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ZINKE TO ANNOUNCE BIG OFFSHORE DRILLING PLAN THURSDAY: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday afternoon is expected to release what could be the largest five-year offshore drilling program ever proposed.

Drill, baby, drill: The plan is expected to allow offshore drilling for crude oil and natural gas on the Atlantic Coast and in the Arctic, reversing the Obama’s administration’s block. It also is expected to address drilling opportunities on the Pacific Coast as well as more possibilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plan would span the years 2019 to 2024, replacing the Obama administration plan that ends in 2022.

Big green guns ablazing: The big guns of the environmental community began attacking the plan ahead of Zinke’s announcement.

Trump’s plan ‘backwards:’ Rhea Suh, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the administration’s plan a “backward-looking approach” that “puts oil and gas profits first” ahead of coastal communities’ safety.

Trump risks another BP blowout: She said the plan would risk “the next BP-style disaster.” The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was the largest oil spill in the industry’s history, spurring the Obama administration to impose strict new safety regulations and create new federal agencies to oversee drilling activities in the Gulf.  

‘Big Polluter Play’: “We won’t sacrifice our marine life, ocean habitat and local economies to Trump’s Big Polluter play,” Suh said. “We’ll stand with leaders of vision, business owners and fishing families on every coast to protect our oceans and shores.”

NRDC points out that the Obama administration also took actions that made the Atlantic and most of the Arctic Ocean “permanently off limits” to oil and gas leasing under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Coming marine monument decisions: Trump is expected to roll back some of those actions, including the creation of marine monuments, in the coming weeks.  

Dollars for drilling will come: The consulting firm Wood Mackenzie released a report Thursday morning stating that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is ready for a comeback in 2018 after three years of losses.

"Although deepwater Gulf of Mexico has taken quite a beating over the last three years, the industry has clawed its way back to being competitive by significantly cutting costs, improving efficiencies and tightening up the supply chain,” said William Turner, senior research analyst with the firm.

“2018 will be a forward-looking year for the sector as it lays the foundation for longer term resurgence in 2019 and beyond," he said.

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GAO HIGHLIGHTS ‘BUREAUCRATIC DYSFUNCTION’ IN OFFSHORE LEASING, BISHOP SAYS: House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop released a Government Accountability Office report Thursday morning that he says shows how the Obama administration imposed bureaucratic hurdles on conducting seismic research in offshore drilling areas.

‘Red tape’ trap: “Seismic research is vital to unlocking energy potential off our coasts, and federal red tape is standing in the way,” Bishop said. “GAO’s report highlights the bureaucratic dysfunction, lack of transparency and blatant abuses of discretion that has stalled greater exploration and development.”

Seeking reform: Bishop said a comprehensive energy bill he authored, known as the SECURE American Energy Act, would correct these issues by directing federal agencies to avoid duplicative regulations.

According to the GAO's report, federal agencies during the Obama administration did not “analyze their review time frames, a practice that is inconsistent with federal standards for internal control." It said federal agencies were "unable to determine whether they are meeting their statutory review time frame of 120 days."  

TRUMP AIMS TO TURN COAL COUNTRY INTO FRACKED GAS HUB: The Trump administration is looking to transform the fracking states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania into a massive hub for storing natural gas.

New role for loan guarantees: The news was announced by the Appalachia Development Group LLC, which the Energy Department invited Wednesday to apply for a $1.9 billion loan guarantee to support the development of a first-of-a-kind "Appalachia Storage and Trading Hub."

What’s a ‘storage hub,’ anyway?: The storage hub will be used to store natural gas liquids that Appalachia has an abundance of but has been looking to create a market for. Companies from around the world have been looking to exploit natural gas by building refining facilities in the region.

Spurring a new industry: The hub could help spur increased industrial expansions and job growth in an economically vulnerable area of the nation.

Manchin on board: The announcement sparked the immediate applause of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has been touting legislation to study the development of a hub to store natural gas-based liquids used by the chemical and manufacturing industries.

Jobs and manufacturing: "This storage hub will create jobs and develop our economy by attracting significant manufacturing and related investment to West Virginia and our neighboring states," Manchin said. "It will also be vital in helping to secure our energy future by providing a reliable affordable supply of natural gas liquids."

COAL COMPANY SUES WASHINGTON STATE FOR BLOCKING EXPORT TERMINAL: Coal mining company Lighthouse Resources sued Washington state in federal court Wednesday for denying a permit to build an export terminal to ship western coal to Asia.

