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CLEAN ENERGY INDUSTRY INDUSTRY BRACES FOR TRUMP CUTS: The clean energy industry is bracing for President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 being released late Monday morning.
But that means only that its lobbyists will be going to Capitol Hill sooner to get their congressional champions to do the opposite of the president’s bidding, sources are telling John.
“When the Obama budgets came out we were like ‘OK, who cares,’” said one industry source who has faced ups and downs in the budgets across administrations. The same goes for Trump, especially since the fiscal 2018 cuts were effectively reversed by lawmakers.
• It’s all messaging: The bottom line is the budget is “a messaging document,” the source said. The White House will roll out its budget proposal for fiscal 2019 late Monday morning, with steep cuts expected to the clean energy programs supported primarily by the Energy Department.
• Go to Capitol Hill sooner: But compared to last year, some in the industry don’t appear as concerned with what the administration is proposing. They will instead be looking to Congress to get more favorable support that many sectors managed to muster last year.
That reality was demonstrated last week with Congress approving a spending deal that extended tax credits for various industries.
FOSSIL FUELS, GREEN TECH WIN IN SPENDING DEAL: One industry official underscored a win for both clean technology and natural gas in the spending deal last week, John learned. The win came in the form of the investment tax credit for hydrogen fuel cells that are used to provide electricity to large industrial complexes such as data centers as well as provide reliable back-up power to hospitals.
Fuel cells turn hydrogen into electricity, and the only byproduct is water vapor. Fuel cells are supported by the natural gas industry, because they can turn the fossil fuel into hydrogen. The hydrogen then gets changed into low-emitting electricity that is used more efficiently than in a power plant where the fuel is burned. Fuel cells use a chemical process to strip electrons out of the hydrogen molecule to produce electricity.
The spending deal also provided subsidies to combined heat and power plants that can recycle excess heat from various manufacturing processes to produce electricity, which also can burn natural gas more efficiently.
Although the budget deal did give the technologies parity with the likes of solar panels, they also provided retroactive subsidies for the previous year, but nothing beyond that.
A number of orphan credits that pertained to electric vehicles — fuel cell cars, for example — among others, were extended only for last year.
• Tax committees look to address phaseout: The House tax committees are looking at holding hearings where industry expects they will address a “runway that makes sense” for phasing out the subsidies, says an industry source.
• Getting off the dole: “No one wants to be on the dole forever,” the source said. But the problem arises when you pick one technology over another through the tax code, the source said.
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TRUMP’S INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN AIMS TO QUICKEN ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS: President Trump is making permitting reform a key piece of his infrastructure investment plan announced Monday morning.
A White House official told the Washington Examiner that one of the main principles of Trump’s infrastructure proposal will be to reduce the “burdensome permitting process from an average of 10 years to two.”
The infrastructure plan says environmental reviews must be conducted in no more than 21 months.
• ‘Streamlining’ or ‘gutting?’ The plan calls for changes in how the government conducts environmental reviews, including streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements and potential reforms to the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.
“Requiring [the Council on Environmental Quality] to revise its regulations to streamline NEPA would reduce the time and costs associated with the NEPA process and would increase efficiency, predictability, and transparency in environmental reviews,” the White House says.
Democrats and environmentalists quickly panned that effort.
“With this infrastructure plan, President Trump would line the pockets of oil and gas companies while steamrolling environmental safeguards,” said Drew McConville, senior managing director of the Wilderness Society. “He is taking a bipartisan priority and turning it into a divisive scheme to reward friends in the fossil fuel sector.”
The Wilderness Society expects the Trump plan to give the Interior Department the authority to approve natural gas pipeline routes that cut through national parks.
Trump also proposed allowing some revenue from energy development on public lands to pay for capital and maintenance costs of infrastructure built on federal lands.
Additionally, the proposal would end the EPA’s final review of most environmental impact statements.
• Fast lane: Other proposed changes to permitting include requiring federal agencies to conduct environmental reviews at the same time, rather than one after another, with one agency taking the official lead.
