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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: BP Gross Negligence Alleged, Democratic Platform, Petroleum Loan

The Justice Department has outlined in new court papers examples of gross negligence and willful misconduct on the part of BP for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf. Gross negligence is the most prominent issue in the filing, with the case scheduled for trial in New Orleans in January 2013. A gross negligence finding could quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion, Reuters said.

The Democratic party has restated its commitment to combat climate change and boost clean energy in the 2012 party platform, called Moving America Forward. The 2012 version offers more restrained statements about the urgency of addressing climate change and emphasizes the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy over 2008’s “going green” approach. The 2012 platform also eases away from the party’s position on a pledge to deliver a legally binding international treaty, Reuters reports.

The Energy Department will loan one million barrels of crude oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to refining company Marathon Petroleum. The emergency loan action, the ninth time the department has used this authority, comes after Hurricane Isaac caused the suspension of Gulf of Mexico oil production, The Hill said.

European Union antitrust authorities have opened a formal investigation into whether the Russian export monopoly Gazprom had blocked fair competition in the natural gas markets of Central and Eastern Europe. The European Commission said Gazprom might have divided markets by hindering the free flow of gas across EU member states and imposed unfair prices on its customers by linking the price of natural gas to the price of oil, the New York Times said.

The World Bank and the United Nations food agencies called for international action to prevent the drought-related worldwide spike in food prices from causing global hunger. The agencies have urged countries to prepare for what seems likely to become the third food price shock in five years, and also warned against trade protectionist policies stemming from rising food prices, the New York Times said.

Several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York, and Riverkeeper, met with top officials from the New York State Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss potential public health effects of hydraulic fracturing. The groups asked for an independent health assessment by medical experts before regulations are finalized and any drilling is allowed to start in the state, the New York Times said.

An Inspector General audit of five DOE-managed sites found that the department missed saving more than $6 million by failing to implement certain energy-efficiency measures. The audit found that these actions included inspecting building heating and lighting operations and updating meters to monitor electricity use. The DOE said the conservation shortcomings were a symptom of a lack of resources to perform evaluations, and billing practices that did not reward energy efficiency, The Hill said.

Nine areas in California have met the 1997 national health-based air quality standard for smog within their regulatory deadlines. These areas are Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Ventura counties, as well as portions of Kern, Nevada and Sutter counties, the EPA said. The agency’s determinations are based on air quality data collected from state and local monitors throughout the state.

New York City-based builder Turner Construction and its subsidiary Tompkins Builders of Washington, D.C., have agreed to pay $270,000 in civil penalties for alleged violations of federal stormwater regulations at 17 construction sites throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Turner and Tompkins operated these sites for clients including federal and local governments, the Department of Defense, universities and other organizations. In addition to paying civil penalties, the companies will implement a program to assure future compliance with federal construction stormwater requirements, the EPA said.

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