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Energy Brief: EPA Defends Pruitt’s Meetings With Industry Leaders

Washington Brief

  • The Environmental Protection Agency dismissed implications that fossil fuel companies had any special access to Administrator Scott Pruitt after emails were released last week. (Washington Examiner)
  • Sources said former George W. Bush administration official Jeff Holmstead will be considered for the No. 2 Environmental Protection Agency position, bringing a more moderate tilt to the agency. (Axios)
  • The Department of Energy announced plans for a national program to mine for rare elements that have largely been imported from China. (Fox News Insider)

Business Brief

  • Reacting to the steep decline in crude oil prices over the last three years, oil industry investors showed acceptance of a new pricing normal of $50-60 per barrel. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • After several of Navajo Generating Station’s owners signaled that they would back out of supporting the plant, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation continued efforts to negotiate keeping the Arizona plant open through 2019. (The Washington Times)
  • Taiwan’s government announced plans to increase renewable energy developments including increases to the country’s reliance on water, wind and solar power sources by 2025. In an effort to attract $59 billion of private capital, the country has begun restructuring the financing of green energy projects to build confidence in renewable energy investments. (Bloomberg News)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Monday
Naftogaz CEO speaks at Atlantic Council discussion on Ukraine’s energy sector 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Interior’s budget 10 a.m.
Energy Department’s Perry testifies at House Appropriations subcommittee hearing 1 p.m.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on restoring watersheds 2:30 p.m.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on water infrastructure 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday
Obama administration officials Moniz, Hagel, Whitman speak at energy and climate event at Atlantic Council 9 a.m.
Interior’s Zinke testifies to Senate Appropriations subcommittee 9:30 a.m.
Former Energy Secretary Moniz speaks at National Press Club 10 a.m.
House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Helium Extraction Act 10 a.m.
House Science subcommittee hearing on environmental technologies 10 a.m.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s New Energy Outlook 2017 discussion at CSIS 10 a.m.
House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Indian Health Service bill 2 p.m.
Energy Secretary Perry testifies at Senate Appropriations subcommittee 2:30 p.m.
Thursday
Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Commodity Futures Trading Commission nominee 9:30 a.m.
House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Interior’s budget 9:30 a.m.
House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on rail infrastructure 10 a.m.
Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on marine debris 10 a.m.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Energy Department’s budget 10 a.m.
Statoil Energy Perspectives 2017 discussion at CSIS 1 p.m.
Friday
No events scheduled

 

General

EPA goes on the defensive to play down Scott Pruitt’s meetings with industry
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

The Environmental Protection Agency went on the defensive Friday as news organizations began releasing emails that showed frequent discussions between the fossil fuel industry and administrator Scott Pruitt in the early months of running the agency. The agency said it is Pruitt’s prerogative to hold such meetings in his official capacity as head of the EPA, adding that the “implication that American businesses don’t care about the environment and public health is utterly false,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman wrote in an email.

Jeff Holmstead expected to be #2 at EPA
Jonathan Swan and Amy Harder, Axios

Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush, is expected to be appointed as the No. 2 official at the EPA, according to two sources familiar with the decision-making process. Holmstead, now a partner at law and lobbying firm Bracewell, is the last man standing for the deputy administrator post. EPA chief Scott Pruitt has met with him and likes him, and the White House recommended him so he’s an easy pass from that end.

Trump Energy Dept. Seeks to Mine Elements Monopolized By China
Fox News InSider

In a move met by applause from at least one congressman, the Energy Department announced a pilot program for research into domestic mining of rare earth elements. Rare earth elements are a series of seemingly obscure elements on the Periodic Table that are crucial for production of electronics, military equipment and some medications.

Scott Pruitt vows to speed the nation’s Superfund cleanups. Communities wonder how.
Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

With more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide — some of which have lingered for decades on the EPA’s ever-growing “priorities list” — it’s unclear how Pruitt will back up his professed commitment in an age of scorched-earth budgets. Critics worry that a single-minded focus on speeding up the process could lead to inadequate cleanups.

