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Friday, April 30, 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 Originally enacted in 1948, it was totally revised by amendments in 1972 that gave the act its current shape.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. 
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Date of Report: April 23, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL30030
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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 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with automotive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards to be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On September 15, 2009, EPA and NHTSA issued proposed rules and finalized those rules on April 1, 2010. The new rules will apply to cars and light trucks (pickups, vans, and SUVs) for model year (MY) 2012 through MY2016. The Administration had 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 about $950 to the cost of an average MY2016 vehicle (compared to MY2011), although the Administration expects that this additional purchase cost will be paid back through lifetime fuel savings. Whether or not the Obama Administration has understated these costs, as some have argued, they are in line with cost estimates for EISA implementation under the Bush Administration, and EPA and NHTSA maintain that they have the technical data to support their cost estimates. 

The objective of the new greenhouse gas standards is to reach reduction levels similar to those adopted by the state of California, although some specifics of the final rule are different. While the rulemaking process was combined, in the joint rulemaking, EPA and NHTSA recognized that some parts of the GHG program do 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. Thus, NHTSA has set a CAFE target of 34.1 mpg for MY2016. 

Many stakeholders were concerned about a potential "patchwork" of different federal and state standards if EPA, NHTSA, and California were to establish different standards at the intersection of fuel economy and GHG emissions. Therefore, the Administration has secured commitment letters from California, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and nine automakers to work together to establish a set of national standards. One of the key parts of the compromise is that California will abandon its requirement for class-based average emissions standards and will instead adopt NHTSA's footprint-based approach. Further, California will treat any vehicle meeting the new federal GHG standards as meeting California standards. 

On March 27, 2009, NHTSA released a final rule establishing fuel economy standards for MY2011 passenger cars and light trucks. Previously, EISA had restructured the automotive fuel economy program, directing NHTSA to establish a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 35 mpg by MY2020 for the combined passenger automobile and light truck fleet. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), issued in March 2008 by the Bush Administration, covered MY2011-MY2015. 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 combined car and light truck fuel economy for MY2011 of 27.3 mpg. The standards are "attribute" based; every new vehicle will have its own target, based on its size.


Date of Report: April 23, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R40166
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Federal Agency Actions Following the Supreme Court’s Climate Change Decision: A Chronology

Robert Meltz
Legislative Attorney

On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court rendered one of its most important environmental decisions of all time. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that greenhouse gases (GHGs), widely viewed as causing climate change, constitute "air pollutants" as that phrase is used in the Clean Air Act (CAA). As a result, said the Court, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had improperly denied a petition seeking CAA regulation of GHGs from new motor vehicles by saying the agency lacked authority over such emissions. 

This report presents a chronology of major federal agency actions taken in the wake of Massachusetts v. EPA. Most of the listed actions trace directly or indirectly back to the decision: EPA's "endangerment finding" for GHGs from new motor vehicles, the agency's proposed standards for such vehicles, its interpretation of the phrase "subject to regulation" (the CAA trigger for requiring "best available control technology," or BACT), and the "tailoring rule" (limiting the stationary sources that initially will have to install BACT and obtain Title V permits). In addition, a few agency actions were included solely because of their relevance to climate change and their post-Massachusetts occurrence—for example, EPA's responses to California's request for a waiver of CAA preemption allowing that state to set its own limits for GHG emissions from new motor vehicles, and EPA's monitoring rule for GHG emissions. 

More analytical treatment of the government actions in this report, and their broader context, may be found in CRS Report RL32764, Climate Change Litigation: A Survey, by Robert Meltz; CRS Report R40984, Legal Consequences of EPA's Endangerment Finding for New Motor Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions, by Robert Meltz; CRS Report RS22665, The Supreme Court's Climate Change Decision: Massachusetts v. EPA, by Robert Meltz; CRS Report R40585, Climate Change: Potential Regulation of Stationary Greenhouse Gas Sources Under the Clean Air Act, by Larry Parker and James E. McCarthy; and CRS Report R40506, Cars and Climate: What Can EPA Do to Control Greenhouse Gases from Mobile Sources?, by James E. McCarthy.


