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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: 597-County Drought, UN Mercury Talks, LNG Export Battle

The USDA declared drought natural disaster areas across 597 counties in 14 states; much of the central and southern wheat belt is included in the declaration. The Agriculture Department made growers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states – Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas – eligible for low-interest emergency loans. The four states grew one-third of the wheat crop last year, the Chicago Tribune said.

Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts are under review in the wake of a grounded drilling rig, a failed spill equipment test and other problems. The Interior Department will conduct an expedited, high-level assessment with a focus on Shell’s numerous challenges. The administration said it still supports oil exploration in Alaskan waters, Reuters reports.

Dow Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Alcoa and other manufacturing companies have launched America’s Energy Advantage, a coalition aiming to restrict liquefied natural-gas exports. The group wants the DOE to disregard findings that the gas exports would be a net economic win. DOE is considering applications to export more than 22 billion cubic feet of per day to nations that don’t have free-trade agreements with the US, The Hill said.

China’s carbon intensity fell more than 3.5 percent in 2012, outperforming its average annual target, said Su Wei, director general of the climate change department at the National Development and Reform Commission. China’s new industrial carbon emissions plan calls for the steel, nonferrous metals and petrochemical sectors to cut CO2 intensity by 18 percent by 2015 compared with 2010 levels, Reuters said.

Jack Lew, President Obama’s nomination for Treasury secretary, has past job experience in the energy sector. From 1988 to 1993, Lew was a partner at Van Ness Feldman, a Washington-based law firm focusing on energy and environment law. Lew specialized in issues related to power plant development. When Lew was tapped to be Obama’s chief of staff last January, the Alliance to Save Energy said Lew was a “friend of energy efficiency and clean energy,” the Christian Science Monitor said.

study from the UN Environment Program finds that mercury pollution in the top layer of the world’s oceans has doubled in the past century, and that hundreds of tons of mercury have leaked from the soil into rivers and lakes around the world. Mercury emissions come from sources such as coal burning and small-scale gold mining, and mercury pollution also comes from discarded electronic and other consumer products. Talks next week in Geneva will discuss a legally binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide, the Christian Science Monitor said.

The Environmental Defense Fund criticized the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, saying the agency’s rules for testing groundwater around oil and gas operations ignore accepted scientific practice. EDF said the rules are the weakest in the nation, and allow companies to cherry-pick which water wells they want to test.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is floating legislation to impose fees on greenhouse gas emitters. Sanders’ plan also aims to boost green energy development and end tax incentives for oil companies. The plan is unlikely to advance, however. Meanwhile, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is establishing an ad-hoc working group with two other Senate committee chairmen that will promote administrative action and legislation, The Hill said.

JP Lillis Enterprises, a cold storage and ice manufacturing company, has agreed to pay penalties of $225,000 to settle claims by EPA that the company violated the federal Clean Air Act. The company does business under the trade name Cape Cod Ice. The settlement relates to its use of ammonia at facilities located in East Providence, R.I., and Sandwich, Mass., the agency said.

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