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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rare Earth Elements

The Center intends to spend more time addressing the rare earth elements (REE) issue, which include lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, among others.  America has allowed its prowess in developing REEs to slip and needs to rebuild its domestic rare-earths industry.  REE  materials are very important for defense, development of a clean-energy industries and more.  No shortages are imminent, but so little information is available about the supply and market for these materials that corporations and government agencies are unable to plan for securing a supply.

Approximately 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements REE exist within known deposits in the United States, according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of these elements by the U.S. Geological Survey.   At recent domestic consumption rates of about 10,000 metric tons annually, the US deposits have the potential to meet our needs for years to come REE are a group of 16 metallic elements with similar properties and structures.   Despite their name, they are relatively common within the earth’s crust, but because of their geochemical properties, they are not often found in economically exploitable concentrations.  Hard-rock deposits yield the most economically exploitable concentrations of REE.  [See USGS]

A recent report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science concluded that a  shortage of rare earth elements could significantly impact the large-scale deployment of new energy technologies and limit expansion of computing and telecommunications technologies.  The report advises against strategic stockpiling by the federal government. In the past, stockpiling has stifled the incentive to develop substitute materials. Also, as the United States lacks most of these elements in significant quantities, the country cannot mine its way out of this problem. Cellphones and iPods end up in landfills despite containing more of these elements, pound for pound, than the ore they are extracted from. Still, a recycling program won't be enough, the report notes, as much of the materials will be locked up in electric car batteries and wind turbine blades for decades.

Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced a bill directing the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a study of the issue, a broad inquiry that would, among other things, track the global supply chain of these elements, which are often produced as byproducts of mining more abundant minerals, such as copper. The bill also calls on the Department of Energy to help secure a steady supply of the elements. Cellphones and iPods contain as many as 65 elements, many of them rare. Electric car batteries also rely on rare elements, as do blades for wind- and gas-powered turbines. The insides of energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs are coated with tiny amounts of two such elements, terbium and europium.

17 Important Elements
Afghanistan appears to be 'gold mine' of REEs. In 2007 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated 1.4 million metric tons of rare-earth elements lie in southwest Helmand, Afghanistan. The U.S. Defense Department's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations estimates the Khanneshin area in Helmand holds some $89 billion in rare earths and niobium, minerals strategic for high tech and industrial industries.

China has 30 percent of the world's rare-earth deposits, but the United States, Australia and others stopped mining their own a decade ago because it was cheaper to buy Chinese ores. There are concerns about the the supply of REEs because China produces about 95 percent of them. (Wash Post, 2/19/2011, Wash Post, 2/14/2011, USGS)

Take Down Scaffolding at Old Executive Office Building

The scaffolding at the White House Old Executive Office Building (OEOB) has been up for a decade.  After 911, when some staff were moved for fear of another attack, it was implied that the scaffolding somehow offered another layer of protection.  But everytime we pass by the OEOB on 17th Street on the way to our K Street Office, we are reminded of how long that scaffolding has been there.  It is time for it to come down.  It is very ugly and completely ruins the artistry of the vintage structure.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building is located next to the West Wing and houses a majority of offices for White House staff. In many instances, when people say they are 'going to the White House," they are going to the Old Executive Office Building. We guess the 'Old' was added after the New Executive Office Building [less prestigious] was built across Pennsylvania Avenue.  Note the photo at right has no scaffolding because it is pre-911.  In fact, you can still see cars on Pennsylvania Avenue before that boulevard was closed to regular traffic.  Originally built for the State, War and Navy Departments between 1871 and 1888, the EEOB is an impressive building that commands a unique position in both our national history and architectural heritage.


The building is supposedly getting an exterior restoration of the granite, slate and cast iron details. But a decade?  Come on President Obama, take the scaffolding down.  It is an eyesore. (The White House)

Friday, February 25, 2011

EPA Hearing on Air Quality Standards for Carbon Monoxide

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public hearing Feb. 28 on the agency’s proposal to retain the nation’s air quality standards for carbon monoxide (CO) and to take steps to gather additional data through more focused monitoring. According to EPA, the science shows that the current standards will protect people, especially those susceptible to health problems associated with breathing CO from the outdoor air. CO can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (such as the heart and brain) and tissues. At extremely high levels, CO can cause death.

WHAT: Public hearing on proposed carbon monoxide standards

WHEN: Monday, Feb. 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST

WHERE:

EPA’s Potomac Yard Conference Center
First Floor Conference Center South (S-1204-06)
2777 Crystal Dr.
Arlington, Va.

The public may register in person on the day of the hearing. EPA also will accept written comments on the proposed standards until April 12, 2011.

More information and instructions for submitting written comments.

Maryland Legislature Considers Marcellus Shale Drilling Bills

The House Environmental Matters Committee will hold hearings on legislation related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale area in western Maryland.  A bill sponsored by Delegate Wendell Beitzel (R-Garrett) would require regulations to be sent to a legislative panel by the end of the year relating to natural gas exploration and production.

Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring separate legislation that would require drilling companies to demonstrate that wetlands, forests, critical habitats and existing communities would not be put at risk before wells are built and operated.

The Marcellus Shale is a natural gas-rich geological formation that extends from New York to Virginia. (AP)

House Bill 411
House Bill 415
House Bill 852

National Audubon Society & Toyota Seek Community Projects

TogetherGreen, a conservation alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota, is now accepting applications for 2011. Applications are currently being accepted for the Conservation Leadership Program and the Innovation Grants Program. The deadline for all applications is May 2nd.

