Congressional Panel Holds Forums on The Clean Air Act, with an Eye Towards Possible Reforms


Source: SOCMA
Related Topics: Clean Air Act (as Amended)

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power has begun holding forums on the state of the Clean Air Act, with an eye towards potential proposals to amend the Act in the next Congress.  On July 31 and yesterday, Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the chairman of the Subcommittee, convened sessions on the subject and asked state and local air regulators to address a series of questions, including:

  1. In your agency’s experience implementing the Clean Air ACT (CAA), what is working well?  What is not working well?
  2. Do state and local governments have sufficient autonomy and flexibility to address local conditions and needs?
  3. Does the current system balance federal, state, and tribal roles to provide timely, accurate permitting for business activities, balancing environment protection and economic growth?
  4. Does the CAA support a reasonable and effective mechanism for federal, state, tribal, and local cooperation through State Implementation Plans?  How could the mechanism be improved?
  5. Are cross-state air pollution issues coordinated well under the existing framework?
  6. Are there other issues, ideas or concerns relating to the role of federalism under the CAA that you would like to discuss?

Climate change was not explicitly on the agenda (Congressional Democrats did not attend the initial forum in part because of this).  Some of the participants invited to testify, including state environment commissioners or deputy commissioners from Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Indiana, are from states which challenged EPA’s greenhouse gas rules but other states which were invited to participate, including California and Delaware, have been traditionally more supportive of EPA. 

While initial testimony largely agreed that the Act has been instrumental in reducing air pollution, there was also widespread agreement that several aspects of the law could be updated, and that the Act leads to too much litigation, which in turn consumes state resources.  There was also general agreement that the State Implementation Plan (SIP) process needs to be reformed, and some states (such as Arkansas and Ohio) expressed concern about tight deadlines to revise ambient air standards (some suggested that the timeframe between NAAQS reviews should be extended beyond the current 5-year cycle). 

Chairman Whitfield noted that changes to the Act were unlikely without consensus between EPA and the states on what those changes should be.  Regional differences on issues such as pollution transport and different state priorities suggest that such a consensus will be difficult to reach.  Additionally, any serious effort to reform then Act may hinge on the outcome of the November elections and on who controls Congress next year.  A third forum could be held before the elections.

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