Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, April 25, 2011

EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: Congressional Responses and Options

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Larry Parker
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

As a direct result of the Environmental Protection Agency’s promulgation of an “endangerment finding” for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in December 2009, and its subsequent promulgation of GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles on April 1, 2010, the agency is now proceeding to control GHG emissions from new and modified stationary sources as well, including power plants, manufacturing facilities, and others. Stationary sources account for 69% of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. If the United States is to reduce its total GHG emissions, as President Obama has committed to do, it will be necessary to address these sources.

EPA’s regulations limiting GHG emissions from new cars and light trucks automatically triggered two other Clean Air Act (CAA) provisions affecting stationary sources of air pollution. First, effective January 2, 2011, new or modified major stationary sources must undergo New Source Review (NSR) with respect to their GHGs in addition to any other pollutants subject to regulation under the CAA that are emitted by the source. This review requires affected sources to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to address their GHG emissions. Second, major sources of GHGs (existing and new) will have to obtain permits under Title V of the CAA (or have existing permits modified to include their GHG requirements). Beyond these permitting requirements, because stationary sources, particularly coal-fired power plants, are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, EPA is likely to find itself compelled to issue endangerment findings and establish emission control standards for GHG emissions under other parts of the act. For example, in December 2010, EPA reached settlement agreements with numerous parties under which it will promulgate final decisions on New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for electric generating units by May 2012 and for petroleum refineries by November 2012.

EPA shares congressional concerns about the potential scope of these regulations, primarily because a literal reading of the act would have required as many as 6 million stationary sources to obtain permits. To avoid this result, on May 13, 2010, the agency finalized a “Tailoring Rule” that focuses its resources on the largest emitters while deciding over a six-year period what to do about smaller sources.

Many in Congress have suggested that EPA should delay taking action on any stationary sources or should be prevented from doing so. There are at least 10 bills introduced in the 112
th Congress that would delay or prevent EPA actions on greenhouse gas emissions. In February, the text of one bill, H.R. 153, was added to the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 1) during floor debate on a 249-177 vote. H.R. 1 passed the House, February 19, but failed in the Senate, March 9. On April 7, the House passed Representative Upton’s H.R. 910, which would repeal EPA’s endangerment finding, redefine “air pollutants” to exclude greenhouse gases, and prohibit EPA from promulgating any regulation to address climate change. In the Senate, similar legislation failed to pass, April 6.

This report discusses elements of this controversy, providing background on stationary sources of greenhouse gas pollution and identifying options Congress has at its disposal to address the issues, including (1) resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act; (2) freestanding legislation; (3) the use of appropriations bills as a vehicle to restrain EPA activity; and (4) amendments to the Clean Air Act, including legislation to establish a new GHG control regime.

Date of Report: April 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R41212
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.