Energy News for April 10, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 10, 2015


POLITICO Morning Energy for 4/10/2015

By DARIUS DIXON, with help from Alex Guillén and Elana Schor

DOE NO. 2 JOINS TRADE MISSION, MONIZ STAYS HOME: Last night, the White House announced that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would no longer co-lead the U.S. trade mission to China and that his second-in-command, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, would take his place. The reason: Moniz is needed stateside to keep fielding questions and concerns from lawmakers mulling the Obama administration deal-in-progress over Iran’s nuclear program. “As part of the Administration’s efforts to brief Congress on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iran nuclear negotiation framework, Secretary Moniz will continue to engage with Members of Congress as they return to Washington the week of April 13th,” the Energy Department said in a statement to ME. They added: “This trade mission represents an unprecedented opportunity for U.S. business to extend their leadership in the clean energy sector. Deputy Secretary Sherwood-Randall will be championing clean energy solutions and international efforts on behalf of the Department, which are key to a strong global climate agreement in Paris and continued efforts to address climate change.”
What it’s all about: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is co-leading the trade mission, which includes Ambassador to China Max Baucus and 25 U.S. companies. The delegation will make stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and aims to help launch or increase American business operations in the country for “smart growth” products such as building energy efficiency improvements, carbon capture technologies, and expand greener options for transportation and data centers. Algenol, GE, Southern Co., Honeywell, Praxair, Alcoa, Cummins Inc., and SolarReserve are among companies going on the mission.

BUT IS HILLARY READY FOR THE GREENS? Environmentalists at Action, a group that’s played a major role in elevating Keystone’s political profile over the past four years, have prepared signs that mimic the font used by the political action committee created to give Clinton a glide path into 2016. The signs read: “I’m Ready for Hillary to say NO KXL.” The anti-pipeline signs won’t reach activists’ hands until Clinton launches her White House bid, perhaps as soon as next week. And that won’t be the last environmentalist effort to pressure the former secretary of state — who has stayed resolutely mum on Keystone for years — into weighing in on the heavy oil pipeline that green groups view as a litmus test on fighting climate change.

“Saying no comment is less defensible when you’re a declared presidential candidate,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for 350. At that point, he added, lacking a stance on Keystone amounts to “ducking an issue of national significance. It’s morally indefensible, and you owe people an explanation of where you stand.” Elana Schor has more:

AREN’T YOU GLAD IT’S FRIDAY!? I know I am. I’m your morning host, Darius Dixon, and whether or not you agree with Vice President Joe Biden’s politics, I think it’s safe to say that this doesn’t seem right (Warning: There’s no unseeing this): Enjoy the last two days of Passover. Send your energy commentary and tips to, and follow us on Twitter @dariusss, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.

** A message from Fuels America: After years of innovation and investment, the cellulosic biofuels industry is now deploying the lowest carbon, most innovative fuel in the world at commercial scale. A new Third Way report shows “reforming” or repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard could doom this potentially transformative sector. Find out how: **

PENCILS UP, HAND’EM OVER, CENTRUS: Today is the deadline the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee set for Centrus — the company formerly known as USEC — and the Energy Department to turn over all communications between the company (and its contractors) and Dan Poneman while he was deputy Energy secretary. Centrus has maintained that neither it, nor “anyone affiliated with Centrus,” ever discussed employment possibilities with Poneman while he was at DOE.

BRACE YOURSELF for Congress’ return. It’s been a busy two-week recess without them but you’ll want to get your Zzzs in over the weekend since both chambers come back online Monday.

IN THE HOUSE HOPPER: The House plans to take up several tax bills and several committees plan to move on cybersecurity measures over the next two weeks, according to a legislative memo from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the rank-and-file. After that, during the week of April 28, the first two appropriations bills of the year will be considered: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, then Energy and Water. Third-termer Rep. Chuck Fleischmann recently became vice chairman for the energy and water subpanel.

GOING TO THE OFFSHORE ENERGY PLAN HEARING? A House Natural Resources subcommittee is holding a hearing next Wednesday to discuss the offshore energy plan the Obama administration unveiled earlier this month and we’re told that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory will be the first to take a seat at the witness table. BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper is also expected to testify. The Interior Department proposed allowing offshore drilling in portions of the offshore Atlantic Ocean from Virginia to Georgia in a January five-year draft plan ( that drew swift criticism from environmentalists as well as complaints from industry that it did not go far enough.

