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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: TRAIN Act, Pa. Shale Ruling, Ethanol Cutbacks

The House of Representatives on Friday approved legislation that would establish an interagency committee to weigh the economic costs of any new EPA rules, and also delay for several years two EPA regulations on power plants that would limit mercury emissions and cross state pollution from ozone and particulate pollution, The Hill reported.  The vote on the TRAIN Act broke down mostly along partisan lines, with all Republicans and 19 Democrats voting 249-169 in favor. Just before the final vote, lawmakers voted to attach several Republican amendments, including one that would add force the EPA to rewrite the delayed power plant rules. The TRAIN Act faces poor prospects in the Democratically controlled Senate, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) applauded the measure’s passage in the House.  He said in a statement that proposed EPA regulations will “will harm jobs, consumers, and small businesses.”

China will invest 2 trillion yuan (about $313 billion) to promote a green energy projects over the next five years, a senior economic official said Sunday, according to a report in Reuters.  The country will launch low-carbon pilot programs in five provinces and eight cities.

In China, officials said Sunday they may classify shale gas as separate from conventional hydrocarbons to encourage companies outside of state-owned industry to invest, Reuters reported.  A handful of state-run energy firms now control the shale gas market as the government’s rules governing hydrocarbons make it difficult for private companies to win mineral rights or place bids.  China is at an early stage of shale gas exploration with no commercial production yet.

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruling has thrown into question who owns rights to the lucrative natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation, potentially putting in doubt the legitimacy of thousands of drilling leases, Bloomberg reported.  The Superior Court said state law governing ownership of mineral rights is not clear whether the shale constitutes a “mineral,” and sent the question back to a trial court in a case between current landowners and the owners of an 1881 deed to the mineral rights.

The House is working on legislation that would reduce the federal mandate for the use of ethanol in fuel when corn supplies are running low, Reuters reported.  Livestock and dairy producers have long been critics of the ethanol mandate, saying it gives financial advantage to ethanol makers and unfairly boosts the cost of livestock feed.  According to the consulting firm MF Global, the legislation would reduce the ethanol mandate by 25 to 50% depending on corn’s stocks-to-use ratio.

A 14-year-old California program imposing a “public goods” fee on utility bills that has generated billions of dollars in funding for energy efficiency rebates and renewable energy research will expire at the end of the year and lawmakers failed to renew it this year, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The program attracts $356 million each year.  Legislation that would have extended the program until 2020 died in the Senate in the final hours of the legislative session two weeks ago.  There is still hope that lawmakers may extend the program in some fashion in the next legislative session that begins in January.

SolarCity, a solar installer, said on Friday that it will be the second company in as many days that will not get finalization of an Energy Department loan guarantee by a September 30 deadline, Reuters reported. The company said the Energy Department will not close the loan because of increased paperwork resulting from a congressional investigation into the government’s $500 million loan to the now-bankrupt solar firm Solyndra.  SolarCity’s $275 million loan guarantee was to help fund a project to install 160,000 rooftop solar systems on the homes of military families.

In a development in the ongoing investigation into the government’s Solyndra loan, The Hill reported that the Energy Department never disclosed any lobbying by the embattled solar energy company, even though its K Street firm acknowledged that it contacted the department for help receiving a stimulus package.

Japan said it will adopt a new energy policy by 2013, which will present options to meet demand through 2030, Reuters reported.  After the radiation disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant the country pledged to wean itself from nuclear power, but is now considering delaying an increase in investment on renewable energy and for a boost in near-term usage of fossil fuels.  Added to the complication is the country’s ambitious commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels.

BP said it has filed a plan with with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, to drill its first new deepwater oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico since the disastrous Macondo spill in 2010, Reuters reported.  In a key investigative report released this month, the agency said the worst oil spill in U.S. history was predominately BP’s fault.

The EPA said John R. Hess & Company, a chemical processing facility in Cranston, R.I., will pay a penalty of $23,400 to settle claims that the company allegedly failed to report chemicals used at its plant in violation of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.  The EPA said the company processed more than the established thresholds of N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, ethylene glycol, and other regulated chemicals.

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