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PUERTO RICO GOVERNOR PROMISES ‘MOST TRANSPARENT DISASTER RECONSTRUCTION IN AMERICAN HISTORY:' Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Tuesday promised lawmakers he would lead the “most transparent disaster reconstruction in American history,” nearly 60 days after Hurricane Maria.
Rossello assured the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that half of the island’s power generation will be restored by Wednesday, although he did not say how many households and businesses remain without power.
Privatizing power utility: He said he is considering ways to reform the island’s much-maligned, bankrupt power utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA.
Rossello said the island is “evaluating public and private ownership or a combination” for the state-run PREPA “to achieve reliability and resiliency in the long-term.”
“We need to transform PREPA,” Rossello said, adding that he hopes the utility gets 20 to 25 percent of its power from renewable energy sources within five years.
Rossello on Monday requested $94.4 billion from Congress to pay for damages from Maria. Of that, he asked for $17 billion for “power grid and resiliency.”
CANTWELL BASHES PREPA FOR SIGNING CONTRACT THAT ‘GOUGED’ TAXPAYERS: Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the leading Democrat of the committee, called for accountability relating to PREPA’s decision to sign a $300 million, no-bid contract with small Montana firm Whitefish Energy.
Instead of activating "mutual aid" arrangements with other utilities, PREPA decided to hire Whitefish, even though other mutual aid agreements in Florida, Texas and many other states have helped U.S. utilities rebuild following natural disasters.
‘Great injustice’: “The welfare of the Puerto Rican people on the island is my No. 1 concern, but I will not stop making sure U.S. taxpayers are not gouged in this process,” Cantwell said in her opening statement of Tuesday morning’s hearing.
“The reason why we have mutual aid contracts is to rebuild at cost. So the notion someone comes in to gouge the Puerto Rico government and U.S. taxpayer, charging them exorbitant rates, than writing a contract so it can’t be reviewed property, was a great injustice to the U.S. taxpayer.”
Rossello said he rejected requesting aid from other states to repair the electrical grid in favor of seeking assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers and Whitefish.
PREPA Executive Director Ricardo Ramos is scheduled to testify later Tuesday.
PUERTO RICO’S WATER ‘POSSIBLY THE MOST CONTAMINATED’ IN U.S.: Citizens drinking well water from toxic waste sites in Puerto Rico amid the hurricane recovery effort was a major issue at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday morning.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria “uncovered the intensified issues associated with aging and inefficient energy infrastructure, contaminated sites that rapidly multiplying, landfills that are already overflowing, and possibly the most contaminated drinking water supply in the United States,” said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the chairman of the committee’s environment panel.
The hearing was part of a series the energy committee is holding to examine the hurricane response effort, while looking at what Congress can do to help Puerto Rico and the states hit by this year’s devastating storms.
Shimkus raised the drinking water concerns in opening the hearing, which featured a number of Environmental Protection Agency regional office chiefs who have overseen the environmental response on hurricane-ravaged states and territories.
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BISHOP QUESTIONS PREPA’S ‘COMPETENCE:’ Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Monday night that PREPA had fulfilled his request to submit to congressional investigators more than 2,000 pages of documents related to the power utility’s handling of the Whitefish contract.
Rossello will appear before House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday afternoon, but Ramos won’t.
‘Legacy of dysfunction:’ Bishop said the documents show PREPA has a “competence deficit” that necessitates federal oversight over contracts.
“A legacy of dysfunction (at PREPA) has created a competence deficit that threatens the island’s ability to improve conditions for its citizens. Confidence in the utility’s ability to manage contracts and time-sensitive disaster related infrastructure work is long gone,” Bishop said.
All about the Benjamins: PREPA approved higher rates of pay and costs than normal for the Whitefish contract, according to a summary of the documents released by the committee Monday night.
PREPA and Whitefish agreed to a contract on Sept. 26 and an expanded contract on Oct. 17.
The utility approved the second contract despite objections from its own lawyers, who worried it offered few protections. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also expressed concern about provisions of the contract.
The committee said the standard hourly labor rates in both contracts were “exorbitant.”
Shipping problems, gifts: Committee investigators noted that PREPA and Whitefish encountered “major shipping problems,” prompting delays that forced the power utility to approve charter jets at higher costs to transport cargo.
Whitefish also unsuccessfully sought to obtain exemptions from Puerto Rican taxes and labor laws, the committee said, and offered to provide a generator for the family of one of Prepa’s executives.
WHITEFISH CEO PLAYS DEFENSE: Ahead of Tuesday’s hearings, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski defended his company’s work in an op-ed for the Morning Consult.
He said Whitefish restored power to more than 500,000 people in Puerto Rico, fixed more than 200 miles of transmission and distribution lines, and mobilized more than 500 power line workers and 600 pieces of equipment.
“While our contract has been canceled, our team takes great pride in the work we have accomplished,” Techmanski said. “Whitefish Energy scaled up quickly to meet the challenge and bring power back to portions of Puerto Rico. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that it will take considerable time and resources to restore power and other essential services to the island and its citizens.”
