Energy Brief: Federal Court Blocks Interior’s ‘Unlawful’ Delay of Methane Leak Rule

Government Brief

  • A federal court in California ruled that the Trump administration broke the law when it tried in June to delay the Obama-era rule for methane emissions released through oil and natural gas drilling on public lands. The January 2018 compliance date for the regulation is in effect, with a federal judge saying the Interior Department cannot delay the rule via the Administrative Procedure Act. (The Hill)
  • Joel Clement, the Interior Department executive who accused the Trump administration of retaliating against him for publicly disclosing the effects of climate change on Alaska’s native communities, resigned on Wednesday. The agency’s Office of the Inspector General is investigating the legality of internal job reassignments that affected Clement and other staff members. (The Washington Post)
  • Governors from Western states said they will work together to create a network for electric vehicles that would allow zero-emission cars to travel along 5,000 miles of freeways in the region. No timeline has been set for the project yet. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Business Brief

  • Sempra Energy said it will not rely on third-party investors to acquire Energy Future Holdings Corp., the parent company of Texas power-line utility Oncor Electric Delivery Co., as Sempra announced revised terms for the $9.45 billion deal. Under the agreement, Sempra would eliminate $3 billion of Energy Future’s debt, as a step toward getting regulatory approval for taking over the bankrupt company. (Bloomberg)
  • Oil prices steadied following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments that the cuts imposed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies could extend past a March deadline and continue through the end of 2018. (Reuters)
  • Entergy Corp. extended the life of its Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan for four years, to 2022. A company spokesman said there are currently no plans to take similar action regarding the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts that’s scheduled to close on May 31, 2019. (Cape Cod Times)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

2017 Conservative Clean Energy Summit 9 a.m.
Integrated energy network discussion hosted by CSIS 9:30 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on powering America 10 a.m.
CSIS discussion of hurricane impacts 10 a.m.
LNG in Latin America event hosted by the Atlantic Council 12 p.m.
Environmental Law Institute event on reversing policy 12:30 p.m.
Arizona Energy Futures Conference 9 a.m.
2017 Veterans In Energy Forum 9 a.m.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee field hearing on reducing industrial energy costs 11 a.m.

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Interior Department whistleblower resigns, calling Ryan Zinke’s leadership a failure
Daryl Fears, The Washington Post

An Interior Department executive turned whistleblower who claimed the Trump administration retaliated against him for publicly disclosing how climate change affects Alaska Native communities resigned Wednesday. Joel Clement, a scientist and policy expert, was removed from his job by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shortly after the disclosure and reassigned to an accounting position for which he has no experience.

Ryan Zinke focuses on energy development on public lands as new committee starts
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is looking to focus on energy policy, according to his energy counselor at the first meeting of the department’s new Royalty Policy Committee on Wednesday. Vincent DeVito said the creation of the committee marks the beginning of energy becoming a “heightened prioritization” instead of a “sleepy portfolio,” as President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda now “permeates every part” of the agency’s focus.

Trump’s pick as EPA air pollution chief won’t pledge to maintain California’s authority
Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times

When California defied Washington a decade ago by launching aggressive action on climate change, one official at the Environmental Protection Agency emerged as a nemesis for state leaders time and again. William Wehrum’s efforts to keep California from going its own way so enraged power brokers in the state that they ultimately used their clout in the Senate to block his confirmation for the job as director of the EPA’s air and radiation division, one of the most influential environmental posts in government.

Here’s the Leaked Anti-Leak Training Email Sent to DOE Staff
Ashley Feinberg, Wired

After the Trump administration’s announcement mandating government-wide training sessions on “the importance of protecting classified and controlled unclassified information” leaked just under a month ago, the courses themselves have started making their way around to various federal agencies. And according to an inter-department announcement leaked to WIRED, the Department of Energy (DOE) is now the latest agency to undergo the one-hour course.

Oil steady as talk of new OPEC deal balances U.S. exports
Christopher Johnson, Reuters

Oil prices steadied on Thursday on expectations that Saudi Arabia and Russia would extend production cuts, although record U.S. exports and the return of supply from a Libyan oilfield dragged on the market. Brent crude was up 20 cents at $56.00 a barrel by 0800 GMT.

Oil and Natural Gas

Court blocks Trump’s ‘unlawful’ delay of Obama methane leak rule
Timothy Cama, The Hill

A federal court ruled late Wednesday that the Trump administration broke the law when it tried this summer to delay an Obama administration rule related to greenhouse gas released through oil and natural gas drilling. Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the District Court for the Northern District of California said the Interior Department cannot use a provision in the Administrative Procedure Act to delay the rule on methane emissions on federal land, as it tried to do in June.

Russia’s energy minister says compliance for OPEC production cut is ‘almost 100 percent’
Geoff Cutmore and Huileng Tan, CNBC

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has basically fully implemented an oil production cut, Russia Energy Minister Alexander Novak told CNBC. Novak said the deal is working. Although there is still a surplus, participants in the oil production cuts are looking to further reduce the surplus, he said.

Lafayette delays vote on fracking moratorium
Anthony Hahn, The Boulder Daily Camera

Officials on Tuesday evening tabled a decision until later this month, citing the need for more communication and the presence of all the council members before any decision can be made. Councilwoman Merrily Mazza, who said she would vote “no” on a moratorium last week, was absent.