Through TogetherGreen Conservation Fellowships, 40 promising individuals will be chosen for their demonstrated leadership, as well as leadership potential, skills, and commitment to engaging people of diverse backgrounds in conservation action. Fellows receive a $10,000 grant to conduct a conservation action project in their community, as well as specialized training and support to help shape and implement their projects. They also become part of a dynamic alumni network of conservation professionals from across the country.

TogetherGreen Innovation Grants annually provide essential funding that enables Audubon groups and their partners to inspire, equip, and support activities that engage new and diverse audiences in conservation action and create healthier communities. A minimum of 40 projects will receive funding, totaling more than $1 million dollars of support—with grants ranging from $5,000-$80,000. Grants will be reviewed by an expert advisory panel, and the average grant awarded will be around $25,000.

Since the program’s inception in 2008, more than 135,000 individuals have participated in community-based TogetherGreen projects in 49 states and more than 150 cities around the country. More than 130 environmental projects have received Innovation Grants totaling more than $3.5 million, which was then matched 100%. The inaugural class of 40 TogetherGreen Fellows recruited more than 3,400 individuals who spent 37,000 hours on conservation activities.

Candidates for the TogetherGreen Fellows program must have at least six years experience in some aspect of the environment, a passion for conservation, the desire to learn and grow, and an interest and ability to reach diverse and previously underrepresented audiences.

Innovation Grants funding will be awarded to groups in Audubon’s national network, including state programs, Centers, and local Chapters– working in partnership with one or more external organizations. Recipients will be chosen for innovative ideas that achieve conservation results focused on habitat, water, and energy. Applicants will also need to demonstrate how their project will reach new and diverse communities and directly engage people in conservation action.

Selection of the TogetherGreen Fellows and Grants will be made upon the recommendation of a national advisory board of conservation leaders, with expertise in education, evaluation, diversity, conservation biology, and other disciplines.

To apply for a 2011 TogetherGreen Fellowship, visit www.togethergreen.org/fellows. The site includes application guidelines, selection criteria, eligibility, benefits, and an online application. If you require additional information, contact Eddie Gonzalez or 202-861-2242, x3065.

To apply for a 2011 TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, visit www.togethergreen.org/grants. The site includes application guidelines, selection criteria, benefits, and an online application. Interested organizations not affiliated with Audubon should contact Florence Miller or 802-505-0839 to learn about partnership possibilities.

The deadline to apply for both the TogetherGreen Fellowship program and the Innovation Grants program is 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 2, 2011. Fellows and Grant applicants will be notified in July 2011 and August 2011 respectively.

About TogetherGreen: Audubon and Toyota launched the five-year TogetherGreen initiative in 2008 to build the promise of a greener, healthier future through innovation, leadership and volunteerism.

About Audubon: Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world.
About Toyota: Toyota (NYSE: TM) established operations in the United States in 1957 and currently operates 10 manufacturing plants, including one under construction. Toyota directly employs nearly 30,000 in the U.S. and its investment here is currently valued at more than $18 billion, including sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design.

California Climate Change

By Alyssa Moir

Marten Law

Mandatory Cap-and-Trade

California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), on December 16, 2010, adopted an historic cap-and-trade program to cap emissions at 600 facilities. The regulation is divided into two phases: an initial phase beginning in 2012 that will include major industrial sources and utilities; and, a second phase that starts in 2015 and brings in distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas and other fuels. The goal of the program is to achieve a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2012 levels. However, a San Francisco Superior Court recently issued a tentative decision that could delay the January 2012 commencement of the cap-and-trade program.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

California’s renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, mandates that utilities replace a portion of their hydrocarbon-based electricity with clean power sources.[3] In late 2010, the California Air Resources Board approved Resolution 10-23, which increased the state’s standard for the proportion of electricity generation by eligible renewable sources from 20 percent to 33 percent.[4] Approving the rule as a directed executive order became necessary when Senate Bill 722, which could have codified the 33 percent standard, failed to pass in both 2009 and 2010.

Coordinating GHG Standards for Light-Duty Vehicles

California had been expected to announce its 2017-2025 greenhouse gas standards for light-duty vehicles as early as March 2011, but will now delay the release until Sept. 1, 2011. The delayed date accommodates the release of EPA’s and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks built between 2017 and 2025. California is permitted under the Clean Air Act to implement its own rules, but it agreed in the fall of 2010 to comply with federal greenhouse gas standards that required a fleetwide standard of 35.5 miles per gallon, creating the first coordinated national program.

(FULL ARTICLE)

2012 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality in Maryland

In compliance with Sections 305(b), 314(l) and 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is currently compiling data for the 2012 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality in Maryland.

Data submitted under this request may be used to assess the water quality of Maryland’s surface waters for regulatory purposes, including Total Maximum Daily Loads development. All data for the 2012 IR must be submitted no later than April 30th, 2011. For additional details on submitting data, please read the attached data solicitation memo or visit MDE's Web site.

Matthew M. Stover
Natural Resources Planner
Science Services Administration
Maryland Department of the Environment
Montgomery Park Business Center
1800 Washington Blvd, Suite 540
Baltimore, MD 21230-1718
Phone: 410-537-3611
Fax: 410-537-3611
mstover@mde.state.md.us

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Xoom

Motorola has released its Xoom tablet and it is a competitor to Apple's iPad. It is the first iPad challenger to run Honeycomb, a new version of Google's Android operating system designed especially for tablets.The Xoom has a 10-inch screen, like the iPad and it's about the same thickness and weight as the iPad, albeit narrower and longer. The screen is long and narrow, proportioned to best fit widescreen video. The HD screen boasts a resolution of 1280 by 800, versus 1024 by 768 for the iPad.And, like the iPad's operating system, Honeycomb gives software the ability to make good use of that screen real estate, with apps that are more computer-like than those on a smartphone.

