Top Energy Stories of the Summer

The Obama administration released its landmark carbon emissions rule this summer, but that’s just one piece of the energy news puzzle over the past few months. We’ve made things easy for you to catch up, with a countdown of the top stories you clicked, broken down by topic. Top on your minds? How the domestic oil and gas boom and the growth of renewable power are changing the energy industry, what environmental regulations mean for the future of coal and how campaigns in energy-rich states could determine whether the Republicans or Democrats control the Senate.

The stories come together to paint an interesting picture of how an evolving energy mix and campaigns to curb greenhouse gases are changing the face of the electric industry. Your favorite headlines offer a clue as to what stories will continue to drive the news cycle in the fall and over the next few years.


#5 The Curious World of Electric Regulators

It’s been a newsworthy year for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, from contentious nominations to leaked memos highlighting grid security weaknesses.

FERC is an independent agency that regulates how wholesale power is transmitted and sold across state borders. It’s also in charge of making sure the power grid operates reliably to prevent outages. With the growth of renewable energy and natural gas, as the U.S. electric system becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, FERC news is becoming more prominent.

One of the biggest stories this year came from Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith, who reported saboteurs could knock out just nine of the country’s electric-transmission substations and cause a national blackout.

U.S. Risks National Blackout From Small-Scale Attack
from Wall Street Journal by Rebecca Smith

FERC is proposing to approve a proposal from the industry-run electric reliability agency to identify weak links and develop security plans, although it has asked for some revisions.

FERC Finds Flaws in Electric-Grid Security Proposal
from Wall Street Journal by Rebecca Smith

The agency is also in an ongoing process to finalize cybersecurity rules for the grid.

Poll: Voters Expect Cyber Grid Attack but Hope for Best
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

FERC has gone through two Senate nominations to get a new chairman, and the commission is now looking at another hard-to-fill opening since Commissioner John Norris announced he will leave before his term is over.

Support Wanes for Obama’s FERC Nominee
from Wall Street Journal by Amy Harder

FERC’s Norris to leave agency; announcement expected this week
from SNL by Esther Whieldon

The heated fights over nominees show how politicized the agency’s role has become, as it rules on policies that make it easier for renewable power to gain access to the grid and to incentivize energy savings. Those major regulations have been the center of political clashes and suspenseful court battles. In May, a court threw out FERC’s Order No. 745, which set payment terms for electric customers who join programs to reduce their energy use at high-demand times. The court said the rule was outside FERC’s jurisdiction and that so-called “demand response” programs should be left up to states—highlighting an industry complaint that FERC is overstepping its bounds.

FERC Pay-to-Save Energy Plan Thrown Out by U.S. Court
from Bloomberg by Mark Chediak and Andrew Zajac

Court Ruling Could Complicate Meeting EPA Rules
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

FERC did see a court win on its Order No. 1000, which is aimed at making it easier for renewable energy to connect to the grid and requires planning and cost-sharing for transmission projects.

Wellinghoff: One court win for FERC could yield another
from Politico Pro by Darius Dixon

 

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#4 Coal’s Decline and Renewable Energy’s Growth

It’s a rough time for coal power as the industry struggles to compete with natural gas amid a long list of environmental regulations.  Coal proponents say a rapid shutdown of the nation’s most-used power source could mean higher electricity prices and reliability issues.

How not to shut down coal plants
from Washington Post by Lydia DePillis 

Amid Alleged ‘War on Coal,’ Nebraska Plant Finds ‘Path Forward’
from U.S. News and World Report by Alan Neuhauser

One Of America’s Dirtiest Coal Plants Had Some Dire Predictions. It Was Wrong.
from Hufffington Post by Dina Cappiello and Kevin Begos (AP)

Coal Retirements Pose Potential Power Problems
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden 

Environmental regulators say the future of the industry is in carbon capture technologies, but coal supporters argue the technology is untested and expensive.

Carbon Capture’s Perfect Storm
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

Coal’s Best Hope is Costly Power Plant in Mississippi
from Houston Chronicle by Mark Drajem (Bloomberg)

Meanwhile, renewable power has been growing at a fast rate but seeing some setbacks as the wind production tax credit expires and the U.S. fights China over a trade dispute on solar panels. The U.S. contends China is selling solar panels at prices below their production costs, making it difficult for domestic producers to compete.

