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Policy & Regulatory Briefing: Oil Drilling, UN Talks, China ‘Meets Environmental Goals’

The Department of the Interior on Friday outlined a plan to streamline permitting for offshore drilling, the Hill reports. The proposals by the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) come as Republicans and some Democrats accuse the Obama administration of dragging its feet on energy permits. The new procedures don’t change policy but are intended to clarify BOEMRE processes and to streamline its application reviews. The bureau said it will start providing oil and gas companies with a “completeness checklist” showing what they must include in their applications.

The latest round of UN climate talks will kick off in Bonn today, but hopes for a new treaty are fading, Business Green reports. The website reported concerns that talks will run aground over proposals to extend the Kyoto Protocol. Over two weeks, negotiators will prepare for the main climate submit set to take place in Durban, South Africa at the end of this year. Representatives are expected to discuss their countries’ progress on voluntary carbon targets agreed at last year’s Cancun summit, the expansion of carbon markets, instruments for measuring and reporting emissions, and negotiations on new climate funding mechanisms. Japan, Canada and Russia have said that they will not sign up to the Kyoto extension, but developing countries led by Brazil, India, China and South Africa are insisting on an extension. Chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern said hopes for an extension are “unrealistic”, and “legally binding international obligations to cut emissions are not necessary”.

A report by the International Energy Agency last week showed global greenhouse gas emissions at record levels, and the IEA warned that world leaders will struggle to keep to their goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius, agreed at Cancun.

Three decades of rapid economic growth have left China with “very grave” environmental problems, the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said in its 2010 annual report on Friday, according to the New York Times. The ministry also said that China has made major improvements in air and water quality, with surface water pollutants down 32 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions in cities down 19 percent. Officials said the country has met goals it set for a five-year period ending this December.

A Navy official told the House energy and commerce committee on Friday that a 2007 law seeking to block military purchases of high-carbon alternative fuels has been a success, the Hill reports. “We are comfortable with 526,” Navy deputy assistant secretary for energy Tom Hicks said, referring to Section 526 of 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act. “It is an effective policy tool, it is having an effect on the market that I think is one in the right direction.” The provision bans federal agency from buying alternative fuels if their production and use produces more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels would.

Tomorrow the Senate committee on energy and natural resources will consider bills aiming to improve nuclear energy research, spur development of small, modular nuclear reactors, and boost alternative fuels made from coal and algae, the Hill reports.

The administration of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbell is recommending tougher laws to protect drinking water from contaminants from natural gas exploration, the AP reports. Michael Krancer, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, made the recommendations to the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. On Thursday Krancer told a federal energy advisory board, charged with making recommendations to President Obama on shale gas development, that Pennsylvania has accomplished a “dramatic sea change” in its protection of water from such drilling effects. He said that drilling wastewater is no longer being discharged to rivers or streams without full treatment, the Patriot-News reports.

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