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Thursday, March 28, 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 have 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: March 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: R42934
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Analysis of Recent Proposals to Amend the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to Create a Coal Combustion Residuals Permit Program

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

James D. Werner
Section Research Manager

In the 112th Congress, the House passed two bills to address the long-standing regulatory impasse over coal combustion residuals (CCRs). The impasse originated in 1980, when an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) excluded CCRs from regulation as a hazardous waste, pending further study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That study was required to identify adverse effects on human health and the environment, if any, of CCR disposal and use before determining whether the materials should be subject to hazardous waste requirements.

For over 30 years, EPA has gathered information, conducted studies, solicited input from state agencies, industry, and the public, and evaluated existing state and federal regulatory programs to determine whether the management of CCRs warranted regulation as a hazardous waste. In June 2010, EPA proposed its most recent regulatory determination for public comment. In that proposal, EPA included two options to regulate CCRs, which were immediately controversial. In the wake of EPA’s proposal, the House passed two CCR bills that embodied a new approach to creating state programs to regulate a solid waste under RCRA. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate, but the chamber took no action. The 113
th Congress may consider legislation patterned after the bills considered in the 112th Congress.

This report identifies key elements of that new approach and compares it to existing RCRA solid waste management programs. The report concludes that there are significant differences between the two. Under the new approach, EPA would have no formal role in creating state programs to regulate CCRs (though an informal one may evolve). Further, in contrast to existing RCRA programs, EPA would not be directed to establish regulations applicable to disposal facilities or to approve of state programs to implement those regulations. Instead, states that opt to implement a CCR Permit Program would be expected to establish regulations applicable to “CCR structures” based on program specifications included in the bills. In contrast to existing state waste management programs created under RCRA, such an approach would

  •  Allow individual states to define key terms (e.g., “CCR structures”). Hence, program applicability could vary from state to state, depending on how each state defines those terms. For example, a “CCR landfill” could be defined to include only land disposal units that receive CCRs or may include large-scale fill operations at construction sites (a common use of CCRs that may pose risks similar to landfilling). 
  • Establish no explicit deadlines for the issuance of permits or for facility compliance with applicable regulations, allowing individual states to establish such deadlines—although a court might impose deadlines if it determines a state has unreasonably delayed. 
  • Require EPA to identify any deficiencies in a state’s CCR Permit Program. However, it cannot be predicted what program elements EPA would regard as a “deficiency,” or when EPA would make such an evaluation. 
  • Require EPA to implement a CCR Permit Program for any state that chooses not to do so or fails to remedy a program deficiency identified by EPA. 

State regulations adopted under RCRA (e.g., municipal solid waste landfill regulations) have been required by Congress to be those necessary to meet a national “standard of protection” (e.g.,
“protect human health and the environment”). In contrast, state regulations applicable to CCR structures that would be applied by a CCR Permit Program created under this new approach would not explicitly be required to do so. Each state arguably could apply its own standard of protection. The absence of an explicit statement in the bills has implications for how EPA might exercise its authority in the event of absent or deficient state action.

Given the potential for similar legislation to be proposed in the 113
th Congress, and as a result of the complexities inherent in creating a regulatory program using a new legislative approach (that specifies new roles for states and EPA), this report provides additional background information and expands on an earlier CRS analysis.

Date of Report: March 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 86
Order Number: R43003
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Richard K. Lattanzio
Analyst in Environmental Policy

Canadian Oil Sands and Climate Change 

Recent congressional interest in U.S. energy policy has focused in part on ways through which the United States could secure more economical and reliable petroleum resources both domestically and internationally. Many forecasters identify petroleum products refined from Canadian oil sands as one possible solution. Increased production from Canadian oil sands, however, is not without controversy, as many have expressed concern over the potential environmental impacts. These impacts include emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) during resource extraction and processing. A number of key studies in recent literature have expressed findings that GHG emissions per unit of energy produced from Canadian oil sands crudes are higher than those of other crudes imported, refined, and consumed in the United States. The studies identify two main reasons for the difference: (1) oil sands are heavier and more viscous than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more energy- and resource-intensive activities to extract; and (2) oil sands are chemically deficient in hydrogen, and have a higher carbon, sulfur, and heavy metal content than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more processing to yield consumable fuels by U.S. standards. 

