Energy Brief: Court Rules Interior Can’t Stay Methane Rule

Washington Brief

  • A federal court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency lacked authority under the Clean Air Act to issue the 90-day administrative stay of the Obama administration’s rule to curb methane emissions in drilling operations. (The New York Times)
  • The Interior Department began accepting public comments on the five-year plan to open up the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore drilling. (The Hill)
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a formal program to question climate change despite scientific consensus. A back-and-forth critique will be employed to evaluate the status of the EPA’s legal foundation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. (E&E News)

Business Brief

  • General Electric Co. combined its oil and gas business with Baker Hughes Inc. in an effort to hold out for the recovery of oil prices. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Iowa State University worked with utility lobbyists to move its Energy Center to the state executive branch — a discovery that spurred concerns of an industry takeover for the research program. (The Associated Press)
  • As Tesla Motors Inc. proceeded with mass-production of electric vehicles, five states including California levied a new fee on electric cars, taking away a big consumer incentive. (CNBC)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

No scheduled events
Clean Power in Latin America event hosted by Inter-American Dialogue 9 a.m.
International Solar Fuels Conference in California 9 a.m.
CSIS discussion on export financing and global infrastructure projects 9:30 a.m.
International Solar Fuels Conference in California 9 a.m.



Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule
Lisa Friedman, The New York Times

Dealing a legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot suspend an Obama-era rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. The 2-to-1 decision from the United StatesCourt of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a legal setback for Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, who is trying to roll back dozens of Obama-era environmental regulations.

Trump Talks Trade and Climate With Merkel Ahead of G-20 Summit
Louise Radnofsky, The Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump had an “extensive” conversation about trade and climate issues with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, the White House said Monday. The U.S. and German leaders have had rocky relations since Mr. Trump’s arrival in office, including public disagreements between Washington and Berlin over the U.S. move to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, and Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S.

Energy Department to reconsider Obama energy efficiency rule
Devin Henry, The Hill

The Energy Department is gearing up to request information about the agency’s energy efficiency rule for air compressors, indicating it could consider rewriting an Obama-era regulation the Trump administration froze earlier this year. In a draft copy of a Federal Register filing, DOE officials say they want to collect information related to the efficiency ruling and also delay implementation of the rule later this year while reviewing the details.

Obama in Indonesia Takes Swipe at Trump on Paris Climate Accord
Karlis Salna, Bloomberg News

Former U.S. President Barack Obama has pointed to the importance of the Paris climate accord while criticizing Donald Trump for pulling the world’s biggest economy out of the pact. The decision by Trump to walk away from the 2015 agreement was also criticized by business leaders, with some describing it as a setback for the environment.

Oil slips after eight-session bull run on rising OPEC exports, strong dollar
Karolin Schaps, Reuters

Oil prices fell more than one percent on Wednesday, ending their longest bull-run in over five years, as climbing OPEC exports and a stronger dollar turned sentiment more bearish. Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 69 cents, or 1.4 percent, at $48.92 a barrel by 0900 GMT . U.S. WTI crude futures were down 80 cents, or 1.7 percent, at $46.27 a barrel after reaching a fresh one-month high of $47.32 earlier in the session.

Oil and Natural Gas

GE’s Baker Hughes Deal Deepens Its Stake in Energy as It Holds Out for a Recovery
Thomas Gryta and Christopher Matthews, The Wall Street Journal

General Electric Co. closed its deal to combine its long-suffering energy business with Baker Hughes Inc. on Monday, creating one of the largest companies in the oil-field services industry. The new publicly traded company, which will retain the Baker Hughes name, will pursue further cost cuts as it awaits an elusive recovery in oil prices. Majority-owned by Boston-based GE, it will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol BHGE, with dual headquarters in Houston and London.

Interior opens public review of offshore drilling plan
Devin Henry, The Hill

The Interior Department on Monday began accepting public comments on a new five-year offshore drilling plan, an early step toward rewriting the blueprint for drilling in federal waters. Interior published a “request for information” in Monday’s Federal Register, seeking comment from the public and stakeholders on the potential for drilling in the 26 areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leased for oil and natural gas production by the federal government.

