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Environmental Policy & Regulatory Briefing: May 11, 2011

The Department of Energy today released its 2011 Strategic Plan (PDF), a blueprint to guide the agency’s core mission of ensuring America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through “transformative science and technology solutions”.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today announced his support for legislation that will consolidate the Environmental Protection Agency with the Department of Energy in order to eliminate duplicative functions and streamline federal environmental and energy functions. Cochran is an original cosponsor of the Consolidation of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency Act of 2011 (S.892), which was introduced late last week by Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The measure would authorize the creation of a single agency called the Department of Energy and Environment or DOEE.

EPA is proposing to make two determinations regarding the tri-state Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia-Kentucky-Ohio fine particulate matter (PM2.5) nonattainment Area. First, EPA is proposing to determine that the Area has attained the 1997 annual average PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). This proposed determination of attainment is based upon complete, quality-assured and certified ambient air monitoring data for the 2007-2009 period showing that the Area has attained the 1997 annual PM2.5 NAAQS, and data available to date for 2010 in EPA’s Air Quality System (AQS) database that show the area continues to attain. If EPA finalizes this proposed determination of attainment, the requirements for the Area to submit attainment demonstrations and associated reasonably available control measures (RACM), a reasonable further progress (RFP) plan, contingency measures, and other planning State Implementation Plan (SIP) revisions related to attainment of the standard shall be suspended for so long as the Area continues to attain the annual PM2.5 NAAQS. Second, EPA is also proposing to determine, based on quality-assured and certified monitoring data for the 2007-2009 monitoring period, that the Area has attained the 1997 annual PM2.5 NAAQS by its applicable attainment date of April 5, 2010.

EPA is proposing to revoke a significant new use rule (SNUR) promulgated under section 5(a)(2) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for a chemical substance identified generically as substituted ethoxyethylamine phosphonate, which was the subject of premanufacture notice (PMN) P-95-1950. EPA issued a “non-5(e)” SNUR (i.e. SNUR on a substance that is not subject to a TSCA section 5(e) consent order), designating certain activities as significant new uses based on the concern criteria. EPA has received and reviewed new information and test data for the chemical substance and proposes to revoke the SNUR.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or Agency) Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office announces a public teleconference of the Black Carbon Review Panel.

This notice announces EPA’s order for the amendments to terminate uses, voluntarily requested by the registrants and accepted by the Agency, of products containing ziram, diquat dibromide, and chloropicrin, pursuant to section 6(f)(1) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), as amended. This cancellation order follows a December 1, 2010 Federal Register Notice of Receipt of Requests from the registrants listed in Table 2 of Unit II. to voluntarily amend to terminate uses of all these product registrations. These are not the last products containing these pesticides registered for use in the United States. In the December 1, 2010 notice, EPA indicated that it would issue an order implementing the amendments to terminate uses, unless the Agency received substantive comments within the 30-day comment period that would merit its further review of these requests, or unless the registrants withdrew their requests. The Agency did not receive any comments on the notice.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) will announce and commence the U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 (Border 2012) partners and stakeholders meeting to discuss environmental issues and plan for the development of a Regional Framework for Sustainable Use of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. The two countries will announce $13.9 million, including $4 million from the Global Environmental Facility and $800,000 from Mexico to fund 15 projects. The National Coordinators meeting is convened by the Border 2012 program, a ten-year binational plan to protect public health and the environment along the border. This 1,800-mile region is home to almost 12 million residents. The binational program emphasizes the partnership between the U.S. and Mexico. Specifically, the program will fund nine projects on the U.S. border and six on the Mexico border with aims to clean the air, provide safe drinking water, reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous waste and ensure emergency preparedness.

The DOE has offered a conditional commitment for a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC. The loan guarantee will support the construction of the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30 megawatt (MW) net capacity High Concentration Solar Photovoltaic (HCPV) generation project located in south-central Colorado near the city of Alamosa. Cogentrix estimates the project will create about 75 construction jobs and 10 operations jobs. The project will source over 80 percent of its components from the U.S.

