Energy Brief: EPA, Transportation Announce Review of Car Emissions Rules


Government Brief

  • The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation announced an effort to review and relax the greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars established by the Obama administration. The announcement started a 45-day public comment period on the potential changes to emission standards for cars and light trucks. (The Washington Post)
  • Backers of the Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Georgia asked the White House to speed up the disbursement of $8.3 million in loan guarantees for the companies involved in the last remaining nuclear power construction project, which has an estimated cost of $25 billion. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has already turned down a $3 billion request to bail out a now-abandoned nuclear reactor in South Carolina. (Bloomberg)
  • GOP Sens. John Cornyn (Texas), Bill Cassidy (La.), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) wrote to President Donald Trump to warn against a ban on Venezuelan oil imports because of the potential harm to their oil-refining states and other regions of the country. (Washington Examiner)

Business Brief

  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings show SCANA Corp. paid executives more than $21 million in performance bonuses over the past decade, in spite of the failed construction efforts of two nuclear reactors in South Carolina that were abandoned last week. SCANA is currently seeking to recover costs from customers, having spent $10 billion along with state-owned utility Santee Cooper. (The Associated Press)
  • The CEO of the Dutch renewable energy company DONG Energy said green energy has finally become cost and price competitive with other energy systems after announcing a second-quarter operating profit for the company and a strong position for its future as an offshore wind developer. (CNBC)
  • Mine operator Contura Energy Inc. canceled plans to go public due to market conditions. The company, which had hoped its initial public offering would raise between $138 million and $162 million, receives half of its revenue from metallurgical coal used in steel making processes. (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Friday
International Food Policy Research Institute event on agricultural research and development 12 p.m.
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General

Trump officials begin review of Obama emissions standards for cars
Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post

The Trump administration gave notice it intends to relax the rules governing greenhouse gas emissions on new model cars Thursday, in its latest move to undo President Barack Obama’s climate policies. In a notice on the federal register, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department announced they were considering rewriting emissions standards for cars and light trucks made between 2021 and 2025.

Republicans making progress on longtime goal for more local control of federal lands
Bartholomew Sullivan, USA Today

As the new Republican-dominated House convened in early January, anticipating the arrival of President Trump, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee declared it time for a “paradigm shift” in how the more than 25% of the country that is owned by the federal government is managed. Almost eight months into an all-Republican-led effort, it’s clear that shift is under way.

Trump EPA lags behind in environmental enforcement: report
Valerie Volcovici, Reuters

During the first six months of the Trump presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency has lagged behind three previous administrations in environmental enforcement, collecting 60 percent less in civil penalties from polluters, a report released on Thursday said.

Voters Don’t Trust Zinke to Decide on National Monuments
Iulia Gheorghiu, Morning Consult

Registered voters trust themselves — or local officials — when it comes to the status of designated national monuments, not the federal government. A recent Morning Consult/POLITICO poll showed voters don’t trust Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Donald Trump to make decisions on monuments such as Nevada’s Gold Butte National Monument and Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument.

Oil prices fall as global tensions, supply concerns continue unabated
Sarah Sjolin and Jenny Hsu, Marketwatch

Crude futures were firmly lower on Friday, weighed by continued oversupply concerns after the International Energy Agency said oil production continued to increase in July. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in September, -0.54% lost 24 cents, or 0.5%, to $48.35 a barrel. October Brent crude, -0.37% on London’s ICE Futures eased 17 cents, or 0.3%, to $51.73.

Oil and Natural Gas

GOP senators warn Trump to refrain from oil sanctions on Venezuela
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

A group of Republican senators from oil-refining states urged President Trump on Thursday to refrain from banning oil imports from Venezuela because of the potential harm it would pose to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the rest of the country. Refiners in their states depend on crude oil from the South American country, which is the only member of OPEC in the Western Hemisphere.

IEA says strong oil demand growth helping market rebalance
Dmitry Zhdannikov, Reuters

World oil demand will grow more than expected this year, helping to ease a global glut despite rising production from North America and weak OPEC compliance with output cuts, the International Energy Agency said on Friday. The agency raised its 2017 demand growth forecast to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) from 1.4 million bpd in its previous monthly report and said it expected demand to expand by a further 1.4 million bpd next year.

British Columbia Vows to Block Pipeline Expansion
Paul Vieira, The Wall Street Journal

The government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, vowed Thursday to use every legal option to stop construction of Kinder Morgan Inc.’s planned expansion of a pipeline connecting the Alberta oil sands with the Pacific Coast. The development sets up another showdown over the need to get Canada’s landlocked oil and gas reserves to faster-growing Asian markets to spur growth—a crucial goal for a resource-reliant country that is still dealing with lower commodity prices.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Report: Utilities donate more to Republican candidates than to Democrats
Robert Walton, Utility Dive

Liberal watchdog groups Energy and Policy Institute and Center for Media and Democracy have put together a spreadsheet of utility-backed donations to assist governors and attorneys general in the next election cycle, finding contributions to Republicans far outpaced Democrats. According to the group, utilities and executives gave more than $1.15 million to the Republican Governors Association in the first half of this year. The Democratic Governors Association received less than $300,000.

Trump’s FERC chairman says lack of quorum was historic
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

President Trump’s choice to serve as the head of the nation’s top energy watchdog said Thursday evening that the last six months when the agency was forced to close for lack of members was a never-before-seen occurrence. Up until a few days ago, LaFleur was the only member on the commission, which has the heavy lift of regulating the nation’s wholesale electric grid while permitting interstate natural gas pipelines and related infrastructure.

