Energy Brief: Senate Panel Approves Nominees for NRC, EPA

Washington Brief

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved two Nuclear Regulatory Commission nominees and an Environmental Protection Agency nominee, advancing the candidates to the full Senate for confirmation votes. Two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominees and the Energy Department’s deputy secretary nominee are also awaiting Senate confirmation. (The Washington Examiner)
  • The House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2018 spending bill for the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers’ energy and water budget, setting it up for a vote on the House floor. A House Appropriations subcommittee advanced a funding measure for the Interior Department and EPA that now awaits approval by the full committee. (The Hill)
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt called German Chancellor Angela Merkel hypocritical for criticizing U.S. climate decisions while at the same time planning to phase out nuclear plants, a carbon-free option for power. (Politico)

Business Brief

  • Several members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries produced more than their agreed-upon oil quota for June. The news brought down oil prices. (Reuters)
  • Residents who live near Duke Energy Corp.’s North Carolina power plants came out in opposition to the company’s request for consumers to pay almost $200 million a year to help clean up the toxic waste from coal ash in North Carolina and South Carolina. The request requires approval from state regulators. (The Associated Press)
  • Oil drilling and exploration leaseholders in Mexico announced the discovery of a large oil field on one site and greater reserves than anticipated in another known well, hastening more bids for leases after Mexico began privatizing its energy industry two years ago. (The New York Times)

Chart Review

U.S. petroleum refinery capacity continues to increase
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

National Environmental Health Association Education Conference 8 a.m.
Regional Sea Level Changes and Coastal Impacts Conference 9 a.m.
House Natural Resources subcommittee oversight hearing on the Indian Reorganization Act 10 a.m.
Energy Department’s Better Buildings exchange on resilience and energy efficiency in low-income communities 1 p.m.
House Natural Resources subcommittee on federal lands legislative hearing on four bills 9 a.m.
Regional Sea Level Changes and Coastal Impacts Conference 9 a.m.
National Science Teachers Association STEM Forum workshop on EPA research 11 a.m.



Senate panel approves three Trump energy nominees
John Siciliano, The Washington Examiner

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday approved three of President Trump’s nominees to lead the nation’s nuclear power watchdog and serve as the Environmental Protection Agency enforcement chief. The committee quickly voted to move Nuclear Regulatory Commission members Annie Caputo, who was approved 15-6, and David Wright, who was approved 12-9, to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote later this month.

House committee approves spending bill for energy, water programs
Timothy Cama, The Hill

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $37.6 billion annual spending bill for the Department of Energy and water infrastructure programs on Wednesday. The legislation for fiscal 2018 would reduce funding for the programs in its jurisdiction by $203 million compared with 2017 on an annualized basis.

House panel approves $31.4B Interior, EPA funding bill
Devin Henry, The Hill

A House panel on Wednesday approved a $31.4 billion bill funding the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the first step toward moving the legislation to the floor.

Pruitt blasts Europe, Merkel for ‘hypocrisy’ on climate
Andrew Restuccia, Politico

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed European critics of President Donald Trump’s climate policies as hypocrites on Wednesday, while chastising German Chancellor Angela Merkel for phasing out her country’s nuclear power plants.

Cantwell: Hanford Reach National Monument to retain protected status
The Associated Press

Sen. Maria Cantwell says the Hanford Reach National Monument in eastern Washington is no longer under review for possible changes to the protections created for the natural landmark. On Wednesday Cantwell, Washington’s junior Democratic senator, said in a statement that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told her that Hanford Reach would maintain its protected status.

Oil Prices Drop After Production Increase
Justin Yang and Jenny W. Hsu, The Wall Street Journal

Crude futures prices fell Thursday as increased global oil production overshadowed news of declining inventories and a prediction of higher global demand. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 0.69% to $47.41 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were trading down 0.64% at $45.20 a barrel.

Oil and Natural Gas

IEA says OPEC compliance with oil cuts at lowest in six months
Dmitry Zhdannikov, Reuters

OPEC’s compliance with production cuts fell in June to its lowest levels in six months as several members pumped much more oil than allowed by their supply deal, thus delaying market rebalancing, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.

Oil Discoveries Suggest Mexico’s Bet to Open Energy Sector Is Paying Off
Stanley Reed, The New York Times

When Mexico gambled on ending decades of state control of its energy industry, officials said they hoped the move would promote investment and give the country access to technical enterprise. On Tuesday, an international consortium of energy companies said they had discovered a large oil field, and another firm said it had discovered more oil than expected in a separate area.

Goldman Sachs commodities analyst: ‘I’d like to see some volatility’ in oil market
Kevin Breuninger, CNBC

Crude oil prices continue to drain and drilling continues to increase, but a Goldman Sachs commodities analyst says the problem with the market is a glut of money. “There’s not too much oil in this market, there’s too much money in this market,” said Jeff Currie, global head of commodities research at Goldman, on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” Wednesday.

Facebook founder, CEO ‘extremely intrigued’ by oil industry technology during ND visit
Forum News Service

The founder and CEO of Facebook spent Tuesday, July 11, in North Dakota, visiting Williston to learn more about the oil industry and taking a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Mark Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy message on his Facebook page about the visit, encouraging followers to “get out and learn about all perspectives on issues” even while noting that “stopping climate change is one of the most important challenges of our generation.”

