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Friday, July 29, 2011

Federal Oil & Gas Subsidies

Fossil-energy companies get tax exemptions, free access to drill on public land, special accounting rules for profits, protection from foreign competition through import tariffs and regulations and the list goes on. We give so many favors to oil and gas companies that it's hard to keep track. Luckily, the determined wonks at Taxpayers for Common Sense have  for us.

The charts below illustrate the biggest oil and gas subsidies in various laws and accounting rules for 2011-2015, with more than $55 billion in targeted benefits for the industry and nearly $23 billion in general business subsidies.

We received the following question from a commenter:



(Grist, 7/29/2011, Taxpayers for Common Sense)
Why does the chart point out that the biggest tax break given the oil industry is the ethanol tax credit, when it is really the ethanol industry – over the objections of almost everyone in the oil industry – that forces its way into gasoline with federal mandates and gets the benefits of the tax credit?

Nuclear Waste Panel Adopts Center Recommendation

Norris McDonald at BRC Hearing
The Blue Ribbon Commission On America's Nuclear Future (BRC) issued its final draft report today and recommend that at least one new site be found to store waste left over from the nation’s nuclear power plants. The blue-ribbon commission assigned by President Obama in January 2010 to come up with an alternative to the plan for a nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, also adopted a Center recommendation: the creation of a new federal corporation to manage the site rather than turning it over to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Center President Norris McDonald testified before the commission, on behalf of the Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition (NFRC) and recommended the creation of a Nuclear Waste Management Agency (NWMA).  The BRC adopted this recommendation.

Obama asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu to create the 15-member commission after his administration decided against going ahead with long-delayed plans to create a national nuclear waste storage site at Yucca
Mountain. The commission — chaired by former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush — does not suggest where that storage site would be located.  This is a cop out.  The Center also disagrees with President Obama's decision to abandon Yucca Mountain as America's national repository for nuclear waste.

The report recommends guidelines for a selection process — such as giving local communities, but not states, the power to veto a facility. Many members of the commission believe that New Mexico, which already has a nuclear waste storage facility, might prove more receptive than Nevada to a federal waste site. The group also recommends finding an interim storage site for waste that is now being stored at 10 closed reactors at nine different sites. All but one of the sites have the used nuclear fuel in dry casks, and the commission said there would be fewer security risks if the waste were stored in one place.  The Center does not support this recommendation because we believe Yucca Mountain is the best location for the national nuclear waste repository.

For years, electric utilities with nuclear power plants paid about $23 billion in fees to the federal government to finance the repository, and substantial preparation was done at the Yucca Mountain,Nevada site. Some of those utilities have filed lawsuits to recover the money.

The report contains no dissenting opinions, but members of the commission could not reach agreement on whether to move ahead with reprocessing of used nuclear fuel, a process used today in France. (Wash Post, 7/29/2011)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

EPA Proposes Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Gas Production

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed standards to reduce harmful air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations. These proposed updated standards - which are being issued in response to a court order - would rely on cost-effective existing technologies to reduce emissions that contribute to smog pollution and can cause cancer while supporting the administration’s priority of continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production. The standards would leverage operators' ability to capture and sell natural gas that currently escapes into the air, resulting in more efficient operations while reducing harmful emissions that can impact air quality in surrounding areas and nearby states.

Reducing these emissions will help cut toxic pollution that can increase cancer risks and smog that can cause asthma attacks and premature death - all while giving these operators additional product to bring to market.

Today’s proposal would cut smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from several types of processes and equipment used in the oil and gas industry, including a 95 percent reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. This dramatic reduction would largely be accomplished by capturing natural gas that currently escapes to the air and making that gas available for sale through technologies and processes already in use by several companies and required in some states.

Natural gas production in the U.S. is growing, with more than 25,000 new and existing wells fractured or re-fractured each year. The VOC reductions in the proposal are expected to help reduce ozone nonattainment problems in many areas where oil and gas production occurs. In addition, the VOC reductions would yield a significant environmental benefit by reducing methane emissions from new and modified wells. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas - more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Today’s proposed changes also would reduce cancer risks from emissions of several air toxics, including benzene.

EPA’s analysis of the proposed changes, which also include requirements for storage tanks and other equipment, show they are highly cost-effective, with a net savings to the industry of tens of millions of dollars annually from the value of natural gas that would no longer escape to the air. Today’s proposal includes reviews of four air regulations for the oil and natural gas industry as required by the Clean Air Act: a new source performance standard for VOCs from equipment leaks at gas processing plants; a new source performance standard for sulfur dioxide emissions from gas processing plants; an air toxics standard for oil and natural gas production; and an air toxics standard for natural gas transmission and storage.

EPA is under a consent decree requiring the agency to sign a proposal by July 28, 2011 and take final action by Feb. 28, 2012. As part of the public comment period, EPA will hold three public hearings, in the Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh areas. Details on the hearings will be announced soon. (EPA)

More information

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tenn Anti Nuclear Activists Call Bellefonte "Zombie" Reactor

The Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Scottsboro, Alabama
was never completed
Tennessee Anti Nuclear Activists call TVA's proposed Bellefonte Nuclear Reactor the 'Zombie' reactor because it was designed in the 1960s with contruction beginning in the 70s, which was stopped in the 1980s.

TVA CEO Tom Kilgore has announced plans to ask the TVA Board to approve completion of the Bellefonte Nuclear Reactor in Scottsboro, Alabama at the August 18 Board Meeting in Knoxville.

The Center supports the completion of Bellafonte.

We also think that calling it the 'zombie' reactor is kind of funny. (Tennessee Environmental Council)

General Electric Moving X-Ray Business To China

General Electric Co. (GE)’s health-care unit, the world’s biggest maker of medical-imaging machines, is moving the headquarters of its 115-year-old X-ray business to Beijing.  The headquarters will move from Waukesha, Wisconsin, amid a broader parent-company plan to invest about $2 billion across China, including opening six “customer innovation” and development centers. The move follows the introduction earlier this year of GE Healthcare’s “Spring Wind” initiative to develop and distribute medical products and services in China, GE said in a statement today. More than 20 percent of the X-ray unit’s new products will be developed in China.

GE Healthcare, also the world’s biggest maker of magnetic resonance imaging and cardiac tomography scanners, got about $1.1 billion of its $16.9 billion in sales from China last year.

