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COURT REJECTS GREENS’ SUIT AGAINST NATURAL GAS EXPORTS: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected an attempt by the Sierra Club and other groups to try to kill three liquefied natural gas export terminals approved by the Energy Department.
The case against the three terminals in Maryland, Louisiana and Texas failed for the same reasons the environmental groups failed in an earlier lawsuit that the court rejected in August.
“In a very recent case, Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of Energy (Freeport), this court denied a petition by Sierra Club challenging, under the same two statutes, the [Energy] Department’s approval of an LNG export application from a fourth facility. The court’s decision in Freeport largely governs the resolution of the instant cases,” the court’s panel of three judges wrote in their decision.
Greens targeting energy dominance agenda: Wednesday’s ruling comes as environmental groups have filed a series of lawsuits against approvals of natural gas export terminals, which is a key part of President Trump’s energy dominance agenda.
NASA NOMINEE BRIDENSTINE SLAMMED AT CONFIRMATION HEARING: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, harshly criticized Rep. Jim Bridenstine during his confirmation hearing Wednesday morning to be administrator of NASA.
Nelson said Bridenstine, a conservative congressman from Oklahoma, is not qualified to lead a scientific agency because of his views on climate change and partisan record in Congress. He is the first politician to be nominated as NASA administrator.
‘Divisive and extreme’: “Your recent public service career does not instill confidence about your leadership or ability to bring people together,” Nelson said in his opening statement. “Unity is so important in NASA. Your record is as divisive and extreme as any we have seen in Washington. This senator is wondering how does that fit with the leader of a technical agency where unity is often right on the line to what is going to happen with success or failure of a mission.”
‘Troubling’ climate change views: NASA sends astronauts into space, but it’s also one of the top agencies for studying the climate. Bridenstine has been dismissive of climate change.
“During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 AD, long before cars, power plants or the Industrial Revolution, temperatures were warmer than today,” Bridenstine once said.
Nelson called Bridenstine’s views on climate change “troubling.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, later asked Bridenstine whether he believes humans are the primary contributor to climate change. Bridenstine stopped short of saying that.
“I believe carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas,” he said. “I believe humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I do know humans absolutely contribute to global warming. We are just scratching the surface.”
‘Do this together’: Bridenstine, a 42-year-old former Navy pilot, sought to portray himself as a consensus builder.
“NASA is at a crucial time in its history, preparing to explore Deep Space again for the first time in 45 years,” Bridenstine said in his opening statement. “To do this sustainably, we must develop a consensus-driven agenda, based on national interests. Should I be confirmed, it will be my intention to build off the work done by the great people at NASA during the last administration. We must all do this together.”
Political tactics: Nelson also criticized Bridenstine for using “divisive” political tactics against fellow Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio also has expressed skepticism of Bridenstine’s nomination.
Bridenstine defended his behavior and said it does not reflect how he would behave at NASA.
“It is very different representing the First District of Oklahoma to being NASA administrator. I want to make sure NASA remains apolitical.”
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SCIENCE COMMITTEE AIMS TO REOPEN ENERGY’S RADIATION PROGRAM: House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith is holding a hearing Wednesday that might be off the radar for most, but could be of great significance to the Energy Department and beating back myths about nuclear power.
The committee is looking at the effects of low-dose radiation and the Obama administration’s killing of an Energy Department program that studied the effects of limited amounts of radiation, from nuclear reactors to nuclear medicine.
Committee aides said the program had been on the rocks for years, but the previous administration gutted it to pursue climate change modeling and other research to combat global warming. That has left the federal government at a loss when it comes to examining the effects of radiation and determining how much exposure is harmful.
Wednesday’s hearing is the beginning of building a record toward the eventual development of legislation that the committee hopes to pass this Congress as a non-controversial measure.
It also would help restore what Smith and others believe to be a key function of the Energy Department’s Office of Science.
Weber lays out his case: Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas and the energy subcommittee’s chairman for Wednesday’s hearing, said the agency’s low-dose radiation program was the most effective worldwide. “Last Congress, the Science Committee explored the Department of Energy’s decision to terminate the Low Dose Radiation Research program, which, until its closure in 2016, was one of the largest and most effective programs in the world,” he said in opening remarks.
Employee fired: “In the course of staff briefings on this decision, a DOE employee was fired for speaking out in support of the low dose radiation research program,” he said. “While this employee was eventually reinstated as a result of committee oversight, the department has yet to re-start this important area of research.”
Its safety role: The program “explored the health impacts of low levels of radiation, allowing our nation’s researchers, industry and military to safely handle nuclear material, maintain the nation's nuclear weapons program, and dispose of nuclear waste. Low-dose radiation research can also inform the authorities who set nuclear safety standards for the public, enabling federal emergency response agencies to more accurately set evacuation zones from radiological incidents.”
GOODLATTE GEARS UP TO FIRE BACK AT PRUITT OVER BIOFUEL MANDATE: Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a major opponent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, is prepared to push back against Administrator Scott Pruitt’s moderating tone after a major lobbying push against his proposed rollback of the biofuel program’s targets.