The final volume in the America’s Climate Choices series of reports, conducted by the National Research Council at the request of Congress, will be released tomorrow, May 12. The report presents new overarching strategies for managing the risks of climate change while synthesizing the scientific understanding of climate change and ways to limit and adapt to its impacts, presented in four earlier reports released last year. The new report will be discussed at a “Conversation on Climate Change” tomorrow at 4 p.m. EDT in Room 100 of the National Academies’ Keck Center, with a reception to follow in the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences.

The supply of heat is largely ignored in the energy and climate change debate, even though heat represents nearly half the world’s final energy consumption, a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) states PDF). According to the latest figures, heat represents 47% of energy consumption, compared with 17% for electricity, 27% transport; and 9% for ‘non-energy use’ (which covers fuels that are used as raw materials in different sectors, such as oil used to make plastics). Oil, coal and gas account for more than two thirds of the fuels used in meeting this significant demand for heat, which causes significant levels of CO2 emissions into the earth’s atmosphere, while using up these important resources. In order to address this energy and climate change challenge, the IEA report demonstrates the benefits of ‘co-generation’ – the simultaneous generation of both electricity and heat from the same fuel.

As part of President Barack Obama’s commitment to strengthen cooperation with China in the area of clean energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has entered into an agreement to provide training and other expertise to China’s National Energy Conservation Center (NECC). Berkeley Lab and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, both U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) labs, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on May 6 with the NECC in Berkeley, site of the two-day Second U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Forum, organized by the DOE and hosted by Berkeley Lab. View more information here.

The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today unveiled a work plan that aims to have the agency focus its resources on the species most in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is filing the work plan today in a consolidated case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as part of a proposed agreement with one of the agency’s most frequent plaintiffs. The work plan, if approved by the Court, will enable the agency to systematically, over a period of six years, review and address the needs of more than 250 species now on the list of candidates for protection under the ESA to determine if they should be added to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A list of these candidate species is available here.
Shell Oil Company, Shell Offshore Inc., Shell Frontier Oil & Gas Inc., and Shell Western Exploration and Production (Shell Defendants) have agreed to pay the United States $2.2 million plus interest to resolve claims that the companies violated the False Claims Act by knowingly underpaying royalties owed on natural gas produced from Federal leases, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced today. The agreement was reached among the Shell Defendants, the Department of the Interior through its Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR), and the Department of Justice. The total payment, including interest, is $2,287,145.74.

The Hill reports that House lawmakers will vote Wednesday on an amendment to drilling legislation that would require a company wishing to secure an offshore drilling lease to detail how much it doles out in executive bonuses.

“Advances in how we find and develop our vast natural resources have made production in Alaska and elsewhere both safer and more economical,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “With oil prices soaring above $100 a barrel and our nation more than 50 percent dependent on foreign imports, we must take steps today to increase domestic production and take responsibility for our energy needs.” Murkowski went on to say that directional drilling and other technological advances hold great promise for creating new jobs, generating new federal revenues and meeting the president’s own goal of reducing oil imports by a third by 2025. Through the use of directional drilling, it’s possible to tap the vast oil resources beneath ANWR from state lands with minimal disturbance to the surface of the refuge.

The GAO has released a new report covering Yucca Mountain. Spent nuclear fuel is accumulating at commercial reactor sites in 33 states. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to dispose of this waste in a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In June 2008, DOE submitted a license application for the repository, but in March 2010 moved to withdraw it. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or the courts–as a result of lawsuits–could compel DOE to resume the licensing process. This report examines (1) the basis for DOE’s decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain program, (2) the termination steps DOE has taken and their effects, (3) the major impacts if the repository were terminated, and (4) the principal lessons learned. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed knowledgeable parties. Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 80 pages)

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