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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: New House Bills, EU Airline Lawsuit, Mountaintop Removal

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday to block the EPA’s proposed rule to reduce emissions from large cement manufacturing plants, The New York Times reported.  The bill passed 262-161, with 25 Democrats and all but two Republicans voting in favor. Later on Thursday, the House also voted for a companion measure to delay for five years a proposed EPA rule limiting toxic emissions from industrial boilers and incinerators.  Both bills, like prior measures that attack the EPA’s authority, are not likely to receive a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  President Obama also has promised to veto them.

The Natural Resources Committee has voted to bring a bill to the floor that would repeal $3.25 billion in loan authority granted to the Western Area Power Administration under the 2009 stimulus act, The New York Times reported.  The loans would allow the administration to promote new transmission lines to integrate renewable energy into the grid.  Rep. Tom McClintock’s (R-Calif.) bill passed through the committee on a 26-17 party-line vote.

The Obama administration said on Thursday that the Department of Energy’s top official in charge of the controversial renewable loan guarantee program was stepping down, following the widening scandal surrounding the government’s loss of $535 million in aid to failed solar firm, Solyndra, Reuters reported.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Jonathan Silver, a venture capitalist, was leaving because the loan program had allocated all its funding.

The Department of Energy will add 20 new categorical exclusions from National Environmental Policy Act review under a rule proposed last week, the first such update in 15 years, North American Wind Power reported.  The categorical exclusions would cover actions such as storm water runoff control, alternative-fuel and electric-vehicle charging stations and small renewable energy projects.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled Thursday that the EPA overstepped its authority when it began reviewing individual Clean Water Act permits for the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining, The Washington Post reported.  The National Mining Association challenged a 2009 rule in which the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to coordinate reviews of backlogged permit applications to dispose mountaintop waste into river valleys.

European Union countries saw a 2.4% increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, according to the European Environment Agency.  Still, the agency said the EU remains on track to meet its targets to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, The United Kingdom Press Association reported.  Overall, emissions were down 10.7% on 1990 levels in the 15 countries that have a collective target under the climate pact, well below the 8% reduction required.

Advocate General Juliane Kokott found against several U.S. and Canadian airlines, including United, Continental and American, in the bloc’s highest court. The airlines’ case challenges a requirement forcing international airlines to purchase emissions permits under the EU’s carbon trading scheme, The Washington Post reported.  The airlines, which were joined in the challenge by the Obama administration, argued that the rules could not apply to airlines based in non-EU countries and that they violate international aviation agreements. The European Commission estimates that the carbon permits could add $2.66 to $15.96 per transcontinental ticket. A final decision is expected in the case by early next year.

The EPA issued a directive on Thursday ordering Enbridge to take additional steps to clean up an oil spill that damaged over 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River system in Michigan in June 2010.  The order requires Enbridge to submit plans by Oct. 20, 2011 for cleanup and monitoring work. The EPA said failure to comply could result in civil penalties.

The Department of Justice and the EPA have reached a settlement with Hercules Inc. and GEO Specialty Chemicals, Inc., requiring the companies to pay $700,000 for alleged violations of environmental laws at a chemical plant they once owned.  In January, Eastman Specialty Chemicals, Inc., a later owner of the plant, agreed to pay a $365,500 penalty.  Alleged violations include flawed oil spill prevention practices and unlawful oil discharges.

Nissan says a proposed carbon tax in Australia threatens to end production at the last of its manufacturing plants in the country, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.  The company said the tax would cause prices of resources to rise at its Victoria casting plant, which will soon increase production to make lightweight parts for Nissan Leaf electric car.

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