The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 under President Richard Nixon with the mission of protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment - air, water and land. Accordingly, EPA is the lead agency in implementing America's landmark environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As a result of the regulation and enforcement of these laws, health and environmental indicators in this country have dramatically improved in conjunction with new innovations in cleaner technologies and economic growth.
Today, EPA is in the process of developing or implementing regulations that will put stronger environmental controls on pollution sources such as power plants, factories, and cars. These rules respond to legal requirements of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws. In some cases, new requirements are part of legislatively-mandated periodic reviews of pollution control programs. Other rules are being instituted on strict timelines as a result of evolving legislative mandates and court decisions.
Some of the rules developed by EPA pertain specifically to greenhouse gases (GHGs). The most basic of these rules is the Congressionally-mandated Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, which, since 2010, has required large facilities to collect and submit emissions data on GHGs. EPA is also responding to numerous relevant court actions, the most notable of which was Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007. As required by this Supreme Court ruling, EPA reviewed the state of scientific knowledge to determine whether GHGs contribute to climate change and therefore result in a threat to public health and welfare. The result of this review was its 2009 Endangerment Finding, in which EPA formally found that six key GHGs emitted from motor vehicles contribute to climate change, resulting in a threat to the public health and welfare. Given this Endangerment Finding, EPA was required under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions.
EPA undertook the first such regulation in the context of a wider May 2009 agreement with the auto industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the state of California (which was previously interested exercising its legal right to develop its own higher vehicle emissions standards), and several environmental organizations to create harmonized Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards and GHG emissions standards for car and light-duty motor vehicles from 2012-2016 at the Federal level, with California agreeing to adopt the Federal standards. EPA and DOT, working together again, finalized standards that would set emission and fuel efficiency requirements on heavy-duty vehicles in 2011. These require reductions of 7-20 percent from current emissions for vehicles manufactured from 2014-2018. In related action in the transportation sector, EPA has also been active in fulfilling Congress' 2007 mandate to update the Renewable Fuel Standards that requires gasoline and diesel fuel producers and importers to sell a certain amount of biofuels per year through 2022.
Under the Clean Air Act, once a pollutant is regulated under any part of the Act, (as was case with GHG emissions after the motor vehicle regulations were finalized in April 2010), a set of additional legal requirements are triggered for regulating the pollutant for other sources, including stationary sources, like power plants, refineries, and factories. Major new sources or modifications to existing sources become subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and also require Title V operating permits require the use of emissions control technology. To comply with these new requirements, beginning in January 2011, the states, with EPA guidance, have been implementing New Source Review (NSR) programs that require the use of Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce GHG emissions from certain large, stationary sources. This program will phase in additional large sources through 2016, according to the timeline established in EPA's Tailoring Rule.
Following a judicial settlement reached as a consequence of the Massachusetts v. EPA decision, EPA released proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for GHG emissions from new power plants on March 27, 2012. It is expected to follow with proposed NSPS for GHG emissions from new and existing refineries. This standard requires facilities to reduce emissions to a certain level that is achievable using the best system of pollution control, taking other factors into consideration, like cost and is equivalent to the emissions rate in a new, highly efficient natural gas plant. Under the terms of the settlement, the NSPS for power plants was originally to be proposed by July 26, 2011 but was delayed through a negotiation between EPA and the plaintiffs. The NSPS for refineries was to be proposed on December 15, 2011 and has also been delayed. Under the court-approved settlement agreement, both the regulations are to be finalized in 2012, with the power plant NSPS due on May 26, 2012 and the refinery NSPS due on November 10, 2012.
Other forthcoming rules will affect the utility sector and, although they do not address GHG emissions directly, their implementation will affect the pollution control technologies and fuel choices of power plants in ways that will indirectly affect GHG emissions. One rule that has been finalized is the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which requires the reduction of NOX, SO2, and particulate pollution from power plants that crosses state lines and makes it harder for downwind states to maintain healthy levels of air quality. EPA promulgated CSAPR after a court decision struck down EPA's 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) as a violation of Clean Air Act requirements, but CSAPR itself has been subject to a court-ordered stay and is undergoing judicial review.
Like the CAIR rule, the 2005 Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) was also struck down by a court decision. The court ruled that CAMR did not abide by the legal requirements of the Clean Air Act that regulate mercury from power plants. A consent decree required EPA to establish rules on the deployment of Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants emitted from power plants (the Mercury Rule). The resulting proposed Mercury Rule was released in March 2011, and the final rule was released in December 2011.
Another significant rule that could affect the power sector in a few years would affect manufacturers and other sectors as well. EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to revise the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone according to the latest scientific information by 2013. (EPA had been planning to make the ozone NAAQS more stringent this year, given what the science is saying about the existing 2008 standard, but has been directed by the White House to wait until 2013.) Another regulatory effort that will have effects on all sectors is a result of a settlement agreement EPA reached with plaintiffs in a lawsuit to finalize acceptance of state regional haze plans or implementation of a federal plan by the end of 2012. These plans will improve visibility in national parks and certain other public lands by requiring pollution control retrofits on certain older facilities.
Other rules not related to the Clean Air Act are also affecting the power sector. For instance, the disposal of ash produced when coal is burned is governed by the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA is considering regulating coal ash disposal for the first time under RCRA, following a massive 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee and has solicited public comment on several regulatory options. The timeline for EPA release of a proposed standard for coal ash is the subject of litigation. In addition, the courts have remanded rules EPA proposed in 2005 and 2006 under the Clean Water Act for cooling water intake structures, an action that EPA has responded to by issuing a new proposed rule in March 2011, with a final rule expected in July 2012.
The industrial sector will also be impacted by upcoming rules. In response to litigation, EPA was required to establish rules on the use Maximum Available Control Technology for hazardous air pollutants emitted from industrial boilers (the "Boiler MACT" rule). It issued a final rule in March 2011, but then immediately ordered a reconsideration of the rule. EPA proposed modifications in December 2011 to be finalized by late April 2012. Also as the result of court orders, EPA was required to issue similar rules on hazardous air pollutant controls for the Portland cement manufacturers, and completed a final rule in September 2010. That rule also included a New Source Performance Standards and MACT rule for cement plants as required by court order.
All these regulations have been controversial, with opponents claiming that the costs imposed are harming our economy and costing jobs, and supporters arguing that the health benefits far outweigh the costs. Several Congressional bills, many of which have passed the House, have targeted these rules for delay or repeal. It is unclear, however, whether any of these bills will become law. See our Congressional section for information on current legislative action.
For general information on these rules, you can check out our EPA glossary, FAQ or our overview of the legal process leading to the development of GHG regulations.
For more information, please see C2ES fact sheets on regulations pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions:
And other regulations: