Energy News for March 18, 2015

 

POLITICO Morning Energy for 3/18/2015

By DARIUS DIXON, with help from Alex Guillén

FORMER GREEN HERO LAYS OUT LEGAL ATTACK ON EPA RULE: Opponents of the President Barack Obama’s climate change plan brought out the heavy artillery yesterday, turning to a former hero of the green movement to lay out a legal plan to bring down EPA’s upcoming rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Legal lion Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law professor who taught constitutional law to President Barack Obama, entered the fight against EPA’s Clean Power Plan, accusing his former student of “burning the Constitution” in the effort to combat climate change.
Since submitting scathing comments on the pending Clean Power Plan rule to EPA in December on behalf of Peabody Energy — the world’s largest private sector coal company — Tribe, who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, has become the darling of anti-EPA Republicans. “You know, I’ve cared about the environment ever since I was a kid. And you know, I taught the first environmental course in this country, and I’ve won major victories for environmental causes. But I’m committed to doing it within the law,” Tribe said.

People just don’t make insults like this anymore: “Laurence Tribe must not have been sworn in over a Bible today before testifying before Congress, because if he had been, that Bible would have burst into flames after his phony testimony about EPA’s legal authority to set standards for unlimited carbon pollution from power plants,” said David DiMartino, adviser to the Climate Action Campaign. Erica Martinson was there, and Pros can read her story here: http://politico.pro/1MJ3y13

TSCA TIME: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is set to hold a hearing this morning on bipartisan Toxic Substances Control Act legislation being led by Sens. David Vitter and Tom Udall. Their bill, which is named after the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, will be defended today by the widow of the former New Jersey senator, Bonnie Lautenberg. She and Udall are making opening statements at today’s hearing but neither will take questions. Jim Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution, will then testify, and then another panel is expected to include officials from the Environmental Defense Fund and George Washington University as well as Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh. The Vitter-Udall bill would update the 1976 TSCA law and has drawn a nearly even split of more than a dozen Democratic and Republican cosponsors.

But there’s some crazy Hogwarts-type sorting going on here. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the top Democrat on EPW, is leading the opposition, ripping the Vitter-Udall bill as a cave to the industry. Vitter-Udall have several senators, EDF, the Bipartisan Policy Center, former New Jersey governors Tom Kean, Christine Todd Whitman and Brendan Byrne, and others on their side. Meanwhile, Boxer has on her side Sen. Ed Markey, Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice. And yesterday, six state attorneys general — New York, Washington, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, and Oregon — joined her house as well. Boxer, Markey and Sen. Bernie Sanders have introduced their own TSCA bill.

Attack, and counter. “To be a hundred percent candid and direct, their bill has been generated by the chemical industry itself,” Boxer said yesterday, pointing to a draft of the Vitter-Udall bill that included “computer coding” showing it originated at the American Chemistry Council. But Udall’s staff shared with POLITICO other suggested edits provided by critics of the bill, including NRDC, to underscore that they reached out to and received input from a lot of interested parties. The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen 406.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! I’m your host, Darius Dixon, and I need help collecting Rep. Aaron Schock puns and headlines. Schock and Awe. Schocking Resignation. Smell what the Schock is Cookin’? Schock Mocked. What will happen to Schock’s Flock? Schock Treatment. Well, Schock’s charge is used up but there must be other puns out there, so what’d I miss? Send your energy commentary, news, scoops and tips to ddixon@politico.com, and follow us on Twitter @dariusss, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.

BOEM OIL AND GAS LEASE SALE TELETHON: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is headed to New Orleans today to open bids at an oil and natural gas lease sale today. The sale starts at 10:10 a.m. and offers up 41.2 million acres for exploration and development in offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. When bidding closed yesterday, 35 companies had submitted 195 bids on 169 blocks offered in the sale. BOEM estimates the sale could result in the production of 460 million to 890 million barrels of oil, and 1.9 trillion cubic feet to 3.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Jewell will give some remarks on a teleconference at 10:30 a.m., and will join BOEM director Abigail Ross Hopper and BOEM regional director John Rodi for another call at 11:45 a.m. to announce the results of the sale. A map of the tracts getting bids will be available here at 8 a.m.: http://on.doi.gov/1BvQyU1

“This sale will be interesting due to low oil prices, which just dropped further this week,” National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said in a statement. “But even in this environment, U.S. oil and natural gas companies are planning ahead, and remain committed to the Gulf of Mexico … Shorter time frames for active exploration within the lease terms are factors that may impact bidding in this sale, especially for companies tight on capital.”