The Iowa Renewable Fuel Association suggested talking points Tuesday night to beat back Goodlatte’s coming pressure play.
The renewable fuel group said Goodlatte is gathering signatures in a letter that attacks the RFS and is expected to be released later this week.
Goodlatte offered a number of bills to both change and rescind the RFS in the last Congress and has led the charge against the program in House as chairman of the Judiciary committee.
A request for comment from Goodlatte’s office was not answered.
FERC PRESSED BY LAWMAKERS TO HELP AVERT HIGHER PUMP PRICES: Goodlatte and other members of the Virginia delegation are ringing alarm bells at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is overseeing the closure of a key part of the massive Colonial Pipeline, which supplies Virginia and Washington with gasoline from the Gulf Coast.
The pipeline is a major artery that supplies much of the East Coast with transportation fuel. It had been shut down off and on during the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida in September and October, but it appears a permanent shutdown is coming for a leg of the pipeline that has grown too fragile to keep in operation.
“We are deeply concerned about the economic impact this closure may have on Southwest Virginia,” said a letter by Goodlatte and Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., sent Tuesday to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee. Without the pipeline, “gas prices will rise, truck traffic on our highways will increase, and jobs depending on the pipeline will be lost.
“We have asked FERC to work with us to see if there are federal regulatory options that might help prevent this unfortunate outcome,” the letter added.
TRADE PANEL RECOMMENDS TRUMP IMPOSE STEEP TARIFFS ON SOLAR: The International Trade Commission on Tuesday recommended that President Trump impose tariffs as high as 35 percent on solar panel imports.
The commission determined last month that crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells were being imported into the U.S. in such great numbers "as to be a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry."
The timeline: The commission will forward its report with the injury determination and its remedy recommendations to the president by Nov. 13, it said. The administration will have two months to decide whether to act on the recommendations.
The recommendations: The commission's chairman recommended a tariff rate of 10 percent for each amount of solar cell imports that equals 0.5 gigawatts of electricity generation.
For imports of solar cells that exceed the 0.5 gigawatt level, Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein recommends a tariff rate of 30 percent.
She also recommends that the tariff rate quota be implemented over four years in which the in-quota level is "incrementally raised and the tariff rate incrementally reduced."
For solar power modules, a product that is distinct from solar cells, she recommends a 35-percent tariff rate to be incrementally reduced over the four-year period.
Mixed reaction: Although some in the solar industry said the tariff hikes were less than they expected and somewhat manageable if Trump does decide to implement them, others weren’t so agreeable.
The clean energy groups Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions said it is “disappointed with the ITC’s remedy recommendations, as the proposed tariffs would impose trade restrictions that undermine the growing solar industry and risk tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs,” according to Heather Reams, the group’s managing director .
Not far enough? The tariff recommendations are weaker than what one of the bankrupt solar firms had asked the commission to put in place. The firm Suniva asked Trump after the tariff plan was approved to take the "courageous steps necessary to save American manufacturing" by going with stronger penalties.”
Perry’s grid plan, which is undergoing review at FERC, would pay coal and nuclear plants for being able to hold 90 days worth of fuel on site during a severe emergency. Many in the utility world believe the plan would undermine the wholesale electricity grid that FERC oversees and helped to build over the last two decades.
ROB BISHOP TO ANNOUNCE ENERGY BILL PUSHING OIL, GAS DEVELOPMENT: The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee soon will introduce a comprehensive federal energy lands bill that would aim to facilitate offshore and onshore oil and gas development by easing federal permitting responsibilities and giving more authority to states.
The discussion draft will be reviewed Nov. 7 by the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
Focus both on- and offshore: The bill would overhaul existing regulatory frameworks for energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf and federally-owned onshore land. The Outer Continental Shelf is the submerged offshore area between a continent and the deep ocean. America’s shelf encompasses 1.76 billion acres.
State takeover: The onshore section of the legislation would allow states to seek approval from the Interior Department to take over federal permitting and regulatory responsibilities for crude oil and natural gas development on public lands within their borders.
Energy for all: The offshore section of the legislation would increase access to oil, natural gas and wind energy across the Outer Continental Shelf and create a revenue-sharing process for coastal states.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that 89.9 billion barrels of oil and 327.5 trillion cubic feet of gas exist on the shelf.
The Obama administration’s National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022 excluded 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing, Bishop’s office said.
Dangerous play: Environmentalists and many Democrats say it’s too hazardous and expensive to drill in the Outer Continental Shelf. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, possibly the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, occurred there.
FEMA CHIEF SAYS AGENCY DID NOT APPROVE WHITEFISH PUERTO RICO CONTRACT: The Federal Emergency Management Agency did not approve the $300 million, no-bid contract that the Puerto Rican power authority gave to a tiny firm from the same small town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
‘Not one dollar’ from FEMA: FEMA Administrator Brock Long told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday that there was “a lot wrong” with the controversial contract awarded to Whitefish Energy. The contract was canceled Sunday after a week of mounting outrage.
