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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Climate Risk, Solyndra, MATS, Clean Air Act, China Diesel Emissions

Insurance commissioners in California, New York and the state of Washington said that insurance companies must disclose disaster response and risk management plans for increasingly severe storms and wildfires, rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change. The new state regulations reveal the insurance industry’s role in mediating the country’s response to climate change, the New York Times said.

The White House will release by next Friday a review of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program. Amid growing criticism of the Solyndra loan guarantee and its September bankruptcy, then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley ordered the review in October. A former Treasury Department official conducted the review, The Hill reports.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to kill the EPA’s upcoming greenhouse gas standards for new and modified coal-fired power plants because of the need for expensive technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration in order to meet the standards, The Hill reports. The MATS rule is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on February 16, 2012.

An environmental assessment from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found that offshore wind farms in designated areas off of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware would have no significant environmental or socioeconomic impacts, North American Windpower reported. The finding represents a big step forward towards development of wind projects in those areas, although BOEM will still need to prepare environmental analyses for the construction and operation plans of each individual project.

A California woman was awarded nearly $10,000 after filing a small-claims action against Honda that the automaker misled her about the fuel economy of her hybrid car. California’s small claims damages limit is $10,000. A proposed class-action settlement with Honda would give aggrieved owners $100 to $200 each and a $1,000 credit toward the purchase of a new car, Bloomberg reports.

The trust of the former General Motors Corp. has reached a settlement with the EPA involving cleanup at three superfund sites in New Jersey, Missouri and Maryland. The EPA made a $20.9 million claim in bankruptcy for the cleanup of the three sites, and that claim will be paid in stock of the new General Motors Co., writes Waste & Recycling News.

San Francisco food processor Columbus Manufacturing will pay a penalty of $685,446 and spend approximately $6 million converting its refrigeration system to a safer technology that uses glycol and ammonia in an agreement reached with the Department of Justice and the EPA. The case stems from two 2009 releases of anhydrous ammonia – a listed extremely hazardous substance under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act – at its manufacturing facility, the EPA said.

Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy will pay a $10,150 civil penalty and spend at least $38,729 on a supplemental environmental project for failing to file a risk management plan and implement risk management regulations at its dry-mill ethanol plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Under the Clean Air Act, the Council Bluffs facility was required to file a risk management plan because it had exceeded the 10,000-pound threshold for anhydrous ammonia, the EPA said.

The EPA is seeking input on two Clean Water Act draft waste water discharge permits for oil and gas exploration activities in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The proposed permits place limits and conditions on the types and amounts of pollution companies can discharge in waste water during oil and gas exploration activities, and require environmental studies before, during, and after studies of drilling discharges to ensure compliance.

A new Texas Railroad Commission rule requires oil and natural gas companies to disclose chemical and amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing. However, trade secrets about a fracking-fluid formula are protected without a court order, writes Bloomberg.

In the U.K. proposed changes to building regulations would require homeowners to install measures to improve energy efficiency when renovating and build new to zero-carbon standards. The government’s preferred energy target for new homes is 39kWh/m2/year for row houses and apartments and 46kWh/m2/year for detached and semi-detached houses. Non-domestic buildings may be expected to deliver a 20-percent improvement on emissions, The Guardian said.

The European Commission is proposing new restrictions on chemicals in surface water by adding 15 substances to the restricted list as well tightens existing limits 33 ‘priority substances’ identified in 2001. The 15 new substances include industrial chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Member states would have to ensure that concentrations of the priority substances in surface water do not exceed limits by 2021, according to the European Voice.

The Chinese government has delayed again new diesel emission standards till July 2013. The 2005 China IV Standard for diesel emissions was supposed to be introduced nationwide in January 2011, but its effectiveness is dependent on the availability of higher-grade fuel with lower sulphur. Oil companies, though technically capable, are not yet bearing the cost to produce the fuel as pump prices are set by the government, according to The Guardian.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is working on stricter emission standards for the country’s cement industry. The current nitrogen oxide emission allowance for cement makers is 800mg/m3, and it may change to 400mg/m3 or 300mg/m3. China’s cement industry accounted for 80 percent of aggregate increment in the world’s cement output last year, writes the Business Insider.

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