April 3, 2014
by Vignesh Gowrishankar
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Catalyzing the oil and gas industry to clean up its act

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Staff Scientist (Sustainable Energy), New York
The oil and gas industry leaks a significant amount of natural gas into the atmosphere. Most of this leaked gas is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant. This l… Continue reading

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April 2, 2014
by Meg Waltner
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New Senate Bill Would Provide Important Incentives for Energy Efficiency

Meg Waltner, Manager, Building Energy Policy, San Francisco, CA
The Energy Efficiency Tax Incentives Act, S. 2189, introduced late yesterday by three Democratic senators, would improve the efficiency of our homes, workplaces, and indust… Continue reading

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April 2, 2014
by Deron Lovaas
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Measuring Suburban Sprawl

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.
Growth is good. Or so we’ve always been taught. But what if growth is poorly managed, so that it creates serious problems too? In an urban context, that’s what we ca… Continue reading

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April 1, 2014
by Franz Matzner
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Tax Code of Honor: Congress Must Choose a Clean Energy Future

Franz Matzner, Associate Director of Government Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden has officially begun consideration of legislation to reinstate a suite of tax credits that big polluters and their allies … Continue reading

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April 1, 2014
by Jake Schmidt
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International Climate News Mar ’14: deforestation progress, 2013 global clean energy data, & more

Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Washington, DC
Below is a compilation of climate change and clean energy news from around the world. This compilation includes stories from March 2014. You can sign-up to re… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Anthony Swift
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Business leaders urge rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Anthony Swift, Attorney, International Program, Washington, DC

As the Obama administration considers the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, hundreds of business leaders across the nation are urging Secretary of State John Kerry a… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Kaid Benfield
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Your neighborhood (or mine, or anyone’s) after nature’s jungle takes over

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
 
Remember that book from a few years ago, The World Without Us?  It depicted the post-apocalyptic ruins of civilization once the buildings and infrastructure… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Doug Obegi
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Doing the Math on California Water Solutions: Dams Can’t Compete with 21st Century Options

Doug Obegi, Staff Attorney, Western Water Project, San Francisco
The Department of Water Resources upcoming announcement of dismal April 1 snow survey results, an important measure of available water supply for the coming year, will con… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Vignesh Gowrishankar
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White House Attacks Heat-Trapping Methane, Second Biggest Climate Pollutant

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Staff Scientist (Sustainable Energy), New York
[This post written with David Doniger and Meleah Geertsma.]
The White House today released its long-awaited Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. Promised in Pres… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Kaid Benfield
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Helping neighbors plan their own communities’ future: a model for inclusive revitalization

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
 
Sustainable neighborhoods are the building blocks of sustainable cities.  Neighborhoods are where development decisions are made and where increments of cha… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Greenlaw from NRDC China
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China Environmental News Alert

Greenlaw from NRDC China, NRDC China Program, Beijing
NRDC has been working in China for over fifteen years on such issues as energy efficiency, green buildings, clean energy technologies, environmental law, and green supply chain issue… Continue reading

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March 27, 2014
by Anthony Swift
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Secretary Kerry has all the information necessary to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Anthony Swift, Attorney, International Program, Washington, DC

The State Department now has all the information it needs to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Today, NRDC has released a backgrounder that presents an overview of… Continue reading

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March 27, 2014
by Ali Chase
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Happy Birthday to an Important Ocean Planning Process

Ali Chase, Policy Analyst, New York
First birthdays are always exciting. They give us the chance to marvel at the amazing growth that’s unfolded over an exceedingly short period of time (which, at times, can feel tediously long). We hav… Continue reading

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March 26, 2014
by Tiffany Traynum
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NRDC Back in Bloom: New Beginnings, New Life…New Growing Green Foodies to Honor!