COURT REJECTS PLAN TO INSTALL EMERGENCY MANAGER TO OVERSEE PREPA: A U.S. federal judge on Monday rejected a request from Puerto Rico’s independent oversight board to appoint an emergency manager to oversee the island’s bankrupt power utility, which has struggled to turn the lights back on after Maria.
The oversight board last month proposed that Noel Zamot, a retired Air Force colonel, should serve as emergency manager of PREPA.
Overstepping authority: Rossello objected to the appointment, which he said was an intrusion on the island’s sovereignty and an act of overreach by the oversight board.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in New York on Monday agreed with Rossello and rejected the appointment, Reuters first reported.
COULD A LOW-CARBON FUEL STANDARD COME TO THE EAST COAST? The California low-carbon fuel standard — sort of the cap-and-trade program for transportation fuels — has been considered on the East Coast in the past, but even the Obama administration took a pass on it.
But seven states from New England to the Mid-Atlantic and the District of Columbia are looking at options to build a low-carbon and less congested transportation corridor that would extend across a large swath of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Serious challenges: “Participating states recognize that the region faces serious environmental and transportation challenges that can best be addressed by tapping into America's greatest strengths, including a skilled workforce, innovation, public-private partnerships, and the power of markets. For the past two years, states have been exploring policy approaches to create the clean transportation system that the region needs to meet today's and tomorrow's challenges,” a statement by the state consortium stated.
Two years of talks: “Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have been working together since 2015 to explore regional policies to reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants from the transportation sector and improve transportation systems.” The Georgetown Climate Center is helping coordinate the effort.
Low-carbon fuel fight in California: The low-carbon standard was opposed by oil companies and the corn ethanol industry because of the strict limitations it would place on the type of fuels sold in California. Corn ethanol was seen under the program as a less-than-advantageous fuel for reaching climate change goals. The program was caught in a legal fight for years on issues involving violations of the commerce clause under the Constitution.
States’ year-long discussion: The states’ discussions will start in the fall and continue into 2018, with states discussing options with communities and businesses.
THINK TANK RE-UPS LAWSUIT OVER OBAMA PARIS STRATEGY: The Competitive Enterprise Institute on Monday sued the State Department a second time for withholding emails and texts related to the Obama administration's strategy to thwart Senate Republicans in joining the Paris climate change deal.
The free-market think tank formally petitioned the State Department in both August and October under the Freedom of Information Act to release emails and texts from two officials, Trigg Talley and Alexandra Costello.
The group says the correspondence will show the level of maneuvering by the Obama administration to find a way around Senate ratification to join the Paris Agreement.
PROTESTERS INTERRUPT TRUMP OFFICIALS PROMOTING COAL IN BONN: Activists on Monday interrupted a Trump administration-led discussion at the United Nations’ international climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, about the “clean” deployment of coal and nuclear power, by singing a parody version of "God Bless the USA."
The ‘provocative spark’: Before the protests, which were targeted at coal use, George David Banks, President Trump’s special assistant on international energy and environment who led the panel, shared the administration’s view that fighting climate change cannot come at the cost of economic success.
“Some people have called it [the panel] provocative,” Banks said. “We would disagree. This panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our hands in the sand and ignore the realities of the global energy system.”
Climate change not top priority: Banks later conceded that while “climate change mitigation is an important goal to the U.S, energy security and economic prosperity are higher priorities.”
Talk it out: The protesters sang for about 10 minutes before leaving without hearing the content of the discussion.
After the protesters left, some on the panel said they wished the activists would have stayed and considered alternative viewpoints.
‘Silos’ harm progress: Amos Hochstein, who was the State Department's top energy envoy in the Obama administration, said talking in “silos” harms progress on addressing climate change.
“I disagree with a lot of people on this panel, but I'm here anyway," said Hochstein, who is now a senior adviser at Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas exporter. “If we really care about clean air, about climate change, we have to stop silo-ing ourselves into communities where we talk to ourselves.”
CASHING IN ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Amid the negotiations in Bonn, companies are trying to market new eco-friendly products, including apps to help consumers fight climate change from their iPhones.
The Greenie App released a new update Tuesday as the climate talks move into theIR second week.
Greenie is a mobile app “designed to help everyday people fight climate change,” the Greenie company said. It released the updated version that includes “the ability to easily gift a tree planting for just about any occasion.”
The company Sparkbox also launched a new "eco-portable energy" compact charger that can recharge everything from a cell phone to an electric car.
“The Sparkbox compact charging station is transforming the energy industry landscape, bringing consumers the capability to power up virtually anything, anywhere, ranging from outdoor activities, including RVs, campers, emergency preparedness to small business, medical device and facility applications,” the company said.
It’s not clear how the new eco box workS. But it’s supposed to be cleaner than a gas generator and costs $1,299-$1,599.
