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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Contenders for EPA, Interior Posts; Cingular Settlement

Outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has emerged as the top contender to be the new head of the EPA. An undisclosed source in Washington’s congressional delegation said that Obama is about to make the nomination. Gregoire was director of Washington’s Department of Ecology before being elected state attorney general in 1992. She made her reputation by negotiating a Hanford nuclear waste cleanup agreement with the first Bush administration that has held up in court, Seattlepi.com said. The Seattle Times reports that Gregoire will be in Washington, DC, today for a Council of Governors meeting.

President Barack Obama’s second-term cabinet, which includes 15 heads of federal departments, is in a state of flux. If Interior Department head Ken Salazar decides to leave, former senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, retiring representative Norm Dicks of Washington, and outgoing Washington governor Christine Gregoire are on the shortlist to replace him. Departures also are possible from the Energy and Commerce departments, NBC News said.

The EPA and New Cingular Wireless have reached an administrative settlement requiring the company to pay a civil penalty of $750,000 and spend $625,000 on environmental projects to resolve alleged violations at 332 legacy AT&T Wireless sites now owned by Cingular. The alleged violations, at cellular towers, switching stations, warehouses and other sites in 43 states, include failure to comply with Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act reporting requirements related to the presence of sulfuric acid and diesel fuel, and a lack of adequate spill prevention, control and countermeasure plans under the Clean Water Act, the agency said.

The Department of Transportation is proposing new safety rules for hybrid and electric cars that would require the engines to make more noise when running. The increased sound would alert pedestrians when the automobiles are approaching. Under the requirement, cars would be required to be heard above typical street noises when they are traveling at speeds less than 18 miles per hour, The Hill said.

South Korea plans to expand nuclear energy despite public concerns. Asia’s fourth-largest economy plans to add 11 reactors by 2024 to its existing 23 reactors, which currently supply a third of the country’s total power. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said the power supply and demand situation makes the expansion unavoidable, Reuters reports.

The Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and the EPA released a statement on shared goals for the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Ariz., and energy production in the region served by NGS. The three agencies agreed to support the state and tribal stakeholders in finding options for clean, affordable and reliable power, “while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations,” the EPA said.

More than 70 environmental groups signed a letter to President Obama urging him to block the Keystone XL pipeline as part of actions to address climate change. The project received a positive review from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, and a decision from the White House is expected in coming weeks, The Hill said.

Three companies – West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill, West County Landfill and Republic Services – agreed to settle an enforcement order issued by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control over the closed-down Richmond landfill site. The companies will pay a $725,000 fine and upgrade equipment to keep hazardous waste from leaking into the San Francisco Bay, writes the San Francisco Chronicle.

The EPA has formed an inter-agency group to protect coral reefs off the shores of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Group will consist of the EPA and other government agencies including the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board. Coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean are being damaged by overfishing, sediment runoff, pollution, disease and climate change, the EPA said.

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