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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Court Blocks Biofuel Target, Barge Leaks into Mississippi

A US federal court struck down a 2012 Renewable Fuel Standard target for refiner use of cellulosic biofuels, but upheld the government’s goal for use of other advanced fuels. The American Petroleum Institute had filed a lawsuit against the EPA for its 2012 target requiring refiners to mix 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels into US gasoline and diesel. Cellulosic biofuels, which are made from grasses, wood chips and agricultural waste, were expected to significantly contribute to the mandated use of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. But development of the fuel source has lagged, and refiners and importers would have been required to pay $8 million for credits to fulfill the 2012 mandate, Reuters said.

The court agreed with the EPA’s finding that other advanced biofuels, including imported sugarcane ethanol and biomass-based diesel, could make up for the shortfall in Congress’ goal of 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol use in 2012. The court rejected API’s challenge to the government’s decision not to adjust RFS targets in general, Reuters said.

According to The Hill, biofuel industry groups remain hopeful that investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels will continue, pointing out that several cellulosic biofuel facilities came online at the end of last year, and more are continuing to do so.

The number of European offshore wind installations is lagging behind targets by nearly 1,000 MW, the equivalent of about 330 turbines, the European Wind Energy Association reported. A total of 4,994 MW of offshore wind capacity is currently producing electricity in Europe’s waters, but EU countries had targeted an installation of 5,829 MW by the end of 2012, data published by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) showed. Despite the slow progress, Europe installed a record-breaking 1,166 MW in offshore wind capacity last year, beating its 2010 annual record of 900 MW, Reuters said.

Two oil barges pushed by a tugboat crashed into a railroad bridge in Vicksburg, Miss., and one of the barges is leaking crude oil into the Mississippi River. Coast Guard officials used an absorbent boom to contain the undetermined amount of oil that leaked. The barge was carrying 80,000 gallons of light crude oil, Reuters said.

Japanese utilities and business groups are urging the Energy Department to approve liquefied natural gas exports to nations that do not have free-trade agreements with the US; this includes Japan. The country needs to secure other energy supplies while its nuclear production is sidelined. As the debate over whether to allow these exports continues, pro-export groups include the American Petroleum Institute, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the US Chamber of Commerce while critics include US manufacturing and chemical companies. Comments from the Sierra Club cite the environmental costs associated with fracking, The Hill said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will study naturally occurring levels of radioactivity in byproducts associated with oil and natural gas development. In the coming weeks, DEP will seek a peer review of its study plan and begin to sample and analyze the radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids and drill cuttings, and the transportation, storage and disposal of drilling wastes, the department said.

The Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative announced $12 million in funding to develop ultra-efficient solar devices that will close the gap with the theoretical efficiency limit, or the highest potential percentage of sunlight convertible directly into electricity. Accelerating breakthroughs in solar cell conversion efficiency will help lower the overall cost of solar power, and lead to the development of advanced, low-cost PV modules, the DOE said.

The EPA has decided that the lower portion of the Esopus Creek in New York’s Catskills region must be classified as an impaired waterway. The agency notified the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that it must take action to reduce the waterway’s turbidity levels, which violate federal water quality standards. The pollution – silt, sediment and other particles – has been worsened by discharges from a reservoir that helps supply drinking water to New York City, the New York Times said.

China’s environment minister Zhou Shengxian said that emissions of four major pollutants dropped last year and should fall by a similar level this year. Emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, chemical oxygen and ammonia nitrogen all recorded one-year falls of two percent in 2012, and were expected to drop by the same degree in 2013, or even faster, Reuters said.

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