Energy Brief: Border Wall Work Expected to Impact Wildlife Refuges

Government Brief

  • The Trump administration contracted workers to begin clearing out land in southwest Texas known to have the largest amount of border crossings for the construction of the border wall. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to apply to waive the standard environmental regulations for this section of the wall, though the construction will cut through a wildlife refuge. (The Washington Post)
  • Opposition from government employees stemming from disagreements with the Trump administration’s agenda has grown, specifically from career staffers and political holdovers within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. (The Hill)
  • The slow pace of the process for President Donald Trump to fill seats in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put off at least $13 billion in natural gas pipeline projects expected to generate more than 23,000 construction jobs, according to a new analysis. (Politico)

Business Brief

  • West Virginia Governor Jim Justice proposed a tax subsidy for power utilities getting fuel from eastern coalfields in order to improve national security by strengthening energy independence. His plan would create coal jobs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. (West Virginia Metro News)
  • South Carolina ratepayers could have to pay billions for the two abandoned, partially-built reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia. (The Associated Press)
  • Oil futures dropped slightly ahead of a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, where the member countries will discuss compliance levels to their oil production caps. (The Wall Street Journal)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Interior Department webinar on ecological drought solutions 1 p.m.
FERC seminar on environmental reviews in pipeline construction projects 8 a.m.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace panel discussion on oil corruption and controversies 12 p.m.
FERC seminar on environmental reviews in pipeline construction projects 8 a.m.
2017 Offshore Wind Executive Summit in Houston 8:30 a.m.
Webinar on energy resources booms hosted by Resources for the Future 1 p.m.
FERC seminar on environmental reviews in pipeline construction projects 8 a.m.
2017 Offshore Wind Executive Summit in Houston 8:30 a.m.
Boston Climate Action Network meeting 6 p.m.
International Food Policy Research Institute event on agricultural research and development 12 p.m.

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Federal employees step up defiance of Trump
Devin Henry, The Hill

Government employees are growing increasingly willing to criticize or defy the White House and President Trump’s top appointees. A handful of current and former career staffers in the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have openly shredded their superiors within the last several weeks, continuing a trend that has developed throughout the government over the course of Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office.

Trump’s border wall would slice through wildlife refuges and cut off U.S. territory in Texas
Darryl Fears, The Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security sought a waiver from environmental regulations this month to build a section of border wall near San Diego. But 1,500 miles away in Texas, the Trump administration is working on another section that could block migrating butterflies and cut across the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most treasured spots for birdwatching in the country and a “crown jewel” in the federal refuge system.

Toyota takes stake in Mazda, links up for $1.6 billion U.S. plant
Naomi Tajitsu and Sam Nussey, Reuters

Toyota Motor Corp said on Friday it planned to take a 5 percent share of smaller Japanese rival Mazda Motor Corp, as part of an alliance that will see the two build a $1.6 billion U.S. assembly plant and work together on electric vehicles. The plant was a surprise for investors at a time of cooling U.S. sales, but marked good news for U.S. President Donald Trump who came to office on the back of promises to bring back manufacturing and jobs for U.S. workers.

Oil Edges Down on Oversupply Concerns
Neanda Salvaterra and Jenny Hsu, The Wall Street Journal

Oil futures edged down on Monday, on concerns about major oil producers’ wavering commitment to output caps and ahead of a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 1.2% to $51.79 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange.

Oil and Natural Gas

Why are these billions in pipeline projects stalled?
Eric Wolff and Darius Dixon, Politico

Trump’s slowness to fill vacancies at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is one reason for a growing backlog of natural gas pipelines and a gas export terminal awaiting approval from the agency, which has been unable to conduct major business since February. The waiting list has grown to at least $13 billion worth of projects expected to generate more than 23,000 construction jobs, according to a POLITICO analysis — largely in states Trump won in November.

Keystone XL pipeline fate in balance as Nebraska opens hearings
Kevin O’Hanlon, Reuters

Nebraska regulators will hear final arguments for and against TransCanada Corp’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline this week before deciding whether to approve its route later this year, the last big hurdle for the long-delayed project after President Donald Trump gave it federal approval. Nebraska’s Public Service Commission is meant to weigh whether the project is in the state’s public interest, and will announce a decision by November.

Big Oil’s Dream of $65 Billion Hidden Off Norway Is Fading Away
Mikael Holter, Bloomberg

The general election next month is unlikely to lift a deadlock that’s keeping a ban on drilling off the environmentally sensitive archipelago as more and more Norwegians are turning their backs on the industry that helped make the country one of the world’s richest.

Senate Jams Shale Tax, Industry Permits Into Unhappy Package
Marc Levy, The Associated Press

For years, environmental advocates have sought a tax on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas production while business associations have sought speedier state approval of permits for the activities of polluting industries. Now, legislation approved by the Republican-controlled state Senate gave both provisions an unexpected and unwelcome passenger: each other.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Energy chair rips regulators in electric choice fight
Jonathan Oosting, The Detroit News

The chairman of the Michigan House Energy Policy committee is threatening to sue state regulators if they move forward with rules he says would threaten the state’s 10 percent electric choice market. State Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Larkin Township, argues new rules proposed by Public Service Commission staff may violate state and federal energy laws while driving up electricity costs for schools and large employers in the choice program that buy power from alternative energy suppliers instead of incumbent utilities.

A changing electric grid may make dams expendable — and help save salmon
Rocky Barker, The Idaho Statesman

In the near future, the U.S. electric grid will be able to digitally manage the vast Northwest hydroelectric network in a way unimaginable just a few years ago. With consent from customers, it will be able to adjust the heaters and air conditioners of millions of homes and buildings, or tap into the batteries of electric cars or other smart appliances.


