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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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.

EPA’s regulatory actions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been one focus of congressional interest. Although the Obama Administration has consistently said that it would prefer that Congress pass new legislation to address climate change, such legislation now appears unlikely. Instead, over the last three years, EPA has developed GHG regulations using its existing Clean Air Act authority. EPA finalized GHG emission standards for cars and light trucks on April 1, 2010, and for larger trucks, August 9, 2011. The implementation of these standards, in turn, triggered permitting and Best Available Control Technology requirements for new major stationary sources of GHGs.

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. In the first session of this Congress, the House 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, and an amendment identical to H.R. 910 (S.Amdt. 183) failed on a vote of 50-50.

EPA has taken action on a number of other air pollutant regulations, generally in response to court actions remanding previous rules. Remanded rules have included the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and the 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. Other remanded rules included hazardous air pollutant (“MACT”) standards for boilers and cement kilns. EPA is addressing the court remands through new regulations, that have now been promulgated. Many in Congress view the new regulations as overly stringent. The House has passed three bills (H.R. 2250, H.R. 2401, and H.R. 2681) to delay or revoke the new standards and change the statutory requirements for their replacements.

In addition to the power plant and MACT rules, EPA is also reviewing ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone, particulates, and other widespread air pollutants. These standards serve as EPA’s definition of clean air, and drive a range of regulatory controls. The revised NAAQS also face opposition in Congress. As passed by the House, H.R. 2401 would amend the Clean Air Act to require EPA to consider feasibility and cost in setting NAAQS, and H.R. 1633 would prevent EPA from setting standards for ambient concentrations of rural dust.



Date of Report: August 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R41563
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EPA Regulations: Too Much, Too Little, or On Track?


James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy


Since Barack Obama was sworn in as President in 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed and promulgated numerous regulations implementing the pollution control statutes enacted by Congress. Critics have reacted strongly. Many, both within Congress and outside of it, have accused the agency of reaching beyond the authority given it by Congress and ignoring or underestimating the costs and economic impacts of proposed and promulgated rules. The House has conducted vigorous oversight of the agency in the 112th Congress, and has approved several bills that would overturn specific regulations or limit the agency’s authority. Particular attention is being paid to the Clean Air Act, under which EPA has moved forward with the first federal controls on emissions of greenhouse gases and also addressed emissions of conventional pollutants from a number of industries.

Environmental groups and others disagree that the agency has overreached, and EPA states that critics’ focus on the cost of controls obscures the benefits of new regulations, which, it estimates, far exceed the costs; and it maintains that pollution control is an important source of economic activity, exports, and American jobs. Further, the agency and its supporters say that EPA is carrying out the mandates detailed by Congress in the federal environmental statutes.

This report provides background information on recent EPA regulatory activity to help address these issues. It examines 41 major or controversial regulatory actions taken by or under development at EPA since January 2009, providing details on the regulatory action itself, presenting an estimated timeline for completion of the rule (including identification of related court or statutory deadlines), and, in general, providing EPA’s estimates of costs and benefits, where available. The report includes tables that show which rules have been finalized and which remain under development.

The report also discusses factors that affect the timeframe in which regulations take effect, including statutory and judicial deadlines, public comment periods, judicial review, and permitting procedures, the net results of which are that existing facilities are likely to have several years before being required to comply with most of the regulatory actions under discussion. Unable to account for such factors, which will vary from case to case, timelines that show dates for proposal and promulgation of EPA standards effectively underestimate the complexities of the regulatory process and overstate the near-term impact of many of the regulatory actions.



Date of Report: August 8, 2012
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: R41561
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Aviation and the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme


Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Bart Elias
Specialist in Aviation Policy

Daniel T. Shedd
Legislative Attorney


Beginning January 1, 2012, most carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from commercial flights to, from, and within the European Union (EU) are covered by the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS). Flights are covered regardless of whether the airline or operator is based in the EU region. The EU ETS caps aviation emissions of CO2 in 2012 at 97% of the average in 2004-2006 and at 95% in each year 2013-2020. Each April, beginning 2013, covered aircraft operators must turn in emission “allowances” (permits) equal to the previous year’s covered emissions. Airline operators receive free allowances for 82%-85% of their 2010 emissions. Airlines that have more allowances than they need may sell them or save them for future use. Airlines that need more allowances may buy them from EU auctions, other carriers, other emission sources in the EU ETS, brokers, or international emission trading mechanisms. A small reserve of free allowances is available for new or rapidly expanding airlines.

