- The Associated Press: Oil, gas industry continues campaign for crude exports despite price slump
- Oil & Gas Journal: Report: U.S. oil, gas M&A reaches 10-year high in 2014
- The Washington Times: Companies seek long-term solution for disposal of fracking wastewater
- Oil & Gas Journal: Report: Stronger partnerships, infrastructure to propel manufacturing renaissance
- Capital Public Radio: Some Calif. regions fail to meet current ozone standard, state regulator says
- Capitol Weekly: Drought, oil price decline pummel Kern
By Alex Guillén
EPA WATCHDOG SAYS ACCESS TENSIONS ARE EASING: EPA leaders and the agency’s inspector general have worked out at least some of the issues over recent disputes about the IG’s access to “intelligence” issues, EPA’s watchdog will tell lawmakers today. EPA IG Arthur Elkins says he and EPA have reached ‘at least a theoretical agreement on a substantial portion of the issues,’ though he notes those agreements are only just beginning to be implemented. Elkins also disapproves of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security conducting its own investigations apparently without authority, a continuing point of contention. “What we have agreed upon is that there is no category of activity at the EPA to which OIG does not have unfettered access,” Elkins says in his prepared testimony: http://1.usa.gov/1CTJl4W
It’s a compulsion: Elkins identifies what he calls a “big-picture” challenge: Compelling employees to cooperate with IG investigations. Under the law there is no punishment for federal employees who won’t talk to investigators. “I believe that this committee should look into the ‘gap’ between what the IG Act requires and OIGs’ ability to achieve those requirements in such circumstances,” Elkins says. “Subject to constitutional due process rights, there might be ways to strengthen an agency’s ability to discipline an employee for failure to comply with an OIG request. For example, Congress could provide for placing the employee on leave without pay status, rather than administrative leave with pay. Alternatively, Congress might consider restricting the availability of appropriated funds to pay the employee.”
Show me the money! Elkins also has some choice words for Congress when it comes to appropriations. “The budget levels made available to me are impeding our ability to do our work,” Elkins says, while conceding OGR is not an appropriations panel. “This is penny-wise and pound-foolish, as Ben Franklin used to say. We returned $7.33 for every dollar given to us in the past year. When the OIG is not able to carry out its responsibilities because of inadequate funding, it is a net loss to the federal government and American taxpayers.”
If you go: The Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing starts at 10:15 a.m. in Rayburn 2154
SPEAKING OF EPA: The White House Office of Management and Budget on Friday finished its review of EPA’s final rule setting state implementation plan requirements for 2008 ozone standards, according to the agency’s website. This isn’t to be confused with EPA’s proposal to tighten those 2008 standards; EPA is still taking public comment on that proposed rule, and just yesterday held its third and final public hearing in California.
HEDGE FUND SAYS FERC INVESTIGATION IS ‘A PILE OF NONSENSE’: FERC staff’s investigation into alleged market manipulation by Powhatan Energy Fund is “a pile of nonsense,” the hedge fund told FERC’s commissioner in a 103-page filing on Monday. Powhatan warns FERC that should it continue the investigation, “it will be a train wreck.” The filing includes a detailed rebuttal of FERC’s allegations that a trader at Powhatan manipulated the PJM market via ‘Up To Congestion’ transactions, arguing that taking advantage of a “market inefficiency” or “loophole” is not a fraudulent act. But broad portions of the filing read more like a rant against FERC’s investigative practices than a formal filing in a commission proceeding. FERC in December proposed almost $30 million in fines. Norman Bay, who headed FERC’s Office of Enforcement until he became a commissioner last year, has recused himself from the case. Powhatan’s filing: http://bit.ly/1ywKDhi
Powhatan defends itself: “The Staff characterizes such trading as inherently fraudulent because it was supposedly different from what PJM expected the traders to do – in other words, Dr. Chen was exploiting a ‘loophole.’ Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. Dr. Chen might say that he wasn’t exploiting a loophole because such trading was so obviously foreseeable from the tariff itself. Loopholes tend to be things that are not immediately obvious. But for the sake of argument, let’s go with the Staff’s view in the Report and assume that the trading exploited a loophole. That begs the question: so what? One can never be guilty of market manipulation simply by taking advantage of a flawed market design, or a ‘loophole.'”
BUDGET ODDS AND ENDS
Sage-grouse: The Interior Department’s proposed budget include an extra $45 million for sage-grouse conservation efforts. The December omnibus included language barring Interior from listing either species of grouse under the Endangered Species Act, though Secretary Sally Jewell has indicated that a court order to make a decision on whether to list the birds overrules that spending bill. The Bureau of Land Management is still working with states on sage-grouse conservation plans, with an eye toward meeting a compromise that could offer a way out of an ESA listing. Of the $45 million, $37 million would go to wildlife management activities, while $8 million would go to resource management planning.
MLPs: The proposed budget would take away a key tax benefit for master limited partnerships, which are currently taxed as pass-through organizations but are publicly traded like corporations. That means they are only subject to one level of taxation, when their income is passed through to their partners’ individual tax returns. The administration wants to begin taxing those working in fossil fuel industries as corporations, so they would pay the 35 percent corporate tax and also taxes at the individual shareholder level. The plan, which would begin in 2021, would raise about $1.7 billion, according to the Treasury Department.