Energy Suppliers Find Fresh Lift From Offshore Wind
Erin Ailworth, The Wall Street Journal

For energy-services companies, finding new revenue streams is crucial as oil and gas from onshore shale formations continue to flood the market. The Houston-based company—which recently built the foundations for the first U.S. offshore wind farm, near Rhode Island—is one of many oil-and-gas industry suppliers seeking to diversify into offshore wind, as 18 wind projects are proposed for the nation’s waters.

Nonprofit installs solar panels on roofs of lower-income households — free
Mary Hui, The Washington Post

All of this is part of the District’s larger goal of having 50 percent of its energy supply come from renewable sources by 2032, of which 5 percent would come from local solar power, as outlined in the city’s climate and energy plan. And training young residents in solar installation would prepare them to work in the rapidly growing solar industry, which added jobs almost 17 times as fast as the overall U.S. economy last year, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency report.


Justice says coal plan a matter of national security
Jeff Jenkins, West Virginia Metro News

Gov. Jim Justice has been to the White House twice in the last three weeks for discussions on his plan to boost the use of coal produced in the eastern coalfields. Justice is proposing what he calls a homeland security incentive that would protect the eastern power grid.

Under Trump, Coal Mining Gets New Life on U.S. Lands
Eric Lipton and Barry Mier, The New York Times

The Trump administration is wading into one of the oldest and most contentious debates in the West by encouraging more coal mining on lands owned by the federal government. It is part of an aggressive push to both invigorate the struggling American coal industry and more broadly exploit commercial opportunities on public lands.

Miners, energy stocks give European shares another leg up
Helen Reid, Reuters

Basic resources and energy stocks helped European benchmarks build on the previous week’s robust gains on Monday, as commodity prices climbed. Mining firms provided the foundation for benchmark gains, up 1.3 percent as copper and iron ore prices climbed.


Billions lost in nuclear power projects, with more bills due
The Associated Press

A decade ago, utilities were persuading politicians around the country to let them spend big to go nuclear. Expanding nuclear energy capacity was a sure bet, they said: Natural gas prices were rising, energy needs skyrocketing and the federal government was poised to cripple carbon-emitting fossil fuel plants. State legislators were sold.

South Carolina’s cloudy energy future: Will it affect manufacturing?
David Wren, The Charleston Post and Courier

Although electricity costs often play a key role in where manufacturers choose to expand, experts say last week’s decision to scrap construction of two new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station isn’t expected to have a long-term impact on statewide economic development efforts.


Trump Notifies UN of Paris Exit While Keeping Option to Return
Ari Natter, Bloomberg

The Trump administration began the formal process to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but says it’s willing to “re-engage” if terms more favorable to the U.S. are met. The State Department said it notified the United Nations that the U.S. will pull out of the global agreement as soon as it can under the terms of the 2015 accord, but President Donald Trump would agree to remain in the deal was reconfigured to be better for U.S. interests.

S.C. researchers will use eclipse to study solar flares — which have potential to be dangerous for earth
Bo Petersen, The Charleston Post and Courier

One of the biggest puzzles surrounding the sun is scheduled to get serious study during the Aug. 21 eclipse: Why is the corona — the crown of gases fuming from the star — so much hotter than its core? A series of telescopes handled by academic and other volunteers across the country will record high-resolution images that will be used in research for years.

Let Forest Fires Burn? What the Black-Backed Woodpecker Knows
Justin Gillis, The New York Times

The black-backed woodpecker is one of the rarest birds in California, and lately it has become something more: a symbol of a huge scientific and political debate over the future of fire in American forests. Scientists at the cutting edge of ecological research, Dr. Hanson among them, argue that the century-old American practice of suppressing wildfires has been nothing less than a calamity.

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is larger than ever. Here’s what to do about it.
Jenna Gallegos, The Washington Post

Scientists just measured the largest dead zone ever recorded for the Gulf of Mexico, a whopping 8,776 square miles, massive enough to cover all of New Jersey. And only dramatic shifts in farming practices are likely to prevent even bigger problems in the future.

Energy review examining household and environmental costs
BBC News

An independent review looking at ways to reduce energy costs has been launched by the government. Oxford University professor Dieter Helm, who is carrying out the work, said he would “sort out the facts from the myths about the cost of energy”.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

How pro-coal federal policy helped kill the SC nuclear plants
James Clyburn, The State

The decision by Santee Cooper and SCANA to suspend construction of the nuclear facility at Fairfield County’s V.C. Summer site is catastrophic on many fronts. While a plethora of factors can be blamed, this decision also represents a failure of government policy. It could have been avoided.

If we keep subsidizing wind, will the cost of wind energy go down?
Eric Williams and Eric Hittinger, The Conversation

But when is the right time to stop government support for an energy technology? Subsidies need not last forever – there can come a time when its objective has been achieved or experience suggests the subsidy is not working as intended.

Endangered species threatened by unneeded energy
Ralph Maughan, The Idaho State Journal

I think the Endangered Species Act of 1973 has always been one of our most optimistic laws. It says that despite the forces destroying our fish, wildlife, and plants, we cannot only stop it, but reverse it, recovering species from the brink of extinction worldwide.

Dirty energy’s quiet war on solar panels
Basav Sen, The Hill

In statehouses all over the country, there’s a growing movement by industry front groups to undermine net metering and other renewable energy incentives. These front groups include the Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry’s trade association, and outfits such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are funded by the Koch brothers.

Research Reports

Alpine bogs of southern Spain show human-induced environmental change superimposed on long-term natural variations
Antonio Garcia-Alix, Nature

Recent studies have proved that high elevation environments, especially remote wetlands, are exceptional ecological sensors of global change. The different response recorded at each site suggests that the National Park and land managers of similar regions need to consider landscape and environmental evolution in addition to changing climate to fully understand implications of climate and human influence.