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PRUITT PLANS TO REPLACE POWER PLAN: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in his first testimony before Congress said he plans to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan he has moved to repeal, not just kill it outright.
But he also criticized the 2009 agency rule known as the endangerment finding, which forces the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. He said the process to establish the endangerment finding was "accelerated and "short-shrifted."
And he confirmed he will start as soon as next month a so-called “red team, blue team” exercise to allow experts to debate the science of climate change.
Rush hour: Pruitt’s comments were in his first hour of testimony Thursday morning before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Pruitt broke from the hearing at 11 a.m. to attend a meeting at the White House with President Trump on the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard. He will continue his testimony at 2 p.m.
‘Back to basics’ focus: At the opening of the hearing, Pruitt sought to defend his record at the EPA, which has included an extensive rollback of rules and regulations related to climate change and an emphasis on working closer with states and industry.
“As an agency, we must ensure that we are acting within the parameters which Congress has laid out for us,” Pruitt said, using familiar phrases such as “rule of law,” “back to the basics” and “cooperative federalism.”
‘Captured by industry’: Democrats attacked Pruitt for his approach.
"EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry," said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., who later criticized Pruitt for installing a policy that bars scientists who receive EPA grants from serving on agency review boards.
But Pruitt tried to assure lawmakers he values science.
Science matters: "Science is essential and will remain central and core to what we do,” he said.
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GROUP OF 11 REPUBLICANS CONFRONT TRUMP OVER RISING REFINER COSTS: Trump meets with a group of 11 Republican senators on Thursday to discuss ways to fix the nation's ethanol mandate to address oil refiners' concerns that the program "isn't working as intended," according to the White House.
"President Trump will meet with senators today to discuss his commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard and how to effectively address the program's impact on independent refiners," said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Meet the 11: The senators are being led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The rest of the group includes Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Jim Lankford of Oklahoma, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The EPA's RFS program requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol and other biofuels into the nation's diesel and gasoline supply.
Freedom from compliance costs: The refiners want the administration to free them from the high cost of complying with the RFS by requiring them to purchase Renewable Identification Number credits, which are subject to volatility and price spikes. The rising cost of RINs is forcing some refiners to consider layoffs, and the industry wants the administration to endorse a policy that addresses those costs.
Striking the balance: But Trump also supports the RFS because of its positive impact in rural parts of the nation such as Iowa, one of the nation's largest corn ethanol producers.
MEETING WOULD HAVE ‘MORE JUICE’ IF GRASSLEY CAME: The ethanol industry's top proponent in the Senate, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, will not attend the Thursday meeting about the biofuel mandate.
Iowa not at the table: "Sen. [Chuck] Grassley wasn’t invited, so he’s not going to any meeting at the White House tomorrow regarding the [Renewable Fuel Standard]," Grassley spokesman Michael Zona in an email to the Washington Examiner on Wednesday.
Some refiners say leaving the Iowa Republican out of the meeting limits what can be achieved at the gathering. The meeting comes after the Trump administration last week enacted new renewable fuel targets for 2018 at higher levels than oil refiners had wanted while formally rejecting a scheme to cut refiners out of the RFS altogether.
Where’s the ‘juice’?: The meeting would have "more juice" if Grassley were there, said Stephen Brown, vice president of federal affairs for the large refiner Andeavor, formerly Tesoro.
PERRY RELEASES NEW FUNDS FOR NUCLEAR: Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday announced a new funding opportunity for advanced nuclear power projects.
“This funding opportunity is an important step to ensure our nation continues to benefit from this clean, resilient source of electricity,” Perry said.
Seeking innovation: The proposal seeks to begin a new round of projects with the industry to share the costs of developing “innovative, industry-driven reactor designs and accompanying technologies with high potential to advance nuclear power in the United States,” the agency announced Thursday morning.
Tens of millions to trickle: “Targeted early-stage investment in advanced nuclear technology will support a strong domestic industry now and into the future,” said Perry. The agency expects to make up to $30 million or more in awards available in fiscal 2018.
Ahead of FERC action: Perry’s announcement came as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is looking to hold a vote on Perry’s previous regulatory proposal to give market incentives to nuclear and coal plants, which have been struggling economically. The vote is expected on Monday.
PRUITT ANNOUNCES MORE EPA HEARINGS ON CLEAN POWER PLAN REPEAL: The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it will host three more public hearings on its move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, including one in San Francisco, after the agency was criticized for not conducting a transparent review process.
Considering outside coal country: EPA had planned only one public hearing, which it held last week over two days in Charleston, W.Va., the heart of coal country.
The new hearings will be held in San Francisco, Gillette, Wyo., and Kansas City, Mo., at dates and times to be determined.
Obama plan on the outs: EPA proposed to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on Oct. 10, with Pruitt saying that the Obama administration based the plan on an expansive and illegal interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
Pruitt is expected to soon issue a notice seeking comment on how to proceed. EPA will accept comments on its proposed repeal through Jan. 16.
KEVIN MCINTYRE SWORN IN AS FERC CHAIRMAN, FILLING COMMISSION: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday morning swore in its fifth member and chairman, Republican Kevin McIntyre, giving the panel a full slate of commissioners just days before it is expected to rule on a controversial proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.
Another new commissioner, Richard Glick, a Democrat, was sworn in Nov. 29, but McIntyre’s status was delayed.
Resume, please: Glick was a Democratic attorney for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. McIntyre is a former energy industry adviser and lawyer.
The Senate confirmed both of their nominations Nov. 2, and their membership on the commission will give FERC a full slate of five members for the first time in two years.
Key decision coming: McIntyre and Glick’s position on FERC will be key in figuring how the commission votes on Perry's proposal to compensate coal and nuclear plants for the reliability they bring to the power grid.