Tiffany Traynum, Program Assistant, San Francisco
Spring is the season when the world shakes off its winter hibernation and reveals new life. Flowers bloom; fabrics get lighter and brighter; birds chirp hello; we feast, dance and &lsquo… Continue reading

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March 26, 2014
by Henry Henderson
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BP’s Lake Michigan Oil Spill: More mess and less transparency from the refinery Chicagoans love to hate

Henry Henderson, Director, Midwest Program NRDC, Chicago, Illinois

Ask any Chicagoan and they’ll tell you that Lake Michigan is a big part of what makes this town great. So, perhaps this is what makes BP’s nearby refinery i… Continue reading

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March 26, 2014
by Bobby McEnaney
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Protecting the Law That Protects Our National Treasures

Bobby McEnaney, Senior Lands Analyst, Deputy Director Western Renewables Energy Program, DC

Grand Canyon (NPS photo)The Grand Canyon. Protection of this icon is directly due to the Antiquities Act (photo: NPS)

Since 1906, sixteen U.S. presidents have used the landmark Antiquities Act to create such beloved national treasures as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and the Olympic National Park, granting them permanent protections.

Now a member of Congress wants to upend that proud history by gutting the law, which grants presidents the authority to protect these iconic areas for lands which are already owned by the public and the federal government. 

The House this week is scheduled to consider such a bill, H.R. 1459 by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), deceptively named the “Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act.”

Don’t be fooled. In addition to stripping presidential authority, the proposal also takes direct aim at the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a foundational law that guides how federal resources should be managed in a sustainable fashion.

Ask anyone whether national treasures such as the Grand Canyon, or the Statue of Liberty, or the Olympic National Park are deserving of permanent protection, and the answer is almost certainly going to be an emphatic “yes.” Thanks to the Antiquities Act, which was the tool used to secure initial protections for these lands before they mainly became renowned National Parks, the question is a moot one for these iconic places. But ask the same question to one of the leaders of the Republican Party in the House, Congressman Rob Bishop from Utah, and you might get a wholly different answer about the utility of the Antiquities Act.

Congress passed the Antiquities Act of 1906 to specifically provide a means for the President “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” for lands owned by the federal government. This authority, granted by Congress, allows a President to establish national monuments as a means to secure these protections. But H.R. 1459 would practically halt the President from using the Antiquities Act to protect deserving lands in a meaningful way. In addition, it also takes direct aim at the landmark National Environmental Policy Act, by forcing the President to first initiate a fundamentally flawed NEPA analysis, before being allowed to issue a monument proclamation.

Two myths need to be addressed regarding Bishop’s attack on the Antiquities Act via H.R. 1459. The first myth regards Bishop’s contention that by requiring a NEPA analysis before a presidential declaration, this revision will only create additional transparency regarding the Antiquities Act process. What is missing from this narrative is the fact the Antiquities Act still requires a NEPA process, but after a monument declaration. NEPA is a critical administrative process meant to inform the public and guide land agencies on how best to manage federal resources by embracing a transparent environmental review process. NEPA was not designed as a tool to directly safeguard a place from destruction or preserve lands in perpetuity. H.R. 1459 reverses the normal process of protecting lands.  In truth, Bishop’s attempt to change how NEPA is implemented is simply a Trojan Horse, by affording opponents of national monuments a new means to forestall timely action even when there is a need to act.

Two, the Antiquities Act is not a “land grab” as purported by its Congressional opponents.  Proclamations associated with the Antiquities Act only afford additional protections to public lands for places that are already held in trust by the federal government. Even if these lands become national monuments, the subjected lands are still managed by the same federal agencies that were managing them before. 

In the last decade, Presidents Bush and Obama have used the Antiquities Act to establish protections for key wildlife areas in the West such as New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte; protect the home and workplace of César Chávez, the famous civil rights leader; and create vast ocean preserves including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, part of the Hawaiian Islands. One only has to look at the last few years of Congress to see why the Antiquities Act is important, especially given that Congress has only passed one wilderness bill since 2009. Given the hostility that Republican leadership has for conservation bills, particularly in the House, the Antiquities Act becomes a more critical tool for advancing this nation’s conservation heritage. This is especially the case given that Republican leadership has failed to act on a suite of bipartisan lands bills that deserved their attention, bills that eventually died from willful neglect in the House.  