NEBRASKA COMMISSION TO RULE ON KEYSTONE PIPELINE: The Nebraska Public Service Commission announced it will make its long-awaited decision on whether to allow the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline on Nov. 20. The five members of the commission will vote on whether Keystone XL developer TransCanada can build a section of the 1,200-mile pipeline as proposed.
The final step: The vote represents the last regulatory hurdle facing the pipeline, which has been protested by environmental activists.
Trump granted a permit for the pipeline in March.
PERRY LOOKS TO REKINDLE BUSINESS INTEREST IN NATIONAL LABS: Energy Secretary Rick Perry is empowering national lab contractors to strike up partnerships to commercialize new technologies to drive innovation into the market.
Perry announced the new authorization on Monday for lab contractors, who in some cases run the federal labs, to use Agreements for Commercializing Technology, or ACT, to help “facilitate new strategic partnerships” with the labs.
What the labs do: The federal labs are set up to license a certain number of nascent energy technologies to the private sector. The goal is to drive innovation into the market through the private sector, while leveraging the labs’ expertise to hone game-changing technologies.
Perry learns from six-year study: Perry signed off on the authorization after the completion of a successful six-year pilot study showed the benefits of ACT.
“Implementation of ACT was driven by the department’s need for more flexible lab partnerships and this administration’s commitment to working with the public and private sectors,” Perry said. Working through public-private partnerships is a constant theme in the Trump administration.
Reduce barriers for business: Perry said he hopes that authorizing the new technology transfer tool will act to remove “barriers for businesses and other entities interested in working with DOE’s labs.”
Perry also authorized a new pilot program called FedACT. The new pilot expands the use of ACT to allow organizations to partner with the Energy Department’s national labs on federally funded projects.
HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE SET TO MOVE BILLS ASSISTING PERRY PUSH: Republicans and Democrats had worked together to push the labs’ ability to leverage new technology.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will take a number of bills at a markup on Wednesday that would reinforce the Perry effort. A number of the bills seek to undergird new nuclear technologies at the labs.
Perry underscored the labs’ benefits for nuclear power when he suggested this fall that small, portable modular reactors could be used to restore power in Puerto Rico. He noted that small reactors that can fit in the cargo area of a military transport plane were the types of innovation that comes from the Energy Department’s fleet of national labs. The labs have licensed a design for a so-called nuclear battery, a hot tub-sized reactor design that is made to be transportable.
Washington Post Climate change upped the odds of Harvey’s extreme rains, study finds
Wall Street Journal Does nuclear power have a robust future in the U.S.?
New York Times An open door for pesticide lobbyists at Department of Agriculture
Reuters Warmer weather, rising non-OPEC output threaten oil market balance
Bloomberg Tesla’s new electric powered semi-truck already has some rivals
TUESDAY, NOV. 14
9 a.m., 1530 P St. NW. The International League of Conservation Photographers holds its annual environmental communications symposium "WildSpeak," Nov. 14-15.
9 a.m., 4300 Nebraska Ave. NW. The American University Washington College of Law holds a symposium on "Infrastructure Projects: Permitting, Implementation, and Impacts,” including a panel called "The Environmental Implications of Infrastructure Projects on Water, People, Wildlife, and Public Lands."
9 a.m., 1030 15th St. NW. The Atlantic Council holds a discussion on "Venezuela's Oil Industry: How Can It Survive?"
9:30 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to provide oversight of hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment Subcommittee holds as hearing on "Response and Recovery to Environmental Concerns from the 2017 Hurricane Season."
10 a.m., 406 Dirksen. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee holds a hearing on bill to establish a compliance deadline of May 15, 2023, for Step 2 emissions standards for new residential wood heaters, new residential hydronic heaters, and forced-air furnaces; the "Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2017"; the "Blocking Regulatory Interference from Closing Kilns Act of 2017"; and the "Alaska Remote Generator Reliability and Protection Act." epw.senate.gov
All day, Colorado. The Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy holds its annual Program Review, through Nov. 17, as an opportunity for Indian tribes to meet, learn from other Indian tribes that are pursuing energy self-sufficiency, and share in each other's successes.
All day, Boston. The Peak Load Management Alliance holds its 36th annual conference, through Nov. 15, focused on the latest cutting-edge methods for the the utility industry to manage electricity demand amid a changing grid system. More than 200 energy industry professionals are expected to attend.
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15
8 a.m., 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Roll Call Live holds a briefing on "Energy Decoded," focusing on the Trump administration's energy plan with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Neil Chatterjee of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
9 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting to consider budget reconciliation legislation to authorize the Interior secretary to establish and administer a competitive oil and gas program in the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the “1002 Area” or Coastal Plain.
All day, Electric grid. The utility industry begins a multi-sector wargame to simulate an attack on the U.S. power system called GridEx IV, Nov. 15-16. More than 5,000 stakeholders from across North America are expected to take part in the exercise.
THURSDAY, NOV. 16
9 a.m., 1301 K St. NW. The Washington Post Live holds a discussion on "A World in Balance: Solutions for Sustainability," focusing on "new approaches for a sustainable future and the relationship between humans and the environment." Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, now vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple, will speak.