Energy Brief: EPA Asks Court to Delay Arguments on Air Toxins Rule

By Jack Fitzpatrick

Washington Brief

  • The Environmental Protection Agency asked a federal court to delay oral arguments, set for May 18, in a challenge to its regulation on airborne toxins from power plants. (The Washington Post)
  • The meeting among White House advisers on the Paris climate agreement has been postponed and will happen “at some point over the next couple of weeks,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
  • The labor union representing the employees at the EPA’s Great Lakes region asked Administrator Scott Pruitt to meet about a report that the regional office may be consolidated with another office. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • The crash in oil prices prompted crude oil producers to look more to digital technology, despite a history of sticking with older means of production. (Bloomberg News)
  • The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a county utility that residents can choose to patronize rather than Southern California Edison. (Los Angeles Times)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Atlantic Council event on energy innovation in the Middle East 9 a.m.
Energy Storage Association annual conference 9 a.m.
Brookings Institution event on carbon pricing 2 p.m.
International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum 2 p.m.
International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum 8:30 a.m.
Energy Storage Association annual conference 9 a.m.
Texas conference focused on creating smart cities 9 a.m.
Texas Electric Power conference 9 a.m.
Aspen Institute event on natural resource economies 11:30 a.m.
U.S. Energy Association event on carbon capture and storage 12 p.m.
SAIS conference on women and climate change 8 a.m.
International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum 8:30 a.m.
Texas Electric Power conference 8:30 a.m.
Texas conference focused on creating smart cities 9 a.m.
John Holdren speaks at AAAS 5:30 p.m.



EPA seeks delay over rule curbing coal plants’ toxic pollution
Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday asked a federal court to delay an oral argument in a challenge involving a 2012 regulation limiting the amount of mercury, lead and other airborne toxins emitted from power plants. While the power sector has largely already complied with the rule, several companies and 15 states — including Oklahoma, which was represented by current EPA head Scott Pruitt when he was the state’s attorney general — are seeking to overturn it.

Policy Advisers Urge Trump to Keep U.S. in Paris Accord
Coral Davenport, The New York Times

President Trump’s most influential policy advisers are urging him to keep the United States in the landmark Paris climate accord of 2015, a move that would break one of his signature campaign promises and further downgrade the counsel of his senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. Mr. Trump plans to make a final decision on the fate of the Paris agreement before a meeting of the Group of 7 leading economies at the end of May, according to Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

EPA union asks Pruitt for meeting over talk of closing office
Devin Henry, The Hill

The labor union representing Environmental Protection Agency workers at a regional office reportedly on the chopping block are asking for a meeting with the agency’s administrator this week. AFGE Local 704, which represents 1,000 EPA employees in the Midwest, invited Scott Pruitt to a lunch meeting on Wednesday during his trip to the Chicago area, saying, “We need to talk.”

Hard questions for Pruitt in city ‘bombarded by lead’
Amanda Reilly, E&E News

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “Back-to-Basics” tour will touch down tomorrow in East Chicago, Ind., an industrial city in the throes of a lead-contamination crisis. As EPA’s budget is slashed and more work is handed to state agencies, environmentalists and community activists in East Chicago are worried about the Trump administration turning its back on environmental justice.

European Stocks Advance as Haven Demand Eases
V Ramakrishnan and Cecile Gutscher, Bloomberg News

European markets struck a note of cautious optimism on Wednesday, with stocks rising and haven assets declining. U.K. shares fell as the pound extended its gain following the surprise election announcement. Banks and automakers helped spur the rebound in Stoxx Europe 600 Index following the biggest one-day loss since November. Sterling edged higher after hitting the strongest level since October on Tuesday.

Oil and Natural Gas

Obama alumnus: Should have built Keystone
Amy Harder, Axios

Adam Sieminski, who was administrator of the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration under President Obama, says with a laugh that now he’s left the government, he can have an opinion again. On the sidelines of a Brookings Institution confab in D.C. on Monday, he told Axios: “One opinion I don’t have to stifle anymore is that I think the Keystone XL pipeline should have been built.”

Big Oil’s Rejection of Silicon Valley Is Finally Coming to End
David Wethe, Bloomberg News

The nodding donkey was invented nearly a century ago, and it’s still hard at work in the oil patch, virtually unchanged, pumping oil out of the ground. There’s been a recent innovation, though: Algorithms adjust the extraction flow based on computer monitoring hundreds of feet below.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Cyber attack would leave East Coast dazed, Energy Dept. says
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

A cyber attack on the East Coast’s energy system would result in widespread public confusion as everything from electricity to gasoline supplies would be cut off for as much as several weeks, the Energy Department said Tuesday. The agency released a report outlining the results of a major cyber-attack simulation conducted in December called “Liberty Eclipse.”