The radical idea behind Trump’s EPA rollbacks
Alex Guillen, Politico

The Trump administration isn’t just pushing to dramatically shrink the Environmental Protection Agency, chop a third of its budget and hobble its regulatory powers. It’s also trying to permanently limit the EPA’s mission — while portraying doing so as a return to the agency’s roots.

Questions to FERC Nominees Reflect Democrats’ Wish List
Michael Brooks, RTO Insider

President Trump’s nominees to FERC gave nearly identical, boilerplate answers to senators’ written questions on issues ranging from hydroelectric project licensing to natural gas infrastructure following their confirmation hearing last month. The questions, mostly from Democratic and left-leaning independent senators, provide more insight into a party grappling with being in the minority under a presidential administration hostile to environmental issues rather than the nominees themselves.

Oil and Natural Gas

Three Years On, Oil Industry Comes to Terms With Cheap Crude
Georgi Kantchev et al., The Wall Street Journal

Three years after the price of crude began its rapid descent, the oil industry and investors are finally resigned to the idea of lower prices for longer, potentially ending a period of crisis for the sector. The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, is now down 59% since it hit a closing high of $115.06 a barrel three years ago on Monday.

Oil Trades Near $45 as U.S. Continues Drilling Expansion
Rakteem Katakey and Ben Sharples, Bloomberg Government

Oil traded near $45 a barrel following a fourth weekly loss as U.S. drillers continued to add rigs, blunting OPEC-led efforts to rebalance an oversupplied market. Futures were little changed in New York after capping the longest run of weekly declines since August 2015. U.S. drillers targeting crude added rigs for a 22nd straight week, the longest stretch in three decades, according to data Friday from Baker Hughes Inc.

Oil slump slammed many companies’ revenues
Collin Eaton, The Houston Chronicle

Falling oil prices crushed corporate revenue streams across Houston last year, plunging sales in the region to even lower levels than in the Great Recession eight years ago. Energy prices have recovered somewhat this year, easing the financial sting for the oil and gas companies that cut tens of thousands of jobs across the region.

Evidence of oil pushes Doyon drilling campaign forward
Alex DeMarban, The Alaska Dispatch News

An Alaska Native corporation’s third exploration well discovered remnants of crude oil that may have oozed through the area, raising hopes oil can be found elsewhere in large quantities in the Nenana Basin west of Fairbanks. It’s also possible the crude oil disappeared altogether.

Utilities and Infrastructure

NERC: Despite Solid 2016, Grid Threats Remain
Rory Sweeney, RTO Insider

The North American grid was very reliable in 2016, but threats are increasing and restoration from a total system collapse could prove time-consuming, two recent nationwide studies found. NERC last week released its annual analysis of the grid’s performance, which found that while 2016 ranked as the second-most reliable year on record, threats to the system — particularly on the cybersecurity front — are on the rise.

Lower demand, higher operating costs help push electricity rates for Seattle-area customers
Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times

Seattle electricity rates are expected to rise after the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the regional wholesaler of federal hydropower, said it expects average rates to increase 5.5 percent over the next two years.

Renewables

Taiwan Lays Plans for $59 Billion in Renewable-Energy
Miaojung Lin and Lianting Tu, Bloomberg News

New energy, meet new finance. That’s the thinking of Taiwan’s government, which is starting to map out funding plans for a power system that can no longer rely on nuclear reactors. Prime Minister Lin Chuan’s administration aims to increase the share of renewable energy such as water, wind and solar to 20 percent of total power output on the island by 2025, up from 5 percent currently.

Extra-windy March boosts wind, solar power’s share of Colorado’s energy to 24 percent
Jesse Paul, The Denver Post

Solar and wind power for the first time accounted for 10 percent of a month’s electricity generated in the U.S., according to a new report that also shows Colorado deriving nearly one-quarter of its electricity from those renewable sources.