Given that dismal track record, it is no wonder that Rep. Bishop – who holds a key leadership position in the House Natural Resources Committee, the committee which has jurisdiction over federal lands – seems dedicated to undermine any measure that could hold Republican leadership accountable for its intransigence toward conservation. Bishop’s scorn for the Antiquities Act is well established, and is colored by the Clinton administration’s creation of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. The Grand Staircase-Escalante in southern Utah represents some of the most awe-inspiring 1.8 million acres found anywhere, punctuated by its unique geological formations and isolation. But the lack of significant federal protections before 1996 imperiled this region from a range of threats.

President Clinton’s use of the Antiquities Act to protect this region was unpopular with Utah’s political leadership, but time has proven that the decision to afford additional protections to the Escalante was an inspired and popular one. And in one particular way, the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has spurred tremendous economic growth in the region. A 2011 study from the nonpartisan research group, Headwaters Economics, established that in the decade after the creation of the Escalante Monument, job growth grew by 8%, and personal income increased by 40%. This trend was not unique to southern Utah though, for the same study established that 17 communities with national monuments created in the last two decades resulted in positive economic growth for adjoining rural communities. A report issued this week from the University of Utah also confirms this economic trend, demonstrating that tourism represents Utah’s second largest industry , generating $7.4 billion in revenues in 2012 – much of it generated by activities that rely on the stewardship and protection of federal lands in the state. 

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March 25, 2014
by Allen Hershkowitz
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Willie Nelson’s America the Beautiful Video Against Mountaintop Removal Mining

Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world

NRDC released a video yesterday supported by Willie Nelson’s iconic song America the Beautiful which Willie donated for use in order to draw attention to the scou… Continue reading

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March 21, 2014
by Denée Reaves
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Latin America Green News: Chile’s HidroAysén at risk, Costa Rica’s ecosystems at risk, and Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo at risk

Denée Reaves, Program Assistant, International, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

March 16th-22nd, 2014

Chile

The Bachelet administration’s Committee of Ministers –Chile’s highest administrative authority—made headlines this week by annulling the final decision of the previous committee, which had convened in the final days of the Piñera presidency. That decision had called for two additional studies to be conducted about the impacts of the controversial HidroAysén power plant, before the committee would issue a final ruling. This new decision from the new Committee of Ministers effectively cancelled those studies, and promised to rule on the project outright within 60 working days. Reactions to the new decision were mixed, with opponents of HidroAysén praising it as “the first steps towards rejecting” the project, while supporters of HidroAysén arguing that without the dams the country will have to get its energy from costlier and dirtier sources of energy. Both the Energy Minister and the Environment Minister stated that the project, as it currently stands, “is not viable.” (El Dínamo 3/19/2014, Economía y Negocios 3/19/2014, Reuters 3/19/2014, Revista Electricidad 3/20/2014, El Divisadero 3/17/2014, Chilevision 3/20/2014)

Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco spoke to Congress about this administration’s energy agenda this week, listing five key “pillars”: 1. strengthening the role of the state in the country’s energy planning; 2. territorial planning or zoning; 3. encouraging renewable energies and advanced technologies; 4. energy efficiency; and 5). addressing the present concentration in the energy market by promoting competition. Mining Minister Aurora Williams also spoke about her ministry’s priorities, which include reforming the National Mining Company (Enami) and addressing the sector’s energy needs. (Pulso 3/20/2014, Revista Electricidad 3/17/2014) 

Costa Rica

Thirty percent of Costa Rica’s ecosystems are under some kind of threat, according to the new “Red List of Ecosystems” report prepared by experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE). The primary threat to ecosystems is land use changes. (El País 3/20/2014)