Date of Report: April 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: R41103
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Coal Mine Safety and Health

Linda Levine
Specialist in Labor Economics

Fatal injuries associated with coal mine accidents fell almost continually between 1925 and 2005. In 2006, however, the number of fatalities more than doubled to 47, which prompted the 110th Congress to enact the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER, P.L. 109- 236). Fatalities declined in subsequent years and dropped to a low of 18 in 2009. With the deaths of 29 coal miners at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, the 111th Congress appears set to turn its attention to worker safety and health at the nation's mines. 

Coal miners also suffer from occupationally caused diseases. Prime among them is black lung, which still claims about 1,000 lives annually. Although improved dust control requirements have led to a decrease in the prevalence of CWP, there is recent evidence of advanced cases among miners who began their careers after the stronger standards went into effect in the early 1970s. 

In the wake of the methane explosion at Sago Mine in West Virginia in January 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was criticized for its slow pace of rulemaking earlier in the decade. MSHA standard-setting activity subsequently quickened after enactment in June 2006 of the MINER Act. The statute emphasized factors thought to have played a role in the Sago disaster and imposed several rulemaking deadlines on MSHA. The agency published the requisite final standards on emergency mine evacuation, civil penalties, rescue teams, mine seals, flame-resistant conveyor belts and belt air, and refuge alternatives by the end of 2008. 

The MINER Act also required that, by June 15, 2009, two-way wireless communications systems and electronic tracking systems be part of emergency response plans (ERPs). But, on January 16, 2009, MSHA issued a program policy letter which states that "because fully wireless communications technology is not sufficiently developed at this time, nor is it likely to be technologically feasible by June 15, 2009 ... [n]ew ERPs and revisions to existing ERPs should provide for alternatives to fully wireless communication systems." The guidance sets forth "the features MSHA believes would best approximate the functional utility and safety protections of a fully wireless system, given the limitations of current technology." Because MSHA-approved electronic tracking systems now are available, the letter states that operators of underground coal mines are expected to provide for them in new and revised ERPs. 

When the MINER Act was passed, some Members of the 110th Congress characterized it as a first step that would be followed by additional measures. In January 2008, the House passed the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (S-MINER, H.R. 2768), which incorporated language from the Miner Health Enhancement Act (H.R. 2769). Some of its provisions addressed issues which arose from the Crandall Canyon Mine incident in Utah in August 2007. The Bush Administration opposed S-MINER. In addition to the holding of hearings in the wake of the April 2010 underground coal mine disaster in West Virginia, some Members of the 111th Congress may be considering S-MINER as a basis for legislation.


Date of Report: April 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL34429
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A U.S.-centric Chronology of the International Climate Change Negotiations

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Under the 2007 "Bali Action Plan," countries around the globe sought to reach a "Copenhagen agreement" in December 2009 on effective, feasible, and fair actions beyond 2012 to address risks of climate change driven by human-related emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The Copenhagen conference was beset by strong differences among countries, however, and (beyond technical decisions) achieved only mandates to continue negotiating toward the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to be held in Mexico City in December 2010. The COP also "took note of" (not adopting) a "Copenhagen Accord," agreed among the United States and additional countries (notably including China), which reflects compromises on some key actions. 

As background to the ongoing negotiations, this document provides a U.S.-centric chronology of the international policy deliberations to address climate change from 1979-2009. It begins before agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, and proceeds through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Marrakesh Accords of 2001, the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and the Copenhagen conference in 2009. The Bali Action Plan mandated the Copenhagen negotiations on commitments for the period beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. This chronology identifies selected external events and major multilateral meetings that have influenced the current legal and institutional arrangements, as well as contentious issues for further cooperation. 

Negotiations underway since 2007 have run on two tracks: one under the Kyoto Protocol (which is subsidiary to the Convention), to extend commitments of developed, Annex I, Parties beyond 2012. This track excludes the United States, which is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol and has said it will not join the Protocol. The second track proceeds directly under the Convention under the Bali Action Plan and focuses on five primary elements: a "shared vision" for reducing global GHG emissions by around 2050; mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions; adaptation to impacts of climate change; financial assistance to low income countries; and technology development and diffusion. Among the most difficult issues have been provisions for mutual assurance of compliance among Parties through measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions and removals, nationally appropriate mitigation actions, and financial and technical support from the wealthiest countries for adaptation, technology, and capacity-building. Some progress has been made on arrangements to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus). However, Parties did not reach consensus in Copenhagen on any of these elements, and the mandates for negotiation on the two tracks have been extended into 2010. The Copenhagen Accord may represent a supplemental or alternative track. Currently, the way forward remains unclear. 