The X-ray business, whose financial results aren’t reported separately by GE, will hire 65 new engineers and support staff at a new Chengdu facility. GE has hired “a large number” of engineers who are in training.
GE anticipates that China will be GE Healthcare’s most important growth market.  The company wants to keep its leading position in providing medical devices targeted at higher-end Chinese customers, and also break into China’s growing market for primary health care, a key goal of the Chinese government’s health-care reform plans.

About 60,000 people work at GE Healthcare globally, including 820 in the X-ray business. Of health-care employees, more than 5,000 are in China, including about 2,000 sales representatives. (Bloomberg, 7/25/2011)

Carmakers Agree To Obama Fuel Economy Increases

Hmmm.  What's Going On?  Carmakers Have Always Opposed Increases in Fuel Economy

Except Chrysler In The 1980's

Bottom Line: We Don't Believe It

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. have endorsed a proposal by the Obama administration to raise averaged auto/truck fuel economy standards from the current target of 35.5 mpg by 2016 to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The White House will officially propose the rules by its Sept. 30 goal. It could have moved forward without industry support, but the White House's goal was to have backing from major auto makers.  We still cannot beleive the automakers are agreeing to the increase.  They are up to something. 

Car makers have argued the proposal would effectively require most new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be battery-powered by 2025 and raise prices by thousands of dollars.  Makers of electric vehicle technology say declining costs for lithium batteries will allow the auto industry to make big gains in fuel efficiency without stoking sticker shock.

The new proposal calls for a 5% average annual increase in fuel economy for cars and a 3.5% increase for light trucks through 2021. After 2021, both cars and trucks face a 5% annual increase.

Included in the plan are credits for hybrid pickup trucks and measures that will give big pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles more leeway in meeting fuel-economy and emissions targets.
Auto companies also would get credit for technology that improves fuel economy in ways that often don't register in traditional Environmental Protection Agency tests. A feature that shuts of the engine when a vehicle is idling, is one example. (WSJ, 7/27/2011)

TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline

TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL project is a 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The project would expand TransCanada’s existing Keystone pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Oklahoma.  Keystone XL would deliver upwards of 830,000 barrels of oil per day (b/d) from Canada's oil sands region to U.S. refiners.

TransCanada filed its permit application with the State Department at the end of 2008. The department has issued two environmental reviews of the project and plans to issue a final review next month. Review of the project has dragged on for years while the State Department sought additional environmental analysis.


The House passed the bill (North American Made Energy Security (NAMES) Act (H.R. 1938) on a 279-147 vote that would require that the Obama administration make a final decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1. The vote was mostly along party lines. Forty-seven Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, while three Republicans opposed it. The proposal faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The White House said Monday the legislation is “unnecessary” because the State Department is slated to make a decision on the Keystone XL permit application by the end of the year, within two months of the deadline established in the bill. But the White House did not threaten to veto the bill.


Opponents of the project cite a rash of pipeline incidents that have exacerbated long-standing objections to the proposal from environmental groups and many Democrats.  Democrats also blasted the environmental impacts of oil sands production, which emits more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production.

Proponents of theproject say the proposed pipeline would create thousands of jobs and make the country less reliant on Middle Eastern oil. They have accused the Obama administration of slow-walking a multi-agency review of the project headed up by the State Department. The bill, authored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), seeks to ensure that the administration expedites its Keystone XL.  (The Hill, 7/26/2011, Graphics courtesy Duke Nicholas School of the Environment)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New EPA Toxicity Testing & Environmental Sampling for BPA

Following a Bisphenol A (BPA) Action Plan announced in March 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requesting public comment on possible toxicity testing and environmental sampling to study BPA’s potential environmental impacts. BPA has been shown to cause reproductive and developmental effects in animal studies. This action is part of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s comprehensive effort to strengthen EPA’s chemical management program and assure the safety of chemicals that Americans encounter in their daily lives.

BPA is used in the manufacture of a wide range of consumer and industrial products including food-can liners, hard polycarbonate plastics, epoxy paints and coatings, and thermal papers, including some cash register receipts. Releases of BPA to the environment exceed 1 million pounds per year.

In January 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would further examine potential human health effects and reduce exposure to BPA in the food supply, which represents the greatest source of exposure to people. EPA is working with FDA, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on research under way to better determine and evaluate the potential health consequences of BPA exposures. At the conclusion of that research, EPA will determine if additional actions may be needed to address human health concerns from non-food use exposures.

EPA issued an action plan on BPA in March 2010 outlining possible steps the agency might take to address risks presented by BPA, including the testing discussed in today’s announcement.

EPA BPA Action Plan 

Comments on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) must be received on or before September 26, 2011. The ANPR and supporting information can be found in docket number EPA-HQ-OPPT-2010-0812 on the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Walter Reed Army Medical Center Moving To Bethesda


Walter Reed Army Medical Center, above, which has served the nation for 102 years, will close its doors Sept. 15, although a ceremony to case the colors of all Walter Reed activities will take place July 27.  Since 1909, soldiers from World War I and after and presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower have lived or died there. In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) voted to close the facility and move it to Bethesda.  On Wednesday, former and current patients and Walter Reed employees will say goodbye during a ceremony on the grounds. Most of the moving will take place in August.

Healing gardens are an important element of evidence-based design
 incorporated into the Walter Reed National Medical Center Warrior Complex

The Wounded Warrior complex at the
 Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

National Medical Center Warrior Complex.
The WRNMMC is located in Bethesda, Md.

The Wounded Warrior complex at the
Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005, the Department of Defense was required to combine four National Capital Region, or NCR, inpatient hospitals -- Walter Reed, Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Joint Base Andrews, Md. -- into two while, maintaining the same patient care capacity. This is the largest medical restructuring ever undertaken in the military health system.

The new facility at Bethesda will include 345 medical-surgical beds, 50 intensive care unit beds and 20 operating rooms, while the expanded DeWitt will hold 120, 10 and 10, respectively. The two facilities should have more than enough capacity to care for all combat casualties, as well as family members and veterans, Mateczun said, especially because military medical facilities nationwide and civilian TRICARE partners can take additional cases if the need should arise.

The new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,
seen from the air, with Wisconsin Avenue in front,
 still shows the original tower that Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed.
But the growth around that tower has expanded to
 include portions of the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Of the 445 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, about a third will transition to DeWitt, while the other two-thirds will move to the Bethesda campus, added Lt. Col. Larry Gunther, the Warrior Transition Brigade executive officer. Both Bethesda and Belvoir have added and renovated barracks and lodging spaces for these servicemembers and their Families.

