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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: CA Tweaks Environmental Reviews; Hecla Settles; RGGI All-Time Low

A group of environmentalists has launched a campaign urging EPA administrator Lisa Jackson not to resign, after President Obama ordered the agency to scrap a two-year-old proposal to tighten national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, The New York Times reported. After Jackson refused to defend Obama’s decision last week, the Earth Day Network established the Web site, www.americaneedslisajackson.com, to respond to what it calls “chattering class” rumors that Jackson will quit.

The State Assembly approved changes to California’s Environmental Quality Act that could speed construction of a proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, as well as other large projects that the governor would green-light for expedited review, The Los Angeles Times reported.  The bill, which is supported by Gov. Jerry Brown, would allow the governor to impose a 175-day deadline for courts to decide environmental challenges to specific projects, and require that litigation would begin in the Court of Appeals.

The Department of Energy announced that it has issued a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC to support the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30 MW high concentration photovoltaic plant in south-central Colorado, and $14 million for six projects using integrated gasification combined cycle power plants to capture carbon.

Hecla Mining said it will pay a $263.4 million settlement to clean up contamination in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Basin, Reuters reported.  The court-approved settlement will pay the United States, the state of Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene tribe for damage from silver mining operations in the region, which was declared a Superfund site in 1983.

Top Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee pressed the Department of Justice to seek a stay of a Wyoming judge’s ruling that invalidated the Interior Department’s new guidance on categorical exclusions for oil and gas drilling projects, The New York Times reported. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said the judge’s injunction, blocking reforms to President George W. Bush’s policy promoting exemptions from environmental impact analysis, will imperil human health and endangered species.  The department is reissuing reforms through the formal rulemaking process, but that could take 12 to 18 months.

A divided Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to continue plans to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada, The Associated Press reported.  The commission split, 2-2, on whether to uphold a decision by an independent nuclear licensing board to prevent the Energy Department from withdrawing its application for Yucca Mountain.  The split vote allowed the commission to issue an order that the licensing board should continue steps to discontinue work on Yucca Mountain by the end of the month.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon credit market of ten Northeastern states, fell to an all-time low last week, as 82 percent of the carbon dioxide allowances put up for auction went unsold, New Hampshire Watchdog reported.  Bidders purchased just 7.5 million of the 42 million credits up for auction, netting a total of just $14.1 million.

A utility commissioners’ trade group blasted the Energy Department proposal to give federal regulators more authority over the siting of electricity transmission lines, AOL reported.  The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners said the plan to hand more power to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gives industry far more control over the approval process.

A group of environmental organizations filed a challenge with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to the proposed merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.  The group said that the proposal to create the nation’s largest utility would cause consumer prices to rise and damage to the environment.

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