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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Moratorium on Uranium Mining, CDC on Fracking, CSAPR, Lake Tahoe Restoration

The Department of the Interior today is expected to announce a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon. The decision is expected to allow existing uranium and other mining operations in the region to continue, but block new claims, the New York Times said. The announcement is set for 1 pm ET at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC.

The CDC cannot say with certainty whether shale gas drilling is a threat to public health – people or food sources – and additional research should examine the impact of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing wells. The CDC did not comment on whether fracking should be stopped or more tightly regulated until studies are completed. The EPA is preparing regulations to govern fracking as well as a study on its effects on drinking water, Bloomberg reports.

The EPA is weighing whether to truck in fresh water to households in a Pennsylvania town where residents claim wells have been polluted by fracking, after a December assessment that the water supply was safe for drinking. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp had trucked water to a dozen Dimock, Penn.,  households for three years until November when state regulators agreed it could stop, Reuters said.

Constellation Energy said that it spent $885 million to make two coal-fired power plants compliant with Maryland state regulations, but now the utility faces an operational disadvantage due to the delay of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. With the new technology, coal-burning produces 90 percent less nitrogen oxide, and 95 percent less sulfur, but the plants require 40 megawatts of electricity to run, the New York Times reports.

BP, Transocean and Halliburton have appealed all formal violation notices issued by Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) related to the Deepwater Horizon spill. The Interior Board of Land Appeals will hear the appeals, but the proceedings will be delayed until the court case over the spill makes more progress, The Hill said.

Exxon Mobil and the Norwegian oil producer Statoil have reached an agreement with the federal government for oil development in the Gulf of Mexico. Exxon and Statoil share an equal stake in five leases in a field; three signed in 1998 and two in 2003. Under the settlement, the companies will pay $11.2 million each year until the three 1998 leases reach at least 87.5 million barrels of total production; the royalty rates on the leases increase to 18.75 percent from 12.5 percent while rent increases to $11 per acre from $7.50 per acre, Bloomberg reports.

The Congressional Budget Office has released its cost estimate for Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2011. Assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts, CBO estimates that implementation would cost $234 million over the 2012-2017 period and $231 million after 2017. The authorized funds would be available to the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and other federal agencies for fire mitigation projects, water management, invasive species protection, the CBO said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has included $500,000 in his two-year budget proposal to help collect data on the state’s off-shore wind capacity. There are also plans to convert the state’s fleet of vehicles to alternative fuels, and the third element is a controversial program for utilities to receive a renewable energy certificate for R&D investments into renewable energy, writes the Newport News Daily Press.

The National Energy Administration of China has set the country’s renewable energy goals with its 12th Five-year Development Plan, saying that the country’s wind power capacity will reach 100 GW by 2015, based on current capacity of 40 GW. By 2050 China’s investment in wind power is expected to reach about US$1.9 trillion and supply 17 percent of the power demand in China, writes Renewable Energy World.

Japan’s nuclear crisis minister announced plans to limit the life of nuclear reactors to 40 years, with extensions available only under strict conditions. The legislation, which also includes more planning for severe nuclear accidents, is expected to be submitted in a session of parliament this month, Reuters reports.

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