The Soldiers who will move to DeWitt are more ambulatory and need less specialized and intensive care. They may also have post-traumatic stress disorders, mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injuries and/or substance abuse problems, as the Fort Belvoir hospital is adding additional inpatient behavioral health and substance-abuse programs.

Servicemembers evacuated from theater and patients who need very specialized care for catastrophic injuries such as complex orthopedic trauma and open traumatic brain injuries will go to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center along with the specialized doctors and other medical professionals who care for them. Complex surgeries such as organ transplants will also occur at the Bethesda site.
(Wash Post, 7/25/2011, U.S. Army)

Friday, July 22, 2011

New York Mayor Bloomberg Donates $50 Million to Sierra Club

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announcing his $50 million donation
 to the Sierra Club near a coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Va.
Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Thursday that he would donate $50 million to the Sierra Club’s campaign to shut down coal-fired power plants across the United States. The announcement was made in Washington, DC on the bank of the Potomac River across from the Potomac River plant, which is owned by The 62-year old Potomac plant, which is owned by GenOn Energy, is among the oldest of the country’s roughly 400 coal-fired power plants.

Mayor Bloomberg appeared with the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune to announce the gift from his chief charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Mr. Bloomberg said he hoped it would help the environmental group shut down as many as a third of the nation’s coal-burning power plants — the oldest and dirtiest ones — by 2020.

Coal provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity and accounts for roughly a third of its output of carbon dioxide and other gases responsible for warming the planet. Burning coal also produces millions of tons of other pollutants that are harmful to human health and the environment.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign claims to have blocked the opening of more than 150 coal-fired power plants in recent years through litigation and local action. Mr. Bloomberg’s $50 million represents a third of the campaign’s projected $150 million four-year budget.

The goal of the campaign is to cut electricity production from coal by 30 percent and mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2020. Mr. Bloomberg’s donation will be used to expand the campaign to 45 states from the current 15 and to double the number of full-time staff members to 200. (NYT, 7/21/2011)

New Enviro Group Study on Air Pollution From Coal Plants

A new study, Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,”  released Wednesday by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility shows that most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants can be found in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The study, used public data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, a national database of toxic emissions reported by industrial sources. Data on pollution control systems at specific plants was drawn from the EPA’s National Electric Energy Data System database.

Map

The states ranked in the top "Toxic 20" (from worst to best) included:

1. Ohio
2. Pennsylvania
3. Florida
4. Kentucky
5. Maryland
6. Indiana
7. Michigan
8. West Virginia
9. Georgia
10. North Carolina
11. South Carolina
12. Alabama
13. Texas
14. Virginia
15. Tennessee
16. Missouri
17. Illinois
18. Wisconsin
19. New Hampshire
20. Iowa

California ranked 42 on the list.

EPA officials estimate that reductions of toxic pollution required by pending federal standards would save as many as 17,000 lives a year by 2015, prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma, more than 12,000 emergency room and hospital visits, and 850,000 lost workdays annually. The federal standards are expected to be finalized in November. (L.A. Times, 7/20/2011)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Courts Reject EPA Reliance on Guidance Documents

DC Circuit Rejects EPA’s Reliance on Guidance Documents in Lieu of Rulemaking in Clean Air Act Case

EPA has recently suffered a series of defeats in court cases challenging its reliance on “guidance documents” that were never adopted as administrative rules. The most recent example has to do with guidance under the Clean Air Act (“CAA” or “Act”). In Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) v. EPA,[1] the D.C. Circuit held that EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) by relying on interpretive guidance – rather than a regulation – to allow states to propose alternatives to statutorily required fees for ozone non-attainment areas.

The CAA requires EPA to establish national ambient air quality standards (“NAAQS”) on certain pollutants, including ozone. The Act also includes requirements for “non-attainment” areas – or areas that have not attained the various NAAQS. The CAA imposes deadlines on these non-attainment areas, giving certain areas additional time to come into compliance with the NAAQS.[4] One of these requirements, Section 185 – which is specific to ozone – requires states to impose fees on all major stationary sources in “severe” or “extreme” areas of non-attainment that fail to meet the deadlines.

In 1997, EPA modified the ozone NAAQS, switching from a “1-hour” standard, which prohibited average hourly emission concentrations from exceeding a certain level, to a stricter “8-hour” standard, which limits emissions concentrations over an eight hour period. EPA formally revoked the 1-hour standard in a 2004 rulemaking, leaving only the 8-hour standard in force. In doing so, EPA sought to reconcile the regulatory change in the ozone NAAQS with the CAA’s “anti-backsliding” provision. Although that provision typically applies when EPA “relaxes” a NAAQS, EPA recognized that due to an overall improvement in air quality since the CAA’s 1990 amendments (which contained the 1-hour ozone standard), some non-attainment areas that would have been classified as “severe” or “extreme” under the 1-hour standard would now be in a lower classification, such as “marginal” or “moderate,” under the 8-hour standard. As such, EPA concluded that Section 172(e) should apply even though EPA had strengthened the ozone NAAQS, and implemented some of the non-attainment requirements to these lower-classification areas. In 2006, the D.C. Circuit generally upheld EPA’s interpretation of Section 172(e), but clarified that the fee structure in Section 185 must apply to areas as well.[8] In other words, the ruling required states to impose Section 185 fees on the major stationary sources in an area that failed to meet its attainment deadline under the now-defunct 1-hour standard.[9]

In response to the ruling, EPA issued a guidance document providing alternatives for implementing the Section 185 fee system in non-attainment areas (“Guidance”).[10] The Guidance authorized states to adopt and implement “alternative programs” in 1-hour non-attainment areas in lieu of implementing the Section 185 fee program, as long as those alternatives were “not less stringent” than the Section 185 program.[11] The Guidance also provided an “attainment alternative,” which allowed regions to avoid Section 185 fees if the region attained the 8-hour standard (even if the region remained in non-attainment of the 1-hour standard).[12] EPA sought to satisfy the APA’s notice and comment requirements by specifying that the approval of individual alternatives, either program or attainment based, would occur on a case-by-case basis, and when EPA found an alternative satisfactory, it would proceed with notice and comment to finalize that finding.[13]

NRDC challenged the Guidance on direct review in the D.C. Circuit, alleging that EPA violated the APA by issuing the Guidance without notice and comment. NRDC also alleged that both the program and attainment alternatives in the Guidance violated the Act. In response, EPA raised several procedural arguments, including lack of standing, final agency action, and ripeness, and sought to justify the Guidance as a “policy statement” or “interpretive rule” not subject to the APA’s notice and comment requirements.

