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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Clean Water, Clean Air Act, Cross-State Air Pollution

Federal prosecutors said BP broke pledges to improve operations after Alaska’s North Slope pipeline spill five years ago, and are seeking to revoke the criminal probation imposed in a 2007 settlement agreement, Reuters said. In 2007, BP pleaded guilty to a Clean Water Act charge stemming from its 2006 spill of 212,000 gallons of crude oil from a corroded pipeline at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. A November 2009 pipeline rupture at the BP-operated Lisburne field, next to Prudhoe Bay, may be in violation of the probationary terms of the settlement, Reuters said.  

BP subsidiaries have agreed to pay a $426,500 penalty and secure more than $240 million in funds to resolve violations of hazardous waste, drinking water and Superfund financial assurance requirements, the EPA said. The EPA said that between 2006 and 2010 BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., BP Products North America Inc., and BP West Coast Products LLC failed to meet their Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) financial assurance requirements.

Ethanol production facility Corn Plus in Winnebago, Minnesota, was recently charged with one count of making false statements about air pollution monitoring data to the EPA in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. The company pleaded guilty in federal court last week and was fined $760,000. $310,000 is a civil penalty from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Star-Tribune said.

Construction materials Lafarge North America Inc and four of its U.S. subsidiaries have agreed to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations. The violations include unpermitted discharges of stormwater at 21 stone, gravel, sand, asphalt and ready-mix concrete facilities in five states. Lafarge will pay a penalty of $740,000 and implement two supplemental environmental projects, in which the company will complete conservation easements to protect approximately 166 acres in Maryland and Colorado. Lafarge also will implement a nationwide evaluation and compliance program at 189 of its similar facilities in the United States to ensure they meet Clean Water Act requirements, the EPA said.

Texas and New England may run short of generating capacity to meet peak loads as older coal and natural gas plants are retired to comply with EPA regulations, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s 2011 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, the New York Times reports. NERC says that compliance deadlines for the coal combustion residuals rule, the proposed mercury and air toxics standards for utilities, proposed cooling water intake structures rule -316(b), and the final cross-state air pollution rule will challenge the electric industry’s planning horizons, processes and schedules, and the capacity shortage could cause blackouts. However, a study by M.J. Bradley Associates LLC and the Analysis Group, says “options are available under existing law to manage electric system reliability as the industry makes the pollution control investments necessary to comply with EPA’s clean air rules.” The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” standards for power plants, which would require operators to install equipment to reduce mercury and other air toxics are due to be finalized by Dec. 16, according to TheHill.com.

The EPA said that it would let power plants apply for more time to comply with new pollution standards under a rule sent to the White House for review, Bloomberg reports. This is less than the across-the-board delay sought by some power companies. The EPA has said it can grant power producers an extra year to comply if they try and fail to meet the three-year deadline set out in the Clean Air Act, or if state or regional officials say a particular plant is necessary for emergency purposes. The law also allows for delays beyond a year that can be granted by the president for national-security purposes, and the EPA will say those plants will be able to run in times of peak demand under particular circumstances. The rule is estimted to cost about $11 billion, one of the more expensive proposals of the Obama administration.

Dallas-based Luminant Generation Co. is among the companies who have asked the EPA to further ease the upcoming power plant emissions rule, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, to allow companies in Texas to better adhere to stricter standards. The EPA recently proposed technical changes to the cross-state air pollution rule that would soften emissions requirements for 10 states, including in Texas, and lift a cap on interstate emissions trading for the first two years of the rule, Bloomberg said.

When filing reports with Securities and Exchange Commission, the AP says that companies have consistently said the impact of environmental proposals is unknown or would not cause serious financial harm to a firm’s finances. However, when compared to congressional testimony, the companies have told congressional committees the enviromental proposal carry serious economic consequences, for example, plant closings and layoffs. Accordingly, the Obama administration has reconsidered some of the environmental proposals in response to these business interests, the AP said.

According to top executives at four Chinese solar-panel manufacturers, it is Chinese business acumen, not government subsidies and preferential loans, that guide China’s success in the solar industry. The CEOs are defending their industry following the U.S. Commerce Department probe into unfair practices which could result in import duties on more than $1 billion of Chinese imports, Bloomberg reports.

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