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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: White House Renewable Energy Push, Renewable Fuels Standard, Natural Gas

President Obama announced that seven nationally and regionally significant utility-scale solar and wind energy projects will be expedited, including projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming. Together, the infrastructure projects would produce nearly 5,000 MW of clean energy. In the past three years, the Department of the Interior has approved more utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands than in the past two decades combined – a total of 31 new projects, the White House said.

The Department of Interior and the Defense Department have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that encourages appropriate development of renewable energy projects on public lands set aside for defense-related purposes, and other onshore and offshore areas near military installations. Defense is pursuing the development of renewable energy on its installations to improve the energy security of the installations and to reduce the Department’s $4 billion-a-year utility bill.

Twenty-five senators urged the EPA to reduce the mandate that requires fuel blenders to add grain-based ethanol to gasoline. The senators urge the agency to adjust the Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, that requires fuel blenders to mix 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline this year. The mandate peaks at 15 billion gallons per year in 2015 and holding that level through 2022, and the lawmakers blame the mandate for raising the price of corn, Reuters said.

US lawmakers increased pressure on the Obama administration to speed approval for the export of natural gas arguing it would help relieve a glut that has lowered the output of the fuel. In a letter signed by 44 House lawmakers from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, 10 of which were Democrats. It was the second push from Capitol Hill in support of liquefied natural gas; so far, the DOE has approved full export rights for one project, Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass, terminal, Reuters said.

The White House announced it is inviting contract proposals from green energy firms to boost the Army’s use of renewable energy. The administration is making $7 billion available for the Army Corps of Engineers to spend on locally-generated biomass, geothermal, solar or wind energy for up to 30 years. The move is part of a broader White House-led push to green the armed forces, aiming for renewable sources to account for 25 percent of its energy by 2025, The Hill said.

The US Chamber of Commerce said it filed a friend-of-the-court brief with a business coalition in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to challenge the EPA’s Utility MACT rule, which aims to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. The Mercury Air Toxics Standards are scheduled to take effect in 2015. The chamber said the rule will result in the shutdown, modification and replacement of numerous power plants and will require new gas pipeline and electric transmission infrastructure to be built, Reuters said.

Federal prosecutors announced a deal to drop a criminal case against Gibson Guitar Corp. after the instrument maker acknowledged its importations of exotic wood violated environmental laws. Nashville-based Gibson agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty, forfeit claims to about $262,000 worth of wood seized by federal agents and contribute $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to promote the conservation of protected tree species, The Washington Post said.

Five companies considered responsible for contamination at the Mercury Refining Superfund site have reached a $9 million settlement with the EPA to clean up the  site in the Towns of Colonie and Guilderland, New York. Under the terms of the legal agreement, the Gillette Company, KeySpan Gas East, Energizer Battery Manufacturing, Union Carbide Corporation and Spectrum Brands will address soil, sediment, and ground water contaminated with mercury, EPA said.

The EPA and the DOJ announced that Hercules Incorporated has agreed to pay a $175,000 penalty to settle alleged violations of federal environmental laws in the processing of cellulose fiber at its Hopewell, Va., plant. According to the EPA, Hercules allegedly failed to adequately demonstrate compliance with the national emission standard for hazardous air pollutants for cellulose products manufacturing and violated related regulations on leak detection and repair.

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