Energy Brief: Trump Nominates Coal Lobbyist for No. 2 Post at EPA


Government Brief

  • President Donald Trump nominated Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist, to be deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler, a former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been hailed by the coal industry as having the expertise to dismantle Obama-era fossil fuel regulations, while critics cite his ties to climate change deniers. (The New York Times)
  • The Trump administration published a formal notice to overhaul the Obama administration’s plan to protect the sage grouse, a bird found in 10 Western states. The Bureau of Land Management plans to consider changes to the conservation plans, according to the seven-page notice of intent. (Washington Examiner)
  • Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called on the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the purchase of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof booth. The agency has said the secure facility is needed to let Pruitt discuss sensitive matters, while others have pointed out that the EPA building in Washington already has a dedicated Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. (The Hill)

Business Brief

  • Oil companies have begun shutting down oil and gas platforms in the path of Tropical Storm Nate, which is forecast to hit the coast of eastern Louisiana on Sunday. BP Plc and Chevron Corp. said they are shutting all platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and precautionary steps by the industry overall are expected to affect hundreds of thousands of barrels per day in production. (Financial Times)
  • During the first weeks of the Trump administration, top Interior Department officials worked privately with energy industry representatives to suspend an accounting system that would have increased company royalties to the federal government. Email exchanges obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show agency officials worked to address industry concerns by halting a system that had taken effect on Jan. 1. (The Washington Post)
  • Facebook Inc. will invest $750 million to open a new data center in eastern Virginia that’s powered entirely by renewable energy. Dominion Energy Inc. will install solar facilities in the state to power the center. (WTOP)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Friday
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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General

Trump administration files formal notice to overhaul Obama’s sage grouse protections
Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner

The Trump administration on Thursday published a formal notice to overhaul an Obama-era plan to protect sage grouse, a chicken-sized Western bird. The seven-page notice of intent says the Bureau of Land Management plans to consider changing “some, all or none [Bureau of Land Management] land-use plans that were amended or revised in 2014 or 2015 regarding greater sage grouse conservation in the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Montana.”

Dems seek investigation into EPA chief’s $25K soundproof booth
Timothy Cama, The Hill

House Democrats are asking for a federal investigation into Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof booth. The Thursday request from Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, comes amid growing scrutiny over spending by Pruitt and other Cabinet agency heads, including travel on charter or military aircraft.

Carper Seeks to Block EPA Nominee Again, 11 Years Later
Iulia Gheorghiu, Morning Consult

The ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), said he will oppose President Donald Trump’s pick to be top air regulator at the Environmental Protection Agency, repeating the reasons he shot the candidate down more than a decade ago. But it’s unclear Democrats will have the power to block his confirmation this time around, with Republicans on the committee praising William Wehrum’s experience.

Oil set to end multi-week bull run as oversupply concerns resurface
Karolin Schaps, Reuters

Investors were wary of tropical storm Nate shutting down some oil production in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of its expected arrival in the area as a hurricane on Sunday. Global benchmark Brent crude futures were up 7 cents at $57.07 a barrel at 0848 GMT.

Oil and Natural Gas

Oil groups shut Gulf platforms in storm Nate’s path
Ed Crooks, Financial Times

Oil companies have begun shutting down platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in the path of Tropical Storm Nate, affecting hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of production. The US National Hurricane Center forecast on Thursday that Nate would hit the coast of eastern Louisiana around New Orleans on Sunday.

Interior Department worked behind the scenes with energy industry to reverse royalties rule
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

Top Interior Department officials worked privately with energy industry representatives during the first weeks of the Trump administration to suspend a new accounting system that would have forced companies to pay millions of dollars more in royalties to the government, documents show. The push to suspend the Obama-era rule, which is the subject of three federal lawsuits in Wyoming, took on a sense of urgency after an attorney for the coal company Cloud Peak Energy first suggested the move in late January.

Judge Rules Natural Gas Company Can Inject Wastewater
The Associated Press

A western Pennsylvania judge has sided with a natural gas company, ruling it can inject fracking wastewater back into the ground. The natural gas company had fought with residents of Highland Township over proposed wastewater injections in the area.

Oil drilling executive says the US ‘has become the world’s marginal producer’ as exports hit record high
Elizabeth Gurdus, CNBC

As oil exports from the United States reach record highs, Mark Siegel, the executive chairman of Patterson-UTI Energy, told CNBC that the trend shouldn’t worry commodity-watchers. “The United States has become the marginal producer in the world and so we’re very excited about our prospects.”

U.S. Shale Juggernaut Shows Signs of Fatigue
Bradley Olson and Lynn Cook, The Wall Street Journal

American shale drillers, which defied expectations and upended traditional oil markets by increasing production in the face of lower prices, are finally showing signs of slowing down. The number of rigs currently drilling for oil in the U.S., typically viewed as a proxy for activity in the sector, grew 6% in the third quarter—a marked deceleration from the previous four quarters, when it rose more than 20% on average.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Musk: Tesla can rebuild Puerto Rico power grid
Ali Breland, The Hill

Billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk says that he believes he can rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar power. Tesla has already done similar battery and solar power projects with the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii and in American Samoa.

A trio of storms could mean grid modernization in hard-hit areas
Robert Walton, Utility Dive

For the utility industry, which has historically been resistant to change, storms and prolonged outages have a way of presenting options. When infrastructure must be rebuilt or enhancements added, the question becomes whether to simply repair or do more.

Renewables

Facebook to build $750M data center in Virginia
Jeff Clabaugh, WTOP

Facebook will invest $750 million in a new data center in Virginia’s Henrico County at the White Oak Technology Park near Richmond International Airport. A renewable energy tariff agreement with Dominion Energy will lead to hundreds of millions of additional investment in the construction of solar facilities to serve the new Facebook data center with 100 percent renewable energy.

