Energy News for March 25, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 25, 2015

POLITICO Morning Energy for 3/25/2014

By DARIUS DIXON, with help from Erica Martinson, Alex Guillén and Heather Caygle

THE HIGH COURT HO-DOWN: The EPA will defend its landmark toxic pollution standards for power plants before the Supreme Court today in a trio of cases that get to the heart of the fight over coal power: whether the high costs are worth the health protections. No doubt court watchers are hoping the 90 minutes of oral arguments will provide some insight into the justices’ views on EPA’s authority to set high-cost regulations that have a huge impact on the nation’s power system, which is driving away some coal. It could be years before the agency’s upcoming climate change regulations reach the high court, but that won’t stop people from trying to read any tea leaves that might reveal the justices’ leanings on the matter.
The EPA’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards took aim at the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In the years that followed, utilities have shut down dozens of power plants, often blaming stringent environmental regulations. Last year, the agency drew a sweeping win in appeals court on several challenges to the rule. So, the Supreme Court has agreed to take on a narrower question: Should EPA have considered the potential costs before deciding to regulate, or while it was setting the standards?

Supporters of the rule hope the justices will lean towards giving the agency deference to interpret the law as it did — considering only whether the health protections were needed and available. Meanwhile, those fighting the rule — including 21 states, the National Mining Association and the Utility Air Regulatory Group — are hoping the court will dig into the EPA for taking a too-expansive view of its own authority while turning a blind eye to high costs. Quentin Riegal, the deputy general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers, put the opposition’s case to ME this way: “We could make cars safer by requiring that they be made like tanks. We could reduce hospital infections by requiring hazmat style protective equipment. But alternatives like these are usually not appropriate.”

The impacts of any court ruling are uncertain, given that the rule’s compliance deadline comes in just three weeks and many utilities have either already invested heavily to upgrade plants, or shuttered their oldest plants in anticipation of the rule. Many states provided one year extensions, and their utilities will have until April 2016 to comply. The court convenes at 10 a.m. If you go, go early and give Erica Martinson a thumbs-up (but keep it subtle, you’re in Supreme Court)! Need a refresher?

DOE, CONGRESS HOPE FOR CRITICAL HITS ON WASTE ISSUE: The Obama administration and a group of top-ranking senators rolled out proposals on Tuesday to kick start efforts to deal with nation’s mounting piles of nuclear waste. Both the Energy Department and the Senate initiatives represent the boldest efforts in years to address the festering problem of how to cope with the waste that’s scattered at power plants and government sites around the nation. President Barack Obama authorized DOE to create a repository for defense-related nuclear waste, the radioactive material leftover from country’s nuclear weapons production that was originally intended to be shipped to Yucca and stored with waste from commercial power reactors.

The move is one of Obama’s most significant forays into nuclear waste policy since the administration shut the door on Yucca Mountain. And it helps assuage fellow Democrats like Washington state Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, who have most of the nation’s defense waste sitting in their state. Alex Guillén and your morning host have more:

Yucca-vangelist Rep. John Shimkus was none too impressed: “DOE’s plan to spin off defense waste from the broader nuclear material storage debate is a red herring.”

HAPPY HUMP DAY! I’m Darius Dixon, and just for the record, your morning host does not like surprises! Surprises cause heart attacks, and I hear those are bad. Save ME from surprises by sending your energy commentary, news, scoops and tips to, and follow us on Twitter @dariusss, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.

** America’s national forests, wildlife refuges, parks, and public lands belong to all Americans. But misguided Congressional and state efforts to seize public lands put this at risk. These are American Lands, and we should keep them American. Watch the ad and learn more: **

BUDGET RESOLUTION VOTE-A-RAMA CONTINUES! The Senate comes back at 9:30 a.m. today and has 18 hours left on the clock for debate on its fiscal 2016 budget resolution. But it’s unclear when the energy-related amendment might filter through. The Congress team has the broad view:

CRUDE-BY-RAIL BILL COMING THIS A.M.: Sens. Maria Cantwell and Tammy Baldwin plan to unveil legislation this morning aimed at curbing crude-by-rail accidents by taking an “all in” approach. The comprehensive bill attempts to address the dangerous and sometimes deadly accidents on several fronts, including setting new standards for tank car designs and crude oil volatility, upping fines for safety violations and providing more resources for first responders. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is cosponsoring. Cantwell and Baldwin are introducing the legislation at a 9:30 a.m. press conference.

