Energy News for April 16, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on April 16, 2015


POLITICO Morning Energy for 4/16/2015

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

CLIMATE COURT: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments today in a trio of cases (14-1112, 14-1151, 14-1146) challenging EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas rule for existing power plants. The central question in the case is whether EPA can, under the Clean Air Act, regulate power plants under both Section 111 (for greenhouse gases) and Section 112 (the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule). Opponents of the rule want an emergency writ from the court stopping the agency from issuing a final rule, and say that EPA is overstepping the bounds of the law. The agency says that never-resolved conflicts in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments leave the issue unsettled, and where things are unclear, it should have the discretion to interpret the law as it sees fit.
The court usually takes a pass on regulations until they’re final, and tossed a prior suit over the proposed greenhouse gas rule for new plants. But EPA drew a tough panel, and will have to convince conservative judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh. On Monday, the court granted EPA’s motion to split argument time among four attorneys. DOJ’s Brian Lynk and Amanda Shafer Berman will each get 16 minutes, arguing on jurisdictional issues and the merits, respectively. Morgan Costello and Sean Donahue will get four minutes each, arguing in support of EPA, for states and environmental groups, respectively.

States fighting the EPA rule: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

States in favor of the rule: Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, along with the City of New York and the District of Columbia.

Enviros backing EPA in court: Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club.

The offense: Laurence Tribe, for Peabody Energy Corp., Geoffrey Barnes, for Murray Energy Corp., and Elbert Lin of West Virginia, for the states.

ALERT → The when and where: Late yesterday afternoon, the court moved the case up a half-hour, to 9 a.m. The location, Courtroom 31 on the fifth floor of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, is unchanged. You oughta get there early. There are 80 minutes of argument time allotted but these things almost always go over.

The post-court lineup:

— West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey plans to hold a press conference 15 minutes after oral arguments wrap up today. Where: Constitution Avenue-side plaza in front of the courthouse.

— Environmental Defense Fund counsel Sean Donahue, New York University’s Richard Revesz and others will discuss the case during a 12:30 p.m. teleconference. Call-in: 877-896-1229. Passcode 28873268.

AND IT’S MATS DAY: Unless they were granted a one-year extension by their states, power plants have to comply with EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards beginning today. The rule marks a major turning point for the U.S. coal industry, and in a lot of ways, there’s no going back. Erica Martinson pulled the long arc of the rule and what it means for coal into a great story this week (, which had some nice visual assists,

HAPPY ALMOST-FRIDAY! I’m your morning host, Darius Dixon, and what the heck is going on in Albany? Sheldon Silver and now possibly Dean Skelos? I hope I won’t have nightmares about the Albany of 2009! Pedro Espada Jr., anyone? Send your energy tips to, and follow us on Twitter @dariusss, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.

** A message from the Auto Care Association: The auto care industry is a coast-to-coast network of more than 500,000 independent manufacturers, distributors, parts stores and repair shops that keep every motorist moving. Our four million employees generate 2.3 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Our network delivers products at the speed that keeps America’s cars on the road. **

BAY’S FIRST GAVEL: FERC’s five commissioners will take up a rulemaking today designed to improve gas-electric coordination as natural gas becomes a larger part of the U.S. fuel mix. Gas-fired power plants don’t store much fuel on-site, relying instead on gas to be piped in as required. But there has long been a disconnect between when the electric industry starts its formal day (midnight local time) and when the gas day begins (9 a.m. CT for the entire U.S.). FERC last year proposed moving the gas day’s start time to 4 a.m. CT in an effort to help Eastern plants avoid running short on gas during the morning, when demand increases sharply. Electric utilities generally applauded the proposal, but many gas suppliers and pipeline operators have urged FERC to drop the part of the proposal moving the gas day’s start time forward and instead focus on boosting coordination in other ways.

Also on the docket: FERC will take action on a rulemaking regarding several reliability standards, including one defining what data on disturbances to the bulk power grid should be recorded and reported, as well as one that adds sudden pressure relaying to another reliability standard regarding equipment testing. And the commissioners will consider a proposed policy statement outlining the five standards that interstate natural gas pipelines would have to meet in order to charge customers for spending on upgrades.

Hail to the chief: As ME has noted, this is Norman Bay’s first meeting as chairman, the post to which he ascended yesterday. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. at FERC HQ: 888 First St. NE.