Many in the U.S. Congress are concerned with the goals and obligations that a treaty or other form of agreement might embody. A particular concern regards parity of actions and trade competitiveness effects among countries. For U.S. legislators, additional issues include the compatibility of any international agreement with U.S. domestic policies and laws; the adequacy of appropriations, fiscal measures, and programs to achieve any commitments under the agreement; and the desirable form of the agreement and related requirements, with a view toward potential Senate ratification of the agreement and federal legislation to assure that U.S. commitments are met. 
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Date of Report: April 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R40001
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Particulate Matter (PM): EPA’s2006 Revisions and Associated Issues

Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Following its review of more than 2,000 scientific studies, on October 17, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (particulates, or PM). Several states and industry, agriculture, business, and environmental and public health advocacy groups petitioned the court, challenging certain aspects of EPA's revisions. A February 24, 2009, decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted the petitions in part, denying other challenges, and remanded the standards to EPA for further consideration. While the court did not specifically vacate the 2006 PM standards, EPA has announced its intention to accelerate its ongoing next round of the periodic review of the particulates NAAQS, in part, in response to the court's decision. These actions, and EPA's ongoing implementation of the 2006 PM NAAQS, have prompted renewed interest among Members of Congress. 

Although a tightening of the standards, the 2006 particulates NAAQS are not as stringent as recommended by EPA staff or the independent scientific advisory committee mandated under the Clean Air Act (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC). The divergence from the CASAC's recommendations proved controversial, as did several other elements of the 2006 particulates NAAQS, including the decision not to exclude rural sources from the coarse particle standard. Some have also questioned the EPA's strengthening of the standard for all fine particles, without distinguishing their source or chemical composition. 

The EPA found that the evidence continued to support associations between exposure to particulates in ambient air and numerous significant health problems. Based on several analytical approaches, the EPA estimated that compliance with the revised NAAQS will prevent 1,200 to 13,000 premature deaths annually, as well as substantial numbers of hospital admissions and missed work or school days due to illness. Based on these findings, EPA revised the PM NAAQS by strengthening the preexisting (1997) standard for "fine" particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) by lowering the allowable daily concentration averaged over 24-hour periods of PM2.5 in the air. The annual PM2.5 standard, which is set in addition to the daily standard to address human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants, is unchanged from the 1997 standard. The decision not to tighten the annual standard was reversed by the D.C. Circuit and remanded to EPA for consideration. 

The 2006 particulates NAAQS also retained the 24-hour standard and revoked the annual standard for slightly larger, but still inhalable, particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM10). The EPA abandoned its proposal to replace the particle size indicator of PM10 with a range of 10 to 2.5 micrometers (PM10-2.5). The D.C. Circuit's February 24, 2009, decision upheld EPA's decisions with regard to PM10 NAAQS. 

EPA's ongoing implementation of the 2006 NAAQS, beginning with the designation of those geographical areas not in compliance (typically defined by counties or portions of counties), may become an area of debate among Members of Congress, states, and other stakeholders. Although EPA is not requiring new nonattainment designations for PM10, the tightening of the PM2.5 standard increased the number of areas in nonattainment. On November 13, 2009, EPA published its final designations for the 2006 PM NAAQS that include 120 counties and portions of counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 through 2008 air quality monitoring data. In December of 2008 EPA had announced designation of 211 counties and portions of counties in 25 states as nonattainment areas for the 2006 PM NAAQS based on 2005 through 2007 data.


Date of Report: April 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL34762
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Capturing CO2 from Coal-Fired Power Plants: Challenges for a Comprehensive Strategy

Larry Parker
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Any comprehensive approach to substantially reduce greenhouse gases must address the world's dependency on coal for one-quarter of its energy demand, including almost half of its electricity demand. To maintain coal in the world's energy mix in a carbon-constrained future would require development of a technology to capture and store its carbon dioxide emissions. This situation suggests to some that any greenhouse gas reduction program be delayed until such carbon capture technology has been demonstrated. However, technological innovation and the demands of a carbon control regime are interlinked; a technology policy is no substitute for environmental policy and should be developed in concert with it. 