EPA has, in recent years, tended to favor the use of interpretive guidance where it can, as the rulemaking process is typically long and arduous. No matter, the D.C. Circuit has joined other courts in holding that guidance is not a substitute for rulemaking. (Marten Law, 7/21/2011)

EPA Guidance on Appalachian Surface Mining Operations

Summary of Final Guidance on Improving EPA Review of Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations Under the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Environmental Justice Executive Order

On July 21, 2011, EPA released final guidance to its Appalachian Regional offices to clarify EPA’s roles and expectations, in coordinating with Federal and State partners, to assure more consistent, effective, and timely review of Appalachian surface coal mining operations with respect to provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Environmental Justice Executive Order (E.O. 12898).

Clean Water Act Section 402

EPA’s final guidance reiterates the importance of protecting water quality through state-issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for Appalachian surface coal mining operations. As EPA Regions exercise their Clean Water Act responsibility to oversee authorized state NPDES programs, Regions should work to ensure that permits comply with the Clean Water Act in the following ways:

• Ensure Adequate Effluent Characterization: The applicant should characterize the effluent from the proposed operation using facility-specific data, data from similar mining operations, or data submitted in support of permit applications under other laws.

• Conduct Adequate Reasonable Potential Analyses: The permitting authority should conduct an adequate analysis as to whether a discharge has the reasonable potential to cause a violation of both narrative and numeric water quality standards. States should meaningfully implement narrative standards and reflect best-available science, such as the 300 μS/cm value derived in EPA’s final conductivity benchmark report μS/cm described in Pond et al. 2008.

• Set Water Quality-Based Effluent Limits: For parameters that are shown to have reasonable potential, the permitting authority should set water quality-based effluent limits necessary to achieve water quality standards. With respect to conductivity, states can implement this requirement through a numeric limit for conductivity or a numeric effluent limitation for other parameters, presuming such a limitation is scientifically defensible and adequately protective.

• Incorporate WET Limits: Permits should also generally include a limit for Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) where reasonable potential exists, but such limits alone are generally not protective unless coupled with other numeric effluent limits.

• Incorporate Other Permit Conditions: The permitting authority may also include other permit conditions to protect narrative standards, such as measurements of the in-stream biological community (bioassessment), Best Management Practices (BMPs) for reducing downstream water quality concerns, water quality offsets, and sequencing of valley fills (whereby a multiple-fill project is constructed one fill at a time so as to demonstrate water quality protection).

• Address Other Permitting Considerations: The permitting authority should effectively implement antidegradation analyses in support of any lowering of water quality. Regions should also work with states to ensure protective general permits, address watershed-level water quality impacts in addition to localized effects, and ensure adequate consideration of environmental justice issues and adequate community participation in the permitting process.

Clean Water Act Section 404

As Regions review permit applications for surface coal mining activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, they should ensure that permits comply with the Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines and other applicable Clean Water Act regulations in the following ways:

• Analyze Less Damaging Practicable Alternatives: Regions should coordinate with state and federal agencies to find ways to reduce impacts to waters of the United States.

• Protect Against Water Quality Standards Violations: Regions should evaluate the extent to which a proposed project has the potential to violate water quality standards, consistent with best-available science. Regions should inform the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) of EPA’s concerns if EPA believes that the project, considering permit conditions imposed under other authorities, is likely to violate such standards.

• Prevent Significant Degradation: Regions should be informed by the available science on the downstream water quality effects of surface coal mining operations, including the 300-500 μS/cm peer-reviewed conductivity science described above. To prevent significant degradation, Regions should, for example, recommend permit conditions that include numeric triggers for conductivity (or similar parameters), that are tied to adaptive management actions, and that incorporate offsets in already degraded watersheds (as appropriate) in order to promote watershed-level restoration.

• Minimize Impacts: Regions should recommend implementation of appropriate BMPs on a case-by-case basis to help prevent downstream water quality impacts from conductivity, selenium, and other parameters. Techniques could include materials handling plans, fill construction best practices, sediment pond impact reductions, and sequencing of multiple valley fills.

• Adequately Mitigate for Project Impacts: Regions should ensure that adequate structural and functional assessments are conducted and that mitigation timeframes, monitoring, and adaptive remedial action are adequately incorporated. Regions should carefully review proposals for stream creation and ditch conversion, which the scientific literature has shown may not compensate for lost stream functions.

Regions should also work to ensure that Section 404 permits require adequate water quality and biological monitoring and that the Regions evaluate and make recommendations for mitigating potential environmental justice concerns while ensuring effective public participation.

Clean Water Act Section 401

EPA Regions should work with states to ensure that they meaningfully utilize their Section 401 certification authority in order to protect state water quality standards.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Regions should work with the Corps and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), as appropriate, to:

• Ensure the public availability of key NEPA documents, such as draft environmental assessments;

• Engage with local communities, including low-income and minority populations, to identify potential adverse human health and environmental impacts and mitigation measures;

• Conduct appropriate watershed watershed-scale cumulative impact analysis;

• Review the use of mitigation measures to ensure that they will be effective at avoiding or compensating for significant impacts; and

• Recommend preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) when impacts are not reduced to levels below significance.

Environmental Justice Executive Order (E.O. 12898)

Regions should work with States, the Corps and OSM to ensure that applicable provisions of the Clean Water Act and NEPA are recognized as opportunities to address environmental hazards in minority communities and low-income communities, to prevent disproportionate environmental and human health effects, and to provide transparency and meaningful participation by these communities in government decision-making regarding surface coal mining. (EPA)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mitt Romney Playing Both Sides of Climate Change Card (Again)

Mitt Romney, left, stated at a recent town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire that he does not think carbon pollution threatens human health and would not green-light EPA climate regulations if he were in the White House. The GOP presidential candidate signaled the reversal to one of the Obama administration's top environmental policies six weeks after he acknowledged during a campaign stop that global warming is real.