GOP SCIENCE FUNDING BILL: NSF UP, EERE WAY DOWN: House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith introduced a bill to reauthorize the National Science Foundation late yesterday — and plans to have it on the full committee’s schedule next Wednesday. Compared to fiscal 2015 enacted levels, Smith’s America COMPETES Reauthorization Act would increase funding for NSF by more than 4 percent, and by more than 5 percent across the Energy Department’s Science office. Those boosts come at the cost of more than $715 million to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — a loss of about 34 percent compared to fiscal 2015 enacted levels, down to $1.2 billion. While increasing funds in several science programs for fiscal 2016, compared to 2015, the bill leaves funding level completely flat between 2016 and 2017.

Republicans aren’t wasting any time: The committee plans to mark up the bill next Wednesday at 10:15 a.m.

Dems say GOP hid the ball: The bill was apparently not shared with the other side of the aisle, and thus has nine Republican cosponsors but no Democrats. “Democratic Members were given this 189-page bill at the same time as everyone else. We are currently reviewing the legislation that would authorize some of the most important government functions to spur innovation and keep the U.S. competitive,” Johnson said in a statement. She said the America COMPETES Act, which traditionally reauthorizes the NSF and several related science agencies, “is far too important for partisan posturing.” (h/t Maggie Severns)

So, what’s in it? Or rather, what’s not? One of the main areas of conflict between Smith and the scientific community were efforts by the Texas Republican to insert a congressional hand into the NSF’s grant-making process, and — at first glance — it seems as though Smith has largely backed off. Language in the bill’s section on “greater accountability in federal funding for research” under the NSF title, reads: “Nothing in this section shall be construed as altering the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.” However, the bill does require that a “determination” be issued publicly justifying how each grant or cooperative agreement promotes science in the U.S. and is “in the national interest,” which the bill describes in seven ways. For more than a year, Smith has accused NSF of funding “questionable” research through the agency’s Social/Behavioral/Economic Directorate and sought to establish “minimum standards” of accountability with his FIRST Act last year.

— The bill also cuts funding for ARPA-E in half, to $140 million, which is also half of what the House energy appropriations subcommittee approved for the program just yesterday.

— The measure would block climate-related initiatives in DOE’s Science office until it can first be determined that “such work is unique and not duplicative of work by other Federal agencies.” The bill (H.R. 1806):

SHAKEN AND SERVED, MCBEE STUNG WITH SUIT: At a cocktail reception Tuesday evening celebrating the merger of lobby shop McBee Strategic with powerful D.C. law firm Wiley Rein, a top executive from McBee was served with lawsuit papers. The drama surrounding lobbying firm McBee Strategic isn’t over. The shop is being sued for $15.5 million by a former partner who alleges fraud, breach of contract and civil conspiracy. Thomas Pernice and his firm Modena Holding Corp. filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against McBee Strategic. Firm founder Steve McBee and McBee executive committee member Eric Bovim are also listed as defendants. Bovim was served at the party. POLITICO’s Anna Palmer and Tarini Parti have the lowdown:

WATER HEATER WOES: New Energy Department conservation standards for a variety of water heaters take effect today, but congressional delays mean that manufacturers are at least temporarily barred from making certain kinds of grid-enabled water heaters. A compromise reached by rural co-ops, environmentalists and efficiency groups would exempt certain electric resistance water heaters from the rule. The electric heaters cannot meet the standards, but are useful in rural demand response programs that help integrate renewables into the grid. Lawmakers have been trying to pass a formal exemption for some time, but those past efforts have been stymied. The Senate last month passed a fix, but House lawmakers on Wednesday moved their own version out of committee, leaving the bills’ futures up in the air. Until either one passes Congress, manufacturers will have to stand down on producing these electric heaters.

The tussle may sound water-logged, but it’s no dry affair. According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, rural co-ops currently have around 500 megawatts of demand response capacity wrapped up in similar grid-connected electric water heaters, which has saved their consumers hundreds of millions of dollars so far.


— Florida environment chief: ‘climate change, climate change, climate change.’ Saint Peters Blog:

— U.S. Industrial Production Falters as Oil Sector Weighs. The Wall Street Journal:

— Vt. Senate approves climate change resolution. Burlington Free Press:

— Colorado wind-industry jobs rise on turbine orders. The Denver Post:

— Musk’s Cousins Battle Utilities to Make Solar Rooftops Cheap. Bloomberg:

— Stores That Sell Luxury Get Stingy About Energy Costs. The Wall Street Journal:

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