Much of the debate about developing and commercializing carbon capture technology has focused on the role of research, development, and deployment (technology-push mechanisms). However, for technology to be fully commercialized, it must also meet a market demand—a demand created either through a price mechanism or a regulatory requirement (demand-pull mechanisms). Any conceivable carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants will increase the cost of electricity generation from affected plants because of efficiency losses. Therefore, few companies are likely to install such technology until they are required to, either by regulation or by a carbon price. Regulated industries may find their regulators reluctant to accept the risks and cost of installing technology that is not required. 

The Department of Energy (DOE) has invested millions of dollars since 1997 in carbon capture technology research and development (R&D), and the question remains whether it has been too much, too little, or about the right amount. In addition to appropriating funds each year for the DOE program, Congress supported R&D investment through provisions for loan guarantees and tax credits. Congress also authorized a significant expansion of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) spending at DOE in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Funding for carbon capture technology has increased substantially as a result of enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 

Legislation introduced in the 111th and 110th Congresses invokes the symbolism of the Manhattan project of the 1940s and the Apollo program of the 1960s to frame proposals for large-scale energy policy initiatives that include developing CCS technology. However, commercialization of technology and integration of technology into the private market were not goals of either the Manhattan project or Apollo program. 

Finally, it should be noted that the status quo for coal with respect to climate change legislation isn't necessarily the same as "business as usual." The financial markets and regulatory authorities appear to be hedging their bets on the outcomes of any federal legislation with respect to greenhouse gas reductions, and becoming increasingly unwilling to accept the risk of a coal-fired power plant with or without carbon capture capacity. The lack of a regulatory scheme presents numerous risks to any research and development effort designed to develop carbon capture technology. Ultimately, it also presents a risk to the future of coal.


Date of Report: April 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: RL34621
Price: $29.95

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Selected Issues Related to an Expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Brent D. Yacobucci
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Federal policy has played a key role in the emergence of the U.S. biofuels industry. Policy measures include minimum renewable fuel usage requirements, blending and production tax credits, an import tariff, loans and loan guarantees, and research grants. This report focuses on the mandated minimum usage requirements—referred to as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)— whereby a minimum volume of biofuels is to be used in the national transportation fuel supply. It describes the general nature of the RFS mandate and its implementation, and outlines some emerging issues related to the sustainability of the continued growth in U.S. biofuels production needed to fulfill the expanding RFS mandate, as well as the emergence of potential unintended consequences of this rapid expansion. 

Congress first established an RFS with the enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct, P.L. 109-58). This initial RFS (referred to as RFS1) mandated that a minimum of 4 billion gallons be used in 2006, and that this minimum usage volume rise to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. Two years later, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140) superseded and greatly expanded the biofuels blending mandate. The expanded RFS (referred to as RFS2) required the annual use of 9 billion gallons of biofuels in 2008 and expanded the mandate to 36 billion gallons annually in 2022, of which only 15 billion gallons can be ethanol from corn starch. In addition, EISA carved out specific requirements for "advanced biofuels," biomass-based biodiesel, and cellulosic biofuels. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for establishing and implementing regulations to ensure that the nation's transportation fuel supply contains the mandated biofuels volumes. EPA's initial regulations for administering RFS1 (issued in April 2007) established detailed compliance standards for fuel suppliers, a tracking system based on renewable identification numbers (RINs) with credit verification and trading, special treatment of small refineries, and general waiver provisions. EPA rules for administering RFS2 (issued in February 2010) built upon the earlier RFS1 regulations; however, there are four major distinctions. First, mandated volumes are greatly expanded and the time frame over which the volumes ramp up is extended through at least 2022. Second, the total renewable fuel requirement is divided into four separate, but nested categories—total renewable fuels, advanced biofuels, biomass-based diesel, and cellulosic ethanol—each with its own volume requirement. Third, biofuels qualifying under each category must achieve certain minimum thresholds of lifecycle green house gas (GHG) emission reductions, with certain exceptions applicable to existing facilities. Fourth, all renewable fuel must be made from feedstocks that meet a new definition of renewable biomass, including certain land use restrictions. 

In the long term, the expanded RFS is likely to play a dominant role in the development of the U.S. biofuels sector, but with considerable uncertainty regarding potential spillover effects in other markets and on other important policy goals. Emerging resource constraints related to the rapid expansion of U.S. corn ethanol production have provoked questions about its long-run sustainability and the possibility of unintended consequences in other markets as well as on the environment. Questions also exist about the ability of the U.S. biofuels industry to meet the expanding mandate for biofuels from non-corn sources such as cellulosic biomass materials, whose production capacity has been slow to develop, or biomass-based biodiesel, which remains expensive to produce owing to the relatively high prices of its feedstocks. Finally, considerable uncertainty remains regarding the development of the infrastructure capacity (e.g., trucks, pipelines, pumps, etc.) needed to deliver the expanding biofuels mandate to consumers.