The EU law covering international aviation emissions is a significant move in a two-decade process concerning whether and how aviation emissions of CO2 may be abated. Even among those who agree on the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, how to share reductions across nations and sectors remains controversial internationally and within countries. Emissions from international air transport pose a particular challenge.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol (to which the United States is not a Party) specified that Parties should pursue limitation or reduction of GHG emissions from aviation fuels, working through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations. In 2008, the EU cited a lack of “substantive progress” in ICAO and legislated to include aviation in its existing EU ETS by 2012. ICAO members have agreed to a variety of voluntary actions and goals. In October 2011, faced with impending inclusion of aviation emissions in the EU ETS, the ICAO Council agreed to accelerate its work, including continuing to explore market-based measures, CO2 standards for new aircraft, and other options. In mid-2012, ICAO’s environment committee approved guidelines for how to measure CO2 emissions from new aircraft as a step toward possible agreement among countries to regulate those emissions.

EU officials have stated their preference for agreeing on global, binding measures in ICAO. One official stated that the EU would agree to suspend inclusion of aviation in the ETS only if a new global ICAO scheme met three conditions: it must deliver more emissions reductions than the EU ETS on its own; it must have targets and measures; and any action must be non-discriminatory and apply to all airlines. Alternatively, EU law allows exemptions for incoming flights from countries that have adopted “equivalent measures” to reduce emissions. Some countries are likely negotiating with the EU for an equivalent measures exemption for their airlines.

Air carriers from the United States and other countries vociferously object to including international aviation in the EU ETS. The U.S. government continues to press the EU to exclude foreign carriers. In October 2011, the House passed H.R. 2594, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011, prohibiting U.S. aircraft operators from participating in the EU ETS. It also would direct the Administration to negotiate and take other actions to ensure that U.S. civil aircraft operators are not penalized by unilateral EU regulation of GHG emissions. The Senate Commerce Committee approved S. 1956 on July 31, 2012, a similar bill with more flexibility, in parallel with a U.S.-hosted meeting with other countries opposed to the scheme. In addition, House and Senate conferees on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed in January 2012 to a sense of the Congress resolution opposing the EU action. 
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Date of Report: August 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 45
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Cooling Water Intake Structures: Summary of EPA’s Proposed Rule


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Thermoelectric generating plants and manufacturing facilities withdraw large volumes of water for production and, especially, to absorb heat from their industrial processes. Water withdrawals by power producers and manufacturers represent more than one-half of water withdrawn daily for various uses in the United States. Although water withdrawal is a necessity for these facilities, it also presents special problems for aquatic resources. In particular, the process of drawing surface water into the plant through cooling water intake structures (CWIS) can simultaneously pull in fish, shellfish, and tiny organisms, injuring or killing them. Congress enacted Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) specifically to address CWIS.

Regulatory efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement Section 316(b) have a long and complicated history over 35 years, including legal challenges at every step by industry groups and environmental advocates. Currently most new facilities are regulated under rules issued in 2001, while rules for existing facilities were challenged and remanded to EPA for revisions. In response to the remands, in March 2011 EPA proposed national requirements affecting approximately 1,150 existing electric powerplants and manufacturing facilities. Even before release, the proposed regulations were highly controversial among stakeholders and some Members of Congress. The issue for Congress has been whether a stringent and costly environmental mandate could jeopardize reliability of electricity supply in the United States. Many in industry feared, while environmental groups hoped, that EPA would require installation of technology called closed-cycle cooling that most effectively minimizes the adverse environmental impacts of CWIS, but also is the most costly technology option.

The EPA proposal declined to mandate closed-cycle cooling universally and instead favors a less costly, more flexible regulatory option. EPA’s recommended approach would essentially codify current CWIS permitting procedures for existing facilities, which are based on site-specific determinations and have been in place administratively for some time because of legal challenges to previous rules. EPA acknowledges that closed-cycle systems reduce the adverse effects of CWIS to a greater extent than other technologies, but in the proposed rule it rejected closed-cycle cooling as a uniform requirement at existing facilities. The agency based that conclusion on four factors: additional energy needed by electricity and manufacturing facilities to operate cooling equipment and adverse consequences to reliability of energy delivery (i.e., energy penalty), additional air pollutants that would be emitted because fossil-fueled facilities would need to burn more fuel as compensation for the energy penalty, land availability concerns in some locations, and limited remaining useful life of some facilities such that retrofit costs would not be justified.