THE QER’S SLOW BAKE: Those of us waiting impatiently for the release of the Obama administration’s Quadrennial Energy Review may have to wait a good while longer, if the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is any indication. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was slated to discuss the QER at a hearing tomorrow morning. But yesterday, ENR announced that its hearing will be bumped by more than a month, to April 28. Moniz is still expected to be the sole witness.

But Moniz will be on Capitol Hill this afternoon to discuss DOE’s fiscal 2016 budget before Alexander, Feinstein and other energy and water appropriators alongside his undersecretary for science and energy Franklin Orr. Expect the pair to get pressed to increase research funding and on bipartisan nuclear waste legislation reintroduced yesterday. But with Alexander in charge you can expect him to continue pressing his campaign to kill subsidies for wind power — the Cuisinarts of the sky, as he often puts it.

Moniz is also headed back to Lausanne, Switzerland, today as part of the delegation negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program.

COAL ASH BILL CHUGS ALONG: The House Energy and Commerce subpanel for environment and economy will continue its markup of a bill to codify EPA coal ash regulations, and shift enforcement and implementation to the states. Some Democrats have called the bill premature, and environmental groups say it would weaken the coal ash disposal rule EPA finalized in December. Rep. Gene Green last night said he will support the bill during subcommittee markup because of his concerns about the rule’s reliance on citizen suits to enforce its requirements, and in hopes of letting states lead permitting programs. “However, I do have some reservations with this draft” that need to be addressed before the full committee, he said, including concerns about it weakening health and safety protections. The markup continues today at 9:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2123.

SENATORS TO INTERIOR — MAY THE REAL IG PLEASE STAND UP: As fans of the world of inspectors general know, the Interior Department is notorious for having gone without a confirmed inspector general — or even a nominee — for more than six years. Now the entire Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wants the White House to fix that, along with nine other vacant IG positions. “As you know, the absence of permanent, Senate-confirmed or agency-appointed IGs in these positions impedes the ability of these offices to identify and expose waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government,” they wrote. Mary Kendall has been Interior’s acting IG for a time, and she has taken criticism from House Republicans who feel her oversight of some issues has been favorable to the agency. Letter:

COURT CEMENTS EPA CALL ON NOX EMISSIONS DISPUTE: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday sided with EPA in a dispute over whether the agency rightly required a Michigan cement plant to install “stringent” pollution controls after Michigan officials said the plant did not need them. EPA ordered the plant to install pollution control technology that would cut down on nitrous oxide emissions, and the judges ruled that the agency’s decision did not meet the requirements for invalidation.

Apostrophe catastrophe: The plant in question is St. Marys Cement, and if you’re wondering why that seems to be missing an apostrophe, so was the Sixth Circuit. Judge Jeffrey Sutton spends nearly a whole page of the 11-page opinion exploring the subject, which involves 19th century Canadian geography guidelines, President Benjamin Harrison, and a song about a similarly named town in West Virginia. For those who can’t resist, the explanation starts at the bottom of page 3.

VIRGINIA MAY GET FIRST U.S. OFFSHORE WIND: Virginia will erect two 6-megawatt wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach under the first-ever federal research lease for wind energy. Dominion will build the 500-foot-plus Alstom turbines — each two to three times as powerful as typical onshore turbines — by 2017, after an environmental review of the area. The research lease is meant to demonstrate that such massive turbines can be installed 24 miles offshore, collect data on the area’s wind resources ahead of potential future projects and identify and solve problems in offshore development. “With this research lease, Virginia is positioned to be the first state to build wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean and take the next step toward the clean energy economy we need to create jobs and lower energy costs now and into the future,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. The executed lease:


— DHS IG: Va. governor received special treatment from Homeland Security. The Washington Post:

— Md. House, Senate pass measures to curb fracking. The Baltimore Sun:

— Ted Cruz says satellite data show the globe isn’t warming. This satellite scientist feels otherwise. The Washington Post:

— About once every four days, part of the nation’s power grid is struck by a cyber or physical attack. USA Today:

— Jordan, Russia sign $10 billion deal on nuclear power plant. The Associated Press:

— Oregon DOJ launches investigations of tax credits for university solar projects. The Oregonian:

— Oil Price Fall Forces North Dakota to Consider Austerity. The Associated Press:

— Sen. Inhofe scrutinizes new White House climate adviser. The Hill:

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