According to Romney,
"My view is that the EPA in getting into carbon and regulating carbon has gone beyond the original intent of that legislation, and I would not take it there,"
Romney last month ignited conservative complaints when he told a New Hampshire audience that he believed in the widespread scientific consensus that humans have contributed to a warming planet.

So it appears that Romney believes that humans have contributed to climate change, but he believes that it does not pose a threat to human health.

As governor in Massachusetts, Romney took the opening steps toward joining a cap-and-trade compact for power plants known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. But he pulled out of the program just before it formed in late 2005. (Politico, 7/18/2011)

EPA Extends Comment Period For Cooling Water Systems

Cooling Water Intake Structures Proposed Rule

In response to requests from stakeholders and to encourage additional public comment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending the public comment period by 30 days for the cooling water intake structures proposed rule. This change will not affect EPA’s schedule for issuing a final rule by July 27, 2012.

This proposed rule, based on Section 316 (b) of the Clean Water Act, aims to protect billions of fish and other aquatic organisms drawn each year into cooling water systems at large power plants and factories.

The original 90-day public comment period was originally set to expire on July 19, 2011. EPA will publish a notice of this 30-day extension in the Federal Register.

More information

American Nuclear Power Companies Want India Market

The Bush administration initiated the agreement with India to allow the sale of nuclear reactors and fuel to India, even though the country has nuclear weapons but has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The Obama administration supports the agreement.  However, India passed a law last year that would make suppliers of nuclear equipment liable for massive claims in the event of a nuclear accident during the reactor’s lifetime. That raises the risk of doing business in India to levels that U.S. private-sector companies and their insurers cannot accept but that state-backed companies in Russia and France, with the much deeper pockets of their respective governments, might be able to live with. And it puts India far out of step with other countries, which hold plant operators solely liable. So while General Electric and U.S.-based, Japanese-owned Westinghouse Electric sit on the sidelines, France’s Areva and Russia’s Rosatom are moving ahead in inking deals to build reactors in India.

The 1984 Bhopal gas disaster that claimed more than 15,000 lives has made India wary about trusting foreign firms with potentially volatile technologies.  The recent Japan nuclear power plant disaster has only served to fortify India's wariness.

With its economy and its demand for energy growing rapidly, India wants to raise its nuclear power generating capacity from the current 5,000 megawatts a year to more than 60,000 megawatts by 2032.

An additional complication is that before India can buy American and French reactors, New Delhi has to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with Japan. Those reactors use Japanese parts and technology, which cannot be supplied until Japan changes its law to allow nuclear trade with India.  Another complication occurred last month when the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which has about four dozen members, voted at a meeting in The Hague to bar access to sensitive uranium enrichment and reprocessing technology, which can be used to make atomic bombs, to countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Center supports the U.S. effort to build nuclear power plants in India.  And if the U.S. companies are confident in the safety of their technology, there should be no reason for them to adhere to India's self indemnification requirement. (Wash Post, 7/19/2011)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Power NY Act of 2011

Article 10 Reauthorization Law

The Power NY Act of 2011 

The New York Legislature has passed and Govern Andrew Cuomo has signed the “Power NY Act of 2011.” Section 12 of the new law reauthorizes and modernizes Article X of the Public Service Law, which expired on January 1, 2003, governing the siting and approval of power plants in New York.

Like its predecessor, the new version of Article X aims to centralize and streamline the siting approval process, although the threshold for application of the law has been lowered from 80 to 25 megawatts. The law creates and vests permitting authority with the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (“the Board”). The statute provides that two local residents will be part of the Board with the other five members being State officials for each proceeding. The law also provides for “intervenor funding” which will enable municipalities and other local parties to participate in all phases of the administrative review, including the mandated adjudicatory hearing.

The Board is given authority to override local laws and ordinances if they are “unreasonably burdensome.” Unless otherwise agreed to by an applicant or extended due to a “material and substantial amendment to the application” or “extraordinary circumstances,” Board decisions must be rendered within a year of the application being deemed complete.

Article X displaces the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process for covered projects, but mandates several environmental analyses of the facility’s impacts. These analyses include a “cumulative air quality analysis” of the combined effects from the proposed facility, other proposed sources and all existing sources; a description of the demographics of the surrounding community; and a description of “reasonable and available” alternative locations. It also requires the Board to find that the project minimizes or avoids disproportionate impacts on the surrounding community.

There are significant differences between the new version of Article X and the expired version. The lower 25 megawatt threshold will allow smaller projects to be covered by the law and may particularly benefit developers of wind projects, which in most cases would not have been covered by the expired version. The increased emphasis on environmental justice impacts addresses concerns stated by environmental groups. Current applicants for local and state permits for a power plant may elect to be covered by the new law.  (Sive, Paget & Riesel, PC)

Governor Cuomo’s Memorandum on the Legislation

Center Still Hopeful Blue Jobs Will Develop

The United States will need significant additional electricity capacity to meet future demand.  There has been much debate about green jobs, including defining exactly what qualifies as such.  America needs wind, solar, hydro, natural gas, coal, and nuclear to meet our future electricity needs.  Unfortunately, America appears to be falling behind in building sufficient new capacity to support a reinvigorated economy.

The Center was out front in promoting a mix of energy sources to produce electricity.  However, to effectively and efficiently provide electricity in bulk baseload to miilions of households, nuclear power should be the primary source to achieve this goal.  We hoped that numerous blue jobs would be created with the so-called 'Nuclear Power Renaissance.'  Alas, the renaissance stalled even before the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan.  Also, unfortunately, our support for nuclear power has not led to any job creation.  Not one additional job was even created at the Center due to promotion of blue power.  Considering that nuclear should still be a significant part of the electricity generation mix, we wonder if any new blue jobs will ever be created now. 

Why blue jobs?  Even though nuclear power in America has been green, we think that a unique designation is needed due to the unique technology.  A bright blue glow surrounds 'swimming pool' reactors.  The blue glow results from gamma rays knocking out electrons from whatever they hit, such as the hydrogen and oxygen in the water.  The light produced appears as a blue glow underwater. The radiation is called Cerenkov radiation, after the Russian scientist whose experiments led to its explanation.  Spent fuel pools also have the blue glow. Thus, the blue jobs designation, which sounds better than Cerenkov jobs. (Albert B. Reynold, "Bluebells and Nuclear Energy,")

The Center has pursued all kinds of blue jobs, from partial nuclear plant ownership to promotion of new technologies.  We formed the Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition in 2003 to promote recycling nuclear fuel (see logo upper right).  We believe that blue jobs cover the spectrum from electricians and pipe fitters to nuclear physicists to upper management.  These jobs cover the rank and file and ownership opportunities.  We hope this industry can rebound to create millions of new blue jobs.  It would be ideal if some of those jobs originated at the Center.