IRS Relaxes Renewable Energy Project Tax Credit Rule
from Wall Street Journal by Ted Mann

Obama’s Green Dilemma: Punish China, Imperil U.S. Solar
from Bloomberg by David J. Lynch and Robert Schmidt

Renewables are also fighting for access to high-demand markets, which can mean building long-distance transmission lines that see some pushback.

Strange Bedfellows: Environmental Groups, Transmission Developers Working Together on Renewable Energy Projects
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

Both sides are competing for market share and facing off in local and national campaigns in the process.

A Battle Is Looming Over Renewable Energy, and Fossil Fuel Interests Are Losing

from Washington Post by Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger

Sierra Club Ends Opposition to Southern Co. Clean-Coal Plant in Mississippi
from Wall Street Journal by Rebecca Smith

 

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#3 Political Warfare

It’s an election year, and control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Energy has been a top campaign issue in high-profile races in Colorado, Alaska and Louisiana.

McConnell’s Plant to Shut Down Obama
from Politico by Manu Raju 

The biggest shift can be seen in Democrats increasingly backing oil and gas, especially when facing tight elections.

Democrats Increasingly Backing Oil and Gas Industry
from Wall Street Journal by Amy Harder

Meanwhile, many Republicans want to act on climate, although they don’t see the benefit of vocalizing their support.

Many Republicans Privately Support Action On Climate
from Bloomberg BNA by Anthony Adragna

The top-read stories have focused on local fracking bans in Colorado, oil and gas taxes in Alaska and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s leadership of the Senate Energy Committee.

Analysis: Landrieu’s clout pitch has a weakness
from SFGate by Melinda Deslatte (AP)

Deal Struck in Colorado Over Vote on Drilling
from New York Times by Jack Healy

Oil and Gas Cash Abandons Udall in Colorado
from Wall Street Journal by Amy Harder

Palin jumps in, Begich ducks on Alaska oil tax vote
from Politico Pro by Rachael Bade

In West Virginia,  Senate candidates are battling to prove they’re friendliest to coal.

West Virginia Senate test: Which candidate can cozy up closest to coal?
from Christian Science Monitor by Jared Gilmour

Morning Consult has a map that shows which states have the most energy influence in Washington.

Map: State Energy Influence in Washington
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

There’s been no lack of interest in the Koch brothers vs. Tom Steyer saga. Conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch have been spending millions on a deregulatory initiative and billionaire financier Tom Steyer has vowed to put his money behind a counter push for climate action.

Koch Brothers Unveil New Strategy at Big Donor Retreat
from Daily Beast by Peter Stone

Behind Harry Reid’s war against the Koch brothers
from Politico Pro by Kenneth P. Vogel

Steyer struggles to find big money donors
from Politico by Andrew Restuccia and Kenneth Vogel

 

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#2 The Shale Revolution

It’s no secret that the U.S. oil and gas sector is undergoing a tremendous reversal as domestic production increases and energy imports decline. Producers have been able to use hydraulic fracturing technologies, or fracking, to access shale formations.

Refiners adapt as oil supply tips away from imports
from Houston Chronicle by Robert Grattan 

Energy-Rich U.S. States Saw Fastest Economic Growth in Late 2013
from Wall Street Journal by Ben Leubsdorf

But that process has not come without scrutiny from environmental and public health groups, and the quick growth has caused a number of concerns about infrastructure.

Fracking—Environmental advocates have been waging a state-by-state war on fracking, claiming it causes drinking water contamination, health problems and man-made earthquakes. You can expect the battles to continue and to play an increasing role in campaigns in oil and gas states.

Here are some of the top reads:

Anti-Fracking Win in N.Y. Court May Deal Blow to Industry
from Bloomberg by Chris Dolmetsch, Freeman Klopott and Jim Efstathiou Jr.

Deal Struck in Colorado Over Vote on Drilling
from New York Times by Jack Healy

U.S. Takes First Step Toward Fracking Disclosure Rules
from Reuters by Valerie Volcovici

Exports—Amid growing domestic supplies, oil and gas companies are arguing the federal government should lift restrictions on oil and natural gas exports. The biggest stories came when the federal government allowed two companies to export ultra light oil, or condensate, and the Energy Department changed the way it reviews export applications for liquefied natural gas.

The lingering question is whether more exports would drive up consumer electricity and gasoline prices in the U.S.