Current Chairman Neil Chatterjee, a former staffer of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed strong support for adopting the proposed rule in some form.
McIntyre and Glick, however, stressed in their September confirmation hearings that they would adhere to the commission's basic duties of approving and regulating the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and crude oil, without favoring one energy source over another.
McIntyre’s power: FERC is not required by statute to rule on Perry’s proposal by Dec. 11, and McIntyre as chairman will have the authority to extend the process or even reject it.
GENERAL ELECTRIC CUTS 12,000 JOBS DUE TO LAGGING COAL DEMAND: General Electric Co. announced Thursday that it will cut 12,000 jobs in its power division amid the nation’s switch from coal and other fossil fuels toward cleaner sources.
The company said Thursday that the cuts will "right-size" GE Power amid the transition taking place in power markets. The job cuts will save the company $1 billion, it said.
PATAGONIA SUES TO PREVENT TRUMP FROM SHRINKING BEARS EARS: Outdoor recreation company Patagonia sued Wednesday to block Trump from shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
Patagonia called Trump’s decision to downsize Bears Ears by 85 percent an “extreme overreach in authority.”
Monument diet: Under the proclamations signed by Trump Monday, protected territory in Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah will be reduced by nearly 2 million acres total.
Lawsuits galore: Counting Patagonia's lawsuit, the Trump administration has already been hit with four legal challenges.
Critics say the 1906 Antiquities Act does not give presidents the explicit authority to reduce the size of national monuments already designated under the law. Some presidents have done so on a limited scale, but the concept has not been tested in court.
VOLKSWAGEN EXECUTIVE HEADING TO PRISON FOR EMISSIONS SCANDAL: A former Volkswagen executive was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison after admitting he helped the company cheat to avoid clean air laws.
Oliver Schmidt, who led the company’s environmental and engineering office, is the second person to be imprisoned in the U.S. over the diesel emissions scandal.
The scheme: Volkswagen conceded in 2015 that it sold “clean diesel” vehicles containing software designed to cheat U.S. emissions tests.
The EPA, working with the Justice Department, helped secure Schmidt’s guilty plea.
‘Unfair advantage’: “As this case demonstrates, EPA is committed to ensuring a level playing field for companies that follow the rules and pursuing individuals whose actions create an unfair competitive advantage for their employer,” said EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield.
ALASKA PETROLEUM RESERVE AUCTION YIELDS FEW BIDS: The Trump administration garnered seven bids covering about 80,000 onshore acres of the 10 million auctioned in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.
ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc., in partnership with Anadarko Petroleum Corp, submitted the seven bids, totaling $1.16 million, according to Reuters.
Impact on ANWR push: The National Petroleum Reserve is 23.5 million acres of federal land in the western part of Alaska’s north slope already set aside for energy development.
The modest bidding may signal challenges ahead for Republicans who are moving toward opening the more controversial Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling.
Senate Republicans approved a tax plan last week that includes a provision permitting drilling in the refuge, but the upper chamber still must reconcile that legislation with the House.
STATES, MONIZ TO WRITE BIGGEST ENERGY STUDY IN AMERICA: State energy offices are joining forces with the Obama administration’s energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, to write what they are calling the “most comprehensive study of clean energy and other energy jobs in America.”
The National Association of State Energy Officials, representing governor-overseen energy offices in nearly all 50 states, announced it is teaming up with the group E2 and Moniz’s Energy Futures Initiative to begin work on the major study that will focus on clean energy jobs.
“The 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) will provide detailed analysis of energy jobs for every state, including jobs in solar, wind, energy efficiency and clean transportation,” the groups said. It is expected to be released in the spring.
The group E2 initiated clean jobs research several years ago, which later became the basis for development of similar reports produced the U.S. Department of Energy in 2016 and 2017, according to the groups. That research will be used for the groups to build off of in the new study.
“Thanks to this new report and its unprecedented group of partners, we’ll be able to show just how widespread these jobs are, right down to the local level in every state,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2.
WATCHDOG SAYS SOLAR FIRMS REACH RECORD OF COMPLAINTS: The watchdog group Campaign for Accountability found rooftop solar firms SolarCity and Vivint Solar received more complaints against them “than any other company.”
The group is asking the federal government to investigate the firms’ activities.
The study found that the Better Business Bureau, which has not accredited Vivint, received 522 complaints against the company and 671 against Solar City. The Federal Trade Commission has received a combined 152 complaints against the companies since 2012, according to the watchdog group.
“ Overall, consumer complaints about solar companies filed with the FTC increased seven-fold between 2012 and 2016,” the group said.
“After reviewing these complaints, CfA asked state and federal authorities to investigate the industry’s conduct with particular attention to Vivint and SolarCity,” according to the group. It said the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation with state attorneys general.
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Bloomberg U.S. energy storage surges 46 percent led by big project in windy Texas
Wall Street Journal GE’s power division to eliminate 12,000 jobs due to softening markets for coal and gas
THURSDAY, DEC. 7
9 a.m., 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The Washington International Trade Association holds a discussion on "Energy and the NAFTA."
10 a.m., 2125 Rayburn. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before House Energy and Commerce Committee Environment Subcommittee.
10 a.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on "Transforming the Department of the Interior for the 21st Century."
2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Committee’s Federal Lands Subcommittee holds a hearing on the "Tulare Youth Recreation and Women's History Enhancement Act"; a bill to amend the Wilderness Act to ensure that the use of bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers and game carts is not prohibited in Wilderness Areas; the "Modoc County Land Transfer and Economic Development Act of 2017"; and the "Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2017."
2 p.m., 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) holds a discussion on "OPEC's World Oil Outlook 2017," focusing on the impacts of worldwide shifts in demographics, emissions reductions, and technological development.