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Policy & Regulatory Briefing: EPA Sets Fracking Standards, Calif. Hex Goal, Caterpillar Settles

The EPA on Thursday proposed standards to cut smog-forming volatile organic compound emissions from processes and equipment used in the oil and gas industry. The standards are the first federal air rules affecting new and modified hydraulically fractured wells, but would leverage an operator’s ability to capture and sell natural gas using cost-effective existing technologies, the EPA said. The proposal includes new source performance standards for VOCs and sulfur dioxide, and air toxics standards for oil and natural gas production as well as natural gas transmission and storage.

California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment on Wednesday set a final public health goal for hexavalent chromium in drinking water at 0.02 parts per billion. A public health goal is the level of a contaminant in drinking water that does not pose a significant health risk, the agency explained. It is not a regulatory level for groundwater or surface water contamination cleanup.

Caterpillar Inc. will pay a $2.55 million settlement for allegedly shipping more than 590,000 highway and non-road diesel engines without the correct certified after-treatment devices to control engine exhaust emissions, and for failing to comply with reporting and engine labeling requirements, the EPA and the Justice Department said on Thursday. Under the consent decree, the company must recall the noncompliant engines and install the devices as well as correct fuel injector and fuel map settings. To address the effects of excess emissions, Caterpillar will permanently retire banked emissions credits.

An ICF International report released on Wednesday predicts that as much as 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generating capacity will shut down as the result of proposed air emissions rules, Reuters said. The consulting firm noted that the grid could maintain its reliability if the plant retirements were handled in a flexible and coordinated manner.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday invited (pdf) EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to testify on pending smog standards. The Hill reported that her testimony was considered “essential” and that lawmakers were interested in discussing the consequences of noncompliance.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp testified at a Senate hearing on Thursday that his agency is not prepared for a major oil spill in the Arctic, where oil companies are pursuing offshore drilling opportunities, Climate Progress reported. He said the Coast Guard considered its resources adequate for the Deepwater Horizon but the agency still had to engage boom manufacturers and fishing boats. “If this were to happen off the North Slope of Alaska, we’d have nothing,” Papp said.

Greenwire reports that both the proposed U.S. debt-limit solutions currently under discussion would significantly cut spending on energy and environmental measures over the next 10 years. Sierra Club deputy national campaigns director Melinda Pierce said the funding cuts could have “crippling effects on some of the natural resources programs, on programs that keep clean air,” while Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) commented that the process was “moving so fast that nobody has really focused on the details of any of these plans.”

Charles McConnell, President Obama’s nominee for assistant secretary for fossil energy, on Thursday told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that a cap-and-trade or carbon tax program on power plant emissions can be used to boost carbon capture technology, the Hill said. The nominee also defended the White House decision to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve last month, saying that the action was a response to a supply disruption from the Libyan situation.

On Wednesday, a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel approved the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act, the Hill said. The bill requires a maximum allowable pressure for natural gas pipelines, improved leak detection, the use of automatic or remote shutoff valves, and a time limit for reporting incidents.

And finally, the American Petroleum Institute release a new report claiming that cleaning up smog would cost more than the benefits to public health, Greenwire said. The report says EPA tweaked its economic analysis to exaggerate the health benefits that would result from stricter rules that were proposed last year.

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