Costa Rica needs an additional 300 civil servants to adequately meet the needs of the country’s various conservation areas, according to the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). Hiring the additional employees to address illegal logging, poaching, forest fires and sea turtles would mean an additional budget of 7 billion colones (approximately US$12.8). SINAC officials plan to meet with the next government to discuss their budgetary needs. (CR Hoy 03/17/2014)

The number of companies in Costa Rica that have been certified as carbon neutral by the Ministry of Environment is now up to fifteen. The most recent companies to receive the “C-Neutral” brand include a clinic, a pension fund operator, the Costa Rican chamber of exporters, and travel and hospitality firms. (El Financiero 03/21/2014)

Mexico

La Rivera Desarollos presented an Environment Impact Statement to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) for a new coastal development project, Cabo Dorado, which would be adjacent to the Cabo Pulmo National Park. The proposed project would entail the construction of eight hotels and multi-family residences, two golf courses and a pipeline that would extract 4.8 million cubic meters of water from a local aquifer. The Mexican Center for Environmental Law will be formally submitting a request for consultation and public information to Semarnat so that people are informed of the potential environmental and social consequences this project may cause. Scientist Octavio Aburto from Scripps Institute of Oceanography responded to the project’s presentation with concern due to the potential impacts on Cabo Pulmo. He noted that earlier this year a group of scientists requested that the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation asked that Mexico ensure transparency during impact evaluation processes and include input from scientific experts. The proposed project site is home to 26 species at risk, of which ten are endemic to Mexico and three are endangered. (BCS Noticias 3/20/14, Milenio 3/19/14).   Read more about this issue at NRDC’s blog.

The recent meeting of the Forum of Environment Ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean, hosted by Mexico has helped strengthen the region’s coordination heading into the next climate negotiations (COP20) to be held in Lima, Peru later this year. At COP20 Latin American and Caribbean region will call for cuts from major emitters and support for small insular states to respond to the impacts of climate change. Mexico and Peru agreed to work to design and create a program on regional cooperation on climate change  as a framework for regional South-South cooperation and to define areas of interest for the region. (El Universal 3/14/14).

Mexico City will host Globe International’s World Summit of Legislators on June 6-8th, where about 400 lawmakers representing a multitude of countries will work together on actions to protect the environment. The meeting will be attended by the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, and other notaries and will focus on law, legislation for forestry programs, and natural capital, all in preparation for the 2015 climate negotiations when a new international agreement on climate is expected.(Veracruzanos 3/18/14).

Due to Mexico and Latin America’s vast resource potential, they can be the largest renewable energy producers in the world, attracting investments, equipment suppliers and technology according to American Council on Renewable Energy’s President and CEO Michael R. Brower. However, in order to encourage additional investment, stable public policies and regulations need to be in place to provide certainty, and misconceptions about the high costs of renewable technology need to be dispelled. (El Universal 3/17/14).

Regional

The IDB will add twelve additional municipalities to its Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative which provides technical assistance on environmental, urban and fiscal sustainability in the region.  The new cities include Bridgetown (Barbados), San José (Costa Rica), Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Florianopolis, Palmas and Vitoria (Brazil), as well as cities in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Peru. (BNAmericas 03/20/2014)

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs

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March 21, 2014
by Dave Hawkins
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Can ExxonMobil Protect Climate & its Bottom Line?

Dave Hawkins, Director of Climate Programs, Washington, D.C.
It’s big news that ExxonMobil (XOM) has agreed to report on the risks to its fossil fuel assets in a world that comes to terms with the reality of climate disruption.&nb… Continue reading

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March 21, 2014
by John Moore
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Order 1000 Has Its Day in Court

John Moore, Senior Attorney – The Sustainable FERC Project, Chicago

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an important set of reforms intended to save consumers money and improve the transmission planning process more than two years ago, but the merits of “Order 1000” were still being debated yesterday in a Washington, D.C., federal courtroom.

