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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Clean Air Act: A Summary of the Act and Its Major Requirements



James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy


This report summarizes the Clean Air Act and its major regulatory requirements. It excerpts, with minor modifications, the Clean Air Act chapter of CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, which summarizes a dozen environmental statutes that form the basis for the programs of the Environmental Protection Agency. This report will be updated at the end of each Congress, or sooner if Congress enacts a law that substantively changes the statute.

The principal statute addressing air quality concerns, the Clean Air Act was first enacted in 1955, with major revisions in 1970, 1977, and 1990. The Act requires EPA to set health-based standards for ambient air quality, sets deadlines for the achievement of those standards by state and local governments, and requires EPA to set national emission standards for large or ubiquitous sources of air pollution, including motor vehicles, power plants, and other industrial sources. In addition, the Act mandates emission controls for sources of 187 hazardous air pollutants, establishes a capand- trade program to limit acid rain, requires the prevention of significant deterioration of air quality in areas with clean air, requires a program to restore visibility impaired by regional haze in national parks and wilderness areas, and implements the Montreal Protocol to phase out most ozone-depleting chemicals.

This report describes the Act’s major provisions and provides tables listing all major amendments, with the year of enactment and Public Law number, and cross-referencing sections of the Act with the major U.S. Code sections of the codified statute.



Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL30853
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Water Quality Issues in the 113th Congress: An Overview



Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that Congress established 40 years ago in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. However, long-standing problems persist, and new problems have emerged. Water quality problems are diverse, ranging from pollution runoff from farms and ranches, city streets, and other diffuse or “nonpoint” sources, to toxic substances discharged from factories and sewage treatment plants.

There is little agreement among stakeholders about what solutions are needed and whether new legislation is required to address the nation’s remaining water pollution problems. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend the CWA have stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to change the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on enacting narrow bills to extend or modify selected CWA programs, but not any comprehensive proposals.

For several years, the most prominent legislative water quality issue has concerned financial aid for municipal wastewater treatment projects. House and Senate committees have approved bills to reauthorize CWA assistance on several occasions since the 107
th Congress, but, for various reasons, no legislation other than appropriations has been enacted. At issue has been the role of the federal government in assisting states and cities in meeting needs to rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater treatment plants, especially in light of capital costs that are projected to be nearly $300 billion.

Programs that regulate activities in wetlands also have been of interest, especially CWA Section 404, which has been criticized by landowners for intruding on private land-use decisions and imposing excessive economic burdens. Environmentalists view this regulatory program as essential for maintaining the health of wetland ecosystems, and they are concerned about court rulings that have narrowed regulatory protection of wetlands and about related administrative actions. Many stakeholders desire clarification of the act’s regulatory jurisdiction, but they differ on what solutions are appropriate.

A number of other CWA issues have been the subject of congressional oversight and legislation, with some legislators highly critical of recent regulatory initiatives and others more supportive of EPA’s actions. Some issues have drawn policymakers’ attention following court rulings that addressed and in several cases expanded the regulatory scope of water quality protection efforts under the law. Among the topics of interest are environmental and economic impacts of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, federal promulgation of water quality standards in Florida, regulation of surface coal mining activities in Appalachia, and other CWA regulatory actions. Congressional interest in several of these issues has been reflected in specific legislative proposals and debate over policy provisions of legislation to provide appropriations for EPA. In the 112
th Congress, Members from both parties raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of some of EPA’s actions and/or whether the agency has exceeded its authority. Similar attention to these issues is anticipated in the 113th Congress.


Date of Report: February 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R42883
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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Federal Pollution Control Laws: How Are They Enforced?



Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

As a result of enforcement actions and settlements for noncompliance with federal pollution control requirements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that, for FY2012, regulated entities committed to invest an estimated $9.0 billion for judicially mandated pollution controls and cleanup, and for implementing mutually agreed upon (supplemental) environmentally beneficial projects. EPA estimates that these efforts achieved commitments to reduce, treat, or eliminate 2.2 billion pounds of pollutants in the environment, primarily from air and water. EPA also assessed more than $208.0 million in civil penalties (administrative and judicial) and $44.0 million in criminal fines and restitution during FY2012. Noncompliance with federal pollution control laws remains a continuing concern. The overall effectiveness of the enforcement organizational framework, the balance between state autonomy and federal oversight, and the adequacy of funding are long-standing congressional concerns.

This report provides an overview of the statutory framework, key players, infrastructure, resources, tools, and operations associated with enforcement and compliance of the major pollution control laws and regulations administered by EPA. It also outlines the roles of federal (including regional offices) and state regulators, as well as the regulated community. Understanding the many facets of how all federal pollution control laws are enforced, and the responsible parties involved, can be challenging. Enforcement of the considerable body of these laws involves a complex framework and organizational setting.

The array of enforcement/compliance tools employed to achieve and maintain compliance includes monitoring, investigation, administrative and judicial (civil and criminal) actions and penalties, and compliance assistance and incentive approaches. Most compliance violations are resolved administratively by the states and EPA. EPA concluded 1,780 final administrative penalty orders in FY2012. Civil judicial actions, which may be filed by states or EPA, are the next most frequent enforcement action. EPA may refer civil cases to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), referring 215 civil cases in FY2012. The U.S. Attorney General’s Office and DOJ’s Environmental Crimes Section, or the state attorneys general, in coordination with EPA criminal investigators and general counsel, may prosecute criminal violations against individuals or entities who knowingly disregard environmental laws or are criminally negligent.