US Challenges Oil Export Ban With Approvals for Two Texas companies
from Houston Chronicle by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

U.S. Oil Exports Ready to Sail
from Wall Street Journal by Christian Berthelsen and Lynn Cook

As Industry Pushes for Exports, Voters Fear Price Increases
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

Divisions On Oil Exports Not So Clear-Cut
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

The feds are trying to connect the dots on gas prices and crude oil exports
from Washington Examiner by Zack Colman

DOE is stepping out of the way on natural gas exports. So why isn’t the industry happy?
from Washington Examiner by Zack Colman

Oregon agency stings coal industry as it nixes key permit
from Washington Examiner by Zack Colman

Extra Funds for Energy Ports Can Ease Carbon Emission Rule’s Sting
from Morning Consult by Nathan Hurst and Emily Holden

Infrastructure—The fast growth has put a strain on existing infrastructure. A lack of pipelines has fueled a push for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that would move crude from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It has become a rallying point for environmental groups that argue the project would expand greenhouse gas emissions. The Obama administration has delayed its final decision on the project, likely until after the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, railway shipments of crude oil have increased and so have deadly crashes of trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. That has prompted the U.S. to rewrite railway standards.

TransCanada Eyes Shipping Oil by Rail Amid Keystone XL Delays-CEO
from Reuters by Catherine Ngai

Proposal Threatens to Aggravate Shortage of Railcars to Move Oil
from Wall Street Journal by Bob Tita

Train Accidents Bring New Scrutiny, But Fixes Likely Slow
from Morning Consult by Meghan McCarthy

You can also expect more on methane emissions from natural gas drilling, which the EPA has been studying.

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#1 Carbon Cuts and EPA Scorn

These headlines won’t be fading out any time soon. Energy trade groups, state policymakers and reporters are still sifting trough the 645-page proposal the EPA introduced in June to cut carbon emissions from the power sector.

The final rule is due next summer and could have huge implications for the coal, natural gas and renewable industries, as well as consumers. The proposal landed with such a splash that Morning Consult published an additional briefing just to share all the stories from the day the rule came out.

The plan takes a state-by-state approach, setting individual reduction requirements and laying out building blocks states could use to reach them. Much of the focus now is on how states are reacting. A dozen states are suing the EPA and others are scrambling to figure out the most cost-efficient way to make the reductions.

The biggest stories have been about legal challenges to the rule, how states might write their plans and how the proposal could affect electric prices for customers.

Here are some of your favorites so far:

On legal challenges—

New lawsuits unlikely to touch EPA’s carbon rule, at least in the near term
from E&E by Nathanael Massey

EPA Coal Plant Emissions Limits Challenged by 12 States
from Bloomberg by 
Andrew Zajac and Mark Drajem

Murray Energy, EPA lay out legal arguments in battle over climate and jobs
from SNL by Taylor Kuykendall

EPA Rule: Legal Backing for Climate Plan — or ‘Lipstick on a Pig’
from Bloomberg by Mark Drajem

On state reactions—

The State Scramble Over Carbon Emissions
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

Interactive Map: Carbon Q&As with 15 State Regulators  
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

With an analysis of potential impacts—

Energy Regulators Say EPA’s Climate Rule Poses Grid Challenges
from Wall Street Journal by Amy Harder

States Against E.P.A. Rule on Carbon Pollution Would Gain, Study Finds
from New York Times by Coral Davenport

Ohio Legislature Makes Fed Rule Harder
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

 

The rule is complex, and some of the best-read links in Morning Consult this year were the initial “explainer” pieces like this one:

States Would See Widely Different Requirements Under EPA’s CO2 Rule
from SNL by Andrew Engblom

In Some States, Emissions Cuts Defy Skeptics
from New York Times by Justin Gillis and Michael Wines

Is Vermont Too Good for the EPA’s Carbon Rule?
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

The Case of the Missing Hydropower Credit
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden


Interactive maps are also popular. This one from Morning Consult shows the changes each state would have to make if it chose to follow the EPA’s suggestions precisely:

EPA Targets: How Hard Will Your State Have to Work? (Interactive Map)
from Morning Consult by Emily Holden

The Bipartisan Policy Center is keeping a map of comments on the rule, and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has a map of renewables in the plan.

Comments on the proposal are due in mid-October, so you can expect to see more analysis predicting economic outcomes and increasing lobbying efforts from energy interests building their cases for changes to the draft rule.

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