Not surprisingly, stakeholder groups viewed the proposal differently. Environmental groups endorsed the parts of the rule to establish nationally uniform requirements, but criticized those allowing for site-specific determinations. Industry groups urged EPA to provide greater flexibility that would be more cost-effective. State permitting authorities were divided on modifying the rule to be more flexible. In June 2012, EPA said it is considering alternatives that reflect some recommendations of industry and utility groups, and in July, the agency said it will delay issuance of a final rule for 13 months—until June 27, 2013.



Date of Report: July 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 29
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Monday, August 13, 2012

Animal Waste and Water Quality: EPA’s Response to the Waterkeeper Alliance Court Decision on Regulation of CAFOs


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

In October 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a regulation to revise a 2003 Clean Water Act rule governing waste discharges from large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This action was necessitated by a 2005 federal court decision (Waterkeeper Alliance et al. v. EPA, 399 F.3d 486 (2nd Cir. 2005)), resulting from challenges brought by agriculture industry groups and environmental advocacy groups, that vacated parts of the 2003 rule and remanded other parts to EPA for clarification.

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from any “point source” to waters of the United States unless authorized under a permit that is issued by EPA or a qualified state, and the act expressly defines CAFOs as point sources. Permits limiting the type and quantity of pollutants that can be discharged are derived from effluent limitation guidelines promulgated by EPA. The 2003 rule, updating rules that had been in place since the 1970s, revised the way in which discharges of manure, wastewater, and other process wastes from CAFOs are regulated, and it modified both the permitting requirements and applicable effluent limitation guidelines. It contained important first-time requirements: all CAFOs must apply for a discharge permit, and all CAFOs that apply such waste on land must develop and implement a nutrient management plan.

EPA’s 2008 revised regulation addressed those parts of the 2003 rule that were affected by the federal court’s ruling: (1) it eliminated the “duty to apply” requirement that all CAFOs must either apply for discharge permits or demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge, which was challenged by industry plaintiffs; (2) it added procedures regarding review of and public access to nutrient management plans, challenged by environmental groups; and (3) it modified aspects of the effluent limitation guidelines, also challenged by environmental groups. The final rule also modified a provision of the 2003 rule that the court upheld, clarifying the treatment of a regulatory exemption for agricultural stormwater discharges. CAFOs were to apply for permits and develop nutrient management plans by February 27, 2009. After that date, sources had three years to actually get permit coverage.

EPA’s efforts to revise the 2003 rule were controversial, particularly regarding the “duty to apply” for a permit and agricultural stormwater exemption provisions. Environmental groups strongly criticized EPA’s actions, arguing that the Waterkeeper Alliance court had left in place several means for the agency to accomplish much of its original permitting approach, but instead EPA chose not to do so. State permitting authorities also had a number of criticisms, focusing on key parts that they argued would greatly increase the administrative and resource burden on state regulators. Farm industry groups were generally supportive of the 2008 rule. Nevertheless, some of them brought a legal challenge. In March 2011, a federal court agreed with the industry petitioners and vacated a portion of the 2008 rule concerning the “duty to apply” requirement. Congress has shown some interest in CAFO issues in the past, primarily through oversight hearings in 1999 and 2001, before issuance of either the 2003 or 2008 rules.



Date of Report: July 30, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
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Thursday, August 9, 2012

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. Mountaintop mining is regulated under several laws, including the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

Critics say that, as a result of valley fills from mountaintop mining, 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 it would not be economically feasible there if operators were barred from using valleys for the disposal of mining overburden. Critics have used litigation to challenge the practice. In a number of cases discussed in this report, environmental groups have been successful at the federal district court level in challenging issuance of permits for mountaintop mining projects, but each has been later overturned on appeal. Nonetheless, the criticisms also have prompted some regulatory changes, also discussed here.

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 and surface coal mining in Appalachia. The plan includes a series of near-term and longer-term actions that emphasize specific steps, improved coordination, and greater transparency of decisions. The actions are being implemented through regulatory proposals, guidance documents, and review of applications for permits to authorize surface coal mining operations in Appalachia. Viewed broadly, the Administration’s combined actions on mountaintop mining displease both industry and environmental advocates. The additional scrutiny of permits and more stringent requirements have angered the coal industry and many of its supporters. Controversy also was generated by EPA’s January 2011 veto of a CWA permit that had been issued by the Corps for a surface coal mining project in West Virginia. At the same time, while environmental groups support EPA’s steps to restrict the practice, many favor tougher requirements or even total rejection of mountaintop mining in Appalachia. Federal courts have recently rejected several of the Administration’s actions, including overturning EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mine permit, enhanced permit review procedures, and EPA guidance on factors used in evaluating water quality impacts of Appalachian surface mining permits.

