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Friday, August 26, 2011

EPA’s Regulation of Coal-Fired Power: Is a “Train Wreck” Coming?

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy


Given the central role of electric power in the nation’s economy, and the importance of coal in power production, concerns have been raised recently about the cost and potential impact of regulations under development at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would impose new requirements on coal-fired power plants. Six of the rules, which have drawn much of the recent attention, are Clean Air Act regulations. Two others are Clean Water Act rules, and one is a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act rule. The majority are expected to be promulgated over the next 18 months. All together, these rules have been characterized by critics as a regulatory “train wreck” that would impose excessive costs and lead to plant retirements that could threaten the adequacy of electricity capacity (i.e., reliability of supply) across the country, especially from now through 2017.

Although some question why EPA is undertaking so many regulatory actions in such a short timeframe, supporters of the regulations assert that it is decades of regulatory delays and court decisions that have led to this point, resulting in part from special consideration given electric utilities by Congress under several statutes. Further, several of the current regulatory developments have been under consideration for a decade or longer, or are being reevaluated after an earlier action was vacated or remanded to EPA by the courts. The regulations are supported by proponents and EPA as having substantial benefits for public health and the environment.

Recent reports by industry trade associations and others have discussed potential harm of EPA’s prospective regulations to U.S. electricity generating capacity, with emphasis on coal-fired generation. One of these reports, by the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investorowned utilities, has attracted considerable attention by depicting a timeline in which multiple rules would take effect more or less simultaneously over the next five years. Congress has shown significant interest in these issues, and bills have been introduced that would de-fund or restrict EPA’s ability to develop rules, and which would legislate new regulatory analytic requirements. This report describes nine rules in seven categories that are at the core of recent critical analyses, with background on the rule and its requirements and, where possible, a discussion of the rule’s potential costs and benefits.

The EEI and other analyses discussed here generally predate EPA’s actual proposals and reflect assumptions about stringency and timing (especially for implementation) that differ significantly from what EPA actually may propose or has promulgated. Some of the rules are expected to be expensive; costs of others are likely to be moderate or limited, or they are unknown at this point because a rule has not yet been proposed. Rules when actually proposed or issued may well differ enough that a plant operator’s decision about investing in pollution controls or facility retirement will look entirely different from what these analyses project. Further, promulgation of standards is not the end of the road: court challenges are likely, potentially delaying implementation for years, and even when final, EPA rules must be adopted by states and implemented over time through state-issued permits.

The primary impacts of many of the rules will largely be on coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls. Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged if the price of competing fuel—natural gas—continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules.



Date of Report: August
8, 2011
Number of Pages:
50
Order Number: R
41914
Price: $29.95

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Federal Agency Actions Following the Supreme Court’s Climate Change Decision in Massachusetts v. EPA: A Chronology


Robert Meltz
Legislative Attorney

On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court rendered one of its most important environmental decisions. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held 5-4 that greenhouse gases (GHGs), widely viewed as contributing to climate change, constitute “air pollutants” as that phrase is used in the Clean Air Act (CAA). As a result, said the Court, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had improperly denied a petition seeking CAA regulation of GHG emissions from new motor vehicles by saying the agency lacked authority over such emissions.

This report offers a chronology of major federal agency actions, mainly by EPA, that involve GHGs or climate change and that occurred in the wake of Massachusetts v. EPA. Most of the listed actions trace directly or indirectly back to the decision. Examples include EPA’s “endangerment finding” for GHG emissions from new motor vehicles; the agency’s standards for GHG emissions from new motor vehicles; its interpretation of “pollutants subject to regulation,” the CAA trigger for requiring best available control technology (BACT) for such pollutants in “prevention of significant deterioration” areas; its guidance for determining BACT for GHG emissions; the “tailoring rule” (limiting the stationary sources that initially will have to install BACT and obtain CAA Title V permits based on their GHG emissions); and settlements of litigation seeking to compel new source performance standards (NSPSs) for GHG emissions from electric power plants and petroleum refineries. 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 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; CRS Report R40506, Cars, Trucks, and Climate: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases from Mobile Sources, by James E. McCarthy; and CRS Report R40166, Automobile and Light Truck Fuel Economy: The CAFE Standards, by Brent D. Yacobucci.



Date of Report: August
16, 2011
Number of Pages:
13
Order Number: R
41103
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Environmental Activities of the U.S. Coast Guard


Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The U.S. Coast Guard’s environmental activities focus on prevention programs, accompanied by enforcement and educational activities.

A key component of the Coast Guard’s environmental activities involves maritime oil spill prevention. As required by several environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, the Coast Guard’s pollution preparedness and response activities aim to reduce the impact of oil and hazardous substances spills. Related to this duty, the Coast Guard inspects U.S. and foreign-flagged ships to ensure compliance with U.S. laws and international agreements. In addition, the Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) manages the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF), which is primarily used to finance prompt responses to oil spills and to reimburse parties for applicable costs associated with oil spills (e.g., cleanup costs, natural resource damages, economic losses).

The Coast Guard’s approach to marine debris (e.g., discarded fishing lines or nets) is preventive, promoting compliance by boarding and inspecting vessels, and working with local port agencies to ensure there are facilities to receive garbage from vessels. With other agencies, the Coast Guard monitors and measures marine debris.

The Coast Guard has a history of scientific study dating back to the 1880s, but its current role is that of a facilitator, supporting the scientific efforts of other groups. The Coast Guard operates three icebreakers in the Arctic and Antarctic, and provides supplies to remote stations.

