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HOUSE LOOKS TO CHANGE ENERGY DEPARTMENT’S FOCUS TO ‘ENERGY ABUNDANCE’: The House on Tuesday started a half-day series of hearings on realigning the Energy Department toward President Trump’s goal of energy abundance.
“While the domestic and international posture is substantially different from when Congress established the department more than 40 years ago, the importance of DOE’s role in serving the national and the public interest has only increased,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Striking the ‘energy abundance’ balance: Walden wants the department to balance “energy abundance” from the fracking boom, while maintaining its responsibilities toward cleaning up nuclear fuel and weapons depots across the country, including at the Hanford weapons plant in Washington.
Reshaping the agency: The House committee is just beginning to look at how to best shape the agency toward the administration’s goals of energy dominance, but it is obvious it will mean more focus on energy exports and less focus on renewables and items such as energy-efficient light bulbs and clothes dryers.
Democrats will resist: Democrats said if the goal is to shrink and gut the agency, the GOP will find pushback.
Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the energy committee, said Democrats will resist any move away from efficiency programs that benefit consumers and undermine efforts to address climate change.
Fearing a Pruitt-to-Perry shift: Pallone also said Democrats are wary of a GOP-backed move to shift Environmental Protection Agency responsibilities to the Department of Energy. Rick Perry runs the Department of Energy, while Scott Pruitt is EPA chief.
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EXXON ATTACKS CALIFORNIA LAWSUITS CLAIMING CLIMATE ‘CONSPIRACY:’ Exxon Mobil launched a legal counterattack Monday against seven cities in California that want state courts to force the oil company to pay for infrastructure improvements to help them adapt to climate change.
Climate conspiracies bigger in Texas: The oil giant argued that it and other Texas-based energy companies have become the target of a “conspiracy” among liberal state attorneys general and other officials seeking to blame them for driving up greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for causing the earth’s temperature to rise.
In the crosshairs: “Exxon Mobil finds itself directly in that conspiracy’s crosshairs,” the company’s attorneys said in legal documents filed in a Texas state district court Monday night.
Paris wasn’t enough: “Even though it has long acknowledged the risks presented by climate change, supported the Paris climate accords, and backed a revenue-neutral carbon tax, Exxon Mobil has nevertheless been targeted by state and local governments for pretextual investigations and litigation intended to cleanse the public square of alternative viewpoints,” Exxon argued.
FERC DASHES RICK PERRY’S HOPES FOR COAL PLANT PAYMENTS: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously voted to kill a key proposal by Perry to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.
Although FERC is scrapping Perry’s proposal as unjustifiable under its legal bar for approving such regulations, it is starting an effort to examine and measure grid “resiliency.”
Perry argued in his proposal that coal and nuclear provided resilience to the grid during major strain and supply disruptions because of weather and other unexpected events.
FERC is asking the grid operators it oversees to report back to it on the state of resilience, including how they define the attribute.
BIG DISAPPOINTMENT FOR COAL AND NUCLEAR INDUSTRIES: The coal and nuclear industries, as expected, were not thrilled with the commission’s unanimous decision to kill the Perry plan.
The operative word for the industries, especially coal, was “disappointing.”
‘Disappointing’ across the board for coal: “Today’s disappointing lack of action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission follows a week in which the value of coal to Americans could not have been more clearly illustrated,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.
Deep freeze didn’t pay off: Quinn was expecting the surge in coal use during the two-week cold snap to have hardened FERC’s resolve in approving the Perry plan. But no such luck.
Plants will continue to close: “While FERC has agreed to conduct further examinations of the grid vulnerability to such events, vital coal and nuclear power plant retirements continue,” he said.
Atomic disappointment: Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, also said she was “disappointed” with FERC.
“America's nuclear fleet must remain a strategic asset contributing to energy security, resilience, reliability, economic growth and environmental protection,” she said.
MOODY’S SAYS KILLING PERRY’S PLAN IS ‘POSITIVE:’ Credit ratings giant Moody’s is giving power plants a positive rating after FERC decided to reject Perry’s grid proposal.
A plus for power plants: Moody’s Toby Shea, vice president for investor services, said the decision by FERC to reject the Perry plan and move forward with a broader discussion of resilience should be taken as a plus for power plant owners in terms of their creditworthiness.
A ‘win’ for market reform: "The FERC rejected the Trump administration's fuel storage proposal but remains committed to addressing resiliency issues,” Shea said Tuesday morning. “This is a win for market-based reform and a credit positive for base load generators."