Free to do business: Lighthouse, filing suit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, argues Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, and the state’s Department of Ecology violated the Constitution’s commerce clause in denying the permit for what would be America’s largest coal export terminal.

Link to Asia: Lighthouse had proposed building the Millennium Bulk Terminal on the Columbia River to ship coal from Wyoming and Montana to Japan, South Korea, and China.

Washington’s Department of Ecology in September denied the terminal a water quality certification, saying it would harm the environment. That halted the project.

BILL NELSON AIMS TO STOP TRUMP FROM KILLING OFFSHORE DRILLING RULES: Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday he intends to introduce a resolution to stop the Trump administration from dismantling safety rules created after the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Process matters: The Florida Democrat said he plans to use the Congressional Review Act, which allows for a streamlined process for Congress to overturn federal regulations. The act requires majority approval in the House and Senate as well as the president's signature.

Reality check: Nelson cannot introduce the resolution until the Trump administration finalizes its proposed changes to the offshore drilling rules created by the Obama administration. And since Trump would have to sign the resolution, it is unlikely to take effect.

Trump’s planned rollback: The Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and natural gas drilling, issued its proposed changes on Friday, opening a 30-day public comment period.

Among the proposed changes, BSEE would eliminate a provision requiring third-party inspectors of certain safety equipment, such as a blowout preventer device, to be certified by the bureau.

TRUMP NAMES NOMINEES FOR KEY POSTS: President Trump on Wednesday announced nominations for three important posts at the Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department and Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

Money talks: Trump nominated Holly Greaves to be the EPA’s chief financial officer. She currently is the senior adviser for budget and audit to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a job she assumed after being a member of the EPA’s beachhead team. Previously, she was an accountant at KPMG.

Nuclear option: Trump tabbed Anne White to be the assistant secretary for environmental management, a job tasked with managing the agency’s nuclear waste cleanup. White, a nuclear engineer, founded the consulting firm Bastet Technical Services, which provides services to the Energy Department.

Safety first: The president also nominated Marco Rajkovich Jr. to be chairman of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, a panel that hears legal disputes under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. He’s a member of the Rajkovich, Williams, Kilpatrick & True law firm in Kentucky that specializes in mine safety law.

MOODY’S LOOKS TO PUNISH DOMINION FOR RISKY NUCLEAR MOVE: Credit rating agency Moody’s lowered utility giant Dominion’s rating outlook from “stable” to “negative” after the Virginia company announced it would buy struggling South Carolina energy companies Scana and SCE&G Wednesday.

The move came on the heels of a failed nuclear power plant project, leaving the two South Carolina companies heavily in debt.

Expanding nuclear assets? Dominion operates three nuclear plants, including two in Virginia and one in Connecticut. So it has experience with nuclear power. But it is not clear if it wants to restart the South Carolina project.   

“The negative outlook reflects the company’s consolidated financial profile, which has been weak since 2012,” said the credit rater.

Bad for Dominion: Moody’s said it is still reviewing SCE&G and Scana for a possible credit-rating downgrade. But hitching a ride on the two debt-ridden companies because of a nuclear power plant investment that went bad isn’t going to be good for Dominion in the short-term.

“The negative outlook and continued review of SCE&G and Scana also reflect heightened regulatory risk until a track record of predictable support can be established in South Carolina,” Moody’s said.

‘B’ grade credit: Nevertheless, Moody’s affirmed the utility firm’s Baa2 credit rating. So the outlook isn’t all bad.

RUNDOWN

Wall Street Journal Tesla’s lackluster Model 3 sales miss lowered Wall Street expectations

Bloomberg California bill seeks ban on fossil-fueled vehicles by 2040

Rueters Quest for new oil discoveries still on back burner despite rising prices

New York Times Why so cold? Climate change may be part of the answer

Washington Post Large Antarctic snowfall increases could counter sea level rise, scientists say

E&E News A bunch of House Republicans accept global warming. Is it real?



Calendar

THURSDAY, JAN. 4

1 p.m., Webcast. NASA holds a briefing on the agency's upcoming "Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD)" science mission to explore where Earth's atmosphere meets space. Livestream at nasa.gov/live

FRIDAY, JAN. 5  

3 p.m., 2415 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria, Va. National Science Foundation holds a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education to provide advice, recommendations and oversight concerning support for environmental research and education.

nsf.gov/ere/ereweb/minutes.jsp

SUNDAY, JAN. 7

All day, Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Transportation Research Board holds its 97th Annual Meeting, Jan. 7–11, 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.”

trb.org/AnnualMeeting/AnnualMeeting.aspx

MONDAY, JAN. 8

House returns

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.

api.org