Utilities and Infrastructure

Duke’s coal ash neighbors: Don’t raise rates as pollution lingers
Emery Dalesio, The Associated Press

The nation’s largest electric company wants regulators in North Carolina to force consumers to pay nearly $200 million a year to clean up the toxic byproducts of burning coal to generate power. That doesn’t sit well with neighbors of the power plants who have been living on bottled water since toxic chemicals appeared in some of their wells.

Coal got knocked out in Calif. Now, gas is on the ropes
Debra Kahn, E&E News

The state’s grid operator is expected to release a study next month on whether the Puente Power Project, a gas-fired plant planned for the Southern California coast 60 miles west of Los Angeles, might be supplanted by solar panels, energy storage or demand response. The California Public Utilities Commission approved Southern California Edison’s contract with NRG Energy Inc. to build the 262-megawatt plant in June 2016 as a replacement for a larger plant on the same site.


Energy Department issues $19 million for electric car research
John Siciliano, The Washington Examiner

The Energy Department announced $19.4 million on Wednesday for projects meant to speed the development of electric vehicles, even as President Trump has said he would eliminate regulations meant to incentivize the development of the zero-emission cars. The funding will go to 22 new cost-shared projects through the Vehicle Technologies Office meant to accelerate research on advanced batteries to power electric vehicles, lightweight materials, engine technologies and more energy-efficient mobility systems.

NRG will sell 6 GW of generation, shed renewable assets in restructuring plan
Robert Walton, Utility Dive

As part of the plan NRG will divest from 6 GW of conventional generation and sell off 50%-100% of its NRG Yield renewable energy business. NRG’s GenOn subsidiary will continue through its bankruptcy proceeding, after which it will be handed over to creditors.


Wind manufacturer offers job training in oil city, next stop coal country
Heather Richards, Casper Star-Tribune

Thursday, wind manufacturer Goldwind Americas and wind developer Viridis Eolia take their spiel to the center of the nation’s coal industry: Gillette. The companies plan to offer free training programs for wind techs, anticipating Viridis’ proposed 600- to 800-turbine farm near Medicine Bow.

What Can Bring Jobs To Coal Country?
Steve Inskeep, NPR News

A new coal mine opened in western Pennsylvania and is expected to employ at least 70 people. But workers and employers in Somerset County say more is needed to bring economic opportunity.

New Carbon Capture Bill Has Bipartisan Backing From 25 Senators
Iulia Gheorghiu, Morning Consult

Legislation that would expand the tax credit for carbon capture, allowing companies to retain incentives to invest in the costly technology, was introduced on Wednesday with bipartisan support from 25 senators.


U.K. Plan to Quit European Nuclear Treaty Stirs Alarm
Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times

The British government’s plan to withdraw from a seminal European treaty governing the movement of nuclear material is generating alarm that it might hobble Britain’s nuclear energy, destroy thousands of jobs and even deny cancer patients treatments that rely heavily on nuclear isotopes.

When a nuclear plant shuts down, who pays?
Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

California’s San Onofre nuclear plant, on the Pacific coast between San Diego and Los Angeles, hasn’t generated electricity since early 2012. A thousand workers have lost their jobs — and that’s far from the only economic impact of the plant’s closure.


Governor scrambles for support as climate deal inches onward
Jonathan Cooper, The Associated Press

A plan to extend California’s signature climate initiative for another decade is scheduled to go before legislative committees Thursday, despite opposition from some environmental advocates. Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers have struggled to line up support with Democratic legislative leaders indicating Wednesday that climate and air quality negotiations had expanded to include the state’s lack of affordable housing.

A Message from the Center for Western Priorities:

America protects its most iconic land for all time, from the Grand Canyon to Acadia, and from the Statue of Liberty to Zion. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is planning to eviscerate America’s treasured national monuments, ignoring the more than 9 out of 10 Americans who’ve told Secretary Zinke: Keep your hands off of American public lands. Visit Monuments to America to learn more.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Don’t expose Atlantic coast to drilling risks
Editorial Board, The Orlando Sentinel

Recently two U.S. House members — Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Democrat Don Beyer of Virginia — co-authored a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declaring “strong opposition” to opening waters off the Atlantic Coast to exploration for oil and natural gas.

How to make use of those Yucca Mountain tunnels
Thomas Mitchell, Elko Daily Free Press

For decades Nevada’s former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid constantly pounded on two themes: Blocking nuclear waste from being stored in Yucca Mountain in Nye County and pressing for more and more solar panels to be thrown up on thousands of acres of public land and on rooftops across the state. It seems that when you do the math, solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy output than nuclear power plants.

Legislature must focus on the big picture for climate change
Editorial Board, San Francisco Chronicle

With the Trump administration’s shortsighted decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, it’s up to California to lead the battle against global warming. We can’t do that without extending our cap-and-trade market, the crucial mechanism for limiting California’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

A Message from the Center for Western Priorities:

By a 9-to-1 margin, Utah residents are telling Interior Secretary Zinke to keep Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante national monuments. These lands are sacred to tribal nations, enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts, and critical to local Utah economies. Will he listen to Utahns or just special interests? Visit Monuments to America to learn more.

Research Reports

Tundra uptake of atmospheric elemental mercury drives Arctic mercury pollution
Daniel Obrist et al., Nature

The levels and impacts of mercury pollution are increasingly being modulated by climate-change-induced disturbances in aquatic and terrestrial biogeochemistry, with potentially the most notable consequences being seen in the Arctic, where warming occurs at a rate almost double the worldwide average.