GAO highlights issues with EPA science board policies

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GAO highlights issues with EPA science board policies

As Republicans press legislation that would overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of scientific advisory panels for crafting regulations, a government auditor is highlighting problems with the agency’s guidelines for responding to congressional requests for advice from the boards.

The Government Accountability Office said Wednesday the guidelines “lack clarity,” and that one of the boards isn’t being asked for advice on  the adverse effects of regulations.

Alfredo Gomez, GAO Natural Resources and Environment team director, told a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee panel that a preliminary investigation of the Scientific Advisory Board, or SAB, and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC, revealed some potential issues with how the boards are currently operated.

Ga. port officials promise to protect ancient oaks

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Across from a paved lot where the Port of Savannah stacks empty cargo containers stands a living link to the time before Georgia’s first settlers arrived — an ancient live oak tree more than 7 ½ feet in diameter with massive branches extending up to 70 feet from its trunk.

Feds to resume leasing for fracking in California

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will resume issuing oil and gas leases next year for federal lands in California after a new study found limited environmental impacts from fracking and other enhanced drilling techniques, the agency said Thursday.

The move will end a halt that has stood since a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the federal agency failed to follow environmental law in allowing an oil extraction method known as fracking on public land in Monterey County.

Farms are focus of studies on drinking water toxin

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Scientists and farmers agree that phosphorus from agriculture runoff is feeding the blue-green algae blooms on Lake Erie linked to a toxin found in the drinking water of 400,000 people in Ohio and southeastern Michigan last week.

Ohio’s political leaders are calling for more studies to find out why the blooms are increasing and how to control them. A number of environmental groups say it’s time for strict regulations on the agriculture industry.

EPA suggests triggers for warning of algae in drinking water

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing guidelines to help state and local officials detect dangerous levels of algal toxins in drinking water.

EPA officials Wednesday released suggested thresholds that should prompt actions such as issuing do-not-drink warnings or taking steps to quickly reduce levels of two types of algal toxins. One set of trigger points was recommended for young children and another for the rest of the population.

EPA proposes cuts to Renewable Fuel Standard

The Obama administration on Friday moved to cut back the national biofuels mandate, a step that was welcomed by gasoline refiners and food groups but strongly criticized by the biofuels and farm lobby.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a 2014 target of about 15.2 billion gallons of biofuels blended into motor fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard. That level, if adopted, would represent a cut of more than 1.3 billion gallons compared to 2013, or about an 8 percent reduction.

EPA: 90 miles of streams wiped out by Bristol Bay mining

The Environmental Protection Agency declared Friday that potential copper mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska could eliminate as many as 90 miles of streams and up to 22 miles of streams used by salmon and trout for spawning.

The draft was quickly condemned by Pebble Mine project owners Pebble Limited Partnership, a joint venture of Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. of Vancouver.

Emerging solar plants scorch birds in mid-air

IVANPAH DRY LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

Obama’s energy team challenges fossil fuels to embrace climate agenda

Obama administration officials used the annual clean energy summit in Las Vegas to deliver a clear message: they’re speeding ahead with renewable energy projects but are willing to help the fossil fuels industries if they get behind the president’s climate agenda.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and departing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Jon Wellinghoff on Tuesday challenged the oil, gas and coal industries to seize on new technologies to earn their spot in the future low-carbon economy Obama envisions.

Natural gas roundtables to bring out diverse voices

The lineup of witnesses at the three natural gas roundtable forums starting next week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee includes numerous industry, government and environmental group representatives.

The witnesses for the forums were announced Thursday by Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and ranking Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The first forum is scheduled next Tuesday and is to focus on infrastructure, transportation, research and innovation.

Jewell: Interior fracking regs out soon

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Monday she plans to soon issue the department’s regulations governing natural gas hydraulic fracturing on public lands, ones she said will reflect differences in geology and proximity to groundwater.

“One thing that’s clear to me is that one size doesn’t fit all,” Jewell said during an online Earth Day web chat, her first since taking the post on April 12. “If you’re fracking in a formation that is well away from groundwater, thousands of feet away, as long as you have good well bore integrity, the risks should be low.”

Japan to restart 1st reactor under new rules since crisis

TOKYO (AP) — A power plant operator said it will restart a reactor in southern Japan on Tuesday, the first restart under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster and a milestone for the nation’s return to nuclear power.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Monday that it will restart the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear plant Tuesday morning.

Guest Opinion: NAM’s Timmons wants next president to approve Keystone, rein in EPA

Gas prices hover around $4 a gallon in many parts of the nation. With just more than a month to go before Americans head to the polls, energy policy is taking on increased importance.

The campaigns seem to have caught on. Gov. Mitt Romney, who so far has shied away from policy specifics, broke from that trend and released a comprehensive document outlining his energy vision—a plan largely in concert with manufacturers’ priorities. President Barack Obama touted his achievements during his nomination acceptance speech, citing the growth of renewables and decline of oil sourced from abroad.

Energy is the ultimate pocketbook issue, so its prominence on the campaign trail is no surprise. And, just as the public is attuned to the cost of energy, so too are manufacturers. After all, manufacturers use one-third of the energy consumed in the United States, so energy prices have a major impact on our bottom lines and ultimately the prices consumers pay for the goods we produce.