"As I understand, not one dollar has gone towards that contract from FEMA," Long said. "And what we're doing is rectifying to make sure that PREPA has not requested any funding for that reimbursement effort.”
Objecting to contract terms: Whitefish Energy had two employees when Maria hit Puerto Rico, but it hired hundreds of contractors to restore 100 miles power lines on the island. The Whitefish contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority contained an unusual clause that said it could not be audited or reviewed by government agencies.
"There's no lawyer inside FEMA that would've ever agreed to the language that was in that contract to begin with," Long said. "There was also language in there that would suggest that the federal government would never audit Whitefish -- which, there's not a lawyer inside FEMA that would ever agree to that type of language."
MEANWHILE, PREPA REQUESTS MONEY FROM FEMA TO PAY WHITEFISH: Hours after Long’s testimony, PREPA requested $10 million from FEMA to pay Whitefish for work done before the contract was canceled, according to CNN.
The Whitefish contract calls for PREPA to pay the energy company up to $300 million for satisfactory work.
PREPA spokesman Carlos Monroig said the power authority would honor its contract to compensate Whitefish, and then seek reimbursement from FEMA, CNN said.
PUERTO RICO SENDS OUT MUTUAL AID REQUEST TO RESTORE POWER: Puerto Rico on Tuesday finally requested assistance from mainland utilities to help restore power, now that the Whitefish contract has ben canceled.
Call for help: PREPA sent the mutual aid request to the American Public Power Association, a public power industry group, and the Edison Electric Institute, a group for investor-owned utilities. Mutual aid agreements allow out-of-state utility workers to quickly arrive on the scene after a disaster.
The island had not requested such assistance and turned to Whitefish instead.
PREPA’s formal request for assistance came after Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked for help from New York and Florida, which have some utility crews on the island.
LAW FIRM BEEFS UP FERC PRACTICE IN LINE WITH TRUMP’S GRID PLAN: The firm Bracewell announced Tuesday that Paul F. Wight will join the Washington law firm as a partner in the energy regulatory group.
Wight was a big gun with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where he was also a partner for years. The addition to Bracewell, a firm that once included Rudolph Giuliani, shows the need for FERC expertise given the increased focus on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposed grid plan to prop up coal and nuclear plants.
“Paul is a highly regarded FERC lawyer, whose decades of experience will help Bracewell’s clients effectively address the regulatory and enforcement challenges facing the electric power industry,” said Gregory Bopp, the firm’s managing partner. “We are pleased to welcome him to the firm.”
A series of hires: Wight is the eighth in a series of “strategic hires” by the firm’s Washington office since Trump became president. That’s almost one a month.
PRUITT BARS EPA GRANT RECIPIENTS FROM SERVING ON BOARDS: Pruitt on Tuesday issued a directive that blocks scientists who receive agency funding from serving on advisory boards.
No committee spared: The directive applies to members of all of the EPA’s 22 advisory committees, including three major ones: the Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and Board of Scientific Counselors.
Pruitt said members of those three boards have received a total of $77 million in EPA grants over the last three years.
Real science: “Whatever science we do here shouldn’t be political science,” said Pruitt, who majored in political science at Georgetown College in Kentucky.
Choose your fate: People receiving EPA grants who currently serve on the boards will have to choose whether to keep the grant or continue their work on the boards. Most board members serve three-year terms.
Playing favorites: Pruitt’s directive was instantly criticized by environmentalists and Democrats who say the EPA under Pruitt does not respect science. The Washington Post reported that Pruitt will appoint at least some industry experts and government officials from conservative states to the boards.
‘Can’t control’ industry funding: Pruitt acknowledged his new policy does not bar people from serving on boards who have received funding from the energy industry.
“We can’t control where they get other grants from,” Pruitt said.
But he said all nominees will continue to go through an ethics process to ensure that they are not in conflict with rules they advise on.
Reuters Awaiting Trump's coal comeback, miners reject retraining
Wall Street Journal Utility touts electrification to meet California climate goals
Alaska Dispatch News Alaska Gov. Bill Walker creates climate change committee but leaves decisions for later
Salt Lake Tribune Utah’s three largest coal mines sold to a group led by Murray Energy
CNN Can Japan burn flammable ice for energy?
New York Post New Zealand might create visa for climate change refugees
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 1
All day, Arizona. The 2017 American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy holds its National Conference on Energy Efficiency as a Resource in Litchfield Park, Ariz.
THURSDAY, NOV. 2
7:45 a.m., 300 First St. SE. The Ripon Society holds a discussion on "The Future of Puerto Rico," focusing on the work of the Financial Oversight and Management Board.
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce Committee
Energy Subcommittee hearing on "The 2017 Hurricane Season: A Review of Emergency Response and Energy Infrastructure Recovery Efforts."
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds hearing on GOP plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.