Policy & Enforcement Briefing: Keystone XL Conflict, Wisconsin Wind Rules, Coal Ash Pushback

by | Oct 10, 2011

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The State Department allowed a company with close financial ties to TransCanada to perform a crucial environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, The New York Times reported.  After soliciting bids, TransCanada recommended that the department hire Cardno Entrix, a Texas-based environmental contractor that describes the company as a “major client” in its promotional materials, to examine the impacts of the 1,700 mile pipeline that would transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In other news surrounding the pipeline, the European Commission has voted in favor of an initial approval of a finding that bitumen, the “tar” substance in Alberta’s oil sands, emits more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil, The Financial Times reported.  Canada says the move unjustly discriminates against the country’s oil.

The American Wind Energy Association pushed back against influential Rep. Cliff Stearn’s (R-Fla.) comment that the U.S. “can’t compete” with China to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines, saying the lawmaker “misunderstands” the industry, The Hill reported.  The association said domestic production of wind energy components is on the rise, and has been a bright spot in the recession.

Officials in Wisconsin are entering the second year without resolution over new siting rules for wind farms, The Associated Press reported.  The state’s Public Service Commission said it is not close to a deal with Gov. Scott Walker and legislators who rejected proposed rules on noise and setbacks from neighboring properties.  Upon taking office, the governor demanded that the rules increase setbacks from the nearest property line from roughly 450 feet to about 1,800 feet.

In the latest House of Representatives effort to slash the EPA’s authority, the chamber is scheduled to vote this week to override proposed rules that would regulate coal ash for the first time, The Hill reported.  The bill would allow states to adopt coal ash permit programs or elect to have the EPA to enforce its own program.

German nuclear power operator RWE said that a Munich court has backed the utility’s argument in a legal challenge to the country’s tax on nuclear fuel rods, Reuters reported.  As part of Germany’s abrupt policy to end nuclear use, the country imposed the roughly 1.3 billion euro annual tax on nuclear companies like RWE, E.ON, EnBW and Vattenfall.

New questions have arisen in the unfolding investigation into the Energy Department’s $535 loan guarantee to failed solar firm SolyndraReuters reports that emails show that a department appointee frequently urged White House analysts to approve the loan even though his wife worked for Solyndra’s law firm. Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives have released e-mails showing that the Obama administration may have considered extending a second $469 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, The New York Times reported.

The EPA announced that the Ryland Group Inc., a large national home builder, has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $625,000 to settle alleged Clean Water Act violations at its construction sites, including sites located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  The EPA also said the company agreed to implement new stormwater controls.

A supporter of a successful campaign to require Missouri utilities to use more renewable energy said he will file a new 2012 ballot measure, The Associated Press reported.  In 2008, voters approved a measure requiring utilities use renewable energy for 15 percent of electricity by 2021.  The new initiative would increase that to 25 percent by 2026.

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