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The Associated Press, February 10, 2009

EPA reconsiders Bush rule on air pollution permits
By Dina Cappiello

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is delaying a rule issued in the final days of President George W. Bush's presidency that would have let some industrial facilities avoid having to install pollution controls when they expand.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that the rule would be delayed 90 days so it could be re-evaluated.

Environmentalists had complained that the rule would have let power plants, factories and other industrial facilities increase emissions that cause soot and smog.

Industry groups said the rule would have enabled facilities to upgrade power plants without worrying about violating anti-pollution laws.

Existing facilities typically must apply for a permit when modifications will emit an additional 40 tons a year of a major pollutant.

The regulation the Bush administration adopted on Jan. 15 would have changed how facilities calculate how much pollution would result from their upgrades.

The delay, which pushes back the rule until May, is another sign that President Barack Obama is diverging from the ways of the Bush administration on air pollution.

Last week, the Justice Department announced it would no longer fight to uphold a Bush administration plan — favored by industry — for controlling mercury emissions from power plants.

Courts had found that the Bush plan violated the Clean Air Act. Obama's EPA has begun crafting a new regulation to limit mercury emissions from power plants.

The San Francisco Examiner, February 9, 2009

Obama: retool economy to aid environment, alternative energy
By Jeff McMahon, Environmental News Examiner

In appearances Monday at an Indiana high school and at the White House, President Barack Obama said his top priority for economic stimulus is job creation, but he called for "retooling" the American economy to take advantage of environmentally friendly alternative energy sources.

"This should be an opportunity for us to retool," he told the crowd gathered in the Concord High School auditorium in Elkhart Indiana. Obama picked Elkhart, the city with the highest unemployment rate in the United States, for the first of a series of appearances designed to muster support for the $800 billion economic stimulus package that awaits approval in Congress. An audience member asked him whether the stimulus bill includes money for green jobs and environmental improvements.

"Under this plan, we would double the production of alternative energy—double it from where it is right now," he said. "There is money allocated in this plan to develop the new battery technologies that will allow not just cars but potentially RVs as well to move into the next generation of plug-in hybrids. We also have put in money that provides for the weatherization of millions of homes across the country."

Monday night in the White House Briefing Room, Obama told members of the press corps that his first priority is jobs, and that job creation should be the first metric by which the success of his efforts is measured.

"The single most important part of this Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs," he said. "Because that is what America needs most right now."

But the environment, health care, and education were not far behind in his remarks:

"More than 90 percent of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector. These will not be make-work jobs, but jobs doing the work that America desperately needs done. Jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and repairing our dangerously deficient dams and levees so that we don’t face another Katrina. They will be jobs building the wind turbines and solar panels and fuel-efficient cars that will lower our dependence on foreign oil, and modernizing a costly health care system that will save us billions of dollars and countless lives. They’ll be jobs creating 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America. And they’ll be the jobs of firefighters, teachers, and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief."

The Senate is expected to vote on the stimulus package Tuesday, pending approval of a compromise amendment by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). According to Kate Sheppard of Grist magazine, "The Nelson-Collins amendment would chop out some of the money for green spending. The finalized version, according to an analysis provided by sources working closely with the stimulus on Capitol Hill, would reduce the money for green projects by $6.5 billion."

Sheppard reports that the cuts include:

• $1 billion less in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy transmission;

• $3.5 billion less for "green" buildings;

• $1.25 billion less for energy efficiency retrofits of public housing;

• $300 million less for federal government acquisition of more efficient vehicles.

The San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 2009

White House puts coastal drilling plans on hold
By Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau

President Obama is shelving a plan announced in the final days of the Bush presidency to open much of the U.S. coast to oil and gas drilling, including 130 million acres off California's shores from Mendocino to San Diego.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put the plan on hold Tuesday while his agency conducts a 180-day review. But Salazar's critical comments about the proposal made clear that the new administration will rewrite it if not completely scrap it.

"It opened the possibility of oil and gas leases along the entire Eastern seaboard, portions of offshore California and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico with almost no consultation from states, industry or community input," Salazar said at a news conference in Washington. "In my view, it was a headlong rush of the worst kind."

He said his agency will hold four public meetings over the next few months - one in Alaska, one on the West Coast, one on the East Coast and one near the Gulf Coast - to hear from governors, local officials, industry groups and environmentalists about the plan.

Salazar steered clear of the bigger question: Whether Obama will seek to renew the 3-decade-old presidential moratorium on drilling off most of the East and West coasts, which Bush lifted in July amid soaring gas prices.

He echoed comments made by Obama last year that the administration would be open to more offshore drilling but only as part of a broader policy focused on producing more renewable energy from wind, solar and geothermal power.

Seat at the table

"For those of you from the oil and gas industry ... I pledge to you that you will have a seat at the table," Salazar said. "We need your expertise and your resources as we move forward. But as President Obama has said and as I believe ... a drill-only energy approach, onshore and offshore, is not enough."

Salazar also ordered his agency to finalize rules to speed the development of offshore renewable energy, such as offshore wind turbines, tidal and wave energy and other emerging technologies, which he said the Bush administration had delayed.

Bush had sought to seize on a lapse in the congressional drilling ban last year to craft a new five-year oil-lease sale program, which it announced Jan. 16, the last business day of the Bush presidency. The outgoing Republican administration was daring the new president to reject the plan.

The Bush rules would have opened most of the U.S. coastline to exploration, from the Gulf of Maine to the Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as areas of Alaska's Bristol Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

Effect on California

In California, the plan would have allowed drilling on 44 million acres of federal waters off Humboldt and Mendocino counties, and 89 million acres off San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. One of the leases would have required special drilling equipment to reach oil beneath the Santa Barbara Ecological Preserve.

California officials praised the Obama administration for slowing down the process.

"I'm pleased the department will base its future leasing decisions on the strongest, most objective science available instead of campaign slogans, especially in areas that have previously been off-limits to drilling for decades," said Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, an opponent of drilling.

Oil industry setback

Oil industry officials were disappointed by Salazar's announcement, saying it was a major setback to efforts to tap what the Interior Department's Minerals Management Services estimates is 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that remain off limits.

Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America said, "This unnecessary delay will hold America back, at the precise moment when we need to move forward the most."

Environmental groups applauded the decision, but they plan to keep pressuring Salazar, fearing that the Interior Department could still allow drilling in sensitive areas, especially Bristol Bay, a key fishery.

"We hope the secretary will apply the same principles of acting in the public interest to other offshore decisions, including those that are so critical to Alaskan communities in Bristol Bay and the offshore areas of the Arctic region," said William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton