Energy Brief: Court Grants EPA More Time for Obama Smog Rule

Washington Brief

  • The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gave the Environmental Protection Agency more time to decide what it wants to do about a smog rule passed by former President Barack Obama, which was challenged from opposing sides. Industry groups and GOP-led states think it’s too strong, while environmentalists want the standard toughened. (The Washington Post)
  • The same court also ruled the EPA should not have exempted farms from air pollution requirements for animal waste, dealing a victory for environmental groups. (The Hill)
  • Officials from the White House, Energy Department and State Department clashed with other diplomats from the Group of Seven countries over support for more nuclear power and fossil fuels, according to an internal document and interview. (Politico)

Business Brief

  • Nations in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut output even more than they had promised in March, driving oil prices to their largest gain so far this year. (Reuters)
  • Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer, said it wants to continue the deal to cut oil production for another six months when it meets in May. The cuts haven’t sapped oil inventories as quickly as expected, in part because U.S. producers took advantage of higher prices to raise their output. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Japan’s Toshiba conglomerate said it may have trouble staying in business due to losses from its Westinghouse nuclear subsidy in the United States. (Bloomberg News)

Chart Review

Short-term Energy and Summer Fuels Outlook
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Electric Power Conference and Exhibition 9 a.m.
Electric Power Conference and Exhibition 8:30 a.m.
Wilson Center discussion on China’s energy finance 9:30 a.m.
Atlantic Council discussion on advanced energy and national security 12:30 p.m.
R Street discussion on fuel economy standards and emissions regulations 12 p.m.



Court strikes down Bush-era pollution exemption for farms
Timothy Cama, The Hill

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted improperly when it exempted most farms from air pollution reporting requirements for emissions from animals waste, a court ruled.

Environmental Groups Ask EPA to Rescind Obama’s ‘Endangerment Finding’
Sean Moran, Breitbart News

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received two petitions from environmental groups to review the agency’s “endangerment finding” that served as the justification for Obama’s climate change agenda.

House clean energy group adds new Republicans
Hannah Hess, E&E

A bloc of House GOP lawmakers looking for consensus on “common-sense energy reforms” has expanded to 13 members. … Founding members include several who have committed to a resolution urging action on climate change.

Canberra defends BHP Billiton after investor call for shake-up
Jamie Smyth and David Sheppard, Financial Times

Australia leapt to the defence of BHP Billiton on Tuesday, saying that any major changes to the corporate structure of the country’s biggest company would need to be consistent with the “national interest”.

Oil Extends Longest Gain of 2017 as Saudis Seen Extending Curbs
Ben Sharples and Grant Smith, Bloomberg News

Oil advanced for a seventh day in New York, the longest gain since December, on confidence Saudi Arabia will support an extension to OPEC-led output cuts just as U.S. stockpiles show signs of shrinking.

Oil and Natural Gas

OPEC figures show oil output cuts exceed pledge in March – sources
Rania El Gamal and Alex Lawler, Reuters

OPEC states cut oil output in March by more than they pledged under supply curbs, according to figures the exporter group uses to monitor its supply, extending a record of higher-than-expected adherence to its first production cut in eight years.

Saudi Arabia Wants OPEC to Extend Production Cuts
Summer Said and Benoit Faucon, The Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia has told OPEC officials that it wants to extend the cartel’s agreement to cut crude-oil production for another six months when the group meets in May, people familiar with the matter said. Saudi support could increase chances that the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries can come together on May 25 and renew its agreement to curb the world’s supply of oil.

New U.S. drilling permits surged in March
Collin Eaton, Houston Chronicle

New drilling permits issued across the United States climbed by almost 4,000 in March, the largest increase in 18 months, Evercore ISI said Tuesday. The number of newly issued U.S. drilling permits has increased steadily since OPEC struck its deal to curb oil production in November.

Fast growth of sand mining is ‘real deal’ after oil bust
Jordan Blum, Houston Chronicle

As drilling has recovered in recent months, particularly in West Texas’ Permian Basin, the sand mining industry has exploded. It is producing more than ever to meet the demand of an oil and gas sector that is using up to 20 times more sand per well than it did during the last energy boom.

Utilities and Infrastructure

EDF raises UK energy prices for second time in four months
Nicholas Megaw, Financial Times

EDF Energy has announced further rises in gas and electricity prices for UK customers, blaming rising wholesale prices and the costs of delivering UK energy policy for eating into margins.

University tables proposal for power plant after campus committee releases evaluation report
Neelesh Moorthy, Duke Chronicle

The University has delayed a decision on whether to build a power plant on campus after heavy criticism of the proposal and a recent report issued by a subcommittee of the Campus Sustainability Committee. Last May, the University announced plans to build a $55 million, 21-megawatt natural gas-fired combined heat and power plant on campus in partnership with Duke Energy Carolinas, a subsidiary of Duke Energy.

Coal mine operator seeks buyer for Navajo power plant
The Associated Press

A coal mine operator said the price of its coal could be lowered through 2025 if a new buyer takes over a Northern Arizona power plant. Peabody Energy officials are hopeful that new ownership would make the Navajo Generating Station profitable again.