Order 1000 includes several major changes: expanding regional and inter-regional transmission planning, accounting for clean energy and other public policies in that planning, fairly allocating the costs of new transmission lines among customers, and more competition for building those projects.

Grid planning regions have been complying with the rule for over two years. Nevertheless, some opponents of the rule, resistant to Order 1000’s reforms, challenged the rule in federal court. Yesterday the court heard oral argument in this case. I attended the three-hour event along with dozens of other industry and public interest attorneys in a filled courtroom. As I listened to the lawyers for FERC, utilities, and other challengers argue over Order 1000’s merits, I was reminded of why—even with its imperfections—Order 1000 is so important to achieving a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

Here’s why:

Among Order 1000’s most important reforms is that it requires transmission-owning utilities in regions without electricity markets, like the Southeast and most of the West, to create and participate in regional planning processes, complete with more transparency and stakeholder participation. FERC’s basic idea, supported by evidence in the Order 1000 rulemaking record, is that regional grid planning will result in more cost-effective and efficient solutions than many different and uncoordinated local plans.

The notion of regional planning isn’t such a big deal in parts of the country like the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and California, where regional transmission organizations like PJM and MISO started doing regional planning years ago. But in the Southeast, where Southern Company dominates, or in most of the West, each utility mostly stuck to local planning for how they will move electricity to their customers. They didn’t consider whether more regional transmission or non-transmission solutions (like energy efficiency or new renewables), coordinated with their neighboring utilities, could help meet the needs of their customers while saving those customers money.

Order 1000 includes another important reform especially critical for the Sustainable FERC Project and its partners: requiring local and regional grid planners to consider the impacts of federal, state, and local public policies on grid needs. State renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon pollution standards are examples, as is any other law or regulation likely to affect future grid needs. The Sustainable FERC Project and several of our colleagues in other organizations intervened in the Order 1000 litigation specifically to support FERC’s decision on this issue, and you can read our brief here.

The arguments

Back to the oral argument; the three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit asked many questions about nearly all of the major issues in Order 1000. Some of the questions delved deeply into topics only a lawyer could love, like the meanings of the words “practice” in the Federal Power Act, or FERC’s acting on the basis of a “theoretical threat.” Arcane as these issues may sound, they have tremendous consequences for all users of the grid.

As I listened to the arguments, however, my mind sometimes drifted away from the courtroom to the outside world, where all of the transmission planning regions are already complying with Order 1000 and working on hard planning issues. The process isn’t perfect, and we’re not happy with all of the results to date because we’d like to see public policies take more center stage with reliability and economic issues (they’re all intertwined, after all), but we are seeing progress.

Order 1000 sensibly recognizes that we no longer live in our own small worlds, at least where the grid is concerned. Energy moves all around the country, as shown in this Energy Information Administration map of power flows:

Power Flows

If anything, we are moving to a more interregional grid, and eventually interregional planning and markets probably will be the rule rather than the exception.

Regional planning is better for clean energy and the environment

We already know that regional solutions are better in the specific context of the impending U.S. EPA carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, due out in June 2014. The nation’s regional grid operators (PJM, MISO, and others) recently issued a white paper on the upcoming carbon standards. Their paper argues that regional compliance solutions can be more efficient than requiring only local solutions. In the same vein, MISO, the grid operator for the Midwest and mid-South, just released a study showing that regional carbon standard compliance could save billions of dollars annually over more localized solutions.

Listening to some of the opponents of Order 1000 at yesterday’s oral argument, I couldn’t help but think that they want to turn the clock backward, to a world where local power was the only power, environmental and energy policies had no relevance to grid planning, and the incumbent utilities held most of the planning cards. Their focus on the local rather than the regional or interregional will in a very real sense fail to serve human health and the environment. Restated in FERC-speak, local planning alone will likely to lead to an inefficient and more costly grid, and unjust and unreasonable transmission rates for all customers.

(Note: You can listen to the recording of the 3-hour oral argument; we expect the court to issue a decision in the Order 1000 litigation later this year.)

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