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50,000 LIVES HANG IN THE BALANCE AS FEDS FACE LEGACY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS ERUPTION: The Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption 37 years ago could endanger as many as 50,000 residents in Washington state if new infrastructure isn't built to contain catastrophic flooding, a new study released Friday by the National Academies of Sciences said.
The study was commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service to examine the risks associated with the hundreds of tons of volcanic ash that dammed nearby Lake Spirit, creating a risk of massive flooding.
Lives in danger: The study says 50,000 lives would be in danger if the volcanic debris erodes and floods the nearby area. It recommends creating an updated plan to contend with the risks and examine options for upgrading, or adding, new infrastructure to avert a disaster.
What’s the problem?: "The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens radically changed the landscape surrounding the volcano in southwest Washington state," the report's summary read. "The eruption sent an avalanche of debris into the North Fork of the Toutle River and blocked the drainage of Spirit Lake, causing a dangerous rise of lake waters. Should the debris blockage — which is functioning as a dam — fail, 50,000 people could be put at risk of catastrophic flooding and mud flows."
Powerful eruption in an earthquake zone: The eruption is often called the most powerful in U.S. history and was the first in the continental U.S. since 1915. The eruption was so intense it caused the entire north face of the mountain to fall away, resulting in massive mudslides as an 80,000-foot plume deposited ash across 11 states. The eruption accounted for the deaths of about 60 people.
The region is prone to chronic flooding "which is exacerbated by heavy sediment loads coming off the mountain," the study said.
FERC PUSHES 30-DAY EXTENSION TO RULE ON PERRY’S COAL LIFELINE: Kevin McIntyre, the newly sworn-in chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has told Energy Secretary Rick Perry the commission needs a 30-day extension before it can rule on his proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.
“The commission has sworn in two new members within the last two weeks,” McIntyre wrote to Perry in a letter addressed Thursday. “The proposed extension is critical to afford adequate time for the new commissioners to consider the voluminous record and engage fully in deliberations.”
Energy Department says it is reviewing the letter.
New kids on the block: McIntyre, a Republican nominee of President Trump, was sworn in as chairman on Thursday, which gave the FERC a full slate of five members for the first time in two years. Another new commissioner, Democrat Richard Glick was sworn in Nov. 29.
Overwhelming response: Perry expected the commission to rule by Dec. 11 on his proposed rule for FERC to pay ailing coal and nuclear plants to keep running for the “reliability and resilience” they provide to the power grid.
McIntyre said in his letter that FERC has received more than 1,500 comments since soliciting public response on Oct. 2.
What Perry wants: Perry’s plan would rewrite the rules governing wholesale power markets to reward power producers that are able to store enough fuel for 90 days of generation on-site, a condition coal, nuclear and some hydropower plants can fulfill.
It is intended to reward coal and nuclear for their ability to keep the lights on when the grid is significantly strained.
The opposition: But the wider energy industry, from oil and natural gas producers to wind and solar, opposes the proposed rule and said it would upend competitive power markets by propping up failing plants and increasing prices for consumers.
FERC has the power: FERC, which is independent, has the authority to approve, modify or outright reject Perry’s plan.
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TRUMP DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY FOR WILDFIRES: President Trump declared a state of emergency for counties in southern California Friday after a request from Gov. Jerry Brown, because of the massive wildfires that have spread in the area.
Brown sent a letter to Trump Thursday requesting the emergency declaration, which will unlock federal resources for Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
At least six wildfires have burned 140,000 acres this week, according to officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
More than 190,000 people have been evacuated from the area and the fires threaten at least 23,000 homes.
INTERIOR DEPARTMENT CONTESTS REPORT ON ZINKE’S HELICOPTER TRAVEL: The Interior Department is fighting back after a report said Secretary Ryan Zinke spent thousands on helicopter rides to events in the Washington area.
Zinke spent more than $14,000 on travel to and from official events, according to Politico.
"It's complete garbage and yellow journalism at its worst," said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the department, in an email to the Washington Examiner
High life: In June, Zinke ordered a U.S. Park Police helicopter for travel to West Virginia following Rep. Greg Gianforte's swearing-in. The cost was $8,000, according to Politico, citing travel logs obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Gianforte took Zinke's Montana congressional seat.
In July, the secretary ordered a helicopter to and from Yorktown, Va., to be back in time for a 4 p.m. horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington. That trip cost more than $6,000.
