Energy Brief: Trump’s Budget Would Cut EPA Funding by 31 Percent

Washington Brief

  • The Trump administration has been asking U.S. energy companies about their views on the Paris climate agreement, according to two sources who said many companies prefer to remain in the pact but lessen the U.S.’s commitments. (Reuters)
  • The Trump administration plans to revoke a 2015 Obama administration rule aimed at minimizing the risk of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. (The Washington Post)

Business Brief

  • The Venezuelan government is investigating alleged corruption among current and former employees of its state-owned oil company, in a $1.3 billion contract with a contractor co-founded by a Saudi prince. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an information investigation into a 2011 Angolan oil deal in which BP and Cobalt International Energy were supposed to pay $350 million for a research center that still has not opened. (Financial Times)
  • The Department of the Interior will hold a lease sale today for offshore wind off the coast of North Carolina. (E&E News)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Thursday
House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on infrastructure on federal lands 10 a.m.
USEA discussion on carbon capture 10 a.m.
House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on drinking water systems 10:15 a.m.
ASE event on efficiency and infrastructure 12:15 p.m.
Atlantic Council discussion on U.S.-Mexico energy relationship 12:30 p.m.
House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on forestry initiatives 2 p.m.
“Roast and Toast” of EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski 6 p.m.
Friday
No events scheduled

 

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General

Donald Trump Budget Slashes Funds for E.P.A. and State Department
Glenn Thrush and Coral Davenport, The New York Times

President Trump’s budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year would slash the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and cut State Department spending by a similar amount in a brash upending of the government’s priorities, according to congressional staff members familiar with the plan. The budget outline, to be unveiled on Thursday, is more of a broad political statement than a detailed plan for spending and taxation.

Interior names energy and mineral chief new acting BLM director
Thomas Burr, Salt Lake Tribune

Michael Nedd, who had run the Bureau of Land Management’s office over energy and mineral programs, will take over as the acting director of the entire agency, the Interior Department said Wednesday. Nedd, who was the assistant director for Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management, will take over as the interim head of the nation’s land management agency, and Interior said his appointment signals Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “focus on creating responsible energy jobs on public lands where appropriate.”

Trump Announcements on Emissions, Pipelines Have Little Immediate Impact
Jack Fitzpatrick, Morning Consult

President Donald Trump has used high-profile announcements and executive orders to roll back the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, but supporters and opponents say the major announcements themselves don’t do much. Just on Wednesday, Trump announced his administration would review the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation rule on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

Dovish Fed, Dutch Vote Spur Stocks as Oil Advances
Ming Jeong Lee et al., Bloomberg News

Stocks advanced with commodities as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s dovish message continued to feed into markets, and as pro-Europe parties claimed victory in the Netherlands election. The euro and Treasuries gave up some of Wednesday’s advance.

Oil and Natural Gas

Interior Department to withdraw Obama-era fracking rule, filings reveal
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

The Trump administration plans to withdraw and rewrite a 2015 rule aimed at limiting hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on public lands, the Interior Department indicated in court filings Wednesday. The move to rescind the 2015 regulation, which has been stayed in federal court, represents the latest effort by the new administration to ease restraints on oil and gas production in the United States.

Venezuela Alleges Fraud in $1.3 Billion Oil-Rig Lease
Anatoly Kurmanaev and Bradley Hope, The Wall Street Journal

The Venezuelan government is investigating alleged corruption in a $1.3 billion contract between the state oil company and a private contractor co-founded by a Saudi prince, according to law-enforcement officials and related documents.

US regulator probes Angolan deal involving BP and Cobalt
Tom Burgis, Financial Times

US regulators are probing an Angolan oil deal in which BP and a Texan partner agreed to pay $350m to fund a research centre that has yet to materialise. New York-listed Cobalt International Energy disclosed in a regulatory filing this week that the Securities and Exchange Commission, the stock market watchdog, had “initiated an informal inquiry” into the payments and whether they violated anti-corruption laws.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Connecticut to sue EPA over pollution from Brunner Island power plant
Ad Crable, Lancaster Online

The state of Connecticut is suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency for what it says is the agency’s inaction in addressing air pollution from the Brunner Island power plant. Last July, both Connecticut and Delaware filed “Good Neighbor petitions” with EPA, claiming smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution from the Talen Energy power plant in York County was blowing into their states, causing unhealthy air.

Louisiana utility regulators delay decision on whether to allow more wining, dining
Mark Ballard, The Advocate

Louisiana Public Service Commissioners Wednesday morning decided against taking up an effort to change ethics rules and allow the utilities they regulate go back to wining and dining them, according to four participants in the meeting being held at Toledo Bend. Debate on the controversial matter is being postponed until the April meeting, which is scheduled to be held in Baton Rouge.

Renewables

Interior set to auction N.C.’s first offshore wind farm
Daniel Cusick, E&E News

The Trump administration will broker its first offshore wind energy deal this week as the Interior Department auctions development rights to 122,400 acres of the Atlantic Ocean near North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Rooftop solar installations rising but pace of growth falls
Ivan Penn, Los Angeles Times

Solar power led the nation last year among new sources of electricity production, but growth slowed significantly as California homeowners and businesses cooled to the idea of rooftop panels. U.S. rooftop solar installations increased 19% in 2016 compared with an average growth of 63% year-over-year from 2012 to 2015, even as the solar industry celebrated a record-breaking year.

Scientists use solar power to produce hydrogen from biomass
Anmar Frangoul, CNBC

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have developed a technique that uses solar power to produce clean hydrogen from biomass. In a news release on Tuesday the university said that up until now lignocellulose – the main component of plant biomass – had only been converted into hydrogen via a gasification process that uses high temperatures to “decompose it fully.”