HAROLD HAMM WANTED HAND IN OKLA. EARTHQUAKE WORK: EnergyWire’s Mike Soraghan: “Continental Resources Inc. founder Harold Hamm sought as far back as 2011 to manage Oklahoma’s state-funded research into the links among hydraulic fracturing, oil production and earthquakes. Hamm sought a meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren in September 2011 after state seismologist Austin Holland, a university employee, wrote a report linking small earthquakes in south-central Oklahoma to fracking. According to emails obtained by EnergyWire through open records requests, Hamm wanted to discuss how Holland’s research on fracking might be perceived by the public. ‘He just wants to make sure that everyone concerned understands the potential public relations repercussions if we don’t handle this issue correctly,’ Mike Terry, president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA), explained to a university dean.”

JUDGE TOSSES SUIT OVER GRAND CANYON URANIUM MINE: A federal judge shot down a lawsuit this week from environmental groups and a Native American tribe seeking to stop the reopening of a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon. First permitted in 1986, the mine, located in the Kaibab National Forest, was idle from the 1990s until 2011, when the mine’s owners sought to reopen it based on the originally approved plan rather than undergoing a new review. The challengers argued that the mine could pose a risk to the environment and key cultural areas, but Judge David Campbell of the U.S. District Court in Arizona didn’t buy it. He ruled that the Forest Service’s decision to allow the mine to reopen under its old plan did not violate NEPA or an historic preservation law. Opinion:

— The Havasupai tribe and the green groups that brought the suit are mulling an appeal. “Uranium mining leaves a highly toxic legacy that endangers human health, wildlife and the streams and aquifers that feed the Grand Canyon,” said Katie Davis of the Center for Biological Diversity.

MASSEY CASE RESCHEDULED: A West Virginia federal judge agreed to delay the trial of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship until July. “After careful consideration of the same, the court finds the defendant has established good cause for a continuance,” U.S. District Judge Irene Berger said in an order today. The trial was set to begin a week from this coming Monday. Blankenship will face criminal conspiracy charges tied to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in 2012, which killed 38 miners.

RADON STUDY DIGS UP CONFLICT: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a peer-reviewed study yesterday that suggested that radon levels were notably higher in parts of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region where there was more fracking for natural gas is taking place. Specifically, the study says basement readings of radon, beginning in 1987, only saw “an upward trend” starting in 2004, with higher levels found in counties with 100 or more drilled wells compared to counties with no wells. And with that, voices in the industry pounced. The Marcellus Shale Coalition said the study was “profoundly flawed.” The Johns Hopkins analysis also appears to contradict a two-year study conducted by the state that said radiation associated with oil and gas development has “little potential for harm” to the public and industry workers (Albeit “harm” and “concentrations” are different things).

The industry-backed Energy in Depth group laid out a four-point critique of the John Hopkins paper starting with a press release that quoted lead researcher, Brian Schwartz, saying, “One plausible explanation for elevated radon levels in people’s homes is the development of thousands of unconventional natural gas wells in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years.” Also, the counties overlapping the so-called Reading Prong region demonstrated the highest levels of radon in the study even though they’re far from shale development (That may be a matter of geology: The paper says that the local bedrock of the Reading Prong region is naturally rich in uranium, which eventually decays to radon). EID’s Nicole Jacobs quoted a line from the study that counties with “low Marcellus activity” consistently had lower radon readings than those with high drilling activity and those with no activity. Yes, areas with “some” activity usually had less radon than places with no activity. “If Marcellus development were to blame for radon levels,” Jacobs wrote, “wouldn’t areas with development have higher radon levels than areas with no development?” She has a point, even though the very next sentence of the study says: “Then from 2005-2013 the high activity counties had higher basement radon levels than both low and no Marcellus activity counties with confidence intervals that did not overlap, and there was evidence of a significant upward trend.”

Despite Schwartz’s quote, the John Hopkins study, which parsed more than 860,000 state measurements, admits that it’s far from conclusive and offers a lot of potential culprits. It says that “well water may contribute more to indoor radon than previously thought” but also states that it could depend on several things, including water sources, air emissions near fracking sites, building construction, and local geology. One of the few things the study seems certain of is that, “There has … been a general rise in [radon] concentrations since 2006.” The study: EID has more critiques:


— Michigan governor splits with GOP colleagues in seeking coal alternatives. Battle Creek Enquirer:

— Three major Las Vegas casinos want to leave NV Energy. Las Vegas Review-Journal:

— Shell Acquisition of BG Group Will Create Giant Operator of LNG Ships. The Wall Street Journal:

— Shell’s Huge Gas Bet Underscores Big Oil’s Push to Replace Coal. Bloomberg:

— Barack Obama Visits Jamaica, Urges Caribbean on Green Energy. Caribbean Journal:

— U.S. Agencies Block Technology Exports for Supercomputer in China. The Wall Street Journal:

— Coal ash pollution more extensive at SC power plant than first reported. The South Carolina State:

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