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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: DOE Budget, EPA Stormwater Regs, Chevron Fire

The Energy Department would see its budget cut by 8.2 percent if sequestration were allowed to take effect as part of the fiscal cliff deal. Democrats say they are working to protect funding for clean energy research and protect programs in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Republicans say many clean energy programs – for example loans and grants designed to bring technology to market faster – are wasteful and should be scrapped, The Hill said.

The UK DECC released its 2012 update to the Renewable Energy Roadmap showing that the country is on track for its interim target in line with EU goals to source 15 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. Year-over-year results from July 2011 to July 2012 include a 27 percent increase in overall renewable electricity generated; a 40 percent increase in renewable electricity capacity, and a 60 percent increase in offshore wind capacity, DECC said.

US District Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Va., ruled that the EPA exceeded its authority by attempting to regulate stormwater runoff into a Fairfax County, Va., creek. The judge sided with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in its ruling that stormwater runoff is not a pollutant, a challenge to EPA’s stormwater restrictions, Fox News said.

The August 2012 fire at Chevron’s Richmond, Calif., oil refinery may have been exacerbated by a pipe being punctured from the outside, possibly by company firefighters trying to reach a small leak before the blaze ignited, investigators said. A metallurgical report from the US Chemical Safety Board, which is leading the federal investigation, shows evidence of corrosion of the pipe due to the heavy sulfur content of the crude oil that may have led to the leak, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

German new solar power installations reached record highs in 2012 despite a fourth quarter lag due to subsidy cuts. Renewable energy in Germany became politically divisive as the shift away from nuclear power to subsidized renewables drove up consumer costs and impacted economic growth. The government cut the level of feed-in tariffs in order to reduce the pace of installations, Reuters said.

A New Hampshire products liability lawsuit naming Exxon Mobil and Citgo in widespread groundwater contamination is set for trial in mid-January. The 10-year-old suit accuses the oil companies and other parties of the use of gasoline additive MTBE, causing groundwater contamination in a state where 60 percent of the population uses private wells. New Hampshire is seeking more than $700 million in damages to test and monitor every private well and public drinking water system in the state, the New York Times said.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has sent a letter to the Interior Department asking for an investigation into government royalty payments paid by mining companies on coal excavated from federal and tribal lands. Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) cited reports that mining firms low-ball the value of coal when exporting, The Hill said.

Republicans have named new Sens. Tim Scott (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) as well as returning Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. GOP senators leaving the panel are Rand Paul (Ky.), Dan Coats (Ind.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). The committee oversees issues including offshore oil-and-gas drilling, and Energy Department programs. New GOP members on the Environment and Public Works Committee will be Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.) and freshman Sen. Deb Fisher (Neb.), The Hill said.

Wisconsin Public Service will invest $300 million in pollution control technology, pay a civil penalty of $1.2 million, and spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act in a settlement reached with the EPA and DOJ. The settlement covers the utility’s two power plants in Wisconsin, the Pulliam plant in Green Bay and the Weston plant in Rothschild. The company will be required to continuously operate new pollution control technology and to comply with stringent emission rates and annual tonnage limitations, the EPA said.

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