Federal appropriations for environmental enforcement and compliance activities have remained relatively constant in recent fiscal years. Some contend that overall funding for enforcement activities has not kept pace with inflation or with the increasingly complex federal pollution control requirements. Congress appropriated $583.4 million for enforcement activities for FY2012, a decrease below the $593.5 million enacted for FY2011 and the $596.7 million enacted for FY2010, but an increase above the $568.9 million enacted for FY2009 and $553.5 million for FY2008. The President’s FY2013 budget request included $615.9 million for EPA enforcement activities. EPA and other federal departments and agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution for FY2013 (P.L. 112-175) that expires March 27, 2013.



Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 53
Order Number: RL34384
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Cars, Trucks, and Climate: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases from Mobile Sources



James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Brent D. Yacobucci
Section Research Manager


On October 15, 2012, the Obama Administration took a major step toward reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles when it promulgated GHG emission standards for model year 2017-2025 light duty vehicles. Under the standards, GHG emissions from new cars and light trucks will be reduced about 50% by 2025 compared to 2010, and average fuel economy standards will rise to nearly 50 miles per gallon. EPA had previously set GHG emission standards for MY2012-2016 vehicles as well as for 2014-2018 model year medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

These steps have been taken as the Congress (particularly the House) and the Administration have reached an impasse over climate issues. The Administration has made clear that its preference would be for Congress to address the climate issue through new legislation. Nevertheless, in the wake of a 2007 Supreme Court decision, it has moved forward on several fronts to define how the Clean Air Act will be used and to promulgate regulations.

The key to using the CAA’s authority to control greenhouse gases was for the EPA Administrator to find that GHG emissions are air pollutants that endanger public health or welfare. EPA Administrator Jackson promulgated such an endangerment finding in December 2009. With the endangerment finding finalized, the agency has proceeded to regulate emissions from motor vehicles.

In all, EPA has received 12 petitions asking that it make endangerment findings and proceed to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases. Ten of the 12 petitions addressed mobile sources: besides motor vehicles, the petitions cover aircraft, ships, nonroad vehicles and engines, locomotives, and fuels, all of which are covered by Title II of the CAA. This report discusses the full range of EPA’s authority under Title II and provides information regarding other mobile sources that might be regulated under this authority, in addition to describing the car and truck regulations.

Regulation of GHGs from mobile sources has led the agency to establish controls for stationary sources, such as electric power plants, as well. Stationary source options, the authority for which comes from different parts of the CAA, are addressed in CRS Report R41212, EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: Congressional Responses and Options.


Date of Report: February 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R40506
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Air Quality: EPA’s 2013 Changes to the Particulate Matter (PM) Standard



Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

On January 15, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM). The revised air quality standards were completed pursuant to the Clean Air Act (CAA) and, in part, in response to a court order and consent agreement. Based on its review of scientific studies available since the agency’s previous review in 2006, EPA determined that evidence continued to show associations between particulates in ambient air and numerous significant health problems, including aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and premature death. Populations shown to be most at risk include children, older adults, and those with heart and lung disease, and those of lower socioeconomic status. EPA’s review of and revisions to the PM NAAQS has generated considerable debate and oversight in Congress.

The January 2013 revisions change the existing (2006) annual health-based (“primary”) standard for “fine” particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (or PM
2.5), lowering the allowable average concentration of PM2.5 in the air from the current level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to a limit of 12 μg/m3. The annual PM2.5 NAAQS is set so as to address human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants. The existing “24-hour primary standard” for PM2.5 that was reduced from 65 μg/m3 to 35 μg/m3 in 2006 was retained, as was the existing standard for larger, but still inhalable, “coarse” particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10. “Secondary” standards that provide protection against “welfare” (non-health) effects, such as ecological effects and material deterioration, are identical to the primary standards and the same as in 2006. The proposed rule published June 29, 2012, solicited comments on two options for a 24-hour PM2.5 standard to improve visibility that were not adopted in the final rule.

EPA revised the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) accompanying its June 2012 proposed rule in part in response to comments received regarding the agency’s cost and benefit estimates. In its December 2012 RIA, EPA estimated that the potential “quantifiable” health benefits (2010 $) associated with attaining the PM standard would range from $4.0 billion to $9.1 billion, and costs (2010 $) would range from $53.0 million to $353.0 million. Some stakeholders and some Members continue to express concerns that cost impacts would be more significant than those estimated by EPA for those areas out of compliance with the new standards.

EPA’s revisions to the PM NAAQS do not directly regulate emissions from specific sources, or compel installation of any pollution control equipment or measures, but indirectly could affect operations at industrial facilities and other sources throughout the United States. Revising PM NAAQS starts a process that includes a determination of areas in each state that exceed the standard and must, therefore, reduce pollutant concentrations to achieve it. Following determinations of these “nonattainment” areas based on multiple years of monitoring data and other factors, state and local governments must develop (or revise) State Implementation Plans (SIPs) outlining measures to attain the standard. These often involve promulgation of new regulations by states, and the issuance of revised air permits. The process typically takes several years. Based on statutory scheduling requirements, nonattainment designations for revised PM NAAQS would not be determined until the end of 2014, and states would have until at least 2020 to achieve compliance with the January 2013 revised PM
2.5 NAAQS.


Date of Report: February 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: R42934
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