The Xoom has a more potent processor than the current iPad; front and rear cameras versus none for the iPad; better speakers; and higher screen resolution. It also can be upgraded free later this year to support Verizon's faster 4G cellular data network (though monthly fees may rise.) Motorola is taking aim at the iPad just as Apple is expected to announce a second-generation of its tablet. Little is known about this second iPad, but it's widely expected to take away at least one of the Xoom's advantages over the original iPad—cameras—and is rumored to be thinner and lighter, since weight was one of the most common complaints about the generally praised first iPad.

While iPads come in a range of models priced all the way up to $829—none of which requires a cellphone contract—Apple's entry price for the iPad is just $499. By contrast, the base price of a Xoom without a cellphone contract is $800—60% more. And even with a Verizon two-year contract at $20 to $80 a month—depending on the data limit you choose—the least you can pay for a Xoom is $600, or 20% more before counting the contract costs. The iPad model with the same memory as the Xoom and a 3G cellular modem like the Xoom's is $729, which is a closer comparison. But it is still less than $800, and consumers still focus on that $499 iPad entry price (for a Wi-Fi-only model.)

A battery test on the Xoom playing video constantly with the connectivity turned on and the screen at almost full brightness until the battery dies shows the Xoom gets 7 to 10 hours.  By contrast, on the same test, the iPad, which also claims logs about 11.5 hours, or four hours more.  The Xoom's battery is sealed, and it only comes with 32 gigabytes of memory, versus a range of between 16 and 64 GB for various models of the iPad. However, it has a slot for a memory card that Motorola says will work after a software upgrade to add more memory. There is also a removable back and a SIM card slot that would be used only if you chose to upgrade to 4G in the second quarter of this year. (WSJ, 2/24/2011)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

EPA Finalizes But Will Reconsider Boiler/Incinerator Standards

Because the final standards significantly differ from the proposals, EPA believes further public review is required. Therefore, EPA will reconsider the final standards under a Clean Air Act process that allows the agency to seek additional public review and comment to ensure full transparency. EPA’s reconsideration will cover the emissions standards for large and small boilers and for solid waste incinerators. EPA will release additional details on the reconsideration process in the near future to ensure the public, industry and stakeholders have an opportunity to participate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued [sort of] final Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators that achieve significant public health protections through reductions in toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, but cut the cost of implementation by about 50 percent from an earlier proposal issued last year.

Mercury, soot, lead and other harmful pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to developmental disabilities in children, as well as cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death in Americans. These standards will avoid between 2,600-6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014.

In response to a September 2009 court order, EPA issued the proposed rules in April 2010. The agency received more than 4,800 comments from businesses and communities across the country in response to the proposed rules. Public input included a significant amount of information that industry had not provided prior to the proposal. Based on this feedback, and in keeping with President Obama’s executive order on regulatory review, EPA revised the draft standards based on the requested input to provide additional flexibility and cost effective techniques.

About 200,000 boilers are located at small and large sources of air toxic emissions across the country. The final standards require many types of boilers to follow practical, cost-effective work practice standards to reduce emissions. The types of boilers and incinerators covered by these updated standards include:

· Boilers at large sources of air toxics emissions: There are about 13,800 boilers located at large sources of air pollutants, including refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, organic air toxics and dioxins at some of the largest pollution sources. EPA estimates that the costs of implementation have been reduced by $1.5 billion from the proposed standard. Health benefits to children and the public associated with reduced exposure to fine particles and ozone from these large source boilers are estimated to be $22 billion to $54 billion in 2014.

· Boilers located at small sources of air toxics emissions: There are about 187,000 boilers located at small sources of air pollutants, including universities, hospitals, hotels and commercial buildings that may be covered by these standards. Due to the small amount of emissions these sources are responsible for, EPA has limited the impact of the final rule making on small entities. The original standards for these have been dramatically refined and updated to ensure maximum flexibility for these sources, including for some sources, revising the requirement from maximum achievable control technology to generally available control technology. The cost reduction from the proposed standard to the final is estimated to be $209 million.

· Solid waste incinerators: There are 88 solid waste incinerators that burn waste at a commercial or an industrial facility, including cement manufacturing facilities. These standards, which facilities will need to meet by 2016 at the latest, will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution. The cost reduction from the proposed standard to the final is estimated to be $12 million.

Sludge Incinerator
In separate but related actions, EPA is finalizing emission standards for sewage sludge incinerators. While there are more than 200 sewage sludge incinerators across the country, EPA expects that over 150 are already in compliance. These standards will reduce emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, lead, cadmium, and hydrogen chloride from the remaining 50 that may need to leverage existing technologies to meet the new standards.

EPA has also identified which non-hazardous secondary materials are considered solid waste when burned in combustion units. This distinction determines which Clean Air Act standard is applied when the material is burned. The non-hazardous secondary materials that can be burned as non-waste fuel include scrap tires managed under established tire collection programs. This step simplifies the rules and provides additional clarity and direction for facilities. To determine that materials are non-hazardous secondary materials when burned under today’s rule, materials must not have been discarded and must be legitimately used as a fuel.

The agency recognizes that secondary materials are widely used today as raw materials, as products, and as fuels in industrial processes. EPA believes that the final rule helps set protective emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

The emissions standards for sewage sludge incinerators and the definition of solid waste are not part of today’s reconsideration.

More information

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Environmental Elements that Affect Air Quality

By Krista Peterson

Environmental health is not limited to plant and animal life; human health is also a concern. While we tend to think of pollutants as man-made chemicals that contaminate our environment, there are also many naturally-occurring substances that humans have turned into pollutants through overuse or misuse. Some of these are used in buildings and can therefore have serious effects on indoor air quality. When renovating or working in older buildings, be mindful of the presence of these substances.

