PDF _ RL33552 - Clear Air Act Issues in the 109th Congress
2-Nov-2006; James E. McCarthy; 24 p.

Update: November 2, 2006

Abstract: The courts and the executive branch have faced major decisions on clean air issues in 2006, with Congress playing a limited role. One focus has been the EPA Administrator’s September 21, 2006 decision regarding air quality standards for fine particles. According to EPA and the consensus of the scientific community, current concentrations of fine particles cause tens of thousands of premature deaths annually. The Administrator’s September 21 decision will strengthen the standards; according to the agency, it will reduce premature mortality by 1,200 - 13,000 persons annually. However, many are unhappy that the new standard will not be more stringent — for the first time ever, it falls outside of a range recommended by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), an independent body established by the Clean Air Act to provide expert scientific advice. On September 29, the seven members of CASAC stated that the Administrator’s decision does not provide an adequate margin of safety requisite to protect the public health. In 2005, Congress acted on several Clean Air Act (CAA) issues in legislation that it passed and sent to the President. The most significant of these issues, dealing with ethanol and reformulated gasoline (RFG), were addressed in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, H.R. 6 (P.L. 109-58). Congress also amended the Clean Air Act in H.R. 3 (P.L. 109-59), the transportation bill that the President signed August 10, 2005. H.R. 3 modified the requirement that state and local transportation planners demonstrate conformity between their transportation plans and the timely achievement of air quality standards. Other Clean Air Act amendments have stalled. A bill that would have established a cap-and-trade program for emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury from coal-fired electric power plants (S. 131) was among the first items on the agenda of the 109th Congress: entitled the Clear Skies Act, the bill was scheduled for markup by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee March 9, 2005. But the committee failed to approve it on a 9-9 tie vote, in large part because of complaints that the bill would weaken existing Clean Air Act requirements. Another issue in the debate was whether to cap emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in addition to the other three pollutants. With Clear Skies stalled, EPA finalized the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which will cap emissions of SO2 and NOx from power plants in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia and establish a cap-and-trade system through regulation. A deadline for mercury regulations helped drive the Clear Skies debate: EPA faced a judicial deadline of March 15, 2005, to promulgate standards for power plant mercury emissions. The agency met this deadline, but the specific regulations have been widely criticized. A resolution to “disapprove” (overturn) the regulations under the Congressional Review Act (S.J.Res. 20) was defeated on a vote of 51-47, September 13, 2005, but the courts have yet to rule on challenges filed by 15 states and other groups. Whether to modify other requirements of the Clean Air Act (New Source Review, deadlines for nonattainment areas, and provisions dealing with interstate air pollution) have also been contentious issues. This report replaces CRS Issue Brief IB10137, Clean Air Act Issue in the 109th Congress.

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Topics: Air, Pollution

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