This report provides background on regulatory requirements, controversies and legal challenges to mountaintop mining, and recent Administration actions. Congressional interest in these issues also is discussed, including legislation in the 111th Congress seeking to restrict the practice of mountaintop mining and other legislation intended to block the Obama Administration’s regulatory actions. Attention to EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mining permit and other federal agency actions has increased in the 112th Congress. Several bills have been introduced to clarify or restrict EPA’s authority to veto CWA permits issued by the Corps (H.R. 457/S. 272; H.R. 517; H.R. 960/S. 468; and H.R. 2018, which the House passed in July 2011).



Date of Report: August 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS21421
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Stormwater Permits: Status of EPA’s Regulatory Program


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states are implementing a federally mandated program for controlling stormwater discharges from industrial facilities and municipalities. Large cities and most industry sources are subject to rules issued in 1990, and EPA issued permit rules to cover smaller cities and other industrial sources and construction sites in 1999. Because of the large number of affected sources and deadline changes that led to confusion, numerous questions have arisen about this program. Impacts and costs of the program’s requirements, especially on cities, are a continuing concern.

The 109th Congress enacted omnibus energy legislation (P.L. 109-58, the Energy Policy Act of 2005) that included a provision giving the oil and gas industry regulatory relief from some stormwater control requirements. In May 2008, a federal court vacated an EPA rule implementing this provision. EPA intends to issue a revised rule that repeals the one that was vacated by the court and codifies the statutory exemption in P.L. 109-58, but the agency does not have a specific schedule for doing so. In the 111th Congress, the House passed a bill that included a provision that would repeal the exemption in P.L. 109-58 (H.R. 3534), but the Senate took no action.

Congress often looks to federal agencies to lead or test new policy approaches, a fact reflected in legislation enacted in the 110th Congress. Section 438 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (P.L. 110-140, EISA) requires federal agencies to implement strict stormwater runoff requirements for development or redevelopment projects involving a federal facility in order to reduce stormwater runoff and associated pollutant loadings. EPA has issued technical guidance for federal agencies to use in meeting these requirements.

In 2009 the National Research Council issued a report calling for major changes to strengthen EPA’s stormwater regulatory program, which it criticized as being inconsistent nationally and failing to adequately control all sources of stormwater discharge that contribute to waterbody impairment. In response, EPA has begun efforts to expand regulations and strengthen the current program with a revised rule that it expects to propose in mid-2013 and to finalize by December 2014. The new rule is expected to focus on stormwater discharges from newly developed and redeveloped, or post-construction, sites, such as subdivisions, roadways, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings or shopping centers.



Date of Report: July 30, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI): Budget Authority and Request, FY2010-FY2013


Richard K. Lattanzio
Analyst in Environmental Policy

The United States supports international financial assistance for global climate change initiatives in developing countries. Under the Obama Administration, this assistance has been articulated primarily as the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI), a platform within the President’s 2010 Policy Directive on Global Development. The GCCI aims to integrate climate change considerations into U.S. foreign assistance through a full range of bilateral, multilateral, and private sector mechanisms to foster low-carbon growth, promote sustainable and climate-resilient societies, and reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation. The GCCI is implemented through programs at three “core” agencies—the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—and is funded through the Administration’s Executive Budget, Function 150 account, for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

Congress is responsible for several activities in regard to the GCCI, including (1) authorizing periodic appropriations for federal agency programs and multilateral fund contributions, (2) enacting those appropriations, (3) providing guidance to the agencies, and (4) overseeing U.S. interests in the programs and the multilateral funds. Recent budget authority for the GCCI was $323 million in FY2009, $939 million in FY2010, $819 million in FY2011, and $773 million in FY2012, and has been enacted through legislation including the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (H.R. 1105; P.L. 111-8); the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (H.R. 3288; P.L. 111- 117); the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010 (H.R. 4899; P.L. 111-212); the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (H.R. 1473; P.L. 112-10); and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2055; P.L. 112-74). The Administration’s GCCI FY2013 budget request is $770 million. Congressional committees of jurisdiction for the GCCI include the U.S. House of Representatives Committees on Foreign Affairs (various subcommittees); Financial Services, Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade; and Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and the U.S. Senate Committees on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection; and Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

