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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: EU Aviation Tax, Transportation Deal, Exxon $1bn Penalty Reversal

EU lawmakers backed a Commission plan to suspend for a year a law that would make all airlines using EU airports pay for their carbon emissions. The committee said that the suspension could be prolonged beyond a year, but only if clear and sufficient progress were made at the International Civil Aviation Organization, and urged US president Barack Obama to accelerate a global deal, Reuters said.

The Virginia General Assembly has passed a major transportation deal, a policy victory for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). The new plan would replace the 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a new 3.5 percent wholesale tax on motor fuels that will keep pace with economic growth and inflation. The average motorist could pay about $15 more a month, The Washington Post said.

Exxon Mobil has won the reversal by Maryland’s highest court of a $1 billion punitive damages award stemming from an underground leak of about 26,000 gallons of gasoline at a gas station, and also won the reversal of portions of nearly $650 million of compensatory damages awards. The Maryland Court of Appeals said Exxon’s shortcomings in remediation efforts did not constitute fraud, removing the basis for the punitive damages award, Reuters said.

BP’s top executive for North American operations at the time of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill acknowledged on the opening day of testimony that a well explosion had been identified as a risk before it happened. Lamar McKay said that a blowout was identified as a big risk, but BP was responsible for designing the well, while the rig, cement and other contractors shared responsibility for safety on the drilling operations, the New York Times reports.

Under a settlement, American Electric Power will stop using coal to generate power at three plants. As part of a modification of its 2007 agreement with eight states, EPA and environmental groups, AEP is switching the control technology at its Rockport plant in southern Indiana, and will develop more wind and solar power in Indiana and Michigan. The existing units it will close or shift to natural gas are Tanners Creek Generating Station unit four in Indiana, the Muskingum River Power Plant unit five in Ohio and the Big Sandy Power Plant unit two in Kentucky, Bloomberg said.

Representatives from Shell, Marathon Petroleum and the American Petroleum Institute met with White House Office of Management and Budget aides to discuss the EPA’s planned Tier 3 low-sulfur gasoline rules. The industry groups contend the rules will create billions of dollars in compliance costs but provide few benefits. They say existing standards have already required steep cuts in the sulfur content of gasoline, The Hill reports.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy will hold a joint hearing Thursday covering “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Policy and Governance Challenges.” The witnesses will be NRC Chairman Allison M. Macfarlane and several NRC Commissioners.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who recently formed a congressional climate change task force, are seeking to meet with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, or Heather Zichal, a senior energy and climate adviser to President Obama.. The purpose of the meeting is to coordinate effectively between the bicameral effort and the White House effort, The Hill said.

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