Date of Report: April 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R40155
Price: $29.95

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

International Agreements on Climate Change: Selected Legal Questions

Emily C. Barbour
Legislative Attorney

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened for signature in 1992 and soon thereafter was ratified by the United States. The UNFCCC does not set greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, and during ratification hearings, the George H.W. Bush Administration represented that any protocol or amendment to the UNFCCC creating binding GHG emissions targets would be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent. 

The Kyoto Protocol (the Protocol) to the UNFCCC was intended as a first step towards implementing the UNFCCC. To that end, it sets quantitative emission reduction targets for the high income countries listed in its Annex B. The Protocol's goal is to reduce each parties' overall emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. Although the United States signed the Protocol in 1998, it did not submit the Protocol to the Senate. The George W. Bush Administration announced in 2001 that it would not pursue U.S. accession to the Protocol. The Obama Administration has followed this policy. 

In 2007, the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali adopted a framework for negotiations over the post-2012 climate regime. It established two tracks for negotiation: (1) a track by which Kyoto Protocol parties would pursue an amendment to the Protocol for a "second round" of emission targets for its Annex B parties, and (2) a track by which UNFCCC parties would set GHG mitigation targets or actions for all parties. However, consensus under either track proved difficult to achieve at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties. The outcome, the Copenhagen Accord (the Accord), is consequently considered a non-binding political agreement. The Accord allows each high income party listed in Annex I of the UNFCCC to define its own GHG emissions target level. "Non-Annex I" parties wishing to associate with the Accord must identify and commit to undertaking "nationally appropriate mitigation actions," which may receive international support subject to certain international reporting requirements. 

The labels "convention," "protocol," and "accord" are not clear indicators of whether these three climate change agreements are binding internationally and/or domestically. Under international law, an agreement is considered binding only if it conveys the intention of its parties to create legally binding relationships and has entered into force. However, some have suggested that enforceability, rather than intentions, should govern whether an agreement is "legally binding." 

Under U.S. law, a legally binding international agreement may take the form of a treaty or an executive agreement. In order for the United States to enter a treaty, the agreement must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate and subsequently be ratified by the President. An executive agreement does not require the Senate's advice and consent in order to be legally binding. Historically, executive agreements have arisen in a limited set of circumstances, and certain subjects, including significant global environmental issues, have traditionally been handled as treaties that require the Senate's approval. 

Of the three agreements discussed, only the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol are considered legally binding agreements under international law, and the United States is bound only by the former. The United States has, however, indicated its intent to associate with the Copenhagen Accord. In doing so, it voluntarily committed to reduce U.S. emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. The Accord does not implicate the treaty power of Congress, which will likely shape the domestic effect of the Copenhagen Accord through appropriations and lawmaking. The Accord does not appear to empower the Executive to implement it solely by agency actions.


Date of Report: April 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41175
Price: $29.95

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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.


Date of Report: April 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: RS22379
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Global Environment Facility (GEF):An Overview

Richard K. Lattanzio
Analyst in Environmental Policy

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent and international financial mechanism (i.e., a grant and lending institution) that promotes cooperation and fosters actions to protect the global environment. Established in 1991, it unites 180 member governments and partners with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to assist developing countries with environmental projects related to six areas: biodiversity, climate change, international waters, the ozone layer, land degradation, and persistent organic pollutants. GEF receives funding from multiple donor countries—including the United States—and provides grants and concessional loans to cover the additional or "incremental" costs associated with transforming a project with national benefits into one with global environmental benefits. In this way, GEF funding is structured to "supplement" base project funding and provide for the environmental components in national development agendas. GEF partners with several international agencies, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the United Nations Development Program, and the United Nations Environment Program, among others. GEF is the primary fund administrator for four Rio (Earth Summit) Conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. GEF also establishes operational guidance for international waters and ozone activities, the latter consistent with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its amendments. Since its inception, GEF has allocated $8.8 billion—supplemented by more than $38.7 billion in co-financing—for more than 2,400 projects in more than 165 countries. 