Interior’s explanation: "After a congressional hearing, the secretary attended an official congressional event with the new congressman from Montana (who replaced him) and the speaker of the House before going to an emergency management briefing," Swift said. "On the other occasion he did an aerial survey of a power line corridor, which was pending before the department, while traveling back from meetings in southern Virginia in order to get to a meeting with the vice President."
Under the microscope: Zinke is under investigation by the department's inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel for mixing business and political travel.
INTERIOR DEPARTMENT TO DELAY OBAMA METHANE RULE TWO YEARS: The Trump administration will formally announce Friday a two-year delay in implementing a 2016 Obama-era rule intended to curb methane emissions from natural gas drilling on public lands.
The Republican-controlled Senate failed in May to repeal the rule, so the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is taking action itself, according to a filing in the Federal Register.
Industry takes action on its terms: The delay comes after energy companies and a major industry group recently announced programs to voluntarily reduce emissions of methane.
Methane, the main component in natural gas, is more potent than carbon dioxide, although its emissions are relatively short-lived.
DEMS SLAM ‘SHAM’ REVENUE PROJECTIONS FOR ANWR AFTER WEAK AUCTION: Democrats are questioning the Congressional Budget Office’s projections of revenue that can be raised by drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after a federal auction to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska yielded few bids.
‘Dismal response’: "The dismal response to this lease sale proves what we’ve been saying all along: Even the small amount the GOP claims will be raised by drilling in the Arctic is a sham,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Thursday.
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter Thursday to Keith Hall, director of the Congressional Budget Office, requesting a reassessment of how much revenue drilling in ANWR could generate. CBO has said drilling would raise $1.1 billion over 10 years.
Weak bids: Energy experts have considered drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve, 23.5 million acres of federal land in the western part of Alaska’s north slope, to be a safer bet than ANWR, since the reserve is already set aside for energy development.
But the Trump administration garnered only seven bids covering about 80,000 onshore acres of the 10 million auctioned from the reserve Wednesday.
ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc., in partnership with Anadarko Petroleum Corp, submitted the seven bids, totaling $1.16 million, raising significantly less than expected.
Preview of ANWR?: The modest bidding may signal challenges for Republicans who are moving toward opening the more controversial Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, also in Alaska, to oil and natural gas drilling.
TONKO GIVES PRUITT’S HILL DEBUT A FAILING GRADE: “Today’s hearing was a denial of science and a frustrating evasion of required transparent answers.” That’s how Democratic New York Rep. Paul Tonko described a wo-part hearing with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday.
Pruitt made his first visit to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday since he was confirmed by the Senate in February. Tonko is the top Democrat on the committee’s environment panel with direct oversight of the EPA.
Avoiding testifying: “Congress needs and deserves accountability from EPA, but until now Administrator Pruitt had avoided testifying before this committee all year,” Tonko said in a statement on how he thought the hearing went.
Pruitt ‘failed’: “In addition, Administrator Pruitt today failed to respond adequately to critical questions about the role of science, and in particular climate science, at the agency, his use of private travel and other personal perks at taxpayer expense, and the growing corporate influence in the agency’s top leadership and scientific positions. After more than two interrupted hours of dissembling testimony, nearly all of those questions remain.”
Thank you, but … : Tonko did thank Pruitt for his appearance but then “expressed deep dissatisfaction in the content of the testimony.” Tonko wants Pruitt to meet his obligations to Congress in providing information he promised to deliver to the committee.
Upping pressure from the House: It appears House Democrats will be hounding the administrator. “The administrator made a number of commitments today to provide the committee with additional information,” Tonko said. “I will be watching closely to ensure he delivers on those commitments and will continue working to hold EPA and the entire Trump administration accountable for its actions.”
GE JOB CUTS SPURS CREDIT AGENCY TO ASSESS COMPANIES’ FOSSIL FUEL BLOAT: The 12,000 jobs that GE’s electricity division said it was shedding because of waning demand for coal and other fossil fuels has grabbed the attention of one of the largest credit rating agencies: Moody’s.
"The magnitude of the announced headcount reduction illustrates the severity of the challenges that GE faces in its Power segment, and the imperative to align its operations with the current demand environment for gas- and coal-fired power plant equipment and services,” the credit rater said.
Moody’s said it will begin drilling down on GE and similar companies such as Siemens that have substantial power divisions focused on the maintenance of coal and natural gas assets.