Cheap Option to the Oil Sands Emerges as Hot Play in Canada
Robert Tuttle, Bloomberg

Just 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of the Fort McMurray oil-sands hub in northern Alberta, investors are rushing to secure rights to land that produces crude at much lower costs than the massive operations the region’s known for. That’s because beneath the area’s characteristic oil-rich soil, which requires expensive extraction and refining techniques, there’s crude trapped between layers of rock that can be pumped with conventional gear.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Sempra Revises $9.45 Billion Oncor Deal to Win Over Texas
Ryan Collins and Mark Chediak, Bloomberg

Sempra Energy said it won’t add new debt to the parent of Texas power-line utility Oncor Electric Delivery Co. under revised deal terms aimed at winning over regulators. Sempra will acquire all of Energy Future Holdings Corp., which owns an 80 percent stake in Oncor, instead of relying on third-party investors for its $9.45 billion takeover, according to a statement Wednesday.

Western guvs pledge to create regional recharging network for electric cars
Lee Davidson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Western governors agreed Wednesday to work together to create a network of recharging stations to allow electric vehicles to travel easily along the 5,000 miles of freeways in their region. The governors of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming signed a memorandum of understanding to create a unified regional electric vehicle plan.

The bankrupt utility behind Puerto Rico’s power crisis
Nick Brown et al., Reuters

Restoring the grid after the worst storm to hit here in nine decades would be a monumental task even for a well-run utility. It will be much harder for the chronically underfunded Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which went bankrupt in July amid mounting maintenance problems, years-long battles with creditors, a shrinking workforce and frequent management turnover.


Solar groups and utility made a deal because ‘in Utah, we do things differently’
Emma Penrod, The Salt Lake Tribune

Utah’s recent net metering settlement, negotiated by solar industry leaders and the state’s largest electric utility, is a shining example of using dialogue to solve seemingly intractable problems, according to Gov. Gary Herbert. The settlement will allow the state’s largest provider of electricity, Rocky Mountain Power, to slightly reduce the value of the credits it provides to customers whose rooftop solar panels generate more electricity than they use.

Renewable energy fans flex lobbying muscles in Massachusetts
Steve LeBlanc, The Associated Press

Renewable energy advocates are increasingly spending more on lobbying to capture the ears of Massachusetts lawmakers. An Associated Press review of state lobbying records found that in 2016, energy interests reported spending a combined $6.7 million lobbying Beacon Hill.


Three Trump Cabinet members attended mining lobbyist meeting at Trump International Hotel
Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

Three members of President Trump’s Cabinet attended the meeting of a major mining lobbying group at a Washington hotel owned by the president himself, according to a schedule of the event obtained by The Washington Post. The National Mining Association drew the high-ranking officials to the fall board of directors meeting it held at Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Trump’s cash-for-coal plan rewards political base
Benjamin Storrow, E&E News

The Trump administration has placed former President Obama’s proposed carbon regulations on ice, lifted a moratorium on new federal coal leases and scrapped a rule seeking to prevent runoff from coal mines, all in the name of restoring the former king of America’s power sector to its throne.


Pilgrim owner backs off another nuclear plant closure
Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times

Entergy Corp. has once again reversed a decision on closing one of its nuclear power plants, raising questions about its 2019 shutdown of the Pilgrim station. A company spokesman, however, said there were no plans to keep the Plymouth plant open beyond the announced closure date.

More dirt caves in during work to stabilize Hanford nuclear waste tunnel
Annette Cary, The Tri-City Herald

Work to fill a Hanford nuclear waste tunnel that partially collapsed started, and then stopped, Tuesday night after more of the dirt topping the tunnel began to cave into the tunnel. No radiological readings above those anticipated were detected, and none of the workers was at risk, according to the Department of Energy.


6 big climate meetings on Pruitt’s calendar
Robin Bravender, E&E News

The calendar — made public yesterday by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight — offers a behind-the-scenes look at the administration’s early moves on climate change. It gives insight about who weighed into big decisions like Paris, offers a glimpse of who’s talking to Pruitt about climate change rules, and reveals members of the administrator’s inner circle.

UN chief: Scientists say extreme storms will be ‘new normal’
Edith Lederer, The Associated Press

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is heading to the hurricane-battered Caribbean, where he said Wednesday that scientists predict the extreme storms during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season “will be the new normal of a warming world.” The U.N. chief told reporters that Hurricane Irma, which devastated Barbuda, was a Category 5 storm for three consecutive days — “the longest on satellite record” — and its winds that reached 300 kilometers per hour for 37 hours were “the longest on record at that intensity.”

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Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Rick Perry wants you to pay more to support coal, nuclear industries
Chris Tomlinson, The Houston Chronicle

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is using the lesser-known corridors of power to prop up the coal and nuclear power industries, striking a blow against natural gas, wind and solar companies. In an unprecedented move, Perry called on President Donald Trump’s new appointees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to guarantee that consumers will pay extra for electricity from coal and nuclear power plants.

Pruitt, stick to Trump’s winning Renewable Fuel Standard plan
Mick Henderson, The Hill

It has been well documented that rural America provided President Trump with his margin of victory. While there were many factors, Trump’s consistent and enthusiastic support for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) were critical.

Renewable Energy Comes at You Fast
Liam Denning, Bloomberg

Let’s adjust those numbers for utilization and say, very roughly, that coal plants produce at just 60 percent of their capacity and renewable sources at just 30 percent. Even then, we are talking about renewable energy with the equivalent of a quarter of the effective capacity of the world’s coal power, which took eight decades to build, switching on within half a decade.

Clean up our future: Pennsylvania can thrive on renewables and energy efficiency
Court Gould, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

We must forge a clean-energy future powered by renewable energy to advance a healthy citizenry and prosperous economy. And we are making progress.

Research Reports

DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges
Shelby Oakley et al., Government Accountability Office

DOE maintains a capability to produce RPS for NASA missions, as well as a limited and aging supply of Pu-238 that will be depleted in the 2020s, according to NASA and DOE officials and documentation. Without new Pu-238, future NASA missions requiring RPS are at risk.