Asbestos

All occupied buildings require a great deal of energy for heating or cooling the air – between 43% and 60% of each monthly electricity bill, according to EPA estimates. Once this air is treated, it is imperative that it be kept insulated and sealed in the building in order to maintain energy efficiency. Before the 1980s, one very common insulator was asbestos, a thread-like mineral that could be easily combined with other substances to add strength and heat resistance to them. Despite its effectiveness, asbestos is now known to be extremely hazardous to the health of those who work with and around it.

When the materials containing asbestos are damaged or worn, tiny fibers of the material break away and float into the air, where they can be breathed into the lungs. Once in the body, these fibers can cause a variety of health problems, including lung scarring, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. Symptoms of mesothelioma can lay dormant for 20 to 50 years before becoming apparent, and when they do, they can easily be confused with other, less deadly lung problems. Since there is often a delay in diagnosis, mesothelioma life expectancy is, on average, only 9 to 12 months. Because of the seriousness of these health consequences, asbestos should only be removed and disposed of by licensed abatement teams.

Lead

Another naturally-occurring substance that humans have unwisely brought into their homes, lead is a soft, pliable metal that is resistant to corrosion and conduction. For these reasons, it was once used extensively in pipes and plumbing systems. It also used to be added to gasoline to prevent engine knocking, though the gas sold commercially today is unleaded. But perhaps lead poses the most danger in house paint, where it was once mixed in as a pigment. Houses or other buildings painted before 1978 may still contain coats of lead paint.

Like asbestos, the lead paint isn’t dangerous when undisturbed. However, once the paint starts to chip and peel – and especially when painted materials are sanded, cut, or demolished – the lead can become dust that, once again, can be easily breathed into the lungs. Heavy metal poisoning affects nearly every system in the body, particularly the nervous system. It is most dangerous for infants and children, whose nervous systems are still developing, and babies still in the womb. As of April 2010, the EPA requires that any construction or renovation job that will disturb more than six square feet of lead-based paint be undertaken by a certified professional.

Professional abatement teams have access to specialized protective equipment such as masks and respirators that protect their lungs from the dangers of airborne substances like lead and asbestos. As tempting as it might be to undertake these jobs one’s self, it is not worth the health risks. Mesothelioma symptoms are almost always fatal, and lead poisoning can affect a child (or an adult) for the rest of his or her life. The quality of the air in a home or office can have profound consequences and should be carefully monitored in order to protect the health of the inhabitants.

Federal Government Study on Gulf Cleanup Workers Health

The federal government is launching a study to see whether workers who helped clean up last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill are getting sick as a result of those jobs. The study was commissioned after some cleanup workers reported chest pain, headaches, breathing difficulties and other ailments that they believed were linked to the oil spill.  The epidemiology branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is the government office heading the study.

The study, funded with an initial $8 million from the government and $6 million from BP PLC, aims to follow 55,000 former cleanup workers for up to a decade. It will be the biggest study ever of an oil spill's health effects. It will look at everything from skin rashes to breathing problems to potential increased cancer risk. The spill study won't prove definitively whether BP oil caused any health problems. The Gulf region has so many other pollution sources, from chemical plants to boats, that proving the spill caused anyone's illness will be exceedingly hard.

Scientists believe some 130,000 people -- most in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- worked on the spill or signed up to do so. At the height of the spill cleanup, in mid-July, some 47,000 people were working on it. Some shuffled paper in offices. Some shoveled oil off beaches. Some manned boats near the site of the ruptured well, skimming and burning the slick of oil off the water. About 7,000 people are working on the cleanup today.

The BP spill poured an estimated 4.1 million gallons of oil into the Gulf between late April, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, and mid-July, when the leaking well was capped.
Alleged victims would have to bring suits to collect any such damages. By contrast, federal law requires oil companies to pay the government lump-sum compensation for harm their spills are found to have caused the environment, from fish to marsh grass. (WSJ, 2/22/2011)

BHP Billiton Ltd Buys Chesapeake Energy Corporation Assets

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, agreed to buy Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s Arkansas shale gas assets for $4.75 billion in cash.  BHP will add more than 10 trillion cubic feet of gas resources through the purchase. The Fayetteville deal marks BHP’s first foray into U.S. shale gas.

Chesapeake agreed to sell all of its interests in about 487,000 net acres of properties in central Arkansas.  Fayetteville holds about 2.4 trillion cubic feet of gas, equivalent to 456 million barrels of oil, compared with BHP’s total proved U.S. reserves of 288 million barrels in its 2010 annual petroleum review.


Shale formations consist of dense rock that can be broken apart to release oil and gas. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of this year, Chesapeake said.

Chesapeake, based in Oklahoma City, planned to raise $5 billion this year by selling its Fayetteville shale holdings and its stakes in two companies to reduce debt.  Chesapeake said Jan. 6 it wanted to cut its debt 25 percent in two years by selling assets, while increasing production by 25 percent. The BHP announcement is a sign that Chesapeake is following through.

BHP will take over the running of the asset through the purchase, which also includes pipelines, and plans to spend as much as $1 billion a year developing shale resources, Yeager said on the call.

BHP, Australia’s largest oil and gas company, paid about $1.98 for each thousand cubic feet of estimated proven reserves. In December, Exxon Mobil Corp. paid $1.92 per MCF of reserves when it acquired property in the Fayetteville Shale from Petrohawk Energy Corp. (Bloomberg Business Week, 2/22/2011)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Glenn Beck, Norris McDonald, Bill O'Reilly & Van Jones

PRESIDENT'S CORNER

By Norris McDonald
Van Jones is a favorite whipping boy for Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly.  Van took on Rupert Murdock and lost.  Yet he still has the support of the George Soros cabal.  Why do the two FOX News stars constantly berate Jones as a communist Marxist ex con who represents everything evil?  Beck and O'Reilly also hang Jones around President Obama's neck in a futile attempt at sliming by asociation [see Rev Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers].  Jones will clearly be used by FOX News as a campaign commercial against President Obama.  Okay.  So where do I fit in this scenario?