Inside edge – Trump advisor Icahn’s big bet against biofuels credits
Chris Prentice and Jarrett Renshaw, Reuters News

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s oil refining company, CVR Energy, made a massive bet in 2016 that prices for U.S. government biofuels credits would fall – just before Icahn started advising President Donald Trump on regulations driving that market.

Clean Energy Investment Drops 17% as China and U.S. Scale Back
Jess Shankleman, Bloomberg News

Clean-energy investment fell 17 percent in the first quarter, keeping pace with last year’s decline, as the U.S. and China both scaled back support for wind and solar farms. The $53.6 billion funneled into projects such as renewable energy, efficiency and electric cars during the first three months of the year marked the lowest investment for the quarter since 2013, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Tesla’s Market Surge Has Even Fans Looking for Feet of Clay
Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times

In the past four weeks, exuberant investors have driven up the share price of Tesla, putting the upstart in the league of car companies that have been in the business for a century. But there are others who think Tesla, for all its potential, has become an overpriced investment — and something of a risky play in the near or medium term, given the challenges of turning battery-powered cars into mass-market products.

Chicago wants to become a renewable energy powerhouse
Anmar Frangoul, CNBC

City buildings in Chicago are to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2025, the city’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced.


North Korean ships head home after China orders coal returned
John Ruwitch and Meng Meng, Reuters

A fleet of North Korean cargo ships is heading home to the port of Nampo, the majority of it fully laden, after China ordered its trading companies to return coal from the isolated country, shipping data shows. Following repeated missile tests that drew international criticism, China banned all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off the country’s most important export product.

Mining union faces ‘life-and-death’ test
Dylan Brown, E&E

Nelson knew the deal he made before disappearing beneath the mountain for the first time in 1975. His health would almost certainly be the price for the best paycheck around and benefits backed by his union — the United Mine Workers of America. Now, that deal is in doubt.

River advocates, Duke Energy spar over coal ash disposal at Mayo power plant
Abbie Bennett, The News & Observer

Roanoke River advocates say Duke Energy is breaking the law by not disposing of its coal ash properly, and it’s polluting water near the Mayo power plant in Person County. But Duke Energy says it’s following the law.


Toshiba Warns It May Be Unable to Stay in Business
Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal

Toshiba Corp. on Tuesday expressed doubt for the first time that it can survive in light of huge losses at its U.S. nuclear subsidiary, which filed for bankruptcy last month.

Generators, business groups line up against Ohio nuclear bill
Peter Maloney, Utility Dive

Measures to shore up nuclear power plants have been put in place in New York and Illinois and are under consideration in legislatures in Connecticut, Ohio and New Jersey. And in all instances they have encountered resistance.


Trump’s climate demands roil U.S. allies
Andrew Restuccia, Politico

President Donald Trump’s abrupt turnaround on U.S. climate policy is fueling tension with several of America’s closest allies, which are resisting the administration’s demands that they support a bigger role for nuclear power and fossil fuels in the world’s energy supply.

D.C. Circuit grants EPA’s request to delay smog rule case
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted the Environmental Protection Agency’s request Tuesday to delay oral argument in a case over its 2015 smog standard, allowing the agency time to reconsider the Obama-era rule.

Led by steep declines in coal, US energy sector emissions fell 1.7% last year
Robert Walton, Utility Dive

The United States continues to make advances on clean energy, but there are some signs that the progress may be slowing. While the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy continues to decline, in 2015 the drop was more than 5%.

Scientists just uncovered some troubling news about Greenland’s most enormous glacier
Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

The largest glacier in Greenland is even more vulnerable to sustained ice losses than previously thought, scientists have reported. … If all of the ice that flows through this region were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by nearly two feet. Just from 2000 to 2011, the ice loss through Jakobshavn alone caused the global sea level to rise by a millimeter.

Disastrous 2016 shows butterflies are ‘failing to cope’ with climate change
Ian Johnston, The Independent

Butterflies are “failing to cope” with climate change and the pollution of the British countryside, experts have warned after a disastrous year saw population declines in 40 out of 57 species.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Fracking Bans Hurt Distressed Communities, Inflate Power Costs
Bernard L. Weinstein, Morning Consult

This year, oil production in America is expected to reach an all-time high, close to 9.5 million barrels a day. Similarly, natural gas output is projected to reach a record 75 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2017. What a difference a decade makes.

NextEra Needs Oncor Or An Encore
Liam Denning, Bloomberg View

To miss one multi-billion dollar utility deal is unfortunate; to miss two is careless, as the old saying goes. NextEra Energy Inc., a hybrid of Florida’s main regulated utility and the country’s biggest private portfolio of renewable energy projects, is facing its second failed utility deal in less than a year.

Research Reports

Evaluating opportunities for an increased role of winter crops as adaptation to climate change in dryland cropping systems of the U.S. Inland Pacific Northwest
Claudio O. Stöckle et al., Climatic Change

The long-term sustainability of wheat-based dryland cropping systems in the Inland Pacific Northwest (IPNW) of the United States depends on how these systems adapt to climate change.