Germany Is Addicted to Russian Gas
Weixin Zha and Anna Shiryaevskaya, Bloomberg News

Hidden by pine forests near the deserted site of what was once East Germany’s biggest nuclear reactor, two shiny pipelines emerge from the Baltic Sea to mark the spot where Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to secure the country’s energy future. Not far from the Hanseatic town of Greifswald — an area Merkel represents in parliament — the chancellor wants a $10 billion pipeline expansion built to increase the amount of Russian natural gas imported from Siberia, more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) away.

Trump LNG export policy sparks clash between big energy users and gas industry
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

Large energy users are set to clash with the natural gas industry over President Trump’s plan to increase liquefied natural gas exports as part of his pro-growth “energy dominance” plan. But big energy users are warning the administration that shipping more natural gas abroad is problematic for growing businesses and jobs domestically and ultimately could hurt the president’s economic agenda.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Iowa State worked with utilities to uproot key energy center
Ryan Foley, The Associated Press

Iowa State University officials worked with utilities lobbyists for weeks to draft a law uprooting the state’s renewable energy research center, giving the industry cover to avoid allegations of a “power grab,” newly released emails show. Iowa State announced in March that it would support transferring the 27-year-old Iowa Energy Center to the executive branch, even though no legislation to accomplish the change had been introduced.

States yanking electric-car incentives and slapping on new fees to pay for infrastructure
Ylan Mui, CNBC

For drivers of electric cars, going green is starting to take more green. A growing number of states are imposing new fees on electric vehicles as officials scrounge for ways to pay for infrastructure projects they say are long overdue. At least five states, including California, passed bills targeting the cars this year, bringing the total number with fees on the books to 13. The charges generally range from $100 to $200 a year.

McKinsey: Cheaper batteries present imminent threat of load defection for utilities
Peter Maloney, Utility Dive

Energy storage prices are falling faster than anyone expected, with battery costs down to less than $230/kWh in 2016 from almost $1,000/kWh in 2010, McKinsey noted. The cost declines are being driven by a growing market for consumer electronics and demand for electric vehicles. In addition, companies in Asia, Europe, and the United States are building large factories to scale up for expected demand for lithium-ion batteries.


Manufacturers fear losing electric grid independence to wind and solar
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

Manufacturers and other large users of electricity fear that their own internal energy supplies will be siphoned off by grid operators to make up for drops in power output that come from more solar and wind being used on the grid. Groups representing large energy consumers say policies by the federally overseen grid operators, the regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, and states are forcing them to take on the role of power plant instead of manufacturer.

G20 public finance for fossil fuels ‘is four times more than renewables’
Damian Carrington, The Guardian

The G20 nations provide four times more public financing to fossil fuels than to renewable energy, a report has revealed ahead of their summit in Hamburg, where Angela Merkel has said climate change will be at the heart of the agenda. The public finance comes in the form of soft loans and guarantees from governments, and, along with huge fossil fuel subsidies, makes coal, oil and gas plants cheaper and locks in carbon emissions for decades to come.


Why gamers will be the next generation of coal workers
Tim Loh, The Chicago Tribune

Coal miners no longer swing a pickax or wield a shovel. While coal companies are hiring again, executives are starting to search for workers who can crunch gigabytes of data or use a joystick to maneuver mining vehicles hundreds of miles away. The technological change took a leap forward in the 1980s with the expansion of large-scale mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where the coal can be scooped out of the ground from above. The miners no longer had to tunnel underground.

North Dakota coal studying supply of valuable rare earth elements
Jessica Holdman, The Bismarck Tribune

North Dakota coal companies are hoping to have a hand in solving the nation’s supply problem of rare earth elements. Magnets, hard drives, alloys, batteries, catalysts in cars, lasers, even coal’s cleaner energy cousins wind turbines and solar panels rely on rare earth elements – and could, in turn, rely on lignite coal.