I am perplexed by the fact that although FOX News calls itself  'Fair & Balanced,' they are clearly exercising a partisan agenda re Van Jones as a symbol of communism to slime President Obama.  Yet, as a conservative environmentalist, they never call on me to lend a 'conservative environmental perspective' to the climate change and environmental debates.  I guess since I don't hurt Obama, I'm not relevant.  That aint 'Fair & Balanced' though.  Jones would be booked on FOX News in a heartbeat.  I have been to the FOX News HQ on 6th Avenue requesting to be booked and can't get the time of day.  It just makes you go hmmmmmmm. Fair and Balanced?  I don't think so.  And that is ashamed, because serious issues are facing Amerca, particularly on the energy and environmental fronts.

Hooray: 1st Section of Intercounty Connector Finished

The first segment of the Intercounty Connector (ICC), connecting Montgomery and Prince George's counties, opens this week.  The ICC is a 7.2 miles, six-lane, $2.56-billion toll road that will provide a speedier link between Interstate 270 and Interstate 95, with its access to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Center was the only environmental group to support the project. We believe it will relieve congestion, reduce air pollution and get families reunited sooner for evening quality time.  We also believe that an outer beltway is needed around Washington, DC because the current beltway is quickly becoming a parking lot.

The first stretch will carry traffic between I-270 in Gaithersburg and Norbeck Road, just east of Georgia Avenue in northern Silver Spring. It is expected to attract residents from Olney, Howard County and eastern Montgomery who commute to the job-rich I-270 corridor.

Tolls start on March 7 after a two-week free trial period, will be 60 cents to $1.45 for passenger vehicles, depending on the time of day. Those prices will increase to up to $6.15 to travel the entire 18.8-mile highway after it opens to Interstate 95 in Prince George's by spring 2012.

The ICC, which also will be known as Route 200, is Maryland's first all-electronic toll road. With no tollbooths, payment will be collected at highway speeds via vehicles' EZ-Pass transponders. Those without a transponder will be mailed a "notice of toll due" and charged a $3 service fee. That fee will be waived until April 6. (Wash Post, 2/21/2011)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

4th Scoping/Land Lease Visit Re Biomass Plant in Mississippi

GREEN ELECTRIC

The Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy has established Green Electric (GE) as the subsidiary that will cconstruct a biomass electricity plant in Mississippi.  On this fourth visit in four months, the Center met with local representatives to negotiate a land lease and to gauge the community acceptance of a wood chip power plant.  The proposed biomass-to-electricity (BTE) plant will convert wood chips into methane, which will be burned in a massive turbine that will provide 10-megawatts of electricity to the Mississippi electricity grid.  GE is seeking land use from Alcorn State University (ASU) and is also exploring a site location in the City of Port Gibson.

Mayor Reaves, AC, McDonald, Bigby
Center and National Clean Fuels (NACF) staff conducted their 4th scoping visit that included land lease negotiations with local property owners and government officials.  The February 15 - 17 scoping visit included meetings with staff and faculty at Alcorn State University, Mayor Fred Reaves, Port Authority representative AC Garner, Attorney Mike Espy, County Supervisor Charles Shorts and Country Administrator James Johnston.  Mike Espy has been retained as the Green Electric attorney for the BTE project.

Center and NACF staff met with faculty, staff and deans from Alcorn State University (ASU) in order to negotiate terms for the possible location of the plant somewhere on the massive property owned by the college.  The meeting included ACU Chief of Staff Marcus Ward, Dean Barry L. Bequette, Dr. Alton Johnson, Jessie Stephney and representatives from the physics department.

In addition to surveying sites for the BTE plant, Center representatives surveyed a prospective site for the corporate headquarters in downtown Port Gibson.  The building needs remodeling, but would be an excellent location for the Green Electric corporate headquarters.

Green Electric intends to obtain the location this year and intends to initiate construction of the plant within this same timeframe.  GE intends to complete purchase of this location early this year in order to facilitate local employment and to support GTE plant operations.






Friday, February 18, 2011

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Meeting

On Monday, February 28, 2011, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Taskforce will hold its next meeting in New Orleans. The meeting will further the task force?s ongoing commitment to supporting the conservation and restoration of resilient and healthy ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. It will be held at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel beginning at 8 a.m. and is open to the public.

Lisa Jackson, right
During the meeting, task force members, including EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, a New Orleans native who chairs the task force, will review progress on the group's Restoration Strategy and provide ongoing guidance to intergovernmental teams on the timeline of actions and the objectives of the president's Executive Order. The strategy is envisioned as a blueprint for action in restoring the Gulf ecosystem and builds upon existing plans, good science and the input of the residents of the Gulf.

The New Orleans meeting will be the latest in a series of meetings that the task force is holding throughout the five Gulf States. The group held its first meeting in Pensacola, Florida on November 8, 2010. This meeting will provide follow-up on public input and recommendations on stakeholder engagement opportunities provided during the meeting in Pensacola. The task force is committed to ensuring ongoing input from Gulf residents and local leaders throughout the strategy development process and will continue to receive feedback during this meeting.

President Obama issued an Executive Order in October to create the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, continuing the administration's ongoing commitment to the gulf region. The task force works to integrate federal restoration efforts with those of local stakeholders, state and tribal governments, and to facilitate accountability and support throughout the restoration process. View the president's Executive Order: http://www.whitehous e.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/05/executive-order-gulf-coast-ecosystem-restoration-task-force.