Selected Findings from the Primary Published Studies 

CRS surveyed the published literature, including the U.S. Department of State-commissioned studies for the Keystone XL pipeline project in both the August 2011 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the March 2013 Draft Supplementary EIS. The primary literature reveals the following:

  • Canadian oil sands crudes are on average somewhat more GHG emissionintensive than the crudes they may displace in U.S. refineries, as Well-to-Wheel GHG emissions are, on average, 14%-20% higher for Canadian oil sands crudes than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States; 
  • discounting the final consumption phase of the life-cycle assessment (which can contribute up to 70%-80% of Well-to-Wheel emissions), Well-to-Tank (i.e., “production”) GHG emissions are, on average, 70%-110% higher for Canadian oil sands crudes than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States; 
  • compared to selected imports, Canadian oil sands crudes range from 9% to 19% more emission-intensive than Middle Eastern Sour, 5% to 13% more emissionintensive than Mexican Maya, and 2% to 18% more emission-intensive than various Venezuelan crudes, on a Well-to-Wheel basis; 
  • compared to selected energy- and resource-intensive crudes, Well-to-Wheel GHG emissions for Canadian oil sands crudes are within range of heavier crudes such as Venezuelan Bachaquero and Californian Kern River, as well as lighter crudes that are produced from operations that flare associated gas (e.g., Nigerian Bonny Light); 
  • the estimated effect of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on the U.S. GHG footprint would be an increase of 3.7 million to 20.7 million metric tons of GHG emissions annually (equal to the annual GHG emissions from the combustion of fuels in approximately 770,800 to 4,312,500 passenger vehicles); and 
  • the estimated effect of the Keystone XL pipeline on global GHG emissions remains uncertain, as some speculate that its construction would encourage an expansion of oil sands investment and development, while others suggest that the project would not substantially influence either the rate or magnitude of oil extraction activities in Canada or the overall volume of crude oil transported to and refined in the United States. 

Scope and Purpose of This Report 

This report discusses the basic methodology of life-cycle assessments and compares several of the publicly available studies of GHG emissions data for Canadian oil sands crudes against each other and against those of other global reference crudes. As congressional concern over the environmental impacts of Canadian oil sands production may encompass both a broad understanding of the resource as well as a specific assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the report surveys both the general scientific literature as well as the individual findings in the State Department’s 2011 Final EIS and 2013 Draft Supplementary EIS for the Keystone XL Project.

Date of Report: March 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 35
Order Number: R42537
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Particulate Matter (PM): EPA’s 2006 Revisions and Associated Issues

Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

On October 17, 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its final revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (particulates, or PM). Several states and industry, agriculture, business, and environmental and public health advocacy groups petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging certain aspects of EPA’s revisions. A February 24, 2009, decision by the D.C. Circuit granted the petitions in part, denying other challenges, and remanded the standards to EPA for further consideration but did not specifically vacate the 2006 PM standards. EPA initiated its next round of the periodic review of the PM NAAQS, in part, in response to the court’s decision and on June 29, 2012, published a proposal to strengthen the standards. These actions, and the ongoing implementation of the 2006 PM NAAQS, have prompted renewed interest among Members of Congress.

Experiences and issues leading up to and following the promulgation of the 2006 PM
2.5 NAAQS could provide relevant insights as EPA proceeds with its current review. Although a tightening of the standards, the particulates NAAQS established in 2006 were not as stringent as recommended by EPA staff or the independent scientific advisory committee mandated under the Clean Air Act (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC). The divergence from the CASAC’s recommendations proved controversial, as did several other elements of the 2006 particulates NAAQS, including the decision not to exclude rural sources from the coarse particle standard.

EPA found that the evidence continued to support associations between exposure to particulates in ambient air and numerous health problems. Based on several analytical approaches, EPA estimated that compliance with the revised NAAQS would prevent 1,200 to 13,000 premature deaths annually, as well as substantial numbers of hospital admissions and missed work days due to illness. EPA revised the PM NAAQS by strengthening the 1997 standard for “fine” particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM
2.5). Specifically, the agency lowered the allowable daily concentration averaged over 24-hour periods of PM2.5 in the air from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to 35 μg/m3. The annual PM2.5 standard, which is set in addition to the daily standard to address human health effects from chronic exposures to the pollutants, was unchanged from the 1997 standard. The decision not to tighten the annual standard was overturned by the D.C. Circuit and remanded to EPA for consideration.

The 2006 particulates NAAQS also retained the 24-hour standard and revoked the annual standard for slightly larger, but still inhalable, particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers (PM
10). EPA abandoned its proposal to replace the particle size indicator of PM10 with a range of 10 to 2.5 micrometers (PM10-2.5). The D.C. Circuit’s February 24, 2009, decision upheld EPA’s decisions with regard to PM10 NAAQS.

EPA’s ongoing implementation of the 2006 NAAQS, including EPA’s November 13, 2009, final designation of those geographical areas not in compliance (typically defined by counties or portions of counties), has been an area of debate among some Members of Congress, states, and other stakeholders. Although EPA did not require new nonattainment designations for PM
10, the tightening of the PM2.5 standard resulted in an increased number of areas in nonattainment compared to the designations for the 1997 PM NAAQS. EPA’s November 2009 final designations for the 2006 PM NAAQS included 120 counties and portions of counties in 18 states as nonattainment areas based on 2006 through 2008 air quality monitoring data.

Date of Report: March 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RL34762
Price: $29.95

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