As Congress considers potential authorizations and/or appropriations for activities administered through the GCCI, it may have questions concerning U.S. agency initiatives and current bilateral and multilateral programs that address global climate change. Some potential concerns may include cost, purpose, direction, efficiency, and effectiveness, as well as the GCCI’s relationship to industry, investment, humanitarian efforts, national security, and international leadership. This report serves as a brief overview of the GCCI, its structure, intents, and funding history. For a more detailed discussion of international financial assistance for climate change activities, see CRS Report R41808, International Climate Change Financing: Needs, Sources, and Delivery Methods, by Richard K. Lattanzio and Jane A. Leggett.



Date of Report: July 27, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Animal Waste and Hazardous Substances: Current Laws and Legislative Issues


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

The animal sector of agriculture has undergone major changes in the last several decades: organizational changes within the industry to enhance economic efficiency have resulted in larger confined production facilities that often are geographically concentrated. These changes, in turn, have given rise to concerns over the management of animal wastes and potential impacts on environmental quality.

Federal environmental law does not regulate all agricultural activities, but certain large animal feeding operations (AFOs) where animals are housed and raised in confinement are subject to regulation. The issue of applicability of these laws to livestock and poultry operations— especially the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, the Superfund law) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)—has been controversial and has drawn congressional attention.

Both Superfund and EPCRA have reporting requirements that are triggered when specified quantities of certain substances are released to the environment. In addition, Superfund authorizes federal cleanup of releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants and imposes strict liability for cleanup and injuries to natural resources from releases of hazardous substances.

Superfund and EPCRA include citizen suit provisions that have been used to sue poultry producers and swine operations for violations of those laws. In two cases, environmental advocates claimed that AFO operators had failed to report ammonia emissions, in violation of Superfund and EPCRA. In both cases, federal courts supported broad interpretation of key terms defining applicability of the laws’ reporting requirements. Three other cases not dealing with reporting violations also have attracted attention, in part because of questions of whether animal wastes contain hazardous substances that can create cleanup and natural resource damage liability under Superfund. Two of these cases were settled; the third, brought by the Oklahoma Attorney General against poultry operations in Arkansas, is pending.

In December 2008, EPA issued a rule to exempt animal waste emissions to the air from most CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements. Legal challenges to the rule followed. In October 2010, a federal court approved the government’s request to remand the rule to EPA for reconsideration and possible modification. EPA anticipates that it will propose a new or revised rule in 2012.

The lawsuits testing the applicability of CERCLA and EPCRA to poultry and livestock operations and potential changes by EPA to the 2008 exemption rule have led to congressional interest in these issues. In the 112th Congress, legislation has been introduced that would amend CERCLA to clarify that manure is not a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant under that act and that the notification requirements of both laws would not apply to releases of manure (H.R. 2997 and S. 1729). Proponents argue that Congress did not intend that either of these laws apply to agriculture and that enforcement and regulatory mechanisms under other laws are adequate to address environmental releases from animal agriculture. Opponents respond that enacting an exemption would severely hamper the ability of government and citizens to know about and respond to releases of hazardous substances caused by an animal agriculture operation.



Date of Report: July 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
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Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future


Robert Meltz
Legislative Attorney

This report surveys existing law for legal issues that have arisen, or may arise in the future, on account of climate change and government responses thereto.

At the threshold of many climate-change-related lawsuits are two barriers—whether the plaintiff has standing to sue and whether the claim being made presents a political question. Both barriers have forced courts to apply amorphous standards in a new and complex context.

Efforts to mitigate climate change—that is, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—have spawned a host of legal issues. The Supreme Court resolved a big one in 2007—the Clean Air Act (CAA), it said, does authorize EPA to regulate GHG emissions. Quite recently, a host of issues raised by EPA’s efforts to carry out that authority were resolved in the agency’s favor by the D.C. Circuit. Another issue is whether EPA’s “endangerment finding” for GHG emissions from new motor vehicles will compel EPA to move against GHG emissions under other CAA authorities. Still other mitigation issues are (1) the role of the Endangered Species Act in addressing climate change; (2) how climate change must be considered under the National Environmental Policy Act; (3) liability and other questions raised by carbon capture and sequestration; (4) constitutional constraints on land use regulation and state actions against climate change; and (5) whether the public trust doctrine applies to the atmosphere.