The White House argues that would reduce duplicative reviews by letting the main agency with expertise lead the process.
The plan also “will expand processes that allow environmental review and permitting decisions to be delegated to states,” according to the White House.
METHANE GETS A FRESH LOOK AS TRUMP SCRAPS RULES: The oil industry and scholars are trying to figure out a way to cut potent methane emissions without harming the energy industry or the environment, John has learned.
They also need to keep alive an agreement among U.S., Mexico, and Canada to curb the emissions, or find an alternative.
• New study: John Hopkins and Duke University scholars published an article Monday that says a 2016 agreement among the three countries to cut methane emissions is flailing, at best, while the Trump administration's push to reverse regulations to control the potent greenhouse gas provides even more challenges.
The new article published in the journal Climate Policy says atmospheric methane emission levels "continue to increase globally," despite the Obama administration agreements struck with Mexico and Canada to cut drillers' emissions 40 percent-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.
Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas emission that, with carbon dioxide, is blamed by most climate scientists for causing man-made global warming.
• Exxon looking for reg alternatives: The article comes as one of the leading users of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the United States, Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy, is embracing an industry framework to track and cut emissions.
Exxon's fracking subsidiary, a company with the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S., wants regulations on methane to be tightened, just as long as they are voluntary.
MANUFACTURERS SLAM CLIMATE LAWSUITS: The National Association of Manufacturers on Monday took the fight to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over what the trade group calls “frivolous” climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, or “manufacturers,” it represents.
• Campaign kickoff: The group’s Manufacturers’ Accountability Project started a campaign to highlight de Blasio’s “politically motivated attacks” on the fossil fuel industry. The mayor joined what the group is calling a “misguided” national push that seeks to undermine manufacturing through lawsuits that blame the fossil industry for climate change.
• Activist-funded lawsuits: “Mayor de Blasio’s attack on manufacturers is just the latest example of the mayor taking his marching orders from deep-pocketed activist foundations and trial lawyers looking for a big payday on the backs of taxpayers,” according to Linda Kelly, general counsel for the NAM.
NAM CEO Jay Timmons is delivering his state of American manufacturing address later on Monday, when he also will press that the industry will be seeking to rub out the climate change lawsuits.
REPUBLICANS CONSIDER GAS TAX TO PAY FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: Republicans are weighing whether to raise the federal gas tax to pay for Trump’s infrastructure plan.
Supporters of the idea note that the tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and have plenty of evidence that resistance to a hike is wearing down.
• Resistance weakening: The Chamber of Commerce recently called for the Trump administration and Congress to raise the gas tax by 25 cents per gallon to help pay for an infrastructure package, projecting it would generate more than $375 billion over a decade.
The Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, prodded colleagues at the recent GOP retreat to consider setting aside years of opposition and raise the tax.
And perhaps most revealing, some of the most conservative House members who heard Shuster’s pitch are open to it.
• ‘Pact with the public: That includes Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., an independent-minded conservative who drives an electric-powered Tesla, detests government waste, and is always liable to surprise.
“The gas tax is a pact with the public, if spent properly, that says when you buy gasoline, we charge you money and spend all of it on the roads and bridges you are driving,” Massie, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Josh.
Josh speaks with more Republican voices in the gas tax debate for this week’s magazine.
PUERTO RICO STRUCK BY ANOTHER POWER OUTAGE AFTER EXPLOSION: An explosion and fire at a power station caused a blackout in parts of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, on Sunday night, the latest challenge for the island trying to recover more than five months after Hurricane Maria destroyed its electricity grid.
• Back in the dark: Several municipalities, including suburbs around San Juan, were affected by the explosion, which knocked 400 megawatts worth of generation offline, according the the island’s state-run utility company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
More than 400,000 power customers in Puerto Rico remain without electricity.
The explosion caused no injuries and its cause is being investigated. The power authority said it expected to restore power within a day.