WHO: Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force
WHAT: Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Meeting
WHEN: February 28, 2011 at 8 a.m. (Central Time)
WHERE: New Orleans Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA

Pre-register. The meeting space is fully accessible. If you have special needs or require translation, please let us know.

More information on the Task Force. We will continue to update this website with future announcements and important information.

The Gulf Coast Task Force will be hosting two calls to discuss details of the February 28 meeting, as well as future task force meetings and ways you can provide input.

The calls will take place:

Friday, February 18, 2011, from 4:00 - 4:30 p.m. EST

Call-in Number: (877) 290-8017 Conference Code: 45755689

and

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, from 6:30 - 7:00 p.m. EST

Call-in Number: (877) 290-8017 Conference Code: 45759047

If you are interested in participating in one of the calls, RSVP

EPA Seeks Comments on U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on the annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009 draft report. This report will be open for public
comment for 30 days after the Federal Register notice is published.

The draft report shows that in 2009, overall greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions decreased by 6 percent since 2008. This downward trend was attributed to a decrease in fuel and electricity consumption across all U.S. economic sectors. Total emissions from GHGs were about 6,640 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent. Overall, emissions have grown by 7.4 percent from 1990 to 2009. Emissions in 2009 represent the lowest total U.S. annual GHG emissions since 1995.

The inventory tracks annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2009 at the national level. The gases covered by this inventory include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The inventory also calculates carbon dioxide emissions that are removed from the atmosphere by “sinks,” e.g., through the uptake of carbon by forests, vegetation, and
soils.

This annual report is prepared by EPA in collaboration with experts from other federal agencies. After responding to public comments, the U.S. government will submit the final inventory report to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The report will fulfill the annual requirement of the UNFCCC international treaty, ratified by the United States in 1992, which sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change.

More information

Monday, February 14, 2011

EPA's FY 2012 Budget Proposal

The Obama Administration today proposed a FY 2012 budget of $8.973 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This budget proposal represents about a 13 percent decrease from the FY 2010 budget of $10.3 billion.

Some key 2012 budget initiatives include:

$350 million for projects strategically chosen to target the most significant threats to people’s health in the Great Lakes ecosystem, a $125 million decrease from FY 2010, the first year of the initiative.

$2.5 billion--a decrease of $947 million-- combined for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs). EPA will continue to work with states and communities to enhance their capacity to provide clean water and safe drinking water to Americans. Federal dollars provided through SRFs will help spur efficient system-wide planning and ongoing management of sustainable water infrastructure.

$1.2 billion for the Superfund program to support cleanup at hazardous waste sites that addresses human health and environmental hazards at the nation’s highest priority sites. While EPA will be exploring efficiencies in the program, the $70 million reduction to Superfund programs will slow the pace of new projects and completion of projects.

$27.5 million increase in enforcement and compliance, allowing for critical investments to increase efficiencies and streamline enforcement by using the latest e-reporting and monitoring tools. EPA will increase oversight and inspections at high risk chemical and oil facilities in order to protect Americans’ health.

$16.1 million more to reduce chemical risks, increase the pace of chemical hazard assessments, and provide the public with greater access to chemical information so they can make better informed decisions about their health. Learning more about these chemicals will help protect Americans from potential threats to their health.

$1.2 billion for state and tribal grants -- an overall increase of $84.9 million over FY 2010. This funding will help communities take steps to meet the pollution standards EPA has developed under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

An additional $46 million for regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and implement GHG reporting requirements under the Clean Air Act. This includes $25 million for states and $5 million for EPA to address GHGs in Clean Air Act permitting activities.

$67.4 million to support EPA’s efforts to clean up America’s great water bodies, specifically in the Chesapeake Bay. This water body serves as an economic engine for an entire region of the country, and millions of Americans rely on it for access to clean, safe water. Investing in these waters will help local economies and protect Americans’ health.

$584 million to support research and innovation into new and emerging environmental science. This includes a $24.7 million increase to Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants to ensure that EPA is using the best science to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we build our communities on. EPA’s research program is being restructured to ensure that scientific work is conducted more efficiently and effectively. (EPA)

More information on EPA’s proposed FY2012 budget

I Hate To Miss White House Events

PRESIDENT'S CORNER

By Norris McDonald

I was invited by The White House to join them in the East Room for a special America's Great Outdoors event.  Unfortunately, the event is on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 and I am scheduled to be in Mississippi for our 4th scoping visit to build a biomass electricity generating power plant [See Green Electric].  Dang it.  I hate missing White House events.

Last year I attended the America's Great Outdoors event at the U.S. Department of the Interior.  President Obama spoke at that event.  I was invited to the White House two years ago for the signing of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 by President Obama.  See video below [don't blink or you will miss me in the video]:


Last April, President Obama established the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and charged the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to develop, in partnership with the American people, a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. Over the summer, senior Administration officials began a national conversation at 51 listening sessions and generated over 105,000 comments from people all across America who shared their ideas about approaches to protect our lands and waters, connect Americans to the outdoors and to our natural heritage, and to empower local communities to protect and restore the places they love. (The White House)

EPA FY 2012 Budget Proposal

President's Corner

By Norris McDonald

Norris McDonald
Lisa Jackson
I attended the EPA briefing today on the FY 2012 Budget recommendation for the agency at the EPA HQ in Washington, DC.  After wishing Administrator Jackson a 'Happy Valentine's Day" [and she wished me a belated happy birthday--our birthdays are on the same day, Feb 8], I asked if the $46 million increase in the greenhouse gas program (GHG) budget was enough to effectively implement the regulations.  I followed by sharpening a couple of press questions and asked if Rand Paul and the House cut EPA's budget by 40%, would the agency still have the capability to implement the GHG program. The administrator assured me that the increase was sufficient to support the agency's mission.  Just as she did with the press and others, she did not answer the hypothethical question about the Congressional budget cuts.

