Thursday, May 23, 2013
James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy
Oversight of EPA regulatory actions is expected to be the main focus of interest as the 113th Congress considers air quality issues.
Air quality has improved substantially in the United States in the 40 years of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act regulation. According to the agency’s science advisers and others, however, more needs to be done to protect public health and the environment from the effects of air pollution. Thus, the agency continues to promulgate regulations using authority given it by Congress in amendments to the Clean Air Act more than 20 years ago. Members of Congress from both parties have raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of some of these regulations and/or whether the agency has exceeded its statutory 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 four years, EPA has developed GHG emission standards using its existing Clean Air Act authority. Relying on a finding that GHGs endanger public health and welfare, the agency promulgated GHG emission standards for cars and light trucks on May 7, 2010, and again on October 15, 2012, and for larger trucks on September 15, 2011. The implementation of these standards, in turn, triggered permitting and Best Available Control Technology requirements for new major stationary sources of GHGs (power plants, manufacturing facilities, etc.).
It is the triggering of standards for stationary sources that has raised the most concern in Congress. A proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants is the focus of attention currently, but other sources (refineries, cement plants, etc.) could be subject to GHG emission controls under the same statutory authority. Legislation has been considered in both the House and Senate aimed at preventing EPA from implementing these requirements. The House passed several of these bills in the 112th Congress, but none of them passed the Senate.
Besides addressing climate change, EPA has taken action on a number of other air pollution regulations, generally in response to court actions remanding previous rules. Remanded rules 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 include hazardous air pollutant standards for boilers and cement kilns (standards referred to as “MACT” standards). EPA has addressed the court remands through new regulations, but many in Congress viewed these regulations as overly stringent. In the 112th Congress, the House passed four bills (H.R. 2250, H.R. 2401, H.R. 2681, and H.R. 3409) to delay or revoke the new standards and change the statutory requirements for their replacements. None of these passed the Senate, however. EPA also recently proposed a controversial rule to lower the sulfur content of gasoline, in conjunction with tighter (“Tier3”) standards for motor vehicle emissions.
In addition to these rules, EPA is reviewing ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone and other widespread air pollutants. An ozone NAAQS proposal is expected by the end of 2013. NAAQS serve as EPA’s definition of clean air, and drive a range of regulatory controls. EPA’s review process for the NAAQS, mandated at five-year intervals by the Clean Air Act, has also faced opposition in Congress. As passed by the House in the 112th Congress, H.R. 2401 and H.R. 3409 would have amended the Clean Air Act to require EPA to consider feasibility and cost in setting NAAQS, reversing a unanimous 2001 Supreme Court decision that the law requires standards based on health considerations alone. The Senate did not pass either measure.
Date of Report: May 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42895
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Posted by Penny Hill Press, Inc. at Thursday, May 23, 2013