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TRUMP TO REFOCUS ON REGULATION ROLLBACK: President Trump is expected to give a major speech Monday to reinvigorate his administration’s focus on deregulation.
Trump sees excessive regulation as running counter to his pro-growth economic strategy, with a big chunk of the rules aimed at the fossil fuel industry.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a big role in the deregulation push. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Washington Examiner this month that he doesn’t like the idea of calling the effort “paring back” regulations. He says his goal in reviewing former President Barack Obama’s climate and environmental rules is to correct them legally, as the previous EPA had erred by being too cavalier with the law.
“I think the greatest threat we’ve had to our economy in the last several years, tax policy matters, fiscal policy matters, we’re addressing those things from an administrative perspective, the president is, and leading in a substantial way,” Pruitt said in the interview. “But regulatory uncertainty has been the greatest impediment to our economy in the last several years. In the finance space, the healthcare space, but particularly the energy and environmental space.”
PRUITT’S NEW ‘SMART’ POLICY: The EPA is gearing up to re-engage with the energy industry under a new program it has dubbed “Smart Sectors” with the primary focus of reducing regulations.
EPA’s Office of Policy quietly launched the new program in a Federal Register notice published Tuesday.
“Based on the successful EPA Sector Strategies program, EPA’s Smart Sectors program will re-examine how EPA engages with industry in order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, create certainty and predictability, and improve the ability of both EPA and industry to conduct long-term regulatory planning while also protecting the environment and public health,” according to the EPA.
Industry outreach: Here is a list of the industries EPA wants to engage with: Aerospace, agriculture, automotive, cement and concrete, chemical manufacturing, construction, electronics and technology, forestry and paper products, iron and steel, mining, oil and gas, ports and marine, and utilities and power generation.
“Sectors were selected based on each sector’s potential to improve the environment and public health,” the EPA said.
Environmentalists and consumer activists such as Ralph Nader’s group Public Citizen are planning to be vocal in response to Trump’s renewed focus on deregulation next week.
The White House was unable to provide details on Trump’s speech next week.
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MURKOWSKI LOSES ENERGY STAFF DIRECTOR: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committees, announced a major staff departure Wednesday, losing her committee’s staff director.
Colin Hayes will leave at the end of the month. Brian Hughes, who serves as the committee’s deputy staff director, will succeed Hayes.
A lost asset: “With Colin at the helm, I never once had to worry about the direction or the quality of the committee’s work,” Murkowski said. “I have benefited from his counsel and expertise, as have Alaska and all of America. He is an incredible leader with a rare gift for developing good public policies and the strategies needed to advance them in a consensus-driven way. We will miss Colin greatly, but wish him and his family the very best as they embark on their next adventure.”
RON JOHNSON: POWER GRID AT RISK OF ATTACK: The U.S. power grid is vulnerable to a terrorist attack that could upend life in the country for a dangerously long time, according to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who on Wednesday plans to press the administration on how it plans to secure it.
According to the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the grid and U.S. communications are at risk, a conclusion he's reached over several months of hearings on U.S. infrastructure and security.
Biggest threats: In an opening statement for Wednesday’s hearing with the FBI, Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, he cited the biggest threats to the U.S. that his committee is hoping to protect.
"Through hearings over the course of the last three years, we have made great strides in identifying problems, finding areas of agreement, and exploring root causes of America's security challenges," Johnson said.
"Through 22 hearings related to border security, for example, we have learned that our borders are not secure and America's insatiable demand for drugs is a root cause of that insecurity.
Networks attacked: “We have held 11 hearings on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection, exploring how nation-states and other adversaries continue to attack information networks to disrupt business and steal our nation's secrets. And we have learned how critical infrastructure sectors, including our electric grid, remain vulnerable to attack in ways that could disrupt our way of life for extended periods of time,” he said.
UTILITIES BRACE FOR TOUGH SLOG IN PUERTO RICO: Trump on Tuesday said the federal government will fully pay for recovery assistance in Puerto Rico, which senior utility industry officials praised as necessary in helping to restore the island's nearly completely destroyed electric grid.