Coast Guard operations must comply with applicable environmental laws. Requirements include air emission standards and waste management.


Date of Report: August 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS22145
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency


David M. Bearden, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy


With congressional approval, the Nixon Administration established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 under an executive branch reorganization plan, which consolidated numerous federal pollution control responsibilities that had been divided among several federal agencies. EPA’s responsibilities grew over time as Congress enacted an increasing number of environmental statutes and major amendments to these statutes. EPA’s primary responsibilities have evolved to include the regulation of air quality, water quality, and chemicals in commerce; the development of regulatory criteria for the management and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes; and the cleanup of environmental contamination. The implementation and enforcement of many of these federal authorities is delegated to the states. EPA also provides financial assistance to states and local governments to aid them in administering pollution control programs and in complying with certain federal environmental requirements. Several federal statutes provide the legal authority for EPA’s programs and activities. The major provisions of each of the following statutes are summarized in this report, as laid out in existing law as of this writing.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) authorizes EPA to set mobile source limits, ambient air quality standards, hazardous air pollutant emission standards, standards for new pollution sources, and significant deterioration requirements; to identify areas that do not attain federal ambient air quality standards set under the act; to administer a cap-and-trade program to reduce acid rain; and to phase out substances that deplete the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes the regulation and enforcement of requirements that govern waste discharges into U.S. waters, and financial assistance for wastewater treatment plant construction and improvements. The Ocean Dumping Act focuses on the regulation of the intentional disposal of materials into ocean waters and authorizes related research. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes EPA to establish primary drinking water standards, regulate underground injection disposal practices, and administer a groundwater control program.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) govern the regulation of solid and hazardous wastes, and corrective actions to address improper waste management practices. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) focuses on the cleanup of contamination resulting from the past release of hazardous substances, but excludes petroleum which primarily is covered under the Oil Pollution Act. Amendments to the Solid Waste Disposal Act specifically address the cleanup of petroleum leaked from underground storage tanks that are not covered under CERCLA.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) require regulation of commercial chemicals to reduce risks to human health and the environment. The Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) authorizes various mechanisms intended to prevent pollution by reducing the generation of pollutants at the point of origin. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires industrial reporting of toxic releases and encourages chemical emergency response planning.

Under these and other statutes, Congress has assigned EPA the administration of a considerable body of law and associated programs and activities. This report is not comprehensive in terms of summarizing all laws administered by EPA, but covers the major, basic statutory authorities underlying the agency’s programs and activities, and those which EPA has delegated to the states.



Date of Report: August 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 132
Order Number: RL30798
Price: $29.95

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Clean Air Issues in the 112th Congress


James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Air quality has improved substantially in the United States in the 40 years of EPA’s Clean Air Act regulation, but more needs to be done, according to the agency’s science advisers, to protect public health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. Thus, the agency continues to promulgate regulations addressing air pollution using authority given it by Congress more than 20 years ago. In the 112th Congress, Members from both parties have raised questions about the costeffectiveness of some of these regulations and/or whether the agency has exceeded its regulatory authority in promulgating them. Others in Congress have supported EPA, noting that the Clean Air Act, often affirmed in court decisions, has authorized or required the agency’s actions. This report focuses on three of the most controversial areas of interest: greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, emissions from power plants, and ambient air quality standards.

EPA regulatory actions on GHG emissions have been a major focus of congressional interest. Although the Obama Administration has consistently said that it would prefer that Congress pass new legislation to address climate change, EPA has developed GHG regulations using its existing Clean Air Act authority over the last two years. On December 15, 2009, the agency finalized an “endangerment finding” under Section 202 of the act, which requires it to regulate pollutants for their effect as greenhouse gases for the first time. Relying on this finding, EPA finalized GHG emission standards for cars and light trucks on April 1, 2010. The implementation of these standards, in turn, triggered permitting and Best Available Control Technology requirements for new major stationary sources of GHGs as of January 2, 2011.

It is the triggering of standards for stationary sources (power plants, manufacturing facilities, etc.) that has raised the most concern in Congress: legislation has been considered in both the House and Senate aimed at preventing EPA from implementing these requirements. Since February, the House has passed H.R. 1, which contained provisions prohibiting the use of appropriated funds to implement various EPA GHG regulatory activities, and H.R. 910, a bill that 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, H.R. 1 was defeated, but the chamber moved on to consider GHG amendments in debate over S. 493, a small business innovation bill. An amendment identical to H.R. 910 (S.Amdt. 183) failed on a vote of 50-50. As of late July, the House was considering provisions similar to those in H.R. 1 again in H.R. 2584, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012.

Besides addressing climate change, EPA has taken action on a number of air pollutant regulations, generally in response to the courts. Several of EPA’s regulatory decisions under the Bush Administration were vacated or remanded to the agency: among them, the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and Clean Air Mercury Rule—rules designed to control the long-range transport of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from power plants through cap-and-trade programs—and hazardous air pollutant (“MACT”) standards for boilers. EPA is addressing these court decisions through new regulations—the agency finalized a replacement for CAIR July 6, 2011, and proposed regulations for power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants March 16, 2011. A boiler MACT rule was finalized February 21 (although the agency immediately began its reconsideration). Some in Congress have wanted to address these emissions through new legislation; others are interested in using legislation to prevent EPA from implementing standards they view as too stringent. In addition to the power plant and boiler rules, EPA is also reviewing ambient air quality standards for ozone and other widespread air pollutants. These standards serve as EPA’s definition of clean air, and drive a range of regulatory controls.



Date of Report: August 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41563
Price: $29.95

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