GEF is one mechanism in a larger network of international programs designed to address environmental issues. Each year, billions of dollars in environmental aid flow from developed country governments—including the United States—to developing ones. While the efficiency and the effectiveness of these programs are of concern to donor country governments, a full analysis of the purposes, intents, results, and consequences behind these financial flows has yet to be conducted. International relations, comparative politics, and developmental economics can often collide with environmental agendas. Critics contend that the existing system has had limited impact in addressing major environmental concerns—specifically climate change and tropical deforestation—and has been unsuccessful in delivering global transformational change. A desire to achieve more immediate impacts has led to a restructuring of the Multilateral Development Banks' role in environmental finance and the introduction of many new bilateral and multilateral funding initiatives. The effectiveness of GEF depends on how the fund addresses its programmatic issues, reacts to recent developments in the financial landscape, and responds to emerging opportunities. The future of GEF remains in the hands of the donor countries that can choose to broaden the mandate and strengthen its institutional arrangements or to reduce and replace it by other bilateral or multilateral funding mechanisms.


Date of Report: April 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R41165
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A U.S.-centric Chronology of the International Climate Change Negotiations

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Under the 2007 "Bali Action Plan," countries around the globe sought to reach a "Copenhagen agreement" in December 2009 on effective, feasible, and fair actions beyond 2012 to address risks of climate change driven by human-related emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The Copenhagen conference was beset by strong differences among countries, however, and (beyond technical decisions) achieved only mandates to continue negotiating toward the next Conference of the Parties (COP) to be held in Mexico City in December 2010. The COP also "took note of" (not adopting) a "Copenhagen Accord," agreed among the United States and additional countries (notably including China), which reflects compromises on some key actions. 

As background to the ongoing negotiations, this document provides a U.S.-centric chronology of the international policy deliberations to address climate change from 1979-2009. It begins before agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, and proceeds through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Marrakesh Accords of 2001, the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and the Copenhagen conference in 2009. The Bali Action Plan mandated the Copenhagen negotiations on commitments for the period beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. This chronology identifies selected external events and major multilateral meetings that have influenced the current legal and institutional arrangements, as well as contentious issues for further cooperation. 

Negotiations underway since 2007 have run on two tracks: one under the Kyoto Protocol (which is subsidiary to the Convention), to extend commitments of developed, Annex I, Parties beyond 2012. This track excludes the United States, which is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol and has said it will not join the Protocol. The second track proceeds directly under the Convention under the Bali Action Plan and focuses on five primary elements: a "shared vision" for reducing global GHG emissions by around 2050; mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions; adaptation to impacts of climate change; financial assistance to low income countries; and technology development and diffusion. Among the most difficult issues have been provisions for mutual assurance of compliance among Parties through measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions and removals, nationally appropriate mitigation actions, and financial and technical support from the wealthiest countries for adaptation, technology, and capacity-building. Some progress has been made on arrangements to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD-plus). However, Parties did not reach consensus in Copenhagen on any of these elements, and the mandates for negotiation on the two tracks have been extended into 2010. The Copenhagen Accord may represent a supplemental or alternative track. Currently, the way forward remains unclear. 

Many in the U.S. Congress are concerned with the goals and obligations that a treaty or other form of agreement might embody. A particular concern regards parity of actions and trade competitiveness effects among countries. For U.S. legislators, additional issues include the compatibility of any international agreement with U.S. domestic policies and laws; the adequacy of appropriations, fiscal measures, and programs to achieve any commitments under the agreement; and the desirable form of the agreement and related requirements, with a view toward potential Senate ratification of the agreement and federal legislation to assure that U.S. commitments are met.

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Date of Report: March 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R40001
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke, Coordinator
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened concerns about the region's future. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial interests in the region. On January 12, 2009, the George W. Bush Administration released a presidential directive, called National Security Presidential Directive 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25 (NSPD 66/HSPD 25), establishing a new U.S. policy for the Arctic region. 

Record low extent of Arctic sea ice in 2007 focused scientific and policy attention on its linkage to global climate change, and to the implications of projected ice-free seasons in the Arctic within decades. The Arctic has been projected by several scientists to be perennially ice-free in the late summer by the late 2030s. 