Liability for harms allegedly caused by climate change has raised another crop of legal issues. The Supreme Court decision that the CAA bars federal judges from imposing their own limits on GHG emissions from power plants has led observers to ask: Can plaintiffs alleging climate change harms still seek monetary damages, and are state law claims still allowed? The one ruling so far says no to both. Questions of insurance policy coverage are also likely to be litigated. Finally, the applicability of international law principles to climate change has yet to be resolved.

Water shortages thought to be induced by climate change likely will lead to litigation over the nature of water rights. Shortages have already prompted several lawsuits over whether cutbacks in water delivered from federal projects effect Fifth Amendment takings or breaches of contract.

Sea level rise and extreme precipitation linked to climate change raise questions as to (1) the effect of sea level rise on the beachfront owner’s property line; (2) whether public beach access easements migrate with the landward movement of beaches; (3) design and operation of federal levees; and (4) government failure to take preventive measures against climate change harms.

Other adaptation responses to climate change raising legal issues, often property rights related, are beach armoring (seawalls, bulkheads, etc.), beach renourishment, and “retreat” measures. Retreat measures seek to move existing development away from areas likely to be affected by floods and sea level rise, and to discourage new development there.

Natural disasters to which climate change contributes may prompt questions as to whether response actions taken in an emergency are subject to relaxed requirements and, similarly, as to the rebuilding of structures destroyed by such disasters just as they were before.

Finally, immigration and refugee law appear not to cover persons forced to relocate because of climate change impacts such as drought or sea level rise.



Date of Report: July 27, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42613
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pesticide Use and Water Quality: Are the Laws Complementary or in Conflict?


Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

This report provides background on the emerging conflict over interpretation and implementation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). For the more than 30 years since they were enacted, there had been little apparent conflict between them. But their relationship has recently been challenged in several arenas, including the federal courts and regulatory proceedings of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this report, a brief discussion of the two laws is followed by a review of the major litigation of interest. EPA’s efforts to clarify its policy in this area are discussed, including a regulation issued in 2006 that was subsequently vacated by a federal court, as well as possible options for EPA and Congress to address the issues further.

FIFRA governs the labeling, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides, including insecticides and herbicides. Its objective is to protect human health and the environment from unreasonable adverse effects of pesticides. It establishes a nationally uniform labeling system requiring the registration of all pesticides sold in the United States, and requiring users to comply with the national label. The CWA creates a comprehensive regulatory scheme to control the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters; the discharge of pollutants without a permit violates the act.

Several federal court cases testing the relationship between FIFRA and the CWA have drawn attention since 2001. In two cases concerning pesticide applications by agriculture and natural resources managers, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that CWA permits are required for at least some discharges of FIFRA-regulated pesticides over, into, or near U.S. waters. It held in a third case that no permit was required for the specific pesticide in question. Most recently, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that a CWA discharge permit for mosquito control activities is not required before April 2011.

Several of the rulings alarmed a range of stakeholders who fear that requiring CWA permits for pesticide application activities would present significant costs, operational difficulties, and delays. Pressed to clarify its long-standing principle that CWA permits are not required for using FIFRA-approved products, EPA in 2006 issued a rule to formalize that principle in regulations. Environmental activists strongly opposed EPA’s actions, arguing that FIFRA does not protect water quality from harmful pollutant discharges, as the CWA is intended to do. Other stakeholders, such as pesticide applicators, endorsed the rule. The rule was challenged, and in 2009 a federal court vacated the regulation. The federal government asked the court to stay the order vacating the exemption for two years, to provide time for working with states to develop a general permit for pesticide applications covered by the decision. The court denied the request for rehearing and granted the requested delay, which was extended until October 31, 2011. On October 31, EPA issued the permit. Under the final permit, pesticide applicators will be covered automatically for discharges before January 12, 2012. However, despite the agency’s efforts to minimize regulatory burdens and cost, the permit is controversial.

Some believe that the controversy will only be resolved by congressional action to clarify the intersecting scope of the Clean Water Act and FIFRA. In the 112th Congress, the House has passed legislation intended to nullify the 2009 federal court ruling (H.R. 872), but no legislation was enacted before EPA issued the pesticide general permit on October 31. The legislative language of H.R. 872 was included as a provision of the 2012 farm bill (H.R. 6083) approved by the House Agriculture Committee on July 11.



Date of Report: July 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL32884
Price: $29.95

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