Energy Brief: New Climate Research May Slow Trump Effort to Upend Obama-Era Environmental Policies

Government Brief

  • The latest federally-backed research on climate science could negatively affect the administration’s efforts to repeal Obama-era environmental regulations. (Bloomberg)
  • A new Environmental Protection Agency report shows economic growth in the years since the Clean Air Act was enacted, helping the case of conservation advocates who say regulations and safeguards against pollution don’t harm industry. (USA Today)
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked U.S. diplomats to avoid questions about the possibility of President Donald Trump renegotiating U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement. (Washington Examiner)

Business Brief

  • South Korea’s key refiner SK Energy announced its first purchase of U.S. crude oil, signifying the start of less energy dependence on the Middle East. (Reuters)
  • South Carolina’s attorney general sued the Energy Department for failing to remove a ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site nuclear facility. (The Charleston Post and Courier)
  • Zuma Energía, a Mexican company owned primarily by a UK private equity group, secured $600 million in project financing for the country’s largest wind energy farm. Financial analysts estimated that Mexico will attract $70 billion in foreign renewable energy investments between 2015 and 2029. (Financial Times)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

FERC seminar on environmental reviews in pipeline construction projects 8 a.m.
2017 Offshore Wind Executive Summit in Houston 8:30 a.m.
Webinar on energy resources booms hosted by Resources for the Future 1 p.m.
FERC seminar on environmental reviews in pipeline construction projects 8 a.m.
2017 Offshore Wind Executive Summit in Houston 8:30 a.m.
Boston Climate Action Network meeting 6 p.m.
International Food Policy Research Institute event on agricultural research and development 12 p.m.

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EPA report shows economic growth, environmental rules can co-exist
Ledyard King, USA Today

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency found that since Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, the economy has more than tripled and the number of vehicle miles traveled every year has nearly doubled — all while the nation’s population and annual energy consumption has surged. At the same time, the levels of six key air pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide — have declined dramatically.

Rex Tillerson tells embassies to sidestep questions on climate change
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a cable to all U.S. embassies Friday advising diplomats to sidestep questions from foreign governments over President Trump’s plans to re-engage in the Paris climate change deal. If asked, “What is the process for consideration of re-engagement in the Paris Agreement?,” the answer should be as vague as possible, according to the cable that Reuters viewed and reported on Tuesday.

Climate Reports May Slow Trump’s Push to Undo Obama-Era Rules
Christopher Flavelle and Brian Sullivan, Bloomberg

A pair of highly anticipated government studies, one of them due to be released this week, could complicate President Donald Trump’s effort to roll back federal climate regulations, according to people on both sides of the debate over global warming. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-backed report summarizing the global effects of climate change in 2016 is scheduled for release Thursday.

Pruitt climate science challenge splits conservative allies
Emily Holden, Politico

EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s attacks on mainstream climate science are causing discomfort in a surprising corner — among many of the conservative and industry groups that have cheered his efforts to dismantle Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. Some advocates privately worry that the debate would politically harm moderate Republicans, while wasting time and effort that’s better spent on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory rollback.

Court strikes down Obama EPA’s restrictions on Earth-warming gases
Timothy Cama, The Hill

A federal court on Tuesday struck down an Obama administration rule that banned certain uses of certain gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration. The court said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under a Clean Air Act provision meant to protect the ozone layer, since that section is meant only to stop ozone-depleting substances.

Oil Gains Ahead of U.S. Stocks Report
Christopher Alessi, Wall Street Journal

Oil prices edged higher Wednesday morning, as investors looked ahead to the weekly release of official data on U.S. crude inventory levels due later in the day. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 0.36%, to $52.33 a barrel in London in midmorning trading. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were trading up 0.37% at $49.35 a barrel.

Oil and Natural Gas

Tribes ask court to shut down Dakota Access pipeline
Timothy Cama, The Hill

A pair of American Indian tribes are asking a federal court to immediately shut down the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, whose reservations are near the route of the North Dakota to Illinois line, say that since a Washington, D.C., court found the Army Corps of Engineers did not conduct a proper environmental review of the project, shutting it down is the only proper course of action.

Petrochina’s refinery, gas fields and pipelines unaffected by Sichuan quake
Aizhu Chen and Josephine Mason, Reuters

PetroChina’s refinery, gas fields and pipelines have not been affected by the Sichuan earthquake, a spokesman said on Wednesday. The earthquake struck a remote and mountainous part of the province of Sichuan in southwestern China on Tuesday night.

Innovate, cut costs: how a Russian oil firm navigates global supply curbs
Olesya Astakhovz, Reuters

A global deal cutting crude output has forced mid-sized Russian oil company Tatneft to curb flows at some fields, leaving it with lower revenues but little relief from maintenance and running costs. Its response: innovation.

Utilities and Infrastructure

SC lawmakers to review utilities after nuclear project fails
Bristow Marchant, The State

South Carolina lawmakers are taking a closer look at the state’s public utilities after the collapse of a plan to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County. On Tuesday, the Senate president pro tempore named a special committee that will review utility issues, including the announcement by Santee Cooper and SCE&G to walk away from the multi-billion dollar construction project.

Utilities Could Install EV Charging At Beaches, Schools Under CA Bills
Ben Bradford, Capital Public Radio News

California’s largest power companies could build charging stations for electric cars at state parks, beaches and schools, under legislation moving through the state Senate. It’s the latest proposal to rely on electricity users to meet California’s zero-emission vehicle goals.

German grid regulator starts consultation on $59 bil 2030 power grid expansion
Andreas Franke, Platts

Germany’s grid regulator BNetzA has started the consultation on the 2030 power grid expansion plan after the four national grid operators earlier this year proposed measures costing up to Eur50 billion ($59 billion) to boost power transmission capacity sufficiently for the major changes to Germany’s energy landscape expected over the next decade.