NRC To Reconsider 'Cost Protection Rule'

Recommendations from an NRC task force formed after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March represent the most significant changes to nuclear-industry safety since the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania.

NRC
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) intends to decide within 90 days how to proceed with far-reaching safety changes recommended for the nuclear industry, including requiring plant owners to have greater levels of backup power and requiring possibly costly upgrades. Up to now, a cost-protection rule has essentially barred the NRC from requiring major plant improvements without first having to prove that the human-health benefits justify the cost.  The NRC is considering changing the rule to accomodate the Task Force recommendations.

Task Force Report


Immediate actions:

Order nuclear plants to re-evaluate seismic and flooding risks. Update structures and components to provide more protection.

Order plants to have backup electricity for spent-fuel pools and better monitoring and cooling.

Update emergency plans to incorporate severe-accident guidelines that now are voluntary.

Order plants like those in Japan to have better ways to vent dangerous hydrogen gas and prevent explosions.

Order plants to prepare for disasters that damage more than one reactor

Longer-term actions:

Require plants to re-evaluate seismic and flooding risks every 10 years.

Require plants to have systems in place to ride out extended blackouts.

Improve emergency training for nuclear-plant

(WSJ, 7/18/2011)

Japan Nuclear Plant Finally Taking Center Recommendation

A trial fitting last month of a cover
 for Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 1 No. 1,
meant to limit the release of radioactive material.
It appears that Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is taking the Center's recommendation to cover the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex.  It appears that they are achieving a  "cold shutdown" in which the reactor cores are kept under 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water.  Tepco is also injecting nitrogen into the most heavily damaged unit, No. 3, following similar work on units No. 1 and No. 2. The nonreactive nitrogen is meant to prevent outside air from entering the containment structures, where the air's oxygen can react explosively with the hydrogen produced by the damaged reactors. Hydrogen-oxygen explosions shortly after the disaster were blamed for most of the radiation dispersals that forced the evacuation of everyone within 12 miles of the plant.

Tepco is also attempting the treat the highly radioactive water strewn all over the facility.  They are using a U.S.-French-designed water-treatment system.  Tepco plans to protect the facility from additional damage by another earthquake and tsumani.

The Center has been recommending a sarcophagus over the facility for months.  The site should also be hardened to prevent the escape of contaminated water.  Such protective measures should include a cover or covers that completely prevents the release of additional radiation into the environment.    (WSJ, 7/17/2011Photo courtesy Tepco/European Pressphoto Agency)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Samuel Wynkoop Returns To PG Environmental Resources

Samuel E. Wynkoop, Jr.
Samuel Wynkoop was appointed as the acting director for the Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources (DER) in December 2010 by County Executive Rushern Baker, who nominated him to be the director of DER. The Prince George's County Council approved his nomination on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. 

Environmental resources is the county’s chief agency for basic resident services. It handles waste management and animal control, and fields complaints on everything from abandoned homes to building code infractions. DER workers are also responsible for all county licenses and for issuing building permits.

Wynkoop has over 40 years of federal, state, local government, and private sector experience. He is a former chief of staff for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who represents Prince George's, and was also the director of the department of environmental resources for more than eight years. Wynkoop was vice president for operations for southern Maryland for the Hallowell Corporation, a Montgomery County land acquisition company that is expanding to Prince George's and Charles counties.

Mr. Wynkoop began his career in Prince George’s County as a teacher in 1967 and then worked in various County government positions including County Council Administrator from 1971-1988. Mr. Wynkoop also served as Chief of Staff to Congressman Steny Hoyer from 1991-1993, returning to Prince George’s County Government as Director of the Department of Environmental Resources from 1995-2003.

Wynkoop served as the chairman of the board of directors for Dimensions Healthcare System since 1993. Prior to his appointment as board chairman, Wynkoop was the vice chairman of the Dimensions board. He also served as chairman of the board of directors for Prince George's Hospital Center, a member institution of Dimensions Healthcare System.

Mr. Wynkoop has earned an undergraduate degree from Frostburg State University, earned a master's degree in social work from Catholic University of America and completed additional studies at Bowie State University and the University of Maryland.  He is a lifelong resident of Prince George’s County, now residing in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Mr. Wynkoop is married to Sunday Jay Wynkoop, and is the father of Daniel Wynkoop and Carrie Neuman and grandfather to Jari and Samantha. (PG County, Kalibooks, 5/18/2011, PG Gazette, 7/12/2011, Dimensions Health Care, photo courtesy Dimensions Health Care)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

U.S. Wind Capacity Takes Off After 2005


From 2005 to 2009, the annual growth in U.S. wind capacity averaged 40%. Since 2006, 36% of total electric power industry capacity additions have been wind generators. The economic downturn and an uncertain regulatory environment (particularly relating to the renewal of production and investment tax credits) contributed to a lower level of wind capacity additions in 2010.


Recent wind development is driven by State-level renewable portfolio standards (or similar legislation), as well as a Federal production tax credit and grants. The PTC was established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to stimulate use of renewable technologies for power production. At the present time, the PTC provides a 10-year credit of 1.9¢/kWh (adjusted upwards, in future years, for inflation) for wind,While wind power is attractive due to its lack of emissions and low operating costs, its intermittency and sudden changes in production create challenges for grid operators and planners. (EIA, Dr. Ryan Wiser, Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Japan Prime Minister Calls For Phase Out of Nuclear Power

In a television address to the country, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that Japan should decrease and eventually eliminate its reliance on nuclear energy. He said:

“We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power. Through my experience of the March 11 accident, I came to realize the risk of nuclear energy is too high. It involves technology that cannot be controlled according to our conventional concept of safety”
Naoto Kan
Kan also told lawmakers  that Japan must scrap a plan that calls for the country to increase its use of nuclear power to 53 percent by 2030, up from the pre-quake levelof roughly 30 percent. And he took a stand Wednesday against the government’s long-peddled slogan about the safety of nuclear power — the “safety myth” that allowed for the construction of 54 reactors over four decades.