Coal

Peabody Energy Fights Lawsuit Over Protesters’ Arrest
Jonathan Randles, The Wall Street Journal

Peabody Energy Corp. is fighting accusations it colluded with police in the unlawful arrest of two protesters who took a photo with coal miners and their “Peabody Abandons Miners” banner at its 2013 shareholder meeting in Wyoming.

Fate of Arizona coal mine, power station and tribal economies rests with Trump administration
Ben Wolfgang, The Washington Times

An aging power plant in remote Arizona could offer the Trump administration a unique opportunity: the chance to back up its rhetoric about saving the U.S. coal industry with concrete action. The federal government could be the last, best hope to save the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired facility on Navajo Nation land near the Arizona-Utah border that is key to providing water for much of the region, directly supports hundreds of jobs and is the sole customer for a nearby Peabody Energy coal mine.

Nuclear

S.Korea to complete dismantling of oldest nuclear reactor by 2032
Jane Chung, Reuters

South Korea plans to complete the dismantling its oldest nuclear reactor by 2032, including removing spent nuclear fuel and releasing the site for other uses, the energy ministry said on Monday.

US Nuclear Reactors Are Bleeding Money
Andrew Follett, The Daily Caller

Roughly half of U.S. nuclear reactors are racking up yearly financial losses equivalent to $2.9 billion, according to a new report. Nuclear power plants earn $20 to $30 a megawatt-hour for their electricity, but they cost about $35 a megawatt-hour to operate, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. That means many reactors are operating at a financial loss.

Climate

BRICS meeting highlights climate change, trade, terrorism
The Associated Press

Climate change, trade and terrorism were high on the agenda Monday at a Beijing meeting of foreign affairs officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, known collectively as the BRICS nations. The five countries are seeking to further align their views on key issues at a time when President Donald Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from multilateral arrangements such as the Paris climate accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Reef rescuers race to keep pace with climate change
Jenny Staletovich, The Washington Post

Ten years ago, when scientists in South Florida began a massive rescue effort to rebuild the nation’s only inshore reef, replanting nursery-grown staghorn coral with a gardening technique perfected in the Pacific seemed like an easy solution. What started as a citizen-science project to rebuild the reef is now an all-hands-on-deck dash to not only replant but also develop a crop of tough new coral with cutting-edge science.

Lyft promises to tackle climate change. Can it?
Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter

The ride-sharing company Lyft is promising to tackle climate change with electric autonomous cars as a way to drive business and spark city redesigns.

It’s time to act on climate change, Tucson officials say
Tony Davis, The Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson City Council will discuss possible action to combat climate change and hear several talks on the subject at a study session Tuesday. Some ideas could cost the city money, but others could be done with little to no upfront cost, the mayor said.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

The climate movement charges on, even without the US
Winnie Byanyima, Al Jazeera

President Donald Trump has proved again how beholden our politics are to the interests of the super-rich elite. The conniving, rich oilmen that were so desperate to prevent and frustrate the Paris Agreement found cheerleaders in Mr Trump and his party. They choose to protect their profits from a flailing fossil fuel industry over human lives and a clean, inclusive future for us all.

On climate change, just ask a lobsterman
The Editorial Board, The Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

For the men and women who must pull a living, lobster trap by lobster trap, out of the Gulf of Maine, it isn’t up for debate — they have seen the change with their own eyes. When you find that the best spots for fishing have moved, or that there’s a new disease in the mix — when you have actually watched temperatures rise and the ocean ecosystem transform — there is no question at all, except over how you’re going to deal with it. Instead, the Trump administration is doing its best to not confront it at all.

Research Reports

The importance of scattered trees for biodiversity conservation: a global meta-analysis
Jayme A. Prevedello et al., Journal of Applied Ecology

Scattered trees are thought to be keystone structures for biodiversity in landscapes world-wide. However, such trees have been largely neglected by researchers and their importance for biodiversity remains unclear.