L.A. County creates a lower-cost alternative for Southern California Edison customers
Ivan Penn and Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times

Southern California Edison customers in Los Angeles County soon will have an alternative way to get their electricity — from a new government-run utility promising lower bills and easier access to clean-energy options. The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the public energy program, which they say will help reduce power bills by as much as 5% below what customers pay Edison.

Energy Regulator: ‘World Isn’t Sitting Still’ While Commission Is Hamstrung
Jack Fitzpatrick, Morning Consult

A key energy regulator wants to address the problems that some state energy policies have created for grid operators, but can’t actually take action until more commissioners are chosen by President Donald Trump, a senior official said Tuesday. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission faces vacancies at a pivotal time, when it is trying to address conflicting priorities between states and regional organizations.


China to erect fewer farms, generate less solar power in 2017
Eric Ng, South China Morning Post

China, home to the world’s largest installations of solar farms, will install fewer panels in 2017, taking a breather for the first time in five years, amid arrears in government subsidies and bottleneck problems with the country’s power grids, analysts said. Chinese solar farms will add between 26 and 28 gigawatts (GW) of solar power generating capacity this year, with their share of the global market shrinking to 33 per cent from 44 per cent in 2016, according to a forecast by IHS Markit.

Coal company plans huge solar farm on strip mine
James Bruggers, Louisville Courier-Journal

An Eastern Kentucky coal mining company on Tuesday announced its plans to build what could become the state’s largest solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop strip mine, promising jobs for displaced coal miners and energy production. The Berkeley Energy Group and EDF Renewable Energy are working to explore what they’re billing as the first large-scale solar project in Appalachia.

Scottish wind powers housebuilding in groundbreaking joint venture
Peter Hetherington, The Guardian

Amid the rolling hills and woodland pastures of south-east Scotland, a wind of change is blowing through communities where low wages and casual work sit uneasily alongside the popular image of timeless market towns and pretty coastal villages. High above rich arable land by the North Sea, three tall wind turbines, blades spinning wildly, have started generating electricity for the national grid with two social purposes: to sell energy and use the income to deliver hundreds of new homes in a scattered rural community while, at the same time, providing additional funds for similar schemes elsewhere in Scotland.


Coal Plants Not Reopening Under Trump: Federal Utility CEO
Jonathan Matisse, The Associated Press

The CEO of the nation’s biggest public utility said Tuesday that the agency isn’t going to reopen coal-fired power plants under President Donald Trump, who has promised a comeback for the downtrodden coal industry.
Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said he thinks very little will actually change for the federal utility under Trump.


NRC Vacancies Concern House Members
Occupational Health & Safety

Three leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.; Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.; and Subcommittee on Environment Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill. — have sent a letter asking President Donald J. Trump to fill current and future vacancies at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Absent a nomination and confirmation of additional commissioners, the Commission will lack a quorum on July 1 when Chairman Svinicki’s current term expires.”

Three Mile Island, like much of nuclear industry, is on the brink
Wallace McKelvey,

Nuclear power, which generates more than a third of Pennsylvania’s electricity, could soon disappear from the state amid a glut of cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale play. And the first of state’s five plants to fall could be Three Mile Island, which could close as soon as 2019.


Weather disasters from climate change are pushing some companies to Amazon’s cloud, says CTO
Ari Levy, CNBC

Amazon Web Services has been winning business worldwide from companies that are stripping down their data centers and taking advantage of emerging cloud technologies. Some clients are signing on for a different reason: climate change.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Oil Drillers’ Vanishing Safety Net
Lisa Abramowicz, Bloomberg Gadfly

A lot of companies view revolving credit lines the way some rock climbers view harnesses and ropes: They would rather not use them, but they’re glad to have them when trouble strikes. So it’s worth paying attention when a corporation starts withdrawing a substantial amount of money under these prearranged agreements with banks.

‘The Ocean Is Boiling’: The Complete Oral History of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill
Kate Wheeling and Max Ufberg, Pacific Standard

On the morning of January 29th, 1969, Santa Barbara News-Press reporter Bob Sollen received a call from an anonymous source. When he answered, the voice at the other end of the line rang out clear and urgent: “The ocean is boiling.”

Research Reports

The relationship between climate change and the endangered rainforest shrub Triunia robusta (Proteaceae) endemic to southeast Queensland, Australia
Yoko Shimizu-Kimura et al., Scientific Reports

Threatened species in rainforests may be vulnerable to climate change, because of their potentially narrow thermal tolerances, small population sizes and restricted distributions. This study modelled climate induced changes on the habitat distribution of the endangered rainforest plant Triunia robusta, endemic to southeast Queensland, Australia.