“We thank President Trump for authorizing 100-percent cost sharing by the federal government for 180 days of emergency work to help begin the process of repairing damaged energy infrastructure,” said Sue Kelly, the president of the American Public Power Association. Kelly's group represents a segment of the utility sector that is nonprofit and government-owned, such as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Crisis tests utility group: Kelly's statement came via a special public-private group formed between the federal government and the utility industry, called the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council.
The group was created to coordinate a response if the grid were attacked or affected by some devastating event.
Beginning of the beginning: The Department of Defense reported Tuesday that 100 percent of the island's local distribution system was wiped out and 80 percent of its longer-distance transmission lines were destroyed. But the coordinating council said until damage assessments are completed across the island, "officials will not know what resources — both human and equipment — will be needed to restore power.”
EPA fuel waiver: Meanwhile, the EPA waived diesel fuel requirements for the island, allowing it to move fuel to market without the worry of violating emission rules under the Clean Air Act.
However, the EPA warned that using diesel fuel exceeding sulfur limits may cause serious damage to engines.
The EPA waiver applies to fuel used in mobile non-road emergency generators and pumps, heating oil and boat fuel through Oct. 15.
But DHS declines to issue Jones Act waiver: The Trump administration decided not to waive the Jones Act, as it did for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
McCain ‘very concerned’: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized that decision and urged the Department of Homeland Security to allow foreign-flagged vessels into Puerto Rico to deliver fuel and other urgent supplies.
"I am very concerned by the department's decision not to waive the Jones Act for current relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Maria," McCain wrote in a letter to Elaine Duke, the DHS acting secretary. "It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster.”
Fueling repeal: Enacted in 1920, the Jones Act prohibits tankers from hauling crude oil between U.S. ports unless those vessels are American-made, flagged and manned by a crew that is made up of 75 percent U.S. citizens. McCain has long sought repeal of the law, considering it to be protectionist and anti-competitive, making it harder to move goods and raising prices for consumers. “Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome act,” McCain said Tuesday.
McConnell office occupied: The Capitol Hill office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was targeted by Hurricane Harvey and Irma survivors on Wednesday morning, demanding he acknowledge the role of climate change and the fossil fuel economy in making these storms worse, the anti-fossil fuel group 350.org said. The delegation was led by members of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and the New Florida Majority.
CANTWELL SLAMS ZINKE OVER THREATS: Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to task Tuesday for saying he plans to eliminate 30 percent of the agency's employees because they are "not loyal" to him or the president.
Betrayed: “Secretary’s Zinke’s comments yesterday betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of federal civil service," the Washington senator said. "They are non-political employees charged with implementing and enforcing laws passed by Congress and have incredible domain expertise in their areas of responsibility.”
Loyalty test: Zinke made the comments Monday while addressing the National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory panel.
"I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag," Zinke said. He compared his agency to a pirate ship that seizes "a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over" to complete the mission.
EPA EYES CUTS TO BIOFUELS: The EPA is looking at major cuts to its Renewable Fuel Standard program, citing increasing costs from renewable fuel imports as a factor in its decision.
EPA made its intentions known in a Tuesday notice that outlined a number of options to significantly reduce volumes of biofuels under the program. The RFS program requires that refiners blend increasing amounts of ethanol and other biofuels into the nation's gasoline and diesel supplies through 2022.
Subsidy suck: The notice said EPA is targeting biodiesel and advanced biofuels because of an expiring tax credit that the agency said has resulted in higher costs to blend the fuels to meet the RFS requirements.
The loss of the tax credit "has already impacted the effective price of biodiesel to blenders, as well as the price of biodiesel blends to consumers," the notice read.
The cuts: The agency is looking at cutting the total renewable fuel requirement from 19.24 billion gallons under the proposed 2018 standard to 18.77 billion gallons for 2019, a 2.5 percent reduction.
