HTML _ IB10004 - Clean Air Act Issues in the 106th Congress
14-Nov-2000; James McCarthy; 9 p.

Abstract: Congress last enacted major amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still implementing numerous provisions of those amendments. Recent efforts include the start of Phase 2 of the reformulated gasoline program, proposal of tighter emission standards for diesel engines and related standards for sulfur in diesel fuel, new programs to control ozone transport, implementation of controls on sources of 188 air toxics, and review of state implementation plans for attaining ozone standards. EPA decisions regarding these and other programs will provide opportunities for oversight in the remaining days of the 106th Congress and in the 107th Congress as well. On the legislative front, bills to diminish the use of MTBE, a gasoline additive, have been at the top of the clean air agenda. MTBE is used to meet Clean Air Act requirements that gasoline sold in the nation's worst ozone nonattainment areas contain at least 2% oxygen. The additive has been implicated in numerous incidents of ground water contamination. On September 28, 2000, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee reported S. 2962 to ban MTBE use, waive the oxygen requirement, and provide additional funding for ground water cleanup (S.Rept. 106-426), but no further action has been taken. Of particular concern are the potential impacts of any such legislation on the use of another oxygenate, ethanol, made largely from corn: the reported bill provides regulatory requirements that could triple ethanol use over the next decade. The Clean Air Act and its 1990 amendments appear to have contributed to a marked improvement in air quality nationwide. Of nearly 100 metropolitan areas not meeting air quality standards for ozone in 1990, more than two-thirds now do so. Even greater progress has been achieved with carbon monoxide: 36 of 42 areas not in attainment in 1990 now meet the standard. Nevertheless, EPA remains concerned about air pollution. In 1997, the Agency promulgated major revisions to its air quality standards for ozone and particulates, an action that would require most states and urban areas to establish additional controls on a wide range of pollution sources. The revised standards were challenged by numerous parties and the courts have remanded the standards to EPA. Implementation is currently in limbo, pending resolution of appeals by the Supreme Court. Other issues in which Congress has expressed an interest include how and whether to control long-distance ozone transport, including the desirability of additional regulation for sources of nitrogen oxides such as electric utilities, and whether plans for new highways must conform to emission budgets under the Clean Air Act. Note: This Issue Brief does not discuss the ¨greenhouse effect¨ or issues related to global climate change. For a discussion of those issues, see CRS Issue Brief IB89005, Global Climate Change, updated regularly. The Clean Air Act and its 1990 amendments appear to have contributed to a marked improvement in air quality nationwide. Of nearly 100 metropolitan areas not meeting air quality standards for ozone in 1990 more than half now do so. Even greater progress has been achieved with carbon monoxide: 36 of 42 areas not in attainment in 1990 now meet the standard. Nevertheless, EPA remains concerned about air pollution. In 1997, the Agency promulgated major revisions to its air quality standards for ozone and particulates, an action that would require most states and urban areas to establish additional controls on a wide range of pollution sources. The revised standards were challenged by numerous parties and the courts have remanded the standards to EPA. Implementation is currently in limbo, pending resolution of appeals. Other issues that could be the subject of legislation or oversight include how and whether to control long-distance ozone transport, including the desirability of additional regulation for sources of nitrogen oxides such as electric utilities, and whether plans for new highways must conform to emission budgets under the Clean Air Act. A Senate subcommittee has also begun hearings concerning reauthorization of the Act. These hearings are expected to continue this year. The current Congress has already taken action on one Clean Air Act issue. On August 5, 1999, the President signed S. 880 (P.L. 106-40), a bill that modified the Act's risk management planning requirement for facilities that handle extremely hazardous substances. Note: This Issue Brief does not discuss the ¨greenhouse effect¨ or issues related to global climate change. For a discussion of those issues, see CRS Issue Brief IB89005, Global Climate Change, updated regularly. [read report]

Topics: Air

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