Yet, despite the overwhelming importance of secure and reliable energy to voters and our economy, the United States lacks a clear energy strategy. Republicans and Democrats have set forth bold visions—think energy independence—over the years, but have not achieved their ambitions. Who sets energy policy in the United States? Depending on whom you ask, you’ll probably get a different answer.

When the chief justice swears in our next president on Jan. 20, manufacturers want a leader who will commit to an energy strategy that puts economic growth and job creation over political agendas. President Obama and Gov. Romney have both committed to an energy future that meets the needs of a growing economy, though they would get there through different approaches.

Here are three guideposts for the next president to follow to get our economy—and manufacturing—back on track:

1. No More Missed Opportunities

American energy policy of late has been a catalog of missed opportunities, one of the biggest being the failure to grant approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline is a sure job creator and will provide the United States with secure energy supplies from Canada’s oil sands. There’s simply no excuse to continue the delay. In addition to accessing these oil supplies from Canada, the United States must also explore and develop its own oil resources, such as those on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The United States has also missed opportunities to expand its energy portfolio as a result of misplaced priorities. Instead of seeking ways to expand the nation’s energy portfolio, the current administration has frequently targeted the oil and gas sectors with tax increases, even though the economy relies and will continue to rely on these energy sources. Tax increases would cost jobs, increase consumer costs and make achieving North American energy independence an even steeper challenge. Policymakers can’t let their preference for specific energy sources crowd out valuable initiatives in other areas.

2. Energy Policy by Legislation, Not Regulation

When Congress is gridlocked, the natural tendency is for the regulators to fill the void, and that is exactly what has happened over the past few years. During this administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken an increasingly aggressive regulatory approach and has at times found itself at odds with Congress and the courts. The next president must rein in the agencies by working with Congress to craft legislative solutions to our energy challenges. This includes not only making specific regulations less burdensome but also exploring real reforms to the regulatory process.

3. “All of the Above” Means “All of the Above”

Both President Obama and Gov. Romney have declared their support for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, but their visions contrast. A true “all-of-the-above” policy embraces all energy forms—that means oil, coal, nuclear and natural gas. It also includes alternatives and renewables like wind and solar. It also means a strong commitment to energy efficiency.

Manufacturers want a president, Republican or Democrat, who will demonstrate leadership on energy policy by utilizing this country’s incredible resource wealth to improve our competitiveness.

Of course, as President Obama knows and Gov. Romney may find out, advancing one’s policy priorities is no easy task. Whoever wins the White House must use his bully pulpit to promote policies that encourage energy development and production, putting the advancement of competitive, pro-growth and pro-jobs policies before the appeasement of narrow special interest political constituencies.

Jay Timmons is President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the nation’s largest manufacturing association.

Coal stockpiles offset growing electricity demand, higher gas prices

Electricity generators used more coal in the first half of 2013 compared to last the same period last year, but large stockpiles prevented price increases, the Energy Department said Friday.

Higher natural gas prices and greater electricity demand drove up coal consumption 13 percent during the first four months compared to a year earlier, the Energy Information Administration said, with that trend expected to extend through June. Weekly coal spot prices remained mostly flat, however, as utilities chose to use up existing inventories.

Analysis: Wyden’s natural gas plan faces partisan roadblocks

Sen. Ron Wyden is making the most of his chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to promote a federal push into natural gas fracturing disclosure.

Yet the question remains: who wants his “above ground” policy?

Right now, it is hard to see any appetite among lawmakers or the White House, for even a modest national fracturing disclosure bill. Unless that changes, Wyden’s proposal could fall by the wayside with other energy proposals that have gone nowhere in the Senate.

Whitehouse, Schatz make conservative appeal for carbon tax

A pair of Senate Democrats took to a right-leaning think tank Wednesday to unveil a new attempt to implement a national tax on greenhouse gas emissions, trying to make the typically liberal proposal to appeal to conservative sensibilities by coupling it with other tax cuts and credits.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, appeared at the American Enterprise Institute to unveil their bill that would implement a $45 per metric ton fee on greenhouse gas emissions, which would rise by 2 percent annually.

US trade deficit jumps 17.1 percent to $46.6 billion

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit in December jumped to the highest level in more than two years as exports fell and Americans bought a record amount of imports — a potentially worrisome development that could weigh on overall economic growth.

The deficit jumped 17.1 percent to $46.6 billion in December, resulting in the biggest imbalance since November 2012, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The widening trade gap reflected a drop in exports, which retreated 0.8 percent to $194.9 billion. Meanwhile, imports soared 2.2 percent to $241.4 billion.

UN climate report offers stark warnings, hope

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.’s panel on climate science said Sunday.

The fourth and final volume of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s giant climate assessment offered no surprises, nor was it expected to since it combined the findings of three reports released in the past 13 months.

UN climate chief tempers expectations on Paris deal

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Tempering expectations on a global climate deal in Paris this year, the U.N.’s top climate diplomat on Thursday warned against assuming the pact will suffice to prevent dangerous levels of warming.

As negotiators prepare for a new round of talks in Geneva next week, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said the role of the deal is not to fix the problem, but to chart the course for countermeasures that can be scaled up over time.

Ukraine’s EU neighbors see US gas as Russian hedge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four Central European nations are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the risk that Russia could cut its supply of gas to Ukraine, but the White House says such a move would take more than a year.

Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic made their appeal Friday in a letter to John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. A similar letter was expected to be sent to Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate.

The letter from the four nations, known as the Visegrad Group, asks for Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports. It notes that the “presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe.”