Other possible changes would include reductions of the 2018 advanced biofuel target from 4.24 billion gallons to 3.77 billion gallons.
Industry pushback: The action immediately sparked the ire of the biofuel and ethanol industries, which called the proposed changes baseless under the law and warned that the proposed reductions could spark a trade dispute if perceived as protectionistic under World Bank rules.
"There is no rationale for further lowering either the 2018 advanced biofuel volume requirement or the total renewable fuel volume," said Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen.
PARIS DEAL’S GREEN FUND FAILING: The Paris climate change agreement's Green Climate Fund is fast becoming a circus sideshow dominated by large development banks that is undermining its original intent, said environmental groups in a study released Tuesday.
"The Green Climate Fund risks becoming a sideshow to big development banks and other multilateral institutions unless it rapidly changes course," according to Friends of the Earth U.S. and the Institute for Policy Studies.
Trump meets green fund: The fund was one of the major reasons cited by President Trump when he announced his decision in June to withdraw from the 2015 Paris deal that former President Barack Obama had signed onto. Obama sent $1 million to the fund before Trump was sworn into office.
Missing goals: The goal of the fund is to collect at least $100 billion per year by 2020 from industrial nations to help small countries deal with the effects of climate change. But now it's missing its goals with "mixed results" in its "ability to meet the climate adaptation and mitigation needs of developing countries," according to the study's summary.
Only 27 percent of the funds have been allocated to climate adaptation strategies, which include drought and flooding management projects. That is "well short of its 50 percent goal," according to the study.
Swallowed up: The environmental groups are concerned that the fund's independent nature is being swallowed up by the World Bank and other large global financial institutions, which they fear will undermine its focus on climate finance projects, especially for the most disadvantaged communities.
SAY GOODNIGHT TO COAL TERMINAL: Washington state environmental regulators killed the Millennium Bulk coal terminal Tuesday by denying it a key permit approval.
The terminal, which has faced huge opposition from environmental groups, was meant to begin shipping coal mined in the western part of the country to be burned for electricity at coal plants in Asia.
Energy dominance: The terminal would have played into President Trump's pro-growth energy dominance agenda that relies on energy exports to create jobs and expand revenue from trade.
Why the permit was rejected: The state Department of Ecology denied the environmental permit because of the harm it would cause in nine areas, including rail safety, air pollution, noise pollution and tribal resources, according to the Seattle Times.
"There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward," said Ecology Director Maia Bellon, according to the Seattle Times.
Largest in the country: It would be the largest coal-export terminal in the country if built, with developers proposing to move up to 44 million metric tons of coal annually. The state's decision denied the facility a crucial water permit to begin dredging in the Columbia River and fill 24 acres of wetlands.
Second in a row: Another proposed terminal at Cherry Point was denied last year by the Army Corps of Engineers for the threat it posed to tribal fisheries.
CALL ME, MAYBE, BUT ONLY IF IT’S SECURE: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to draw scrutiny for some unusual practices, after the latest revelation that the EPA is spending nearly $25,000 to install a secure phone booth in his office.
The agency signed a $24,570 contract with Acoustical Solutions this summer for a "privacy booth for the administrator," the Washington Post reported, citing government contracting records.
Emerging pattern: Pruitt has taken other steps to maintain security, moves that critics say shows a lack of transparency.
Pruitt avoids using email, and employees who meet with him are told to leave behind their cellphones, the New York Times reported last month. He is the first head of the EPA to request round-the-clock security. And the EPA until recently did not publicly post Pruitt's schedule.
Perception problem: Those moves, no matter their intent, provide more ammunition for critics who wonder about Pruitt’s motives, and whether he’s trying to hide them.
Pruitt worked closely with corporate interests as Oklahoma's attorney general, when he repeatedly sued the Obama administration over its environmental regulations. His recently released schedule, which only came after reporters filed Freedom of Information requests, show Pruitt has regularly met with representatives of the oil and gas industry in his new role.
NASA TEAMS WITH RUSSIANS: NASA announced Wednesday that it is partnering with the Russians on space exploration goals.
