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Obama’s second term could see tightening of regulations for energy, environment

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The re-election of President Barack Obama could have significant impacts on energy and environment regulations.

Experts discussed the potential effects at “Energy and the Environment: Likely Winners and Losers in the Second Obama Administration,” a Dec. 14 event hosted by the Association for Capital Growth at Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown.

Norman Bernstein, a member of law firm N.W. Bernstein and Associates L.L.C. in Rye Brook, said the Obama administration postponed environmental regulatory actions, such as tightening the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), until after the election.

The NAAQS regulations may be expensive, with projected costs of $19 billion. In July 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed an 8-hour primary ozone standard at .07 parts per million as well a seasonal standard to protect vegetation and ecosystems. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set NAAQS for ozone and other pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment, and requires the EPA to periodically review the standards and update them as necessary.

“The Clean Air Act has been construed by the courts to require establishing NAQQS based only on health considerations, without regard to cost or feasibility,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said he expects the regulations to be adopted by the end of 2014.

New regulations under the Clean Water Act limiting how many fish can be killed might also be put in place during Obama’s second term. The regulation will affect 1,260 existing facilities, including the paper, chemicals and steel industries. Facilities that withdraw at least 125 million gallons of water per day would be required to conduct studies on controls required to reduce aquatic organisms sucked into cooling water systems.

Bernstein estimates the rule would cost $181 million for manufacturers. Violating the Clean Water Act could cost $37,500 per day.

Thomas Fogarty, an energy restructuring and investment consultant, said while big companies have been here before, this could have a negative impact on smaller companies trying to comply. Many smaller companies are being bought out and shut down.

Hydrofracking has become another hot-button issue, particularly in New York state, where natural gas companies are anxious to drill the Marcellus Shale formation despite public opposition.

The EPA’s Office of Research and Development is conducting a study on hydrofracking and its potential impacts, with a final draft for public comment and peer review expected in 2014.

In October 2012, an EPA law went into effect regulating air pollution from hydrofracking operations. The panelists said that debating hydofracking is often difficult due to the emotion involved.

“It completely dominates the discussion,” said Andrew Revkin, a former New York Times environmental reporter. “I was almost booed off the stage at Cornell. People like Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono don’t want their Catskills views ruined by trucks. How do you sustain energy independence? When it is in abundance.”

Other panelists defended fracking and said it would benefit an impoverished area like upstate New York, noting how well central Pennsylvania is doing since fracking was allowed.

“Is fracking completely safe? No,” Bernstein said. “Is coal safe? There is no completely safe way to get all the energy you need. The risk is irrational, it’s people with not in my backyard fear. It was the War on Coal and now it’s the War on Fracking.”

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