The five Arctic coastal states—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (of which Greenland is a territory)—are in the process of preparing Arctic territorial claims for submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Russian claim to the enormous underwater Lomonosov Ridge, if accepted, would reportedly grant Russia nearly onehalf of the Arctic area. There are also four other unresolved Arctic territorial disputes. 

The diminishment of Arctic ice could lead in the coming years to increased commercial shipping on two trans-Arctic sea routes. Current international guidelines for ships operating in Arctic waters are being updated, with a targeted completion date of 2010. 

Changes to the Arctic brought about by warming temperatures will likely allow more exploration for oil, gas, and minerals. Warming that causes permafrost to melt could pose challenges to onshore exploration activities. Increased oil and gas exploration and tourism (cruise ships) in the Arctic increase the risk of pollution in the region. Cleaning up oil spills in ice-covered waters will be more difficult than in other areas, primarily because effective strategies have yet to be developed. 

Large commercial fisheries exist in the Arctic. The United States is currently meeting with other countries regarding the management of Arctic fish stocks. Changes in the Arctic could affect threatened and endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the polar bear was listed as threatened on May 15, 2008. Arctic climate change is also expected to affect the economies, subsistence, health, population, societies, and cultures of Arctic indigenous peoples. 

Two of the Coast Guard's three polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea—have exceeded their intended 30-year service lives. The Coast Guard since 2008 has been studying how many polar icebreakers, with what capabilities, should be procured as replacements for Polar Star and Polar Sea. The possibility of increased sea traffic through Arctic waters also raises an issue concerning Arctic search and rescue capabilities. 

The Arctic has increasingly become a subject of discussion among political leaders of the nations in the region. Although there is significant international cooperation on Arctic issues, the Arctic is also increasingly being viewed by some observers as a potential emerging security issue. In varying degrees, the Arctic coastal states have indicated a willingness to establish and maintain a military presence in the high north. U.S. military forces, particularly the Navy and Coast Guard, have begun to pay more attention to the region.

Date of Report: March 30, 2010
Number of Pages: 65
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Friday, April 2, 2010

Federally Supported Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment Programs

Claudia Copeland, Coordinator
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Betsy A. Cody
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Nicole T. Carter
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Megan Stubbs
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Although the federal government has played a significant role in developing water quality regulations and standards for municipal and industrial (M&I) water use, it historically has provided a relatively small percentage of the funding for construction of water supply and treatment facilities for M&I uses. Yet, several programs exist to assist communities with development of water supply and treatment projects, and it appears that Congress is more frequently being asked to authorize direct financial and technical assistance for developing or treating water supplies for M&I use. 

This report provides background information on the types of water supply and wastewater treatment projects traditionally funded by the federal government and the several existing programs to assist communities with water supply and wastewater recycling and treatment. These projects and programs are found primarily within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Commerce, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The focus of some programs has been enlarged over the years. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation was established to implement the Reclamation Act of 1902, which authorized the construction of water works to provide water for irrigation in arid western states. Congress subsequently authorized other uses of project water, including M&I use. Even so, the emphasis of Reclamation's operations was to provide water for irrigation. Similarly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Department of Defense) constructed large reservoirs primarily for flood control, but was authorized in 1958 to allocate water for M&I purposes. Over the past 30- plus years, Congress has authorized and refined several programs to assist local communities in addressing other water supply and wastewater problems. These programs serve generally different purposes and have different financing mechanisms; however, there is some overlap. 

Federal funding for the programs and projects discussed in this report varies greatly. For example, Congress provided $1.4 billion in FY2010 appropriations for grants to states under EPA's State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan program for drinking water facilities and $2.1 billion for EPA's SRF program for wastewater facilities; funds appropriated for the USDA's rural water and waste disposal grant and loan programs are $551 million for FY2010; HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds (used partly but not exclusively for water and wastewater projects) are $3.95 billion for FY2010. Congress also provided $140 million for municipal wastewater and drinking water treatment environmental infrastructure projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In contrast, Reclamation's Title 16 reclamation/recycling program received a total of $13.6 million for FY2010. 

For each of the projects and programs discussed, this report describes project or program purposes, financing mechanisms, eligibility requirements, recent funding, and the Administration's FY2011 budget request.