Kan’s energy plan faces obstacles, from within his own government and from the utility companies that act as regional monopolies.

The Center has called for Kan's resignation due to his inept handling of the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

Since the March disaster, 35 of the country’s 54 reactors are offline, either damaged, halted by the earthquake and resulting tsunami, or down for routine repairs. Japan has been unable to restart any of its reactors, scuttled by local opposition and its own meandering policies. That alone has led to nationwide energy shortages.

But the energy shortages could become more severe in coming months as the reactors that are still operating come offline for scheduled tests. If Japan does not find a way to restart its reactors, the country could be entirely without nuclear energy by April. (Wash Post, 7/14/2011)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

EPA Considers Secondary Air Standards for NOx & SOx

EPA Opens Public Comment on Secondary Air Standards for Nitrogen and Sulfur Oxides

Agency announces pilot field study on environmental impacts

After a careful review of the best available science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing secondary air quality standards to protect the environment from nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx). Today’s proposal builds on EPA efforts already underway to reduce NOx and SOx emissions.

EPA has made significant progress in developing a multi-pollutant standard that would protect vulnerable ecosystems, including streams and lakes. To ensure any updated standard is effective, EPA is planning to conduct a field pilot program to collect and analyze additional data and information.

In the meantime, EPA is proposing to set an additional secondary standard for each pollutant. The new standards would be identical to the public health standards that the agency strengthened last year. These standards reduce the amount of NOx and SOx in the air and the harmful effects that the pollutants have on sensitive lakes and streams. EPA is also proposing to retain the existing secondary standards for each pollutant.

EPA is already taking a number of steps to reduce NOx and SOx emissions, including the recently announced Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. This new rule will cut millions of tons of these pollutants from power plants each year.

Nitrogen oxides are emitted from an array of sources, including vehicles, power plants, off-road equipment, and agricultural sources. Sulfur oxides are emitted from fossil fuel combustion by power plants, large industries, and mobile sources, and from some industrial processes.

EPA will accept comments for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register and will issue a final rule by March 2012.  (EPA)

More information

NRC’S JAPAN TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATIONS

NRC’S JAPAN TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS CHANGES TO DEFENSE IN DEPTH MEASURES AT NUCLEAR PLANTS; CITES STATION BLACKOUT, SEISMIC, FLOODING AND SPENT FUEL POOLS AS AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Japan Task Force has proposed improvements in areas ranging from loss of power to earthquakes, flooding, spent fuel pools, venting and preparedness, and said a “patchwork of regulatory requirements” developed “piece-by-piece over the decades” should be replaced with a “logical, systematic and coherent regulatory framework” to further bolster reactor safety in the United States.

The report has been given to the five members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who are responsible for making decisions regarding the Task Force’s recommendations.

While declaring that “a sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States” and that plants can be operated safely, the Task Force also recognized that “an accident involving core damage and uncontrolled release of radioactivity to the environment, even one without significant health consequences, is inherently unacceptable.” Thus, the Task Force developed a comprehensive set of 12 recommendations – many with both short and long term elements – to increase safety and redefine what level of protection of public health is regarded as adequate. It also recommended additional study of some issues.

The report noted that the current NRC approach to regulation includes requirements for protection and mitigation of design-basis events, requirements for some “beyond-design-basis” events through regulations, and voluntary industry initiatives to address severe accident issues.

By recommending a more “coherent regulatory framework for adequate protection that appropriately balances defense-in-depth and risk considerations,” the report recommends:

Requiring plants to reevaluate and upgrade as necessary their design-basis seismic and flooding protection of structures, systems and components for each operating reactor and reconfirm that design basis every 10 years;

Strengthening Station Black Out (SBO) mitigation capability for existing and new reactors for design-basis and beyond-design-basis natural events – such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes or tsunamis – with a rule to set minimum coping time without offsite or onsite AC power at 8 hours;

Establishing equipment, procedures and training to keep the core and spent fuel pool cool at least 72 hours; and preplanning and pre-staging offsite resources to be delivered to the site to support uninterrupted core and pool cooling and coolant system and containment integrity as needed;

Requiring that facility emergency plans address prolonged station blackouts and events involving multiple reactors;

Requiring additional instrumentation and seismically protected systems to provide additional cooling water to spent fuel pools if necessary; and requiring at least one system of electrical power to operate spent fuel pool instrumentation and pumps at all times.

The Task Force noted it will take some time for a full understanding of the sequence of events and condition of the spent fuel pools. The report said based on information available to date the two most cogent insights related to the availability of pool instrumentation and the plant’s capability for cooling and water inventory management;

Requiring reliable hardened vent designs in boiling water reactors (BWRs) with Mark I and Mark II containments;

Strengthening and integrating onsite emergency response capabilities such as emergency operating procedures, severe accident management guidelines and extensive damage mitigation guidelines;

Identifying, as part of the longer term review, insights about hydrogen control and mitigation inside containment or in other buildings as more is learned about the Fukushima accident;

Evaluating, as part of the longer term review, potential enhancements to prevent or mitigate seismically induced fires or floods;

Pursuing, as part of the longer term review, additional emergency preparedness topics related to SBO and multiunit events;

Pursuing, as part of the longer term review, emergency preparedness topics on decision making, radiation monitoring and public education;

Strengthened regulatory oversight of plant safety performance – the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process by which plants are monitored on a daily basis – by focusing more attention on defense-in-depth requirements.

The report also acknowledged work on flooding and seismic issues under way at the NRC before the March 11 Fukushima event. The short-term review will be followed by a longer term review with a report with recommendations for the Commission’s consideration within six months. (NRC)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

White House Position On House Clean Water Act Bill

EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20503

July 12, 2011

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY

H.R. 2018 - Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act

(Rep. Mica, R-FL, and 39 cosponsors)
---------------------------------------------
UPDATE: Yesterday (7-13-2011), the House of Representatives passed HR 2018, the so-called Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, by a vote of 239-184.

The Center opposes the bill.
----------------------------------------------

The Administration strongly opposes H.R 2018 because it would significantly undermine the Clean Water Act (CWA) and could adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment.

