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Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Molasses Spill Probe, Bechtel Faulted

An investigation into a molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor, which was likely Hawaii’s worst-ever marine environmental disaster, has been set back by the federal government shutdown. Officials overseeing the probe at the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been sent home, though state environmental regulators continue investigating whether Matson Navigation Co. should be charged in the spill, the Huffington Post reports.

An appeals court on Wednesday ordered US District Court judge Carl Barbier to reevaluate which claims for compensation in the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill case are legitimate, Reuters reports. The next day, Barbier ordered a suspension of settlement offers and payments to some businesses, ABC reports.

Bechtel failed to apply a required quality assurance regime to its purchase of critically important parts in a $12.2 billion project to build a waste treatment plant at the decommissioned Hanford nuclear weapons site in Washington state, according to a report by the Department of Energy’s inspector general, the Washington Post reports. The IG said the problem could cause delays and cost increases for a cleanup that is already years late and billions of dollars over budget.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Boozman (R-AR) and James Inhofe (R-OK), called on the EPA to withdraw its draft rule defining the “waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act, and to direct EPA field offices and the Army Corps of Engineers not to use the guidance document in agency action. They said the guidance expands CWA jurisdiction, and the agency’s rulemaking may now be “plagued by uncertainty and distrust.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, criticized members of her party who have attempted to attach ObamaCare amendments to the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, saying those GOP members are using the legislative process for political gain rather than to advance policy. She said Democrats should also shoulder some of the blame for letting the bill stall. Advocates are hoping they can bring the legislation to the Senate floor again.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote Tuesday on the nominations of Elizabeth Robinson for undersecretary of energy and Michael Connor for deputy secretary of the interior. The vote will proceed whether or not the government is still shut down, the Hill reports.

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