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DEEP FREEZE MAKES ENERGY HISTORY: More natural gas was taken out of storage to feed energy demand during the two-week long polar freeze than in any other time in history, the Energy Department said Friday.

“During the recent cold weather event that affected much of the eastern United States, more natural gas was withdrawn from storage fields around the country than at any other point in history,” the Energy Information Administration reported.

Withdrawals from underground natural gas storage facilities to feed demand totaled 359 billion cubic feet on Jan. 5. That exceeded the previous record of 288 billion cubic feet set four years ago during the 2014 “polar vortex,” the agency’s data showed.

FRACKING FREEZE LED TO MORE IMPORTS: The sustained cold that swept the East and Midwest from the end of December through last weekend took an unexpected turn for natural gas producers in many of the shale fields, where well heads froze, according to the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s data and analysis arm.

That limited production came as storage tanks were being drained to meet demand for heating and power.

A new term for policymakers: Cold temperatures led to “freeze-offs” — a new term for Washington to use — in the Appalachian and Permian basins where shale and fracking are king.

What’s a freeze-off?: “Freeze-offs occur when water vapor in the natural gas stream freezes and blocks the flow of gas,” the EIA said. Natural gas production totaled a record high of 539 billion cubic feet during the week of Dec. 29, but declined to 517 billion cubic feet during the following week, according to estimates from PointLogic Energy.

Reliance on exports rise: Pipeline imports from Canada and supplies from liquefied natural gas tanker ships increased during the period, “partially offsetting some of the production declines.”

Prices kept low: The imports rushed in as record withdrawals from storage facilities “played a key role in meeting natural gas demand and limiting some market participants’ exposure to spikes in natural gas spot prices,” the agency said.

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DOZENS OF LAWMAKERS URGE TRUMP TO CONSIDER CLIMATE CHANGE A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT: A bipartisan group of 106 lawmakers signed a letter made public Friday asking President Trump to acknowledge climate change as a national security risk.

“As members of the House with a deep interest in the many dimensions of our national security, we write to express our concern regarding your recent national security strategy, which fails to recognize climate change as a threat to the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to reconsider this omission.”

Eleven Republicans signed the letter including Reps. Charlie Dent and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Elise Stefanik of New York.

Mixed messages: Trump last month introduced a national security strategy that instead of describing climate change as a national security threat refers to its commitment to “environmental stewardship.”

The release of the strategy came after Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which called climate change a "direct threat" and requires the Pentagon to create a list of its top 10 most at-risk bases.

MURKOWSKI: WHITE HOUSE TOO ‘SQUEAMISH’ OVER CLIMATE CHANGE: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she is not scared of addressing climate change in the new year, but the Trump administration is another story.

“I'm dealing with an administration where some in the administration get really squeamish about anything that has the word ‘climate’ in it,” the Alaska Republican told Politico in a sit-down interview released Friday. “I'm not afraid to talk about that.”

Who’s afraid of climate change?: “I'm not afraid to bring anybody up to my state and show them the impacts we're seeing -- whether it is to our runways, our coastal communities or to take them out in the interior and show them the impacts of additional fires that we haven't seen."

Action the administration could take: "I think that there is much that can be done to address some of the issues that we face with climate change that can be addressed through investments that we're making,” Murkowski said.

Pipeline policy: In the immediate future, pipeline policy could come into focus for reducing methane emissions, she said. Methane is a potent, but short-lived, greenhouse gas that many scientists blame for exacerbating the rate of temperature rise around the world.

Incremental improvement: “When you upgrade your pipelines so you don't have methane emissions out of your gathering lines, you don't have seepage — you might not think of it in the perspective ... [of] climate change policy — but are we making incremental gains in that way.”

HOUSE MAY NOT BE AS READY AS SENATE FOR BIG ENERGY BILL DEBATE: Murkowski also said she wants to reintroduce comprehensive energy legislation that ended up dying in 2016, but convincing the House to join the effort may take some work.

We've got to encourage our friends [in the House] that it's time to do it,” Murkowski said.

She said she thinks the leadership in the lower chamber recognizes that a bill needs to be passed, and she’s had conversations with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Bishop is retiring in 2020 and maybe “kind of looking at how we shape some things then,” Murkowski said. “Not to say he wasn't willing to do that before, but I think it does help to kind of crystallize some things and say, 'OK, what do we want to be able to advance out of here?'"

Murkowski failed to move a bill in 2016 when Bishop and then chairman of the energy committee, John Upton, R-Mich., decided to pull out of a conference committee on the big energy bill, saying they thought they could get better legislation under Trump.

PUBLIC CITIZEN SUES EPA ON BEHALF OF HARVARD LIBRARIAN: Ralph Nader’s consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is representing a librarian in a lawsuit filed Friday against the Environmental Protection Agency over unlawfully withheld emails.

Nader’s group is representing environmental researcher and Harvard University librarian George Clark, who sought emails from the agency in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Clark had requested five months of emails between EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson and a list of 20 individuals that included government workers and pending or potential nominees. Two months later, the EPA denied the request as unreasonable.

CALIFORNIA’S LAST NUCLEAR PLANT TO CLOSE: California’s last nuclear plant will close in 2025, state utility regulators confirmed Thursday, the latest blow to a declining industry that provides nearly two-thirds of America’s carbon-free electricity.

The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously decided to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, even as the state embarks on one of the country’s most aggressive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s being lost: Diablo Canyon supplies 9 percent of California’s electricity. Once it closes, California won't have any nuclear plants for the foreseeable future. A state law prevents building more nuclear plants until the federal government devises a long-term solution to handle their waste.