Germany’s renewable energy push has forced $30 billion in losses on its biggest utilities
Jill Petzinger, Quartz

Germany’s aggressive shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, the so-called Energiewende (“Energy Transition”), has pushed the country’s two largest utility companies deep into the red. How deep? RWE and EON have reported combined losses of €28 billion ($30 billion) over the past two years.

Coal

West Virginia coal mine bill would curb safety regulations
Kelly McCleary, CNN

A state senator in West Virginia wants to eliminate enforcement of state mining regulations, a move union officials say could set back miners’ safety by decades. Senate Bill 582 was introduced on Saturday by State Sen. Randy Smith.

China ramping up controls on imports of low-quality coal: official
Meng Meng et al., Reuters

China is ramping up controls on imports of low-quality coal due to concerns about smog and overcapacity in the world’s top coal consumer, a government official said on Wednesday, as traders report some cargoes have been delayed by customs checks. “As long as coal meets standards, we don’t forbid imports, but we are imposing controls on low-quality coal imports,” said Zhi Shuping, head of the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine which oversees imports safety.

Nuclear

In coal country, a potential embrace of nuclear power
Adam Beam, The Associated Press

Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the country’s third-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.

Fukushima, Japan Ban On Fish Exports Over? After Nuclear Radiation Disaster, Countries Could Lift Embargo
Juliana Rose Pignataro, International Business Times

After years of banning Japan’s fish and agriculture, many countries might be willing to give the nation a second chance and import its goods. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 and the resulting radiation in the region caused 54 countries and regions to implement restrictions on certain Japanese goods.

Climate

Trump seeks input from U.S. energy companies on Paris climate pact
Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Reuters

President Donald Trump’s administration has been contacting U.S. energy companies to ask them about their views on the U.N. global climate accord, according to two sources with knowledge of the effort, a sign Trump is reconsidering his 2016 campaign pledge to back out of the deal. The sources, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, said many of the companies reached by the administration had said they would prefer the United States remain in the pact, but would also support reducing U.S. commitments in the deal.

Republicans Break Ranks With Pledge to Fight Climate Change
Eric Roston, Bloomberg News

Seventeen conservative Republican members of Congress—10 of them in their first or second terms—are bucking long-time party positions and the new occupant of the White House. They announced on Wednesday that they’re supporting a clear statement about the risks associated with climate change, as well as principles for how best to fight it.

Obama left Trump a major climate-change report — and independent scientists just said it’s accurate
Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

The United States’ top independent science experts have blessed a draft Obama administration climate science report — left behind for the Trump administration to finish — that presents a strong contrast to inaccurate scientific claims by President Trump’s top environmental official. The document, dubbed the “Climate Science Special Report,” is a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the federal entity that coordinates climate research across the government and publishes, every four years, a major assessment of how climate change is affecting the United States.

U.S. group Sierra Club seeks probe of EPA’s Pruitt over CO2 comments
Emily Flittner, Reuters

U.S. environmental group the Sierra Club has asked the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to investigate whether the agency’s head, Scott Pruitt, violated internal policies when he said he did not believe carbon dioxide was a major contributor to climate change, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday. Lawyers for the Sierra Club wrote to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General on Tuesday asking the independent watchdog to check whether Pruitt violated the EPA’s 2012 Scientific Integrity Policy when he told a CNBC interviewer on March 9, “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find
Damien Cave and Justin Gillis, The New York Times

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

American-Made Ethanol Should be Part of Trump’s Energy Policy
Jeff Oestmann, Morning Consult

As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, it is no surprise to me that so many former servicemen and women end up working in America’s ethanol industry. It’s a good fit for us.

What Made Pruitt’s Falsehood Go Viral?
Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

On Friday, for the first time in his national political career, Pruitt played himself. Previously, he’d been spouting off incorrect statements about climate change—the Times even tepidly labeled him a “denialist”—but it was this untruth that prompted a mass response when the other statements did not.

Ignore the critics: If Trump withdraws from Paris Climate Agreement, he will demonstrate US leadership
Brett D. Schaefer, Fox News

Those arguing for the U.S. to remain in the Paris Agreement are less interested in bolstering U.S. leadership than in ensuring that they have means to criticize Trump when he fails to follow Obama’s other ineffectual climate policies. Repudiating the Paris Agreement would be akin to ripping off a Band-Aid – a small pain in the form of anger from the U.N. and other governments committed to the agreement, but after that, nothing.

A Message from American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers:

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers produce the jet fuel allowing U.S. airlines to move more than 2 million passengers and nearly 50,000 tons of cargo each day, and the diesel fuel that America’s trucking fleet uses to move more than 98 percent of consumer goods to market. Learn how American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers are making our lives easier, healthier, safer and more productive at afpm.org. At AFPM, we make progress.

Research Reports

Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals
Terry P. Hughes et al., Nature

During 2015–2016, record temperatures triggered a pan-tropical episode of coral bleaching, the third global-scale event since mass bleaching was first documented in the 1980s. Here we examine how and why the severity of recurrent major bleaching events has varied at multiple scales, using aerial and underwater surveys of Australian reefs combined with satellite-derived sea surface temperatures.

Arctic sea ice, Eurasia snow, and extreme winter haze in China
Yufei Zou et al., Science Advances

The East China Plains (ECP) region experienced the worst haze pollution on record for January in 2013. We show that the unprecedented haze event is due to the extremely poor ventilation conditions, which had not been seen in the preceding three decades.

Briefings

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