U.S. Trade Dispute Scaring Companies From Buying Solar Power
Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

With the looming prospect of tariffs driving up the price of panels, utilities and businesses are holding off on signing deals to buy solar power. It may be months before they get more clarity.

Embattled Solar and Wind Industries Turn to Conservatives for Help
Ari Natter, Bloomberg

With the administration of President Donald Trump moving to bail out coal plants and slap tariffs on solar imports, the renewable-energy industry is turning to a secret weapon for help: conservatives who actually support clean energy. The wind and solar industry sponsored a conservative conference on clean energy in Washington, hoping to tailor their message for the Trump administration.

The surprising ways to cash in on the electric-car boom
Eshe Nelson, Quartz

Investors are sending the prices of the raw materials used to make lithium-ion batteries rapidly higher on hopes that demand for electric cars surges. The rise comes amid fears that the supply of the metals needed for batteries might not meet the new demand.

Coal

Trump Nominates a Coal Lobbyist to Be No. 2 at E.P.A.
Lisa Friedman, The New York Times

President Trump on Thursday nominated Andrew R. Wheeler, a coal lobbyist with links to outspoken deniers of established science on climate change, to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In announcing Mr. Wheeler, a former aide to Senator James M. Inhofe, to be deputy administrator of the agency, the White House tapped an experienced legislative hand reviled by environmental activists but hailed by industry as having the know-how to dismantle Obama-era fossil fuel regulations.

The Coal Fan With a Chance to Tip the Scales in Its Favor
Catherine Traywick, Bloomberg

As an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Neil Chatterjee helped craft the GOP’s strategy for challenging President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Chatterjee, a Kentucky native and an avowed fan of coal, has a chance to give the fuel a boost against cheaper sources of power.

Nuclear

Santee Cooper to consider interim CEO at Friday meeting in wake of scuttled nuclear reactors
Thad Moore, The Charleston Post and Courier

The state-owned utility has been searching for an interim leader since longtime CEO Lonnie Carter announced his retirement in August. Carter is the only executive who has stepped down since the expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station was abandoned.

Courtney targets nuclear waste
Matt Pilon, The Hartford Business Journal

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said he and a Vermont colleague have introduced legislation in Congress aimed at easing the cost of managing nuclear waste for communities such as Haddam. Similar to a bill Courtney and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) co-sponsored last year, the Stranded Nuclear Waste Accountability Act of 2017 would require the Department of Energy to to pay communities with closed nuclear power plants that store spent nuclear fuel on-site.

State Senator Says FPL Isn’t Preparing Miami’s Nuclear Plant for Sea-Level Rise
Jerry Iannelli, The Miami New Times

The Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station is built directly on the waterfront in Homestead — a location that has exposed the plant to serious natural disasters. So while Florida Power & Light (FPL) proposes expanding Turkey Point and building two more reactors there, Miami state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is asking for safer measures to prepare for sea-level rise and major hurricanes — or for FPL to drop the expansion plans altogether.

Climate

EPA’s climate rule withdrawal will include big changes to cost calculations
Emily Holden, Politico

The Trump administration will consider fundamentally limiting the way the federal government counts benefits from curbing climate change and air pollution in an upcoming proposal to rescind former President Barack Obama’s signature climate regulation, according to multiple sources familiar with recent drafts. In nixing the Clean Power Plan, EPA will suggest changing the benefits it counts, which would bolster its arguments that the rule’s economic burdens would outweigh its gains from cleaner air, reduced illnesses and greater energy efficiency.

Interior Department rejects 25 endangered species petitions, including several linked to climate change
Chris Mooney and Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday declined 25 separate petitions to list a variety of species as endangered or threatened, including the high-profile Pacific walrus, which is contending with sharp climate change trends in the Arctic where it spends much of its life atop floes of floating sea ice. The agency also declined a listing petition for the Florida Keys mole skink, a subspecies of lizard that lives on beaches and in coastal forests that face rising seas and were just swept by Hurricane Irma.

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Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Retreat at the Edge of the Earth: In Defense of the Arctic
Rob Vessels, Morning Consult

If we’re willing to drill one of the last preserved landscapes and most sensitive habitats in the world, where will we stop? I can only hope the senators who play a key role in this decision consider the legacy they’re inevitably leaving behind.

How an obscure trade law could kill 50,000 solar jobs
Abigail Ross Hopper, The Arizona Republic

Washington could end up stalling an economic engine and costing workers in Arizona and every other state their jobs. Chinese-owned Suniva used an obscure trade law to ask the government to get directly involved in the U.S. solar market because it says imported parts — especially from Chinese firms — caused its American plants to go bankrupt.

My company’s carbon footprint is the size of a small country. We need to act.
Stephen Badger, The Washington Post

Global businesses are, quite rightly, under scrutiny for what they are doing to tackle challenges such as climate change and poverty. Last month, the United Nations asked business leaders the same questions we’ve heard countless times: What are businesses doing to help deliver on the Paris climate agreement?

Canadians will suffer the punishment for Trudeau’s egregious Energy East failure
Joe Oliver, Financial Post

The prime minister has managed to undermine the environment, the economy, progressive values and national unity, all in one fell swoop. TransCanada Corporation had little choice but to abandon the Energy East pipeline expansion after the National Energy Board (NEB) irresponsibly expanded the scope of its review to encompass upstream and downstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Research Reports

Long-term pattern and magnitude of soil carbon feedback to the climate system in a warming world
J. M. Melillo et al., Science

In a 26-year soil warming experiment in a mid-latitude hardwood forest, we documented changes in soil carbon cycling to investigate the potential consequences for the climate system. Our results support projections of a long-term, self-reinforcing carbon feedback from mid-latitude forests to the climate system as the world warms.