ICYMI: Andrew Restuccia was on the scene for Jewell’s speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where she talked about the agency’s pending fracking rule, royalty rates and stream buffer regs: http://politico.pro/19xVUZk

HOUSE PASSES EPA SCIENCE BOARD BILL: The House passed, 236-181, Rep. Frank Lucas’ EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act yesterday billing it a “good-government bill; it reflects the values we should uphold regardless of which side of the political aisle we are on.” Well, two Democrats agreed and voted in support of the bill while one Republican voted no.

Now, House Science Chairman Lamar Smith’s Secret Science Reform Act is slated to reach the floor action today. There are two Democratic amendments up for debate and votes are scheduled for early afternoon. The bill would bar EPA from using any scientific studies to set regulations without releasing all underlying data and research to the public for review. Much of the focus of prior hearings and negotiations has been on several major epidemiological studies that were used in air pollution regulations, and EPA’s failure to turn over all of the related data to Congress. EPA has said it could not provide medical data while protecting identifying information of participants. There’s a companion bill to Smith’s measure in the Senate, introduced by Wyoming Republican John Barrasso. The White House says it intends to veto both GOP EPA bills.

DOE NEEDS YOUR U COMMENTS: The Energy Department is putting together a new secretarial determination on the management of federal “excess” uranium stocks, and the 20-day window for public comments opens today. DOE has stocks of uranium in excess of what is currently needed for national security purposes, and since the material is worth quite a bit of cash, the agency barters it for services such as the cleanup work at shuttered uranium processing plants. But there are limits on such arrangements. Mainly, the exchanges should “not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium mining, conversion or enrichment industry.” The deals that DOE is trying to cut will release up to 17 percent of U.S. uranium and conversion needs over the next ten years. DOE has already collected comments from across the nuclear industry. The Federal Register notice: http://1.usa.gov/19x1Y4t

CENTRUS’ NEW TOP LOBBYIST: Jim Howe has been promoted to vice president of government relations for Centrus Energy Corp., taking over for John Neumann, who left earlier this month. Howe will spearhead Centrus’ advocacy efforts with Congress, the administration and state governments. He joined Centrus in July 2010 as the company’s government relations director after moving from the Department of Homeland Security, where he was deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs, and the U.S. Coast Guard before that. (h/t POLITICO Influence)

THE STARS AT NIGHT ARE BIG AND BRIGHT: Solar developer SunEdison will announce today a deal to build solar farms totaling 150 megawatts of capacity in west Texas to provide power to some 45,000 customers in the Williamson County city of Georgetown. With a power purchase agreement that is one of the largest solar agreements in Texas’s ERCOT grid, the plants are projected to be connected by 2016 and could provide 9,500 gigawatt-hours of electricity through 2041, according to SunEdison, which is both building and financing the project. Interim city manager Jim Briggs said in a statement that the deal makes Georgetown Utility Systems one of the biggest municipal utilities in the U.S. “to be 100% renewable powered.” SunEdison says it will create nearly 800 jobs during construction.

Fun fact: Coincidentally, Georgetown is home to a large retirement community called Sun City Texas.

GREENS FILE FOIA APPEAL WITH DOT ON OIL TRAIN SAFETY LOBBYING: ForestEthics and allied groups today filed an appeal aimed at shaking loose correspondence between Transportation Department officials crafting a hotly anticipated crude-by-rail safety rule and 97 individual lobbyists for the oil and rail industries. The groups said in their appeal letter to the Federal Railroad Administration that the agency did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act request filed Jan. 15. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, warns that “we will consider taking legal action” if records are not released within 20 days.

QUICK HITS

— Canadian intelligence service helped government prepare for Northern Gateway protests. The Toronto Star: http://on.thestar.com/1CrbZLl

— Yucca Mountain tour set for April. Las Vegas Review-Journal: http://bit.ly/18Za7gF

— This is how layoffs are done in Houston, Schlumberger edition. The Layoff: http://bit.ly/1xdan7E

— California drought pushes up utility bills slightly, study finds. San Francisco Chronicle: http://bit.ly/1CtR2B0

— U.S. Refiners Sue BNSF Over Tanker-Car Charge. The Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1BOALU3