Date of Report: March 19, 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RL30478
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Appropriations for FY2011

Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

David M. Bearden
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The President's FY2011 budget request, submitted to Congress on February 1, 2010, included $10.02 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The requested amount is a decrease below the funding level of $10.29 billion provided in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2010 (P.L. 111-88). Compared to FY2009, the President's FY2011 request for EPA is an increase above the enacted appropriation of $7.64 billion provided in the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY2009 (P.L. 111-8). However, when including the $7.22 billion in supplemental appropriations for EPA provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, P.L. 111-5), the total appropriation for the agency in FY2009 was $14.86 billion, exceeding both the FY2010 enacted appropriations and the President's FY2011 request. 

Although the President has proposed an overall decrease for EPA relative to the appropriations enacted for FY2010, the FY2011 budget request includes a variety of decreases and increases in funding for many of the individual programs and activities funded within the eight appropriations accounts that fund the agency. Since FY2006, Congress has funded these accounts within the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, noted above with respect to FY2010 enacted appropriations. In FY2005 and prior fiscal years, Congress appropriated funding for EPA's accounts within the former Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. 

For FY2011, the President has requested the largest decrease in funding for EPA within the State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) account, from $4.97 billion in FY2010 to $4.79 billion in FY2011. This account contains the largest portion of the agency's funding among the eight accounts. The majority of this requested decrease for FY2011 is attributed to a combined $200 million reduction in funding for grants that provide financial assistance to states to help capitalize Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs). Respectively, these funds finance local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects in local areas. 

The President's FY2011 request includes $2.0 billion for Clean Water SRF capitalization grants and $1.29 billion for Drinking Water SRF capitalization grants. These amounts are somewhat less than the enacted FY2010 appropriations, but are several times larger than amounts provided in the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY2009. However, when including the supplemental funds provided in ARRA, both the FY2010 enacted appropriations and the President's FY2011 request for the SRF grants are less than the total funding made available for the SRF grants in FY2009. ARRA provided $4.0 billion in supplemental funds for Clean Water SRF capitalization grants and $2.0 billion in supplemental funds for Drinking Water SRF capitalization grants. 

In addition to the adequacy of federal financial assistance for water infrastructure, other prominent issues that have received attention within the context of EPA appropriations include the adequacy of funding for climate change research and related activities, cleanup of hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program, cleanup of less hazardous sites referred to as brownfields, and grants to assist states in implementing air pollution control requirements. Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative established in the FY2010 appropriations, and funding for the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and other geographic water programs, also have received attention. There have been varying levels of interest in funding for numerous other EPA programs and activities.


Date of Report: March 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number:R41149
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Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996 authorized a drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF) program to help public water systems finance infrastructure projects needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet the act's health objectives. Under the program, states receive capitalization grants to make loans to public water systems (privately and publicly owned) for drinking water projects and certain other SDWA activities. Since FY1997, Congress has provided more than $13 billion for this program, including $2 billion in stimulus funding. Through June 2008, the DWSRF program had provided a total of $14.6 billion in assistance and supported 6,177 projects. 

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) latest (2007) survey of capital improvement needs for public water systems indicated that water systems need to invest $334.8 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the provision of safe water. EPA reports that this amount is similar to the 2003 needs estimate of $276.8 billion ($331.4 billion when adjusted to 2007 dollars). The survey reflects continued improvement in reporting of needs for infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement, and also funding needs related to compliance with several revised regulations and security-related needs. 

Key issues related to the DWSRF program include the gap between estimated needs and funding; the growing cost of complying with SDWA standards, particularly for small communities; the ability of small or economically disadvantaged communities to afford DWSRF financing; and the broader need for cities to maintain, upgrade, and expand infrastructure unrelated to SDWA compliance. 

In the 111th Congress, drinking water infrastructure funding generally, and the DWSRF program specifically, have received attention. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA; P.L. 111-5, H.Rept. 111-16) provided $2 billion for the DWSRF program for drinking water infrastructure projects, and $4 billion for a similar Clean Water SRF that funds municipal wastewater infrastructure projects. Under the DWSRF program, the stimulus funds are being allocated as capitalization grants to the states, which then provide financial assistance (subsidized loans and grants) to public water systems for infrastructure projects. The conference report modifies several program practices for projects receiving stimulus funds. The 111th Congress also completed FY2009 appropriations work with the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 111-8), which included $829 million for the DWSRF program, and provided another $1.387 billion for the program for FY2010 in P.L. 111-88. In May, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported, amended, S. 1005, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act, which would authorize $14.7 billion over five years for this program.


Date of Report: March 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number:RS22037
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