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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: BP Fine, Chevron Suit, Water Bill, School Asbestos

The European Union has agreed its first law to regulate safety in offshore oil and gas drilling in EU waters, to present for final endorsement from member states and the European Parliament. The legislation covers the criteria for awarding operating licenses and penalties for breaching safety standards. Companies will also have to carry out emergency planning and risk assessment and will be fully liable for any environmental damage up to 200 nautical miles from the coast, Reuters said.

BP has won approval of an agreement for the US government to disregard 810,000 barrels of oil BP captured in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, reducing the potential maximum fine under the Clean Water Act by $3.4 billion. The act says polluters face a penalty ranging from $1,100 to $4,300 for each barrel spilled, depending on a variety of factors, including whether the polluter acted in a grossly negligent or reckless manner in causing the spill, Bloomberg said.

Brazil has dropped criminal charges against Chevron, Transocean, and 17 employees related to a November 2011 offshore oil spill. The criminal suit carried potential penalties of up to 31 years. The $20.4 billion civil case, which is still open, is Brazil’s largest environmental lawsuit, Reuters said.

Twenty-three US senators called for the EPA to increase the number of flame-retardant chemicals it is assessing for health risks. EPA is currently reviewing a class of structurally related flame retardants – polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – and four other flame-retardant compounds. The senators say that dozens of other widely used flame retardants should receive detailed scrutiny from the agency, writes Chemical & Engineering News.

The Alaskan Senate passed a bill that relaxes regulations on cruise ship wastewater. The bill, which already passed the House and was introduced by governor Sean Parnell, would strike the more stringent requirement that discharges meet state water quality standards at the point of discharge. The measure also would allow mixing zones where wastewater can be diluted into the water, if ships meet certain standards for treatment of discharge, the Associated Press said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has introduced the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013, which aims to rebuild US water and wastewater infrastructure. The American Water Works Association, a water organization with more than 50,000 members, praised the bill, and said that the act should complement and not replace existing State Revolving Funds, by specifically addressing projects that are too big for most SRFs to fund, EPA Online said.

In a petition to the US Supreme Court, the American Petroleum Institute and groups representing the food industry are seeking to overturn a January appeals court ruling permitting the sale of E15 for cars made after 2001. The oil and gas industry says the fuel could damage millions of vehicles. Food industry groups say that the ruling in support of the fuel put increased pressure on the price of corn, in short supply due to the severe drought, The Hill said.

John Kerry addressed climate change as an opportunity in his first major speech as secretary of state, at the University of Virginia. Kerry said that the failure to confront climate change could cause the US to miss big economic opportunities in green energy technologies. The State Department represents the US at international talks on global climate agreements, and will decide on the Keystone pipeline proposal, The Hill said.

China will require heavily polluting industries to participate in a compulsory insurance program to ensure they can adequately provide compensation for damage, the Environment Ministry and China Insurance Regulatory Commission said. Companies that must participate in the scheme include mining and smelting industries, lead battery manufacturers, leather goods firms and chemical factories, while petrochemical, hazardous chemicals and hazardous waste companies will be encouraged to participate, Reuters said.

The EPA has fined six Arizona school districts a combined total of $94,575 for alleged Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act violations at 25 schools. Violations include failing to inspect facilities for asbestos-containing materials, failing to re-inspect campuses with known asbestos containing materials, and failing to have an asbestos management plan, the agency said.

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