Under the CWA, one of the Nation’s most successful and effective environmental laws, the Federal Government acts to ensure safe levels of water quality across the country through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since the enactment of the CWA in 1972, the Federal Government has protected the waterways our citizens depend on by using its checks and balances authority to review and adjust key State water pollution control decisions, where necessary, to assure that they reflect up to date science, comply with the law, and protect downstream water users in other States. H.R. 2018 would roll back the key provisions of the CWA that have been the underpinning of 40 years of progress in making the Nation’s waters fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.

H.R. 2018 could limit efforts to safeguard communities by removing the Federal Government’s authority to take action when State water quality standards are not protective of public health. In addition, it would restrict EPA’s authority to take action when it finds that a State’s CWA permit or permit program is inadequate and would shorten EPA’s review and collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers on permits for dredged or fill material. All of these changes could result in adverse impacts to human health, the economy, and the environment through increased pollution and degradation of water bodies that serve as venues for recreation and tourism, and that provide drinking water sources and habitat for fish and wildlife.

H.R. 2018 would disrupt the carefully constructed complementary CWA roles for EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and States in protecting water quality. It also could eliminate EPA’s ability to protect water quality and public health in downstream States from actions in upstream States, and could increase the number of lawsuits challenging State permits. In sum, H.R. 2018 would upset the CWA’s balanced approach to improve water quality across the Nation, risking the public health and economic benefits of cleaner waters.

If the President is presented with this legislation, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

DC PSC Tightens Performance Standards on PEPCO

District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DCPSC) tightened performance standards for Pepco, threatening to fine the beleaguered power company unless it improves reliability within two years and matches the performance of the nation’s most dependable power providers within a decade.  Under the new performance measures, Pepco must reduce the frequency of outages by 9 percent each year, beginning in 2013. It must reduce the length of outages by 3.4 percent annually.

On Friday, Pepco applied for a 5.3 percent rate increase that would cover the costs for the performance standards, cover the cost a typical District residential customer $5 a month and provide the company with an additional $42 million a year.

The provisions do not mandate a penalty if Pepco falls short, but current law allows the commission to fine the company $10,000 per offense for failure to perform reliably. The commission and the D.C. Council have asked Congress to raise the maximum penalty to $100,000. The commission has never used the authority it has to fine Pepco because Pepco had always exceeded weaker reliability standards that have been in place. 

Pepco has about 778,000 residential and commercial customers in Washington and in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Neither the performance standards nor the rate increase would apply to Maryland customers, although regulators there are finalizing tougher regulations, and Pepco is expected to seek a rate hike in Maryland. Maryland legislators passed a bill in April that imposes a $25,000-a-day fine on electric utilities for each violation of reliability standards. The standards are to be enforced by July 2013.

The push for higher reliability standards comes after an investigation by The Washington Post that found Pepco ranked near the bottom nationally among electricity companies in terms of keeping the power on and bringing the lights back once the electricity goes out. The Post found that the average Pepco customer experienced 70 percent more outages than customers of other big-city utilities. And the lights stayed out, on average, more than twice as long.  The newspaper’s study concluded that Pepco’s reliability began faltering five years ago and that company officials failed to stem the decline. Reliability in Maryland was substantially
worse than in the District, where many lines are underground.

After the articles, Pepco executives acknowledged they had failed to provide reliable power and vowed to improve. They said planned upgrades would cost an average residential customer an additional $1 a month. The proposed D.C. rate increase would pay for those improvements, along with maintenance and new equipment. (Wash Post, 7/12/2011)

NY DEC Issues Fracking Proposal

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation posted its 700-plus-page blueprint for hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in the lucrative Marcellus Shale region on its website Friday, allowing industry and environmental groups to start dissecting the proposed plan to allow gas drilling in an area where it’s been on hold since 2008.  The proposal to places large areas off-limits to gas drilling, which industry representatives belive is overly restrictive, while environmentalists believe the proposed watershed protections do not go far enough.

The proposed New York rules include a section describing several gas-drilling operation accidents in Pennsylvania and outlining New York’s measures designed to mitigate such incidents. A coalition of 47 health and environmental groups has called for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, saying it poses unacceptable risks.  The Center New York has established Criteria For Evaluating Hydraulic Fracturing Projects.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed
In the proposal, the watersheds and state lands where gas-drilling would be prohibited amount to about 15 percent of the land in New York’s part of the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir. The formation underlies southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, and parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Western Maryland.

Some believe the proposal to place the watersheds off-limits to drilling doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t include a sufficient buffer around the ancient underground tunnels that carry water to New York City from its upstate reservoirs.

The first wave of Marcellus development in New York would likely run along Interstate 86 from Binghamton through Tioga and Chemung counties, near the Millennium Pipeline.  Lawsuits could occur in areas where there are attempts by municipal governments to use zoning or local ordinances to regulate natural gas activities.  (The Daily Record, 7/11/2011)

Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 International Green Energy Economy Conference

July 28-29, 2011

Washington, DC

The National Council for Science and the Environment invites you to hear speakers from more than a dozen countries:

• Hoesung Lee, Vice Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
• Dan Kammen, University of California, Berkeley; Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, The World Bank
• Peter Lund, Director, New Energy Technologies Group, Aalto University, Finland
• Governor Bill Richardson, former Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of Energy
• Eduardo Pereira Guimaraes, Secretary of International Relations, Curitiba City Government, Brazil
• Johanna Gregory Partin, Director of Climate Protection Initiatives, Mayor's Office, City of San Francisco
• Jong-dall Kim, President, International Solar Cities Initiative, Kyungpook National University, Korea
• David Jhirad, Professor and Director, Energy, Resources, and Environment Program; HRH Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Professor in Environmental Policy, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies
• Mark Levine, Founder and Group Leader, China Energy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
• Johan Eliasch, CEO of Head, former Climate Change Advisor to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
• Allen Barnett, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, University of New South Wales, Australia
• Gary Guzy, Deputy Director, White House Council on Environmental Quality

The conference will focus on the interplay between clean-energy strategies and policies to secure significant technological innovation, workforce development to promulgate green jobs, and sustainability principles to guide economies and societies toward sustainability.

Registration is still available (click HERE to register now). The registration fee of $220 includes a banquet featuring remarks from Governor Richardson, two luncheons, and a reception, along with the full conference program.

The conference is organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) at the University of Delaware, the Council of Energy Research and Education Leaders (CEREL), in collaboration with the Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI).

More information, including the conference agenda and a registration link, is available through the conference website . You can also contact David Blockstein, NCSE/CEREL or 202-207-0004.