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Policy and Enforcement Briefing: Unspent Stimulus, Chorus of Criticism over Ozone, NY Fracking Study

About one-third of the money authorized for an energy efficiency program in the 2009 economic stimulus bill has not yet been spent despite promises to immediately create green jobs, a government audit found, according to The Associated Press.  Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman said the unspent $879 million, of an original $2.7 billion, frustrates the central goal of the stimulus bill: “to promptly stimulate the economy and create jobs.”

A chorus of big names and traditional allies of President Obama are criticizing his recent decisions to scrap planned ozone regulations and grant a key approval to the Keystone XL oil pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, The Hill reported.  The Dalai Lama (pictured), Archbishop Desmond Tutu and seven other Nobel Peace Prize winners urged the president to reject the pipeline this week, while former Vice President Al Gore said Obama “bowed to pressure from polluters” on the ozone decision. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she hopes that environmental groups sue the administration over its failure to regulate ozone, and that the court “can stand by the Clean Air Act.”

Lawyers for environmental organizations and industry groups said that litigation will now continue in earnest over the Bush administration’s rule to set the national air quality standards for ground-level ozone at 75 ppb, following the Obama administration’s decision to abandon its proposal to set the standard at between 60 and 70 parts ppb, The New York Times reported.  The American Lung Association said  it will “revive its participation in litigation with the administration,” while industry groups who found the Bush standard too stringent expect briefing in the case to resume, according to Allison Wood, a lawyer at Hunton & Williams, who had worked on the case.

Several Senate Democrats are demanding that President Obama stand firm on other pollution-cutting regulations, The Hill reportedSen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) both said they were concerned the administration might shelve other air quality regulations and retreat on its commitment to science.  Industry groups, meanwhile, said they were pleased that the President’s chief of staff, William Daley, was involved in the ozone decision, and hope that he will exert his influence to reconsider other proposed environmental regulations.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation this week released a draft report that proposes new rules that would regulate the controversial gas-drilling method, hydraulic fracturing, The New York Times reported.  Public comments are invited until Dec. 12, and the agency will hold four public hearings.

Massachusetts lawmakers considered a proposal this week that would establish wind energy permitting boards in several cities to streamline the permitting process through one agency as opposed to several local boards, The Associated Press reported.  The bill would also establish lighting and zoning standards aimed at minimizing the impact to residents and the environment.

Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit against the energy producer Consol Energy seeking compensation and punitive damages from alleged releases in 2009 at two coal mines in West Virginia that killed more than 40,000 fish from 30 different species and 15,000 mussels in a tributary running through both states, The New York Times reported.  Also named in the suit are two Consol subsidiaries, Consolidated Coal Company and Windsor Coal Company.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said this week that the government would move soon to tighten regulations on new petrochemical projects around northern Bohai Bay after a large oil spill at a ConocoPhillips oilfield, Reuters reported. China has shut down the site, and will soon establish a pre-warning mechanism for the bay’s marine environment and improve controls to prevent heavy metal pollution, the premier said.

Hercules, Inc., a Wilmington, Del., chemical company, has agreed to pay a $245,521 civil penalty to the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to install equipment controls to prevent leaking emissions of hazardous air pollutants like formaldehyde, pentaerythritol, methanol and acetaldehyde, at its Louisiana, Mo., plant.

European Union officials agreed to delay by up to seven years rules that would penalize biofuel projects for their indirect climate impacts, Reuters reported .  The deal is designed to protect EU farmers’ $24 billion annual investment in biofuel projects, while still discouraging projects that have a negative impact on climate change.

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