The Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to enforcement, criticism of the agency’s power plant rule, President Barack Obama’s nominees and drought caused by climate change made up the top stories in Energy and Climate Report for the week ending Feb. 13. 

1. Justice Official Embraces EPA Approach on Largest Polluters, Next Gen Strategy

The Justice Department docket of cases and settlements has changed significantly over the past several years, in large part because of new approaches to enforcement by the EPA, according to Bruce Gelber, a deputy assistant attorney general for the department, whose remarks are covered in this story.

The EPA's decision to focus on the largest sources of pollution has led to more cases that involve violations by multiple facilities of several environmental statutes rather than cases involving individual facilities with single-law violations.

The EPA approach to examining a company's violations holistically also has allowed the Justice Department to seek the most cost-effective pollution-reduction solutions through talks with the company before it spends a significant amount of time on a case, Gelber said.

2. Coal State Senators Slam McCabe Comment on EPA Listening Tour for Power Plant Rule

As covered in this story, senators from states heavily reliant on coal are denouncing comments from the EPA’s top air official, who said the agency made the decision on where to hold its listening sessions for its carbon pollution rules for power plants based on “where people were comfortable coming.”

Janet McCabe, EPA acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, made those comments after Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) asked why the agency hadn't included coal states among its 11 past listening sessions on its new source performance standards for existing power plants during a Feb. 11 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

An EPA spokeswoman, Liz Purchia, said the agency had to pick “federal facilities that fit within our budget and could accommodate the amount of people in the timelines we were working with” on the listening sessions and touted “unprecedented” outreach on the rules.

3. States Using Compliance Strategies Similar to EPA Next Generation Approach

As detailed in this story, the EPA’s new federal Next Generation Compliance strategy includes approaches that individual states have been using for years to help regulated entities comply with environmental laws.

In Colorado and New Hampshire, for example, state environmental agencies have increased compliance with hazardous waste disposal requirements by establishing self-certification programs for small facilities to check off their requirements.

States have primary responsibility for implementing environmental rules and ensuring compliance, which is why the EPA now is working to introduce Next Gen into even more state programs, including sending advanced monitoring equipment to 11 state and local environmental departments.

4. Obama Renominates Two for Senior EPA Positions

As covered in this brief, President Barack Obama renominated Ann Elizabeth Dunkin and Jane Toshiko Nishida to assistant administrator positions at the EPA.

Dunkin was nominated to be assistant administrator for environmental information, while Nishida was nominated for the position of assistant administrator for international and tribal affairs. Both had their nominations advanced by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in August 2014, but the full chamber never considered them.

Nishida currently serves as principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Dunkin currently serves as a senior adviser to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy after previously working as chief technology officer for the Palo Alto Unified School District.

5. Worst Megadrought in 1,000 Years Likely Due to Global Warming, Researchers Say

The U.S. is facing its worst drought in 1,000 years, “driven primarily” by climate change associated with human activity, according to an article—as covered in this story—published in the journal Science Advances.

By the end of this century, researchers are predicting years-long dry spells exacerbated by higher temperatures, creating conditions worse than so-called megadroughts that have been linked to the decline of American Indian cultures in the U.S. Southwest, the researchers said.

The conclusion is further evidence that human activity is having profound, harmful and long-lasting impacts on the planet and will continue to threaten the environment even if carbon emissions are significantly curtailed, the article added.

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