Ukraine’s EU neighbors see US gas as Russian hedge

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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.”

Sherwood-Randall, Baran, Burns advance in Senate

President Barack Obama’s nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Energy Department easily advanced through a Senate committee on Thursday, but Republicans lined up in another panel against his two picks to join the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the nomination of Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall for deputy secretary to the Senate floor by voice vote, with no stated opposition, setting her up for a confirmation vote as soon as next week. She would replace Dan Poneman, who is stepping down.

Most Republicans, however, voted against NRC nominees Jeffery M. Baran and Stephen G. Burns, in a vote held by the Environment and Public Works Committee off the Senate floor.

Senate races hot on accusations, light on ideas

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Senate races have featured astronomical spending, ceaseless attack ads and innumerable slaps at a president who’s not on the ballot. Largely missing, however, are ideas on how best to govern the nation.

Even with control of the Senate at stake, serious discussions about deficit spending, climate change, immigration, Social Security’s long-term future and other knotty issues rarely emerged.

Republican gains could aid Obama’s Asia trade pact

WASHINGTON (AP) — Big Republican gains on Election Day would be a blow to much of President Barack Obama’s agenda, but one stymied item on his to-do list might get a fresh chance to move forward: trade. That could breathe life into Asia-Pacific trade talks essential to his efforts to deepen engagement in the region.

Obama needs special authority, known as fast track, to negotiate trade deals that Congress can accept or reject, but cannot change. It would smooth the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is under discussion with 11 nations, and help advance separate negotiations with the 28-member European Union.

Regulators: Design flaws led to DuPont plant deadly gas leak

HOUSTON (AP) — A poisonous gas leak that killed four workers at a Houston-area chemical plant in November can be traced to the design of a network of pipes and valves inside the facility, federal investigators said Thursday.

The DuPont chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, had a faulty ventilation system that exposed workers to a highly toxic and flammable chemical typically used in insecticides, officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said.

Record $100M fine for Hyundai, Kia to settle EPA mileage case

The Obama administration and automakers Hyundai and Kia announced on Monday they’ve agreed to a record-setting $100 million fine that will end a federal investigation into allegations of inflated mileage claims, the largest ever under the Clean Air Act.

The settlement stems from findings two years ago by EPA that Hyundai and Kia, with three other companies in the Hyundai Motor Co. of South Korea, reported inaccurate mileage testing results for 1.2 million 2012 and 2013 model year cars and sport utility vehicles.

Crude ban repeal arguments ‘over-ventilated,’ Moniz says

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday threw more cold water on oil industry hopes that the Obama administration will quickly loosen the ban on crude oil exports.

Speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum conference, Moniz downplayed the impact of the industry campaign for a repeal and reiterated that the U.S. still imports more than 7 million barrels a day of oil.

Newsmaker: Benson says EPA won’t impose toughest regs on coal ash

The head of the nation’s largest recycler of coal fly ash says the Obama administration has informed him that it will complete new regulations that will continue to treat the power plant waste as a non-hazardous substance.

Such a decision, expected to be unveiled in court as early as next week, would mark a victory for recyclers and utilities and a setback for environmentalists who have pressed to regulate coal ash more stringently as a hazardous waste.

Kirk A. Benson, chief executive of Utah-based Headwaters, Inc., told EnergyGuardian that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department plan to comply next week with a federal judge’s order to set a date to finalize new ash disposal regulations under Section D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which covers non-hazardous wastes.

LNG export bill faces wait in Senate

The talks between a Republican senator and the Obama administration to set deadlines for Energy Department decisions on natural gas exports isn’t leading to fast action on Capitol Hill.

Bipartisan-backed legislation by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reflecting discussions between Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. and Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, would set a 45-day deadline for the department to rule on export applications following final project environmental reviews.

Lawmakers applaud money in Obama budget for quake warning system

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s recommendation to spend $5 million next year on an early earthquake warning system for the West Coast represents a significant breakthrough, congressional supporters of the project said Wednesday.

It’s the first time Obama has included funding for the project in his annual budget recommendation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressman Adam Schiff, both Democrats, say the change shows the president recognizes the importance of moving ahead with the project more quickly.

Hyundai, Kia to pay $100M to settle mileage case

Hyundai and Kia have agreed to pay a record $100 million civil fine under the Clean Air Act to settle allegations that it overstated the mileage of certain 2012 and 2013 model year vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.

