Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Solyndra Threat, Smog Rule Battle, Johnson Controls Plant Shut Down

by | Sep 19, 2011

The Solyndra controversy is starting to pose a serious threat to future investments in renewable energy, the Hill reports. Congressional Republicans are planning a huge political fight over the failed, stimulus-funded$535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar company (pictured during an Obama visit in 2010) and the issue could become a major campaign theme. The Energy Department could finalize up to 14 new loan guarantees, nine for solar projects, by the end of the month. The fight bodes ill for federal investments in wind and solar power, said Paula Mints, a solar industry analyst at Navigant Consulting. “Can you imagine the Congress voting on anything generous for the solar industry right now? I don’t think so,” Mints said.

The hubbub over President Obama’s decision to abandon proposed ozone standards distracted attention from another administration move on the same day: a delay to the EPA’s release of a health risk assessment of trichloroethylene (TCE), the New York Times reported. The assessment is more than ten years in the making.

The EPA’s top air-quality official, Gina McCarthy, has clarified the deadline for compliance with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, the new sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide limits on 27 states, My San Antonio reports. McCarthy told a House panel that power plants have until March 2013 to comply, rather than the program’s official start date of early January. She also said the EPA may ease Texas’ emissions limits in response to concerns from state officials and utilities. The Texas Railroad Commission says that as the rule stands now, the state must reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by 47 percent in 2012. Last week Texas utility Luminant said it would cut 500 jobs and close units at one of its coal-powered plants to meet the regulations. But Joseph Dominguez, a senior executive at Exelon, said utilities can adhere to the EPA’s emissions control rules without affecting the reliability of the electric grid, Power Engineering reported. He said that companies that claim they have to shut down large amounts of generating capacity are using estimates made before the EPA released details of the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and the finalized cross-state rule were released.

This week House Republicans will bring legislation to the floor to try and delay the cross-state rule, as well as upcoming mercury standards for power plants, the Hill reports. The bill would also require new interagency analyses of cumulative economic impact from EPA rules.

On Tuesday the Energy and Commerce Committee will begin marking up two measures to delay and weaken EPA air toxics rules for industrial boilers and cement plants.

A group of Republican governors is working to create a national energy policy, FuelFix reports. Wyoming governor Matt Mead said the policy avoid pitting different types of energy against each other, and will balance development with environmental protection. He said about a dozen governors are requesting a meeting with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

Two companies, including Johnson Controls, have been ordered to shut factories in the Shanghai suburbs pending an investigation into the source of lead poisoning among children nearby, the Boston Globe reports. The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau is studying lead emissions from the two factories. The Pudong district government said it believed Johnson Controls’ large lead-acid battery plant was the main source of lead emissions in the area. The company said it is cooperating with authorities but has no reason to believe its facility is causing the contamination.

A state appeals court has ruled that an insurance company, Steadfast Insurance, does not have a duty to defend utility AES in a major climate change case,  Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., which is currently before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the New York Times reports.

The board of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is considering a staff recommendation of $940,000 in fines against West Hawk Energy, which went bankrupt in 2008, for essentially abandoning eight gas wells, the Colorado Independent reports. But state officials don’t expect to see a cent of that.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is continuing to attack Rick Perry’s climate skepticism. “Suffice it to say if you’re going to run from climate science, if you’re going to run from other mainstream scientific principles, evolution among them, I think you’re suggesting to a whole lot of people out there that you’re out of the mainstream … Rick [Perry] has been outspoken in that regard. I think on science he’s out of the mainstream,” Huntsman said on Bloomberg TV (reported by the Hill).

A letter from 59 scientists, including four from the National Academy of Sciences, warned New York governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday that it will be nearly impossible for municipal drinking water systems to protect against chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, the Times Union reported. Signatories hailed from 18 states and seven foreign countries, and included scientists from Cornell University, the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the State University at Stony Brook.

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