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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: EPA Lawsuits Pricetag, Climate Talks, Solar Grants

The Department of Justice spent about $3.3 million annually between 1995 and 2010 to defend the EPA from lawsuits brought by industry, environmental and citizens groups, the Government Accountability Office stated in a report requested by Senate Republicans.  In addition, owing to statutory requirements to pay certain successful plaintiffs for attorney fees and costs, the Treasury Department paid out another $1.8 million per year. The Center for Biological Diversity said the report plainly shows that industry sues the EPA more than green groups, while Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said the findings demonstrate the need to reform environmental laws to save taxpayer money.

Despite decades of setbacks the United Nations climate chief said she believes that climate talks in South Africa in November can deliver meaningful steps to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, Reuters reportedChristiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that when representatives of 193 nations convene later this year, they will be motivated by data showing that the world’s carbon dioxide emissions hit their highest level ever in 2010, driven mainly by coal-based developing economies like China.

The Department of Energy announced Thursday that it will award $145 million to 69 solar energy projects in 24 states.  The grants go to projects aimed at increasing the efficiency and decreasing the cost of solar power.

The EPA has extended, until October 20, the deadline to comment on proposed changes to a definition in hazardous waste regulations, Waste & Recycling News reported.  Tweaks to the definition of “solid waste” are designed to encourage the recycling of hazardous secondary materials.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering a plan that would require nuclear power plant operators to provide new reviews of the earthquake risks following a tremor that rattled the East Coast last week and knocked two reactors offline at a Virginia plant, The Hill reported.  The assessments would be due in the next two years, at which point NRC would use the data to impose new earthquake safety regulations.

Germany’s top energy regulator said the country will not need to keep any nuclear power on standby, even as a last resort should power systems reach capacity during peak demand in the winter months, according to a report in Reuters.  Germany shut down 8,800 MW of nuclear power in the wake of the radiation disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

The NRC will not impose any new conditions before granting a new license to Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear plant outside New York City, Reuters reported. A supplemental review found that Entergy “has identified actions that have been or will be taken to manage the effects of aging” on the decades-old plant.

Lindsey Construction Company, of Fayetteville, Ark., will pay a $430,000 civil penalty after reaching a settlement with the EPA over alleged Clean Water Act violations during construction of The Links of Columbia, a nine-hole golf course and apartment complex in Columbia, Mo.  The EPA said that the developer failed to comply with the terms of a construction stormwater permit.

The Department of Energy has proposed to assess a $412,500 fine against Washington Group International, for allegedly violating radiation protection and nuclear safety regulations in September 2010, during demolition of a building at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, New York.  The fine was proposed in a Preliminary Notice of Violation sent to the company.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman urged President Obama to reject a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico because it would cross part of the state’s large Ogallala Aquifer, The Hill reported. Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Steven Chu signaled that he supports the controversial project, saying that Canada is a stable supplier of oil, and new technology is decreasing the environmental toll of tar sands extraction.

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