Staid utility investing world upended by green energy revolution
James Saft, Reuters

The formerly staid, predictable world of utilities investing faces a revolution as the price of solar and wind energy plunges, creating new winners and losers. Generally tightly regulated and thus with reliable cash flows, utility stocks and bonds have long been beloved by pension funds and other conservative investors for their safe income generation.

Renewables

Dong Energy CEO says we’re at an ‘inflection point’ when it comes to renewables
Anmar Frangoul, CNBC

The last few years have seen renewable energy technologies become price competitive, the CEO of Dong Energy told CNBC on Thursday. Poulsen was speaking after Dong Energy, which is headquartered in Denmark, announced operating profit (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) had increased by DKK 1.8 billion ($283 million), reaching DKK 4.4 billion in the second quarter of 2017.

How Tesla’s Self-Driving Truck Scheme Can Dump Human Drivers
Alex Davies, Wired

Elon Musk’s grand plan of moving beyond passenger cars to truly revolutionize transportation just got a bit grander. In addition to developing an electric 18-wheeler that Tesla plans to unveil next month, Musk wants to make the thing drive itself. Tesla is working with Nevada authorities to begin testing a robo-rig prototype at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Coal

America’s other coal job, ignored by politicians, is dying fast
Naureen Malik and Tim Loh, Bloomberg

Coal-fired power plants employ more people than mines, and they’re shutting down all over the country. Cheap natural gas, the rise of renewables backed by tax credits, and subsidies for nuclear energy will likely combine to keep the trend going — and leave more people like Lynnette Faje out of work.

Tennessee coal company that operates Cumberland mine cancels plans to go public
Anya Litvak, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Contura Energy Inc., which emerged from the bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources with its best coal assets, has cancelled its plan to take the new company public citing market conditions. Contura was hoping to raise between $138 million and $162 million from the offering.

Coal mine layoffs latest fallout at Kemper power plant
The Associated Press

The company that supplies lignite coal to Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County power plant says it will lay off 75 workers at the mine. It’s the latest fallout from the suspending the part of the plant that was supposed to gasify coal and remove pollutants.

Nuclear

The U.S. Nuclear Industry’s Last Hope Seeks Help From Trump
Ari Natter and Mark Chediak, Bloomberg

President Donald Trump has vowed to revive America’s dying nuclear industry. Backers of a troubled Georgia nuclear project want him to prove it. They have asked the administration to come to the aid of a project to build two reactors to the Southern Co.’s Vogtle power plant, according to people familiar with the talks.

Utility pays bonuses to execs before nuclear project fails
The Associated Press

The company that led the failed effort to build two new nuclear reactors in South Carolina — and is now seeking to recoup billions more from customers — paid its executives millions in bonuses, some of it for work on the project, a review of federal records shows. SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and state-owned utility Santee Cooper last week abandoned construction on two new reactors, on which they already spent $10 billion. Much of that came from customers.

Climate

Pruitt’s EPA isn’t collecting millions of dollars from polluters — here’s how it could land him in court
Madeleine Sheehan Perkins, Business Insider

The EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt is punishing far fewer polluters than the last three administrations did. That’s partly because Pruitt has told his team he wants to keep the agency’s decisions out of court. We examined three ways the EPA will end up in court, regardless of what Pruitt does, with the help of a former EPA lawyer.

2016 confirmed as planet’s hottest year
Emily Holden, Politico

The report is the most comprehensive assessment of the effects of climate change released by the Trump administration, and it could make it easier to refute efforts from the president and his Cabinet members to publicly discount climate science as they have frequently done in the past. However, the annual report does not detail the link between climate change and human activities such as burning coal or gasoline.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Solar Brightfields: Gigawatts of Clean Energy Potential on America’s Landfills and Brownfields
Silvio Marcacci, Forbes

While landfills and brownfields (defined by the U.S. EPA as any property complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant) may not be considered a growth market for America’s solar industry, the growing trend of brightfields – solar projects built on otherwise unusable land – creates win-win-win options for local governments and property owners, utilities and solar developers, and residents of blighted communities.

OPEC Can Use a Good (But Not Great) Week
Liam Denning, Bloomberg

OPEC is having a reasonably good week. Brent crude oil edged above $53 a barrel on Thursday for the first time since late May, in part because the organization raised demand projections in its latest monthly report. The day before, U.S. oil inventories data showed another big drop (for crude oil anyway), and that came after a week in which second-quarter results betrayed some signs of strain among those pesky Permian types.

Nevada proves renewable energy is reliable, cost-effective
Jason Geddes, The Reno Gazette-Journal

As every Nevadan knows, our state sees a lot of sunshine. What is news to some, however, is how we’ve increasingly used that natural resource to our advantage by adding significant amounts of solar power to the state’s energy mix. And with recent cost declines – 85 percent since 2009 – solar is now frequently generating cost savings, in addition to helping make our state’s electricity production cleaner.

Research Reports

2016 State of the Climate
Jessica Blunden et al., American Meteorological Society

The dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere— carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—all continued to increase and reach new record high abundances. Increases in the global annual mean atmospheric concentrations of methane and nitrogen dioxide from 2015 to 2016 were generally consistent with decadal trends, but the 3.5 ± 0.1 ppm rise in global annual mean carbon dioxide from 2015 to 2016 was the largest annual increase ever observed in the 58-year measurement record.

Briefings

Energy Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

A special science section of the National Climate Assessment and a separate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the severe effects of climate change on the United States, potentially making it more difficult for President Donald Trump to roll back his predecessor’s environmental regulations.

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