Zuma Energía secures $600m financing for Mexican wind farm
Jude Webber, Financial Times

Although Mexico’s oil and gas sector has garnered most of the attention since the reform, there has been significant investment in electricity and renewables in particular, and Zuma says the successful closure of the project financing for its Reynosa wind farm proves investors can make money in the sector.

New York a leader in wind energy, feds say
Mark Harrington, Newsday

New York is ahead of most other states in wind-energy production and planning, ranking third in small land-based wind arrays and planning for potentially hundreds of offshore wind turbines over the next decade, the federal government said. In a series of reports released Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Energy noted the state in 2016 added 13.3 megawatts of small wind-energy installations — arrays of less than 100 kilowatts — primarily upstate.

Vivint Solar second-quarter results top estimates
Nichola Groom, Reuters

Residential solar company Vivint Solar Inc on Tuesday reported quarterly results that topped expectations as costs for selling its rooftop systems fell. Net income for the second quarter was $5 million, or 4 cents per share, compared with $12.4 million, or 11 cents per share, a year earlier.


Coal to dominate US electricity market over next two years
John Siciliano, Washington Examiner

U.S. coal production will see a sustained boost over the next two years due to increased use at power plants and a rise in exports, according to the federal government’s latest energy projections.

Wind power cuts into Nebraska’s increasing use of coal
Dan Boyce, Marketplace

Nebraska is the only state in the lower 48 using more coal for generating electricity than it did a decade ago. The nation’s biggest coal-producing state, Wyoming, is right next door.


South Carolina Attorney General sues federal government over plutonium at Savannah River Site
Bo Petersen and Derrek Asberry, The Charleston Post and Courier 

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office sued the federal government Monday seeking to recover $100 million it says the U.S. Department of Energy owes for failing to remove one ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site. This is at least the second high-profile legal filing the state has pursued after Congress mandated the U.S. Department of Energy pay South Carolina $1 million per day, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, for every day the department failed to remove one metric ton of weapons-grade defense plutonium.

Feds begin ‘information gathering’ work for Yucca nuclear waste site
Devin Henry, The Hill

Federal officials have voted to begin “information gathering activities” related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository site in Nevada. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 2-1 to begin holding “virtual meetings” and hear from the public about reconstructing a database of documents related to the proposed plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.


Haley: No reason for Trump administration to reject climate change report
Rebecca Savransky, The Hill

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in an interview early Tuesday said she doesn’t see any reason for the Trump administration to reject a new report from government scientists on climate change’s impact. “Just because we pulled out of the Paris accord doesn’t mean we don’t believe in climate protection,” Haley said.

White House attacks New York Times for publishing draft government report on climate change
Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner

The White House on Tuesday attacked the New York Times for publishing a draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies declaring the U.S. is already feeling the effects of climate change. But the White House did not dispute the substance of the report, which found the average temperature in the U.S. has risen since 1980 and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years.

Iowa GOP leaders call for Waters of U.S. rule to be rewritten after Pruitt meeting
William Petroski and Donnelle Eller, The Des Moines Register

Iowa Republican politicians, along with the head of the Iowa Farm Bureau, criticized an Obama-era water quality regulation on Tuesday, saying the rule should be rewritten to provide certainty and clarity for Iowa farmers. Reynolds called the Obama-era rule a “massive land grab” that would hamper farmers through a definition of waters that she considers excessively broad.

Environmentalists are urging the USDA to reject this genetically engineered eucalyptus tree
Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post

A genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree is moving closer to receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, amid concerns about the tree’s possible negative effects on the environment. The USDA has proposed lifting restrictions on commercial production of the trees, based on a draft environmental impact statement that concluded the trees pose few significant environmental risks.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Wind Energy Is Proud to Be American
Kelley Welf, Morning Consult

I was a kid in 1976 when America was celebrating its bicentennial. It was a really big deal. I remember seeing and hearing signs and symbols of American pride on everything. Today, America’s growing wind energy sector is becoming a source of that kind of national pride, and it should be.

Switching from coal to natural gas will not save our planet
Bill McKibben, The Seattle Times

As America’s power plants have replaced coal with fracked gas, carbon emissions have fallen because natural gas produces half as much CO2 as coal when you burn it. The problem is, carbon emissions are not the only thing that drive global warming.

In leaking a federal climate change report, scientists send a message to Trump: Global warming is real
The Editorial Board, The Los Angeles Times

There’s no way to know for sure whether the administration would have squelched the final report, preliminary versions of which have been circulating for months. What we do know, however, is that President Trump’s refusal to accept the obvious about the planet’s changing climate is more than embarrassing.

China Ramps Up Coal Exports, Creating U.S. Natural Gas Opportunity
James Taylor, Forbes

China is financing the construction of a growing number of coal power plants in foreign nations, building a future market for more Chinese coal exports. While American coal producers face difficult hurdles supplanting Chinese coal – as well as coal exports from the world’s leading coal exporters, Australia, Indonesia, and Russia – American natural gas producers are well positioned to displace Chinese coal.

Research Reports

Landowner behavior can determine the success of conservation strategies for ecosystem migration under sea-level rise
Christopher Field et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

We surveyed the behavioral intentions of coastal landowners in the northeast United States, where extreme sea-level rise threatens tidal marsh persistence unless private landowners allow landward marsh migration. We found that several popular strategies, including conservation easements and increasing awareness of ecosystem services, may not interest enough landowners to allow marsh migration at the spatial scales needed to mitigate losses from sea-level rise.