issues, including whether they should lead to stronger federal controls on the sources that contribute to ozone pollution. Current federal standards for cars, trucks, nonroad vehicles and engines, power plants, and other stationary pollution sources are not strong enough to bring many areas into attainment, thus requiring local pollution control measures in many cases. 

EPA, the states, and Congress may also wish to consider whether the current monitoring network is adequate to detect violations of a more stringent standard. Only 675 of the nation's 3,000 counties have ozone monitors in place. 

This report discusses the standard-setting process, the specifics of the new standard, and issues raised by the Administrator's choice; and it describes the steps that will follow EPA's promulgation.


Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R41062
Price: $29.95

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Safeguarding the Nation’s Drinking Water: EPA and Congressional Actions

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The events of September 11, 2001, focused heightened attention on the security status of the nation's drinking water supplies and the vulnerability of this critical infrastructure sector to attack. Congress since has enacted security requirements for public water systems and has provided funding for vulnerability assessments, emergency planning, and drinking water research. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead federal agency for the water sector, has worked with water utilities, state and local governments, and federal agencies to improve the drinking water security. 

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107- 188) amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to require some 8,400 community water systems to assess vulnerabilities and prepare emergency response plans. It authorized funding for these activities and for emergency grants to states and utilities, and it directed EPA to review methods to prevent, detect, and respond to threats to water safety and infrastructure security. The act did not require water systems to make security upgrades to address potential vulnerabilities. Since FY2002, Congress has appropriated funds annually for EPA to work with states and the water sector to improve the security of drinking water supplies. 

In creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), Congress gave DHS responsibility for assessing and protecting the nation's critical infrastructures. However, the act did not transfer EPA's water security functions, and the 2003 Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-7) affirmed EPA's lead role in protecting the water infrastructure. Under this directive, EPA has responsibility for developing and providing tools and training on improving security to roughly 52,000 community water systems and 16,000 municipal wastewater treatment facilities. 

In the 109th Congress, the Department of Homeland Security FY2007 appropriations act (P.L. 109-295) authorized DHS to regulate for three years high-risk chemical facilities, but the law excluded from coverage drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. 

In the 111th Congress, interest in extending and expanding security requirements for the chemical facility sector continues, as does the debate over whether to include certain water utilities within the scope of such requirements. House-passed H.R. 2868 would revise and codify security requirements for chemical facilities and impose new security requirements on drinking water and wastewater utilities. The bill would give EPA regulatory authority for water and wastewater utilities. 

Although EPA, states, localities, and water utilities have taken steps to address security concerns, the security of the nation's water supplies has continued to attract congressional attention. Issues have included the status of efforts by the water sector to improve security, whether to increase federal requirements, funding needs for water systems to make security improvements, the relative roles and responsibilities of EPA and DHS regarding the water sector, and the status of research and development of technologies to help water systems detect and address potential biological and chemical contaminants. This report reviews governmental and water utility efforts to improve drinking water security.


Date of Report: January 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL31294
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Wilderness Laws: Permitted and Prohibited Uses

Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Wilderness Act generally prohibits commercial activities, motorized uses, and infrastructure developments in congressionally designated wilderness areas. However, the Wilderness Act and many subsequent laws designating wilderness areas also contain provisions authorizing activities that do not conform with these general prohibitions. The general prohibitions and the authorized uses are important because controversies persist over permissible and prohibited activities in wilderness areas, and because bills often seek to modify existing areas or activities.


Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RL33827
Price: $29.95

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