The nexus: The National Science Foundation has proposed $75 million for a new program studying the nexus of energy, water and food systems. Better understanding the interplay between energy and water has attracted attention from members of both parties on the Hill. NSF’s proposed Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems program would be the first of its kind, according to NSF. The agency’s proposed budget also include $377 million for clean energy research and education.
Mining oversight: The Mine Safety and Health Administration wants $395 million, about $19 million more than in the previous year. That includes $3.1 million more for enforcing the agency’s respirable dust rule, $650,000 for more off-shift inspections, $1.5 million for an IT upgrade and $600,000 more ‘to support rulemaking activities.’
NRC MULLS WHAT TO DO WITH REMAINING $4 MILLION YUCCA BUCKS: Unsurprisingly, the NRC hasn’t asked for any more Yucca Mountain money, but the agency still has about $4 million to carry out Yucca-related review activities, and it isn’t yet clear how the NRC will spend that money. A prime candidate is a supplement environmental impact statement that the NRC must conduct because DOE declined, and an agency spokesman said the NRC believes the $4 million is “sufficient” to cover those costs. But the decision on what steps to take next are in the hands of the NRC’s four commissioners.
ALASKA, TRIBES ASK JUDGE TO FORCE INTERIOR TO CONSIDER IZEMBEK ROAD: The state of Alaska and several Native groups have asked a federal judge to force Interior to vacate the administration’s decision to reject a proposed emergency access road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. They argue the decision violated NEPA because Interior didn’t properly consider the need for such a road, saying that the decision “displays an unconscionable disregard for human life.” They also argue that Interior didn’t really consider the value of the 56,000 acres the refuge would gain in exchange for the 206 acres needed for the road, which they say violates NEPA and a 2009 public lands law. The groups filed the lawsuit last June and in December a judge tossed out most of the claims made in the lawsuit while allowing these claims to move forward. Motion: http://politico.pro/16aiKnB
ANADARKO STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR DEEPWATER HORIZON FINES, JUDGE SAYS: The Times-Picayune writes from the ongoing BP Clean Water Act trial in federal court in New Orleans. “Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a minority investor in BP’s failed Macondo well, is on the hook for federal pollution fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, regardless of whether the company was responsible for the disaster, a federal judge said Monday … The law applies whether that owner is a majority or minority owner, or if they are involved in day-to-day operational decisions or not, [District Judge Carl Barbier] said. ‘You seem to be making more of a policy argument as to why a non-operator should be subject to penalties under the Clean Water Act,’ Barbier said. ‘If that’s the case, I think you’re in the wrong venue. You need to go to Congress.'” TP: http://bit.ly/1ywBZiM
TIMMONS TO TOUT SHALE GAS BENEFITS: National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons will give his annual State of Manufacturing address today, and will highlight how cheap shale gas is ‘driving manufacturing’s resurgence,’ according to excerpts previewed for ME. Manufacturers use a third of the energy produced in the U.S., according to Timmons. Shale gas, managed right, could help ‘create a million new American jobs over the next 10 to 15 years,’ he will say, adding that building Keystone Xl wouldn’t hurt, either. ‘Manufacturers are doing our part… But we can’t do it alone. Americans need an energy policy manufacturers can plan around – one that incentivizes, not inhibits, innovation.’ Timmons is also setting out on a weeks-long tour to visit manufacturers and other groups across the U.S.
– Jeff Gohringer, the League of Conservation Voters’ national press secretary, will leave the green campaign group on Feb. 10 to become communications director for Better Markets, a nonprofit focused on financial reform. Before joining LCV in 2012, Gohringer was with then-Sen. Tim Johnson for five years.
– Today is the last day at the Pew Charitable Trusts for Tracy Schario, the group’s clean energy communications lead. She starts Feb. 9 as chief of external relations at the Optical Society, a scientific group focused on the study of light, like optics and photonics.
‘HAS ANYONE SEEN THE LOST ARK LATELY?’ – SALLY JEWELL, PROBABLY: The Interior Department is looking for a better way to collect and maintain information about more than 19 million federally owned objects. Interior owns more than 185 million such objects – including archaeological artifacts, piece of art, historic objects and geological specimens. It’s a collection rivaling the Smithsonian’s, but around 10 percent reside at museums and universities instead of federal repositories. In a notice in today’s Federal Register, Interior asks for comments about whether it really needs to collect all of the data in question from those museums and schools. FR notice: http://bit.ly/1zyrLCO
– Americans using less power could mean not enough revenue for utilities to maintain generating properties and grid infrastructure. Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1tZkD1u
– Indian officials say the U.S.-India nuclear deal reached last month could be finalized this year. Reuters: http://reut.rs/1Amv7Km
– Most of China’s biggest cities failed on air quality standards in 2014. AP: http://apne.ws/1AmwFnT
Tags: energy, fuel, gas, policy