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Policy & Regulatory Briefing: 12.6% Return for Google Wind; Clean Air Transport; Keystone XL

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a 12.59 percent return on equity to the Atlantic Wind Connection, for a $5 billion project to build an undersea power line to carry wind energy from New York to Virginia. The project, in which Google Inc. has a 42-percent stake, would have the capacity to transport 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind power to the grid, according to Bloomberg. The FERC ruling is the first big regulatory hurdle for project, and it still needs approval from the Interior Department, several state agencies, and regional power grid operator, PJM. The project would consist of two parallel transmission lines stretching 250 miles from northern New Jersey to southern Virginia, and could provide power to 1.9 million households. The electricity carried by the lines would connect with the main electric grid at onshore sites in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, Reuters reports. The transmission project is led by independent transmission company Trans- Elect. In addition to Google, investors in Atlantic Wind Connection include Tokyo-based trading company Marubeni Corp. and Good Energies, a clean-energy investment firm in Zug, Switzerland, writes Bloomberg.

The EPA has finished its draft of the Clean Air Transport Rule that would require coal-fired power plants in Eastern states to install pollution controls if their emissions cross state lines. The final regulations have been sent to the Office of Management and Budget, and this White House review is the last step before the EPA can release the new regulations. But such a rule is expected by the end of June, writes the New York Times. The EPA estimates that the rule would cut SO2 and NOx emissions by 71 percent and 52 percent (respectively) below 2005 levels, and prevent 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths each year at a cost of about $2.8 billion per year. The total benefits of its proposal are estimated at $120 billion to $290 billion. Along with upcoming limits on greenhouse gases, toxic emissions and the handling of coal ash, the Clean Air Transport Rule is one of several EPA rules that could cause a wave of older coal plants to be upgraded or retired in the next few years, according to the New York Times. The closures would help areas in the eastern U.S. meet existing national air quality health standards.

Three advocacy groups — Friends of the Earth, Corporate Ethics International and the Center for International Environmental Law – have sued the State Department for disclosure of communications related to the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Pipeline (Keystone XL) that would nearly double U.S. imports of Canadian oil-sands crude. The groups want to see communications between the department and a lobbyist for Keystone XL sponsor, TransCanada Corp. The lobbyist is a former adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the advocacy groups are raising concern that Clinton appears partial to the merits of Keystone XL, writes the New York Times. TransCanada estimated that the $7-billion pipeline project would provide $20 billion in new spending in the U.S. economy. The groups opposed to the pipeline that would bring Canadian crude across six U.S. states carries say that the process is known to have a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional fuel. Alex Moore, fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth, lauded the State Department for “categorically stating that tar sands oil has far higher greenhouse gas emissions than do other forms of oil used in the U.S.,” but added in a statement that “this finding alone should lead the State Department to reject the permit for this pipeline,” writes Environment & Energy Publishing. At this juncture, the opponents are focused on the connection between Clinton and the lobbyist, pressing for the communications via a FOIA request, to create the wider forum to publicly question the Obama administration on the pipeline, according to the Times article.

The 90-day public comment period for the Obama administration’s National Forest Management Act has closed with hundreds of scientists, 67 congress members, and more than a dozen national conservation organizations calling for greater protection for wildlife and water in its proposed forest policy. The rule will direct the U.S. Forest Service’s management of 193 million acres of forest and grasslands. Critics say that the rule leaves too much initiative in the hands of individual forest managers, without adequate guidelines to prevent harmful activities. At the same time, it eliminates longstanding requirements that managers report back on how activities like logging are affecting wildlife and forest health, writes sustainablebusiness.com.

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