Two-year probe: “Over the next two years, we will be looking for the extent to which the measures taken by GE and its competitors like Siemens allay our concerns about overcapacity in the market, which would help to ease pressure on pricing for GE’s products and services.”
Companies shrinking: “At the same time, we will be looking for the impact of this restructuring on the earnings and cash flows of GE’s Power segment beyond 2018, which we believe are crucial to the overall credit quality of GE," Moody’s said.
ENERGY SERVICES GIANT FLUOR RAKES IN FEDERAL MONEY TO FIX PUERTO RICO’S GRID: The Army Corps of Engineers this week gave Fluor an additional $265 million to its existing $240 million contract to repair the power grid in Puerto Rico this week.
"This will increase our ability to provide the manpower, equipment and technical expertise as we work to help repair the power grid," said José Sánchez, director of Puerto Rico’s power grid restoration with the Army Corps of Engineers. "Our goal is to help [the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] return electricity to homes and businesses as quickly as possible, and this additional funding for this contract is a significant step in meeting that goal," he said.
The Army Corp. on Dec. 1 also awarded Fluor another contract worth $831 million, bringing the company’s two Puerto Rico contracts to $1.3 billion.
AUTOMAKER TRADE GROUP URGES CONGRESS TO SAVE ELECTRIC CAR TAX CREDITS: The Electric Drive Transportation Association, representing all segments of the electric car supply chain, sent a letter Thursday urging Congress to save the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles in the tax reform legislation.
The House version of the bill kills the subsidy, while the Senate does not. Now that both chambers have passed the bills, a conference committee has been formed to reconcile the differences. So the credit could survive before going to President Trump’s desk.
“The Section 30D credit is working as intended to promote the deployment of plug-in electric drive vehicles by multiple vehicle manufacturers and ensure that the United States leads, rather than follows, in this critical advanced technology,” said Genevieve Cullen, the group’s president. “U.S. leadership in EV technology expands our global competitiveness and creates domestic jobs.”
CLIMATE CHANGE WARNINGS AT GAS STATIONS COMING TO MASSACHUSETTS? Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wants gasoline station owners to post warnings at the pump that say customers are spurring climate change by filling up their tanks.
The idea came up in oral arguments in a state court Tuesday in a case challenging Exxon Mobil’s record on addressing the threat of global warming. The pro-fossil fuel group Energy In-Depth played up Healey’s counsel’s statements in an email sent out Thursday.
What Healey’s counsel actually said: “If they’re doing sales and marketing in Massachusetts, and they know things that they should be telling people – either consumers or investors – that would be relevant to the consumers or investors’ decisions, then they’ve gotta make that part of their advertising. They can’t simply go around and say, ‘We’re selling you this terrific product,’ and keep to themselves what they know about the possible impacts of those products on global warming.”
A judge’s response: “The franchisee has to put on its gas station, ‘You’re creating global warming by buying my gas?’”
Washington Post Virginia water board approves Mountain Valley Pipeline, angering opponents
New York Times Renewable energy is surging. The GOP tax bill could curtail that.
Wall Street Journal Mine the gap: More women embrace mining careers
Houston Chronicle U.S. LNG exports reach a tipping point
Bloomberg The Panama Canal Is now a major problem for U.S. shale
New York Times Ford will build electric cars in Mexico, shifting its plan
Bloomberg South Korea makes renewable energy push
MONDAY, DEC. 11
9:30 a.m., Deerfield, Ill. The House Small Business Committee Agriculture, Energy and Trade Subcommittee field hearing on "Bridging the Entrepreneurial Gap: Addressing Barriers to Small Business Formation and Growth."
TUESDAY, DEC. 12
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce Committee Environment Subcommittee and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee joint hearing on "Update on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Program (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Motor Vehicles."
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee Environment Subcommittee and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hold a joint hearing on "Update on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Program (CAFE) and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Motor Vehicles."
2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. House Natural Resources Committee Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing on "Examining Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Foreign Minerals."
5 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Committee Full committee holds a markup of pending legislation.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 13
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee holds a hearing on "Examining the Drug Supply Chain."
10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee Energy Subcommittee holds a hearing on "The Impacts and Future of North American Energy Trade."
2 p.m., 2318 Rayburn. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Energy Subcommittee holds a hearing on "Advancing Solar Energy Technology: Research Trumps Deployment."