Congressional Research Service. March 7, 2014.

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a national “Climate Action Plan” to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), as well as to encourage adaptation to climate change. During his speech, the President made reference to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project—a pipeline that would transport crude oil derived from Canadian oil sands deposits in Alberta to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. He stated that an evaluation of the proposed pipeline’s impacts on climate change would be “critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” Members of Congress remain divided on the merits of the project, as many have expressed support for the potential energy security and economic benefits, while others have reservations about its potential health and environmental impacts. Though Congress, to date, has had no direct role in permitting the pipeline’s construction, it has oversight stemming from federal environmental statutes that govern the review. Further, Congress may seek to influence the State Department’s process or to assert direct congressional authority over approval through new legislation. [PDF format, 19 pages].

Congressional Research Service. February 27, 2014.

The diminishment of Arctic sea ice has led to increased human activities in the Arctic, and has heightened interest in, and concerns about, the region’s future. Issues such as Arctic sovereignty claims; commercial shipping through the Arctic; Arctic oil, gas, and mineral exploration; endangered Arctic species; and increased military operations in the Arctic could cause the region in coming years to become an arena of international cooperation or competition. The United States, by virtue of Alaska, is an Arctic country and has substantial political, economic, energy, environmental, and other interests in the region. Decisions that Congress, the executive branch, foreign governments, international organizations, and commercial firms make on Arctic-related issues could significantly affect these interests. [PDF format, 118 pages].

Yale Environment 360. February 6, 2014.

For decades, hazardous electronic waste from around the world has been processed in unsafe backyard recycling operations in Asia and Africa. Now, a small but growing movement is seeking to provide these informal collectors with incentives to sell e-waste to advanced recycling facilities. Developing countries are now shipping more e-waste to developed countries than vice versa. [Note: contains copyrighted material]. [HTML format].

Congressional Research Service. January 13, 2014.

Thousands of oil and chemical spills of varying size and magnitude occur in the United States each year. A recent spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River in early January 2014 in and near Charleston, WV, illustrates the potential magnitude of such incidents that can have broad impacts on local populations. When a spill occurs, state and local officials located in proximity to the incident generally are the first responders and may elevate an incident for federal attention if greater resources are desired. In the case of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol spill in West Virginia, President Obama issued a federal emergency declaration on January 10, 2014, to provide alternative water supplies to affected individuals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also is supporting state efforts to respond to the spill. [PDF format, 25 pages].

Congressional Research Service. December 20, 2013.

With congressional approval, the Nixon Administration established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 under an executive branch reorganization plan, which consolidated numerous federal pollution control responsibilities that had been divided among several federal agencies. EPA’s responsibilities grew over time as Congress enacted an increasing number of environmental statutes and major amendments to these statutes. EPA’s primary responsibilities have evolved to include the regulation of air quality, water quality, and chemicals in commerce; the development of regulatory criteria for the management and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes; and the cleanup of environmental contamination. Congress has assigned EPA the administration of a considerable body of law and associated programs and activities. This report is not comprehensive in terms of summarizing all laws administered by EPA, but covers the major, basic statutory authorities underlying the agency’s programs and activities, and those which EPA has delegated to the states. [PDF format, 136 pages].