"Building a strategic capability for advancing and sustaining human space exploration in the vicinity of the moon will require the best from NASA, interested international partners, and U.S. industry,” the space agency said. As NASA continues formulating the deep space gateway concept, the agency signed a joint statement with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, Wednesday.
A long way from Kennedy’s era: The move is the opposite of America's approach to space travel in the 1960s when former President John F. Kennedy ordered NASA to beat the Russians to the moon due to fears that the Kremlin would control it.
More humans in outer space: NASA said both countries have a common vision for human exploration and see the deep space gateway as a "strategic component of human space exploration."
As a result of the partnership, NASA will expand its presence of humans in outer space, starting with the moon and then deep space exploration.
RETURN OF THE TEDDY BEAR: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is teaming up again with director Martin Scorsese to tell the story of President Theodore Roosevelt's life in an upcoming film, according to a report.
DiCaprio, a vocal climate activist, is said to have been drawn to Roosevelt's conservation legacy, per Deadline. The country's youngest president is often celebrated for his work creating reserves, preserves, national parks and forests, after first serving as President William McKinley's vice president and New York governor. Roosevelt created the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to unilaterally establish national monuments.
New York Times: How California became America’s toughest environmental regulator
Washington Post Damaged Puerto Rico dam hasn’t been inspected since 2013 despite having a ‘high hazard’ potential
The State South Carolina could be forced to stop charging customers higher rate for the cost of a failed nuclear project
Wall Street Journal Australia backs down on limiting exports of liquified natural gas
Bloomberg Hurricane Harvey, Kurdish referendum mean OPEC should not take credit for higher oil prices
Reuters Syria producing more energy after government recaptures oil fields from militants
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 27
Sept. 27-28, 2850 S. Potomac Ave., Arlington, Va., The EPA holds a meeting of the Science Advisory Board Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee to receive a briefing from the EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment on the content and presentation of assessment products to be released at early stages of development of draft assessments.
All day, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, The Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute holds the North American Energy Forum 2017.
Noon, Webinar, The Environmental Law Institute holds a webinar on "Emerging Environmental Issues in Native Communities.” The is the second webinar in a series.
2 p.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s subcommittee on national parks will hold an oversight hearing on “Encouraging the Next Generation to Visit National Parks.”
2 p.m., 2456 Rayburn. Congressional Advanced Energy Storage Caucus holds a forum on energy storage as a form of resilience in the wake of major storms.
All day, DoubleTree Crystal City, 300 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, Va., The Energy Department’s Office of Science holds a meeting of the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee on scientific priorities within the field of advanced scientific computing research.
Sept. 27-28, 2777 South Crystal Drive, Arlington, Va. The EPA holds a meeting of the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest System Advisory Board.
6:30 p.m., Asia Society, 725 Park Ave., New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers an address on Iranian foreign policy. The speech is likely to touch on the oil glut and sanctions, as well as Iran’s approach to the Trump administration. The event is for Asia Society members only. Webcast at asiasociety.org/new-york/live-webcast
THURSDAY, SEPT. 28
4 p.m., Teleconference, The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration holds a meeting by teleconference of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee to potentially approve recommendations to the commerce secretary informing of actions to improve the competitiveness of the U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 29
11:30 a.m., 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The Heritage Foundation holds a discussion on "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
TUESDAY, OCT. 3
9 a.m., National Press Club, The Global CCS Institute hosts “Carbon Capture: A Business Opportunity in the Global Low-Carbon Economy.”
10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee holds a hearing called, “Resiliency: The Electric Grid’s Only Hope.” The purpose of the hearing is to define resiliency, examine electric resiliency from both physical and cyber threats and to study the effectiveness of private and government coordination on resiliency across the electricity delivery sectors.
10 a.m., 1334 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a hearing on a bill to promote innovative approaches to outdoor recreation on federal land and to open up opportunities for collaboration with non-federal partners, and for other purposes.