I attended the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) budget briefing too.  Just an observation: EPA held their meeting in the ornate Rachel Louise Carson Great Hall, which is next to the administrator's office. It is called the Green Room, probably because of the green marble floor tiles.  The room also has deep brown wood walls and ceiling and three huge chandeliers.  The DOE briefing was in the basement in a small auditorium.

Chesapeake Energy Corporation Restructuring for Profitability

Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the nation's top producers of natural gas, is selling off assets and cutting spending. It is selling $5 billion in assets, including its stake in an Arkansas gas field. Chesapeake also agreed to sell a stake in a Rocky Mountain oil field for $1.3 billion last week. The moves are part of a strategy to cut debt and slow growth to become more profitable. Investor Carl Icahn has bought a 5.8% stake in the company.

Chesapeake and other companies have developed the new drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing. The method unlocks huge deposits of oil and natural gas trapped in dense rocks called shale.

Chesapeake has raised the billions of dollars it needed to buy drilling rights across the country. The company issued shares, borrowed money and sold stakes in its fields to companies from the U.K., Norway, France and China. The strategy turned the company into the second-biggest producer of natural gas in the U.S., after Exxon Mobil Corp. (WSJ, 2/14/2011)

GE Bulks Up Its Oil & Natural Gas Capabilities

General Electric Co. (GE) has agreed to buy the well-support division of John Wood Group PLC for $2.8 billion in cash.  , GE is probably gearing up to pursue the extracting natural gas from shale via the hydraulic fracturing technique.

GE beat out competitors including Halliburton Co. in the bidding for the unit. GE has built its oil and gas services operations through acquisitions, such as its recent deal to buy Wellstream and previous purchases of Vetro Gray and Hydril. The investments have helped offset weakness in the turbine side of GE's energy business.

The company's well-support division has 3,800 employees and more than 20 manufacturing centers world-wide. GE expects the division to generate $1.1 billion in revenue and about $200 million in earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization in 2011. (WSJ, 2/14/2011)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lisa Jackson Stakeholder Briefing on FY 2012 Budget

The Center has been invited to join EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and senior EPA officials in their presentation of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Fiscal Year 2012 Budget.

The Budget Briefing will be held on Monday, February 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm in The Green Room at EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Center President Norris McDonald will attend the briefing and intends to ask Adminstrator Jackson about the implications of budget cut proposals on the agency's mission.

EPA Releases Electric Utility Plans for Coal Ash Impoundments

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing action plans developed by 15 electric utility facilities with coal ash impoundments, describing the measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer. The action plans are a response to EPA’s final assessment reports on the structural integrity of these impoundments that the agency made public last May.

Coal ash was brought prominently to national attention in 2008 when an impoundment holding disposed ash waste generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority broke open, creating a massive spill in Kingston, Tennessee, that covered millions of cubic yards of land and river and is regarded as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history. Shortly afterwards, EPA began overseeing the cleanup, as well as investigating the structural integrity of impoundments where ash waste is stored.

Since May 2009, EPA has been conducting on-site assessments of coal ash impoundments and ponds at electric utilities. EPA provides copies of the structural integrity assessment reports to each facility, and requests the facilities implement the reports’ recommendations and provide their plans for taking action. The action plans released today address recommendations from assessments of 37 impoundments at 15 facilities. Many of these facilities have already begun implementing EPA’s recommendations.

In addition to the action plans, EPA is also releasing assessment reports on the structural integrity of an additional 69 coal ash impoundments at 20 facilities across the country. Of these units, 35 were given a “poor” rating and none of the units received an “unsatisfactory” rating, which is the lowest possible EPA rating. The poor ratings were given because these units lacked some of the necessary engineering documentation required in the assessments, and not because the units are unsafe. Based on analysis from the engineers who conducted the assessments, the ratings for these units are likely to improve once the proper documentation is submitted.

The assessment reports have been completed by firms, under contract to EPA, who are experts in the field of dam integrity, and reflect the best professional judgment of those engineering firms. A draft of these reports has been reviewed by the facilities and the states for factual accuracy.

Last year, EPA completed comprehensive assessments for 60 impoundments that were considered to have a high risk of causing harm if the impoundment were to fail. The agency is now in the process of evaluating the remaining impoundments and will continue to make its assessments and the facility action plans available to the public.

EPA is also in the process of developing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. The proposed regulations will ensure stronger oversight of the structural integrity of impoundments, and protection of human health and the environment. The agency is evaluating more than 400,000 public comments on the proposed rule, which was released in May 2010.

More information and to view all the electric utility action plans and EPA coal ash assessment reports. (EPA)

Obama Administration White Paper on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac

The Obama administration has produced a white paper that proposes raising fees for borrowers and requiring large down payments for home loans as part of a long-term effort to reduce the government's participation in the housing market.  The administration white paper recommends winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together with the Federal Housing Administration provide more than 90 percent of housing finance. 

The recommendation could increase mortgage rates and potentially reduce the availability of the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. The process could take five or more years.

It discussed three options for replacing them, including:

1) a new government agency that would insure mortgages all the time,

2) a new agency that would only step in during times of market crisis, and

3) No government backing for home loans beyond the FHA.

The Center believes the federal government should get out of backing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Taxpayers should not be at risk for bailing out the mortgage market. The Center is recommending the break up of both institutions and dividing each of them into 10 units in different regions of the country that compete with each other for mortgages.

The administration suggested a range of new measures to make taking a government-backed mortgage more expensive and thereby making it more competitive for private sector firms to compete in offering mortgages. These include reducing the size of mortgages Fannie and Freddie can purchase, from $729,750 now to $625,500 by this fall. It also includes phasing a 10 percent down payment requirement for the companies. Finally, it includes raising fees the companies charge to insure loans.

