PDF _ IB10107 - Clean Air Act Issues in the 108th Congress
30-Nov-2004; James E. McCarthy; 19 p.

Update: February 15, 2005


On June 15, 2004, the House passed H.R. 4503, a comprehensive energy bill virtually identical to the conference version of H.R. 6, which it had passed November 18, 2003. The bill included provisions amending the Clean Air Act to address reformulated gasoline, renewable fuels, and MTBE. Although the conference report on H.R. 6 passed the House in November 2003, the Senate was unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to terminate debate, and the bill never came to a vote on final passage.

On June 29, 2004, EPA proposed the designation of 243 counties in 21 states and the District of Columbia as ?nonattainment areas? for a new fine particle (PM2.5) air quality standard. On April 15, 2004, the Agency had designated 474 counties in 32 states and DC nonattainment for a new 8-hour ozone standard. Implementation of the two standards raised a number of questions in areas affected by the designations. Amendments that would have modified some of the implementation procedures for areas affected by upwind pollution were also attached to the energy bill (H.R. 6 / H.R. 4503), and not enacted.

Both the House and Senate passed surface transportation legislation that would have modified the Clean Air Act?s conformity provisions. The Senate bill, S. 1072, passed February 12, 2004. The House bill, H.R. 3550, passed April 2, 2004. Conferees began meeting to attempt to reconcile the bills? provisions June 14, but the conference did not report an agreed version of the bill.


Abstract: The most prominent air quality issue in the 108th Congress was what to do about emissions from coal-fired electric power plants. On January 30, 2004, EPA proposed standards for mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions from such plants. The proposed mercury standards have been particularly controversial: EPA claims that technology to achieve more than a 30% reduction in mercury emissions cannot be implemented until 2018, an assertion widely disputed.

Legislation was also proposed on the subject ? a group of bills referred to as ?multi-pollutant? legislation. The Administration version (the Clear Skies Act, H.R. 999/S. 485/S. 1844) proposed to replace numerous existing Clean Air Act requirements with a national cap and trade program for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. Senators Jeffords and Carper, and Representatives Sweeney, Waxman, and Bass, all introduced bills that were more stringent than Clear Skies, and four of the five would have regulated carbon dioxide in addition to the other pollutants. Congress took no action on any of the measures.

Controversy also arose over EPA?s proposed and promulgated changes to the Clean Air Act?s New Source Review (NSR) requirements. NSR requires installation of best available emission controls when power plants and other major facilities are modified. Since December 31, 2002, EPA has promulgated several changes to streamline (and, many argue, weaken) the NSR requirements. On January 22, 2003, the Senate approved an amendment to H.J.Res. 2 that directed the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the NSR changes. The President signed the bill, with the amendment, February 20, 2003 (P.L. 108-7).

The conference report on the energy bill (H.R. 6), which came to the House and Senate floor for action the week of November 17, 2003, contained several Clean Air Act provisions. Most of these were also contained in S. 2095, a revised version of the bill introduced February 12, 2004, and in H.R. 4503, which passed the House June 15, 2004. Most of the air provisions concerned the gasoline additives MTBE and ethanol, used to meet Clean Air Act requirements that reformulated gasoline (RFG) sold in the nation?s worst ozone nonattainment areas contain at least 2% oxygen, to improve combustion. MTBE has contaminated ground water in several states. All three bills would have banned the use of MTBE as a fuel additive nationwide, except in states that specifically authorized its use, after December 31, 2014; repealed the requirement that RFG contain oxygen; provided a major new stimulus to the use of ethanol; authorized $2 billion in grants to assist merchant MTBE production facilities in converting to the production of other fuel additives; and authorized funds for MTBE cleanup. H.R. 6 and H.R. 4503 would also have provided a ?safe harbor? from product liability lawsuits for producers of MTBE and renewable fuels; S. 2095 would not have.

The 108th Congress also enacted changes to the ?small engine? provisions of the Clean Air Act and considered changes to the requirement that metropolitan area transportation plans ?conform? to the act.

 [read report]

Topics: Air, Transportation

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