Impact on clean energy target: Pacific Gas had already announced it would close Diablo Canyon when its two federal operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025 as part of an agreement with environmental groups. Per the terms of that deal, Pacific Gas said it would transition Diablo Canyon to produce wind and solar power.

But the utility commission declined to endorse much of that agreement, approving less money to retain and retrain its employees, and providing no requirement that the plant’s nuclear power be replaced by renewable energy.

SOARING SUV SALES DRIVE RECORD-LOW CARBON EMISSIONS, EPA SAYS: Americans are driving more gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles while surprisingly cutting carbon dioxide emissions to a record low, the Trump administration said Thursday.

Bigger getting better: "Sport utility vehicles reached record-high market share, while also achieving record-low CO2 emissions and record high fuel economy," according to the Environmental Protection Agency's report on model-year 2016 vehicles' fuel economy trends.

Both car SUVs and truck SUVs achieved record high fuel economy and record low CO2 emissions, with car SUVs reaching 26.2 mpg and truck SUVs reaching 22.2 mpg," EPA said.

The smaller SUVs had the largest increase in fuel economy, 1.1 miles per gallon more than the previous model year.

There’s a catch: However, a separate report released by the agency said carbon dioxide levels for the 2016 model-year vehicles resulted in a first-ever CO2 deficit under its vehicle emissions program.

Nine, nine, nine: Overall performance was 9 grams of CO2 per mile over the limit for model-year 2016 greenhouse gas emissions. "This makes 2016 the first model year in which the industry generated a [greenhouse gas] emissions deficit, after generating credits in each of the first four years of EPA’s program," according to the EPA industry performance report. That means most automakers were over the limit for CO2 emissions. Even hybrid-electric pioneer Toyota didn't meet the mark, the EPA said.

ZINKE BEGINS OUTREACH TO GOVERNORS OPPOSED TO OFFSHORE DRILLING: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday began talking with governors who oppose his plan to massively expand offshore drilling.

Call me, maybe: Zinke spoke with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, about his state’s opposition to offshore drilling, Axios reported, and plans Friday to speak with the governors of Delaware, California and North Carolina.

Coastal governors who oppose offshore drilling are pressing Zinke for exemptions from his proposal, after he granted one to Florida Tuesday night after meeting with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Other states making formal requests for exemptions include Washington, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Cantor questioning: Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned if Zinke broke the law in granting an exemption to Florida, and not other states, by neglecting to follow the normal intensive public comment and engagement process.  

“Your decision to give a last-minute exemption to Florida while ignoring over 10 other states who followed the proper legal procedures is a waste of taxpayer dollars and may violate the requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA),” Cantwell said. “It also suggests you are more concerned with politics than proper process when it comes to making key decisions that affect our coastal communities.”

FORMER INTERIOR OFFICIALS OPPOSE ZINKE’S EASING OF RULES ON KILLING BIRDS: A bipartisan group of former Interior Department officials sent a letter to Zinke and members of Congress this week urging the Trump administration to reconsider its move to relax restrictions on killing birds.

Saving the flock: The Trump administration recently issued a new interpretation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, used to prosecute energy companies for killing birds in the course of their operations.

The law is worded broadly, making it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, [or] capture” a migratory bird “by any means whatever [and] at any time or in any manner.”

‘Hangs the sword of Damocles’: The Trump administration argues applying the law “to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 fine for each and every bird injured or killed.”

Fly in the face of law: Interior’s new interpretation of the law says a company violates the law only when it’s “engaged in an activity the object of which was to render an animal subject to human control.”

‘Contrived’ standard: “This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would ‘render an animal subject to human control,” said the 17 authors of the letter, which include Interior officials from the Carter, Nixon, Ford, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The Washington Post first reported on the existence of the letter, sent to Zinke Wednesday.

RUNDOWN

Bloomberg A new era of batteries spells trouble for gas in America

Reuters Chinese bitcoin miners eye sites in energy-rich Canada

Washington Post Trump administration is taking steps to remove a threatened lynx from the endangered-species list

New York Times A blue sky in Beijing? It’s not a fluke, says Greenpeace, citing anti-pollution campaign

Wall Street Journal Famous oilman T. Boone Pickens calls it quits on energy trading

Post & Courier South Carolina governor asks SCE&G to cut rates while state decides who pays for nuclear project

New York Times Wildlife detectives pursue the case of dwindling elephants in Indonesia



Calendar

MONDAY, JAN. 15

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Federal offices are closed.

TUESDAY, JAN. 16

10 a.m., Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room 366. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine the domestic and global energy outlook from the perspective of the International Energy Agency.

energy.senate.gov  

10 a.m., 1225 I St. NW. Bipartisan Policy Center holds a policy discussion with FERC commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Neil Chatterjee to discuss the commission’s recent decision not to move ahead on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s grid resilience plan.  

bipartisanpolicy.org

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 17

8:30 a.m., U.S. Geological Survey National Center, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Va. The Geological Survey holds a two-day meeting of the Advisory Committee on Water Information. The agenda includes topics relating to national water initiatives, and the development and dissemination of water information, as well as updates from subcommittees.

10 a.m., Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room 366. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on water and power will hold a hearing to examine the Bureau of Reclamation’s title transfer process and potential benefits to stakeholders.

energy.senate.gov

THURSDAY, JAN. 18

9 a.m., 11555 Rockville Pike, Commissioners’ Conference Room, Rockville, Md. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a meeting to discuss the strategic programmatic overview of the decommissioning and low-level waste and spent fuel storage and transportation business lines.

nrc.gov