Policy & Enforcement Briefing: House DOE Cuts, Ozone Fallout, China Air Standards

by | Sep 23, 2011

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A day after Democrats and group of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives scuttled a spending bill, the chamber won enough conservative votes and passed a measure with an added $100 million in cuts to an Energy Department loan guarantee program that has been assailed by Republicans, The Associated Press reported.  The program, which was funded with $2.4 billion in a 2009 energy law, boosts financing for renewable energy projects like solar, wind and biofuels, but has come under scrutiny since the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a company receiving a $500 million loan guarantee from the department.  The cut to the program would offset money spend on the usually non-controversial process of providing disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Irene and this summer’s tornadoes in the Midwest. However, the Senate did not include similar cuts to energy programs in its stopgap spending bill, and the prospect of a government shutdown looms before the government’s disaster funding account can be replenished.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the House plan with the energy cuts “is not an honest effort at compromise” and “will be rejected by the Senate.”

The EPA administrator on Thursday told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the agency will enforce the ground-level ozone standard of 75 ppb that was enacted under George W. Bush, now that President Obama has ordered the agency to suspend a two-year effort to strengthen the rule, The New York Times reportedLisa Jackson also disclosed to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that she would have recommended a new standard of 70 ppb, the upper end of 60 to 70 ppb range recommended by a panel of scientists.

In the House of Representatives on Thursday, members approved a rule opening debate on a bill that would require more rigorous analysis of EPA regulations and delay two final EPA rules on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution, The Hill reported.  Every Republican supported the rule, as did nine Democrats. As that bill, known as the “TRAIN Act,” is rolled out, the GOP leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is in hot water for inaccurately claiming on Thursday that a number of environmental groups support those efforts to curb the EPA’s power plant regulations.  On Thursday evening, Republican committee staff circulated a list of more than 100 groups that “have sent letters to Congress supporting passage” of the bill, but all of those groups, including the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, Clean Air Watch, and Clean Water Action, protested, saying they are strongly opposed.

China said on Thursday that it will tighten several national emission standards for thermal power plants in an effort to curb growing air pollution in the country, according to Reuters.  The Ministry of Environmental Protection said on its website that emissions allowances for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and soot for thermal power plants would be reduced, while standards for mercury discharges from coal plants and emissions from gas-fired boilers would be established for the first time.  The new standards will become effective January 1, 2012, and may require power companies to invest as much as 260 billion yuan ($40.74 billion) in new technologies.

As hearings continue in Congress over the Energy Department’s $500 million loan guarantee to the failed solar company, Solyndra, renewable energy investors defended the renewable energy loan program at the center of the controversy, Reuters reported.  Partners at top private equity firms that have participated in the program, like Hudson Clean Energy Partners, described the review process as “robust” and even more in-depth than the private sector’s due diligence requirements.  The Energy Department has until September 30 to finalize $8.9 billion in loan guarantees for 14 pending renewable energy projects.

First Solar, a large solar panel manufacturer based in Tempe, Ariz., said Thursday that it could not accept the Energy Department’s partial loan guarantee of $1.93 billion for a massive California solar farm and loans for two other projects, because it could not meet the statutory deadline of Sept. 30 to complete the review process, The New York Times reported.  The company said it was in “advanced talks” on the “sale and financing” of the California project, called Topaz.

The Clinton Global Initiative has announced a project to team with developers, investment firms and others to retrofit commercial buildings to make them more energy-efficient, The New York Times reported.  A similar initiative was announced this week by billionaire Richard Branson.

The EPA and Department of Defense announced an agreement on Thursday to remediate 13 contaminated sites Joint Base Andrews (formerly known as Andrews Air Force Base) in Clinton, Md.  The agreement also paves the way for the EPA and the Air Force to investigate new contamination at munitions sites.  The base was listed on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1999.

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