The companies, part of the South Korea-based Hyundai Motor Group, will also spend $50 million to correct their certification process and forfeit more than $200 million worth of greenhouse gas credits, the agency said in a joint statement with the Justice Department.

EPA said the claimed mileage for some 1.2 million vehicles was overstated from one to six miles per gallon, based on tests it conducted in 2012. The companies revised their mileage estimates downward for 2011-2013 model year cars and sport utility vehicles, and reimbursed owners for their additional fuel costs.

The companies did not admit liability in the settlement and maintained that they complied with the law.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and review by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Greens cheer EPA settlement to phase out coal at most Alliant Iowa plants

The federal government and a Midwest utility on Wednesday announced a Clean Air Act settlement that would phase out coal use at five plants in Iowa and prevent the restart of a sixth, a development that environmentalists celebrated as marking the 200th coal plant closure nationwide since 2010.

The proposed settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and Interstate Power and Light, an Alliant Energy subsidiary, would have the company install pollution controls at its two remaining Iowa coal-fired plants, pay a $1.1 million penalty, and invest $6 million in environmental mitigation projects.

Florida pushes forward with plan to open bear hunting season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is pushing forward on allowing limited black bear hunting for the first time in decades as part of an aggressive plan to manage the animals after four attacks in the past year.

On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said its staff is putting together a hunting plan that it will review in April. Hunting could resume as soon as this fall.

Figueres says U.S. taking steps toward Paris climate deal

The head of the United Nations climate group on Sunday praised the Obama administration’s plan to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in advance of talks next year that are to yield a new post-2020 international climate change accord.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned regulations on carbon emissions from existing power plants as a positive step.

“They’re actually doing quite well,” she said of the administration on the weekly Platts Energy Week television program. Noting the power plant limits, she added, “the U.S. is doing a very good job in preparing what all of the other countries are currently preparing,” in terms of national commitments toward a new deal.

Exxon subsidiary XTO settles dumping case in W. Va.

Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy has settled federal allegations that it illegally dumped fill dirt and other materials at natural gas well sites into wetlands and streams in West Virginia, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.

The Ft. Worth, Texas-based company will pay a $2.3 million civil penalty and spend $3 million to clean up eight sites in three counties where it dumped the fill without a Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. EPA said the penalty is one of the largest levied to date for unauthorized dumping of fill or dredged materials under the law.

Ethanol from derailed train leaking into Mississippi River

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Railroad officials said Thursday it’s unclear how much ethanol has leaked into the Mississippi River from a train that derailed a day earlier in eastern Iowa, but that they were working to monitor the environmental impact and offload fuel from the train

The cars went off the tracks Wednesday morning in a remote area about 10 miles north of Dubuque. Canadian Pacific said 14 derailed cars were carrying ethanol, and eight of them appeared to be leaking.

DOE IG scores FERC over grid vulnerability briefings

The Energy Department’s internal watchdog on Wednesday faulted the nation’s energy regulator for failing to consider the impact of sensitive grid vulnerability analyses on national security before giving briefings to federal agencies and industry.

Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman’s report, dated Jan. 30, stems from news accounts early last year that revealed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff and the chairman in 2013 shared the unclassified analysis and scenarios, which indicated that the sabotage of a group of critical electricity substations could cause widespread blackouts.

California authorizes oilfield dumping into drinking water

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Regulators in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have authorized oil companies to inject production fluids and waste into what are now federally protected aquifers more than 2,500 times, risking contamination of underground water supplies that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, state records show.

While some of the permits go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells — 46 percent — were permitted or began injection in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process. And it happened despite warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 that state regulators were failing to do enough to shield groundwater reserves from the threat of oilfield pollution.

Brisbane airport bans climate ad ahead of G20

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A bid by environmentalists to confront world leaders with a digital billboard highlighting climate change has been thwarted by Brisbane airport authorities who deemed the message too political.

Brisbane Airport will be the Australian gateway for leaders of 20 economies when they gather in the Queensland state capital next week for the annual G20 summit.

Brazil scientists fear golden mussel threat to Amazon River

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s mightiest waterway, the Amazon River, is threatened by the most diminutive of foes — a tiny mussel invading from China.

Since hitching its way to South America in the early 1990s, the golden mussel has claimed new territory at alarming speeds, plowing through indigenous flora and fauna as it has spread to waters in five countries. Now, scientists fear the invasive species could make a jump into the Amazon, threatening one of the world’s unique ecological systems.