San Onofre’s nuclear waste poses no special dangers, national experts say
Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego Union-Tribune

The words “nuclear power” once sent chills down the spines of everyone from schoolchildren to grandparents. During the 1970s and ’80s, televisions routinely broadcast footage of protests against the construction of new reactors. Americans feared that radiation leaks would harm legions of people. In the public’s imagination today, images of mushroom clouds have to a notable extent been replaced by scenes of melting glaciers, flooding from sea-level rise and demonstrations over oil and gas pipeline projects.

Oyster Creek nuclear plant taken offline
Jean Mikle, The Asbury Park Press

Operators at the Oyster Creek Generating Station shut the plant down unexpectedly at 10:15 a.m. Monday to address an equipment issue on the “non-nuclear” side of the plant, a plant spokeswoman said. The problem was with the vacuum system in the plant’s water steam condenser, according to Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


Pruitt will launch program to ‘critique’ climate science
Emily Holden, E&E News

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to challenge mainstream climate science using a “back-and-forth critique” by government-recruited experts, according to a senior administration official. The program will use “red team, blue team” exercises to conduct an “at-length evaluation of U.S. climate science,” the official said, referring to a concept developed by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations.

ExxonMobil talks up tackling climate change ‘while still funding climate deniers’
Chloe Farand, The Independent

ExxonMobil has repeatedly claimed to be involved in the fight against climate change, but official documents show it continues to spend millions supporting climate deniers. The company’s executives along with a string of other senior representatives at major oil and gas companies including Shell and BP appealed to Donald Trump last month urging him to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Climate change expected to fuel larger forest fires — if it hasn’t already
Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Global warming will likely heighten the risk of large, more difficult to control wildfires scorching the western United States. It’s the main conclusion of a body of science that, over the years, has increasingly drawn connections in the West between the prevalence of major blazes and the rising frequency of earlier springtime conditions followed by hotter and drier summers.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Government Funding of Both Basic and Applied Research is Essential
Ron Munson, Morning Consult

We have heard a lot of discussion in the U.S. recently in favor of government support for basic research but against support of applied research. The argument put forward for this view is that private industry should be responsible for bringing innovations to the market. While this model may be appropriate in some sectors, there is a long history showing that government support of applied research in the energy sector is essential for bringing advanced technologies forward.

Mr. President: In Iowa, wind energy equals jobs
Dave Loebsack, The Gazette

In Iowa, we are proud to be home to three factories that manufacture various parts of the wind turbine. From the blades to the towers, Iowa’s hard-working men and women are making the parts right here, where they live, work and play. That means these jobs can’t be exported. Renewable energy sources not only create jobs, but they also lower our dependence on foreign oil and reduce CO2 emissions.

How the heat wave reinforces the need for clean energy
Jayant Kairam, The Sacramento Bee

As Californians faced the first big heat wave of the summer, electric utilities and grid operators met the challenge head-on. Thanks to good planning and tools such as flex alerts, they avoided rolling blackouts even with historic levels of customer demand. Yet the hottest months are yet to come, and with climate change, we will see more frequent and severe heat waves across California and the West.

Research Reports

Talk is Cheap: How G20 Governments are Financing Climate Disaster
Alex Doukas et al., Oil Change International et al.

This analysis shows that G20 governments are providing nearly 4 times more public finance to fossil fuels than to clean energy. With the United States indicating that it intends to pull out of the Paris Agreement, other governments must provide leadership in the clean energy transition: the remaining G20 governments will need to step up. Governments simply cannot be climate leaders while continuing to finance fossil fuels at current rates.

Traffic is a major source of atmospheric nanocluster aerosol
Topi Ronko et al., PNAS

In densely populated areas, traffic is a significant source of atmospheric aerosol particles. Owing to their small size and complicated chemical and physical characteristics, atmospheric particles resulting from traffic emissions pose a significant risk to human health and also contribute to anthropogenic forcing of climate. Previous research has established that vehicles directly emit primary aerosol particles and also contribute to secondary aerosol particle formation by emitting aerosol precursors.