SHRINKING OF BEARS EARS NEEDS ‘FINALITY,’ BISHOP SAYS: House Resources Natural Committee Chairman Rob Bishop said Tuesday that Congress must soon pass a bill to enshrine President Trump’s rollback of the Bears Ears National Monument to provide “finality” on the issue.
“It is significant and important that Congress move as quickly as possible to give certainty to people who live there and start the management process of the land going forward,” the Utah Republican told reporters. “It is not as important politically as it is to the people who live in this areas so they have their voices heard for the first time to how [the Bureau of Land Management] manages the land.”
Bishop’s committee hosted a hearing Tuesday morning on a bill authored by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, that would provide legislative support to Trump’s actions to shrink the Utah monument, which was created by former President Barack Obama during his last weeks in office.
The new concept: Under Trump’s proposal, and Curtis’ bill, Bears Ears would be divided into two smaller monuments: Indian Creek National Monument and the Shash Jaa National Monument.
Mining ‘not possible’: Curtis’ bill explicitly bars mining and drilling in the new monument area as well as in the land that was covered before Trump altered the boundaries.
“The idea of any kind of mining taking place there, oil and gas especially, is remote and not possible,” Bishop said.
The bill would permit tribes to co-manage the monuments and create the “first-ever protection enforcement team” for antiquities inside the newly designated monuments.
State of play: Bishop on Tuesday said he expects his committee to vote on the bill before Valentine’s Day. Democrats and leadership of five Native American tribes strongly oppose the legislation, saying Curtis’ bill and Trump’s action strip away protections of Bears Ears.
Democrats slammed Tuesday’s hearing for not being “balanced” and say tribal leadership has not been consulted.
“If their primary interest was to increase tribal coalition participation of [managing] Bears Ears, we would have representatives from each of the tribal nations here,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.
ENERGY INDUSTRY EXPECTED TO FOCUS ON GULF AS TRUMP EXPANDS OFFSHORE DRILLING: The energy industry is expected to target the eastern Gulf of Mexico as the Trump administration plans to open almost all federal waters to oil and natural gas drilling.
‘Crown jewel’: “Of all the areas, the eastern Gulf of Mexico is the crown jewel,” William Turner, a senior research analyst at energy consultant Wood Mackenzie, told the Washington Examiner. “It would gather the most interest because it seems it has the least amount of political risk, and technically, it is an area the industry knows, the way the waters behave, what geology is expected.”
The government has a moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022, imposed partly because the Pentagon worries oil development would interfere with military testing and training in the area.
Smaller risk: Opening up areas east toward the coast of Florida would offer companies strong prospects for oil and gas and easy connections to existing infrastructure.
“There is more applicable data in the Gulf than anywhere else, which reduces the risk significantly,” said Christopher Guith, senior vice president of the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Open season: Under the Interior Department's draft proposal, spanning 2019 to 2024, more than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be made available for leasing.
MAINE SENATORS SAY DRILLING PLAN THREATENS LOBSTERS: Both of Maine's senators are warning that the plan to open offshore drilling in the north Atlantic threatens the state's huge lobster industry.
Industry at risk: "We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine’s fisheries and other coastal resources, threatening to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well," Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Monday.
The lawmakers wrote that lobster alone is a $1.7 billion annual industry.
Maine coast tapped to drill: According to the draft proposal, the Interior Department plans two auctions in 2021 and 2023 for offshore drilling leases in the North Atlantic region, which extends from New Jersey to Maine. The department is holding public hearings across the country, including one scheduled for Jan. 22 in Augusta.
FLORIDA LAWMAKERS FIGHT ROLLBACK OF OFFSHORE SAFETY RULES: A bipartisan group of 20 Florida members of Congress sent a letter Tuesday to the Trump administration opposing its planned rollback of safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
‘Systematic safety failures’: In a letter to Zinke, the group warned that “an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and inflict long-term environmental damage.” It asks the Interior secretary to “reject any proposals to roll back regulations that were specifically adopted to address systemic safety failures that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.”
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott also opposes both Trump’s safety rule rollback and the massive proposed expansion of offshore drilling.
Trump’s plan: Among the proposed safety changes, the Interior Department would eliminate a provision requiring third-party inspectors of certain safety equipment, such as a blowout preventer device, be certified by its safety bureau. The blowout preventer broke at the bottom of the sea in the Deepwater Horizon incident, spewing almost 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
TRUMP RE-NOMINATES KATHLEEN HARTNETT WHITE FOR TOP ENVIRONMENTAL POST: President Trump on Monday renominated Kathleen Hartnett White to be the top environmental official in the White House after the Senate had declined to consider her nomination during the congressional session that expired last month.