The administration also suggested scaling back FHA, which caters to first-time homebuyers with low down-payment options. It said it wants to reduce the size of loans that FHA can provide, increase fees by a quarter percentage point, and potentially raise the down payment requirement from 3.5 percent now to 5 percent in the future. (Wash Post, 2/11/2011)

U.S. Forest Service Revises Forest Management Rule

The Obama administration unveiled a U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service proposal Thursday (Feb 10) to give directors of national forests more discretion over managing endangered wildlife.  The rule reverses a decades-old rules that left the sensitive decisions to officials in Washington. This sounds like a reasonable decision to us.  It puts decision-making closer to the ground and will probably lead to more efficient and faster operations.  Of course, it also increases the possibility for abuse by unscrupulous directors.

The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule is intended to provide the tools to the Forest Service to make forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.

The Center is particularly interested in the climate change, catastrophic fire and timber portions of the rule.  The new rules will hopefully enhance our planned Green Electric biomass plant in Mississippi.  Hopefully, the new rule will also enhance our wildfire prevention and Green Electric biomass plant plans in California.  The Center is also interested in the rule as it relates to our Evaluation Criteria For Hydraulic Fracturing projects, particularly involving the effects of this practice on groundwater.

There is some disagreement as to whether the rule will expand or water down the definition of protected wildlife to plants and better preserve clean water on some of the nation's most pristine lands. The 94-page proposal amends wildlife protections adopted nearly 30 years ago by the Reagan administration. The original plan has been amended numerous times since its introduction in 1982.

The Forest Service said that while planning the new rules it held 40 public meetings during which 3,000 participants logged more than 25,000 comments. The public has until May 16 to comment on the rule. The Forest Service will develop a final rule by year's end. To encourage public engagement, the Forest Service is hosting an open forum to discuss the proposed rule on March 10, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The meeting will be Web cast to allow for national participation, and there will be additional public forums held throughout the country.

Highlights of the proposed planning rule include:

A more effective and efficient framework that would allow adaptive land management planning in the face of climate change and other stressors.

Increased requirements for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of land management planning.

Improved ability to respond to climate change and other stressors through provisions to restore and maintain healthy and resilient ecosystems.

Increased protections for water resources and watersheds.

More effective and proactive requirements to provide for diverse native plant and animal species.

Provisions to guide the contributions of a National Forest or National Grassland to social and economic sustainability.

Updated provisions for sustainable land, water and air-based recreation.

Requirements to provide for integrated resource management of a range of multiple uses and values including outdoor recreation, range, timber, water, wildlife, wilderness, energy, mining, and ecosystem services.

New requirements for a local and landscape-scale monitoring program that are based on the latest science.
The USDA Forest Service manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands across the country. Drinking water for approximately one in five Americans comes from the National Forest System. The service manages 155 national forests, 20 grasslands and a prairie that together compose about 195 million acres rich in wildlife, timber, clear water, natural gas and other resources. American forests, including those in the National Forest System, also capture and store enough carbon every year to offset 11 percent of the nation's industrial greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, hundreds of millions of Americans visit National Forests and Grasslands annually, with 98 percent of these lands offering free access.  (USDA Press Release, Wash Post, 2/11/2011)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

EPA Removes Confidentiality Claims on Studies of Chemicals

Submitted under TSCA

Action part of ongoing commitment to transparency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified five companies that the identities of 14 chemicals associated with a number of health and safety studies submitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and claimed as confidential are not eligible for confidential treatment. The action comes as part of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s continued efforts to increase public access to chemical information to help Americans understand risks posed by chemicals in our environment.

Last year, EPA put in place a plan to review confidentiality claims for the name of chemicals addressed in health and safety studies. Under these new procedures EPA is moving to declassify many chemical identities so they are no longer secret. More chemical names connected with health and safety studies will be released in the future. The agency plans to deny confidentiality claims for chemical identity in health and safety studies provided to the agency under TSCA unless the chemical identity contains process or mixture information that is expressly protected by the law.

Center reaction: Is this going to have a chilling effect on companies listing their propriatary chemicals?

Under TSCA, companies may claim that information they submit to EPA should be treated as confidential business information (CBI) and not be disclosed to the public. Companies that manufacture, process, or distribute chemicals are required to immediately provide notice to EPA if they learn that a chemical presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. The reports are made available on EPA’s website, but when the identity of the chemical has been claimed confidential by a company, the name of the chemical has been removed from the copy of the report that is made public.

EPA has begun reviewing past CBI claims for chemical identity in health and safety studies. Where EPA determines that the information is not eligible for confidential treatment under the law, the agency will notify companies of the determination and that EPA will make the information public on the 31st day after receiving the determination unless the company challenges the disclosure in federal court.

More information on EPA’s efforts to increase transparency, for a copy of the letter, and additional information on the notifications on declassifications. (EPA)

Billions in Budget Cuts Proposed in 2012 Budget

Harold Rogers
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) is proposing to cut $74 billion from President Obama's pending 2012 Budget reqeust.

Republicans are proposing to defund President Obama's high-speed rail initiative, slash clean energy programs and cut the Office of Science by 20 percent.

They would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 17 percent.

In the budget request President Obama will deliver to Congress on Monday, he plans to include a five-year freeze in non-security spending that would save an estimated $400 billion over the next decade. It is also being reported that Obama is proposing to halve funding for low-income heating assistance, or put it back at its regular funding level. Obama will request $2.57 billion for the program, its level in 2008, before Congress doubled its funding to account for a spike in the price of fuel. (Wash Post, 2/9/2011)