• Electric feel: The explosion comes as PREPA, the bankrupt power utility, has struggled to restore electricity to the island.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello last month announced a plan to privatize PREPA, and is aiming to modernize the outdated system to include more renewables.
ZINKE MOVES TO EXPAND BIG-GAME HUNTING ON FEDERAL LAND: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday announced an executive order that would increase hunting of big-game herds in western states, which he said will help preserve the population for animals such as mule, deer, elk, and antelope.
The order aims to improve the habitat of the animals, which Zinke says have been harmed by residential development.
• Good migration: Easing the way for migration corridors will allow the animals to more easily travel from feeding grounds where they breed to hunting grounds.
His order would have the Interior Department work with state and private landowners, through voluntary agreements, to study the migration habits of wildlife across the federal lands of several western states, to find ways to improve their habitats.
• State pact: As an example, Zinke said the federal government could work with ranchers to modify their fences and collaborate with states on on sagebrush restoration.
The states partnering on the study are New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, California and Colorado..
EPA’S SCOTT PRUITT RACKED UP $90K IN TRAVEL COSTS IN EARLY JUNE: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his top aides spent more than $90,000 on travel in the first few weeks of June, 2017, according to a Sunday report.
• Express lane: The $90,000 includes a first-class flight Pruitt took from Washington New York City on June 5, which cost him $1,641.43. Two aides flew on coach on that flight, the Washington Post reported.
The group stayed in a high-end hotel near Times Square and flew back to Washington a day later.
On June 7, Pruitt spent more than $36,000 for a military jet from Cincinnati to New York, where they caught a flight to Rome.
Pruitt's roundtrip flight from New York to Rome cost upwards of $7,000 even though Freedom of Information Act records show other EPA officials who traveled with him paid several times less.
The $90,000 figure for travel in early June does not include security detail costs, and the story included other pricey flights Pruitt took in May and July.
• Travel itinerary: Pruitt is expected to travel to Israel, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and possibly Canada in 2018. He will visit New Hampshire this week to meet with the governor, visit a paper company, and tour a Superfund site — though the EPA has not publicized the government official's agenda.
The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s travel habits.
New York Times Vietnam pulls request for U.S. help to build a coal-fired power plant
Reuters Big Oil takes stage for post-austerity beauty contest
Wall Street Journal There’s a global race to control batteries, and China is winning
New York Times In China’s coal country, a ban brings blue skies and cold homes
Bloomberg A farm town’s electric dreams threatened with Chinese billionaire’s fortune
Post and Courier Slowly but surely, South Carolina's incredibly complex shoreline is losing ground
Wall Street Journal Bitcoin mania triggers miner influx to rural Washington, bringing surge in power demand
MONDAY, FEB. 12
President Trump to roll out fiscal 2019 budget proposal.
7:30 a.m., 999 Ninth St. NW. The Solar Energy Industries Association and the Energy Storage Association hold a breakfast panel discussion on Distributed Energy Resource valuation, interconnection, and benefits to the local grid.
All day, 999 Ninth St. NW. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners holds its annual Winter Policy Summit, Feb. 11-14.
All day, San Antonio. The Renewable Fuels Association opens the National Ethanol Conference, Feb. 12-14.
TUESDAY, FEB. 13
9 a.m., Oklahoma City. The EPA will hold a public meeting on the proposed approval of the application submitted by Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to allow the Oklahoma Coal Combustion Residuals State Permit Program to operate in lieu of the federal CCR program. EPA has preliminarily determined that Oklahoma’s program meets the standard for approval under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 14
2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power & Oceans will hold an oversight hearing titled “The State of the Nation’s Water and Power Infrastructure.”
3 p.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing on nearly two dozen bills on monuments and national parks. energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=A5C425EF-2C4C-4BF3-964F-658C9DAD71B6
THURSDAY, FEB. 15
10 a.m., 1324 Longworth. The Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold an oversight hearing on “The Costs of Denying Border Patrol Access: Our Environment and Security.”
2:30 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a legislative hearing on five bills related to wildlife restoration.