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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: US Drought, Biofuel Refinery, SEC Disclosure, Green Climate Fund

The USDA has designated 33 additional counties in eight states as natural disaster areas – 23 counties due to drought. The Farm Service Agency will make changes to the emergency loan program that will help producers obtain the loans earlier in the season. Other drought response actions include DOT emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities, the agency said.

Some drought-stricken states in the eastern corn belt have experienced improved conditions with cooler tempertatures and rain. However, the forecast for the next few weeks projects a return to harsh conditions. The portion of the contiguous United States suffering from at least “severe” drought fell to 44.03 percent from 45.54. Conditions worsened in Texas, Missouri and Iowa, Reuters said.

The USDA announced a loan guarantee to Chemtex International to construct a cellulosic ethanol refinery in eastern North Carolina. Once operational, the facility is expected to convert 600,000 tons of energy grasses per year into an estimated 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using a proprietary enzymatic hydrolysis process, the agency said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved regulations that will force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. Companies must reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects. The SEC estimates that the rule will carry initial industry-wide compliance costs of up to $1 billion, with annual costs in the $200 million to $400 million range thereafter, The Hill said.

The UN Green Climate Fund board began talks in Geneva to discuss management of resources to help developing economies cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels, as well as to select a host country for the fund’s management. Developed nations agreed to raise climate aid from its current level of $10 billion a year to an annual $100 billion from 2020, Reuters said.

The EPA and DOJ have reached a resolution with Sterling Suffolk Racecourse regarding violations of the Clean Water Act at its Suffolk Downs racetrack facility in Revere and East Boston, Mass. The company will pay a civil penalty of $1.25 million and perform three environmental projects worth $742,000, to will provide water quality monitoring and protection efforts for 123 square miles of watershed, the EPA said.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources issued final criteria for biomass eligibility under the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard regulations. All woody biomass plants must generate power at minimum 50 percent efficiency to earn a half renewable energy credit, and 60 percent efficiency to receive a full REC. Plants must also make 50 percent reductions in lifecycle emissions over 20 years, writes Renewable Energy World.

The Department of the Interior and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement have announced $485 million in Abandoned Mine Land (AML) grants – the highest amount ever awarded – for states and tribes to clean up abandoned coal mines. Funding comes from coal receipts and is distributed through a congressionally mandated formula under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the department said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed facility in Lea County, N.M., that would deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride from the uranium enrichment industry to make it more suitable for disposal. The FEIS assessment is that there are no impacts that would preclude licensing the proposed facility. International Isotopes Fluorine Products applied for a license to construct and operate the facility, the NRC said.

The NRC has released an unclassified version of its security inspection report for commercial nuclear power reactors and Category I fuel cycle facilities for calendar year 2011. These inspections identified 151 findings, of which 140 findings were of very low security significance, and 11 were of violations classified as more than “very low” significance, NRC said.

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