Democrats had successfully stalled White’s confirmation, with the Senate returning her nomination to the White House rather than automatically tabling her nomination into 2018 with other pending nominations.
Instant replay: Trump's decision to renominate White means the confirmation process will start again from scratch.
Now, White will have to have another vote in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, which advanced her nomination along a party-line vote in late November.
TOP ENERGY DEPARTMENT NOMINEE WITHDRAWS FROM CONSIDERATION: David Jonas, who President Trump nominated last year to be the Energy Department's general counsel, wrote on his LinkedIn page that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.
Jonas had attracted controversy for co-writing an op-ed in 1993 opposing gay people serving in the military.
Work reasons: Jonas, currently an attorney at the law firm FH+H, cited work responsibilities as the reason for his withdrawal.
“In considering the additional months that would be required for final confirmation, as well as my professional responsibilities at FH+H Law Firm, I respectfully and regretfully requested that my nomination be withdrawn from consideration,” Jonas said.
2017 COSTLIEST YEAR FOR DISASTERS THANKS TO HURRICANES, WILDFIRES: Three consecutive hurricanes and a flurry of major Western wildfires made 2017 the most expensive year ever for natural disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday.
The disasters cost $306 billion in total damage, with 16 events that caused more than $1 billion in damage each and collectively killed 362 people.
Hammered by hurricanes: Hurricanes represented most of the costs, at $265 billion.
Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston in August and September, was the year’s costliest disaster, causing $125 billion in damage.
Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damage after devastating Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in late September, setting off a humanitarian crisis and leaving much of the U.S. territory without power. Hurricane Irma, hitting the Caribbean and Florida earlier in September, caused $50 billion in damage, NOAA reports.
Fire fright: Western wildfires, mostly in California, cost $18 billion and killed 54 people. It was the costliest year ever for wildfires.
TRUMP CELEBRATES REPEAL OF WOTUS DURING SPEECH TO FARMERS: President Trump, during a speech to farmers Monday, celebrated the reversal of the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which many rural landowners had opposed.
“We are streamlining regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate, thrive, and grow,” he said at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Nashville. “Oh, you are so happy you voted for me. You are so lucky I gave you that privilege.”
“It sounds so nice,” Trump said of WOTUS. “It sounds so innocent. And it was a disaster.”
However, WOTUS has not been changed yet. The Trump EPA is still working through redefining what constitutes a U.S. waterway under the Clean Water Act.
The Obama administration rule defined drainage ditches and watering holes the same as rivers and streams under EPA’s enforcement authority. That made farmers and ranchers subject to large fines and federal oversight.
PUERTO RICO’S OVERSIGHT BOARD APPROVES FOUR ENERGY PROJECTS: Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board on Monday approved four energy projects to help restore the island’s power grid after Hurricane Maria.
The board, created by Congress, authorized $1.5 billion in private funding for the projects.
Focus on renewables: The first is a six-turbine wind energy project. Another would use solid waste for energy generation.
The third project aims to provide backup power generation to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s bankrupt power utility.
And the fourth would move to reduce energy and water consumption at government buildings.
Comment period begins: Puerto Rico’s board, in announcing the plans, opened a 30-day public comment period, so they are not final.
Reuters East China Sea oil tanker burns for third day as winds, high waves lash rescuers
Washington Post Interior puts grants to nonprofits, universities through political-appointee review
Wall Street Journal New North Korea hack: Hijacking computers to power cryptocurrency mining
Reuters GM races to build a formula for profitable electric cars
Bloomberg There's a big victim from OPEC's oil cuts
Washington Post The nation’s rivers and streams are getting dangerously saltier
New York Daily News Climate change turns most Great Barrier Reef sea turtles female
TUESDAY, JAN. 9
Noon, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard delivers the 2018 “State of American Energy” event, previewing the U.S. oil and natural gas industry’s top priorities for the year ahead.
All day, Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Transportation Research Board holds its 97th Annual Meeting through Jan. 11, where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is planning to issue a new report on how roads contribute to climate change. A number of sessions and workshops will focus on the spotlight theme for the 2018 meeting: “Transportation: Moving the Economy of the Future.”
3 p.m., Room, H-313, Capitol. The House Rules Committee meets to formulate a rule to amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2010 to clarify the use of amounts in the White Mountain settlement Fund.
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 10
9 a.m., 10 G St. NE, James A. Harmon Conference Center. The World Resources Institute holds a discussion on "the big stories in the environment and international development in the coming year," including global trends and emerging issues related to economics, climate change, energy markets, forests, water and security issues.
10 a.m., 406 Dirksen. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold an oversight hearing on “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges.”