Saturday, November 18, 2017

Federal Briefs

Chicago Departures Cost EPA’s Region 5 Nearly 6% of Staff

Sixty-one employees left EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago between President Trump’s inauguration and Oct. 17.

The employees had more than 1,000 years of experience between them and represented nearly 6% of the office’s staff, which coordinates the agency’s work in six states around the Great Lakes.

None has been replaced due to a hiring freeze.

More: Chicago Tonight

Senate Confirms Retired Coal Exec to Oversee Mine Safety

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed David Zatezalo as assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health by a 52-46 vote.

Zatezalo, of West Virginia, retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources, a coal company cited for repeated safety violations.

More: The Associated Press

PNNL, National Grid Agree to Collaborate on Research

The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and National Grid have agreed to work together on research in the areas of transmission grid modernization and energy storage technologies, as well as collaborate in other ways.

Research areas the two will tackle include grid-scale energy storage; advanced transmission network controls and monitoring; distributed and variable energy resource integration; and enhanced grid cyber-protection.

The two also will hold joint workshops, lectures and symposia, and will use other forums to promote enhancements in technology, education and industrial development related to grid modernization and energy storage.

More: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

ALEC Mulling Bid to Change EPA on Endangerment Finding

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will consider a resolution that it would offer to state legislatures to get them to prod EPA to rescind its determination that climate change is a risk to human health and welfare.

That determination, which EPA made in 2009, is the justification for the agency promulgating regulations on carbon emissions.

ALEC receives funding from Koch Industries and Peabody Energy. It has other members that don’t wish to take a position against climate-change regulation and the resolution could prove divisive.

More: Bloomberg Politics

EIA: CO2 Emissions from Coal Fell Record Amount in 2015

Carbon dioxide emissions associated with coal consumption in the U.S. fell by a record 231 million tons in 2015, the Energy Information Administration said Monday.

More than 60% of the decline occurred in 10 states, led by Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

More: Energy Information Administration

Former EPA Attorneys Blast Pruitt for Ending ‘Sue and Settle’

In an open letter released Monday, 57 former EPA attorneys accused Administrator Scott Pruitt of deliberately misrepresenting legal settlement practices and the work of attorneys both at the agency and the Justice Department.

The letter comes almost a month after Pruitt rolled out a policy to clamp down on what critics call “sue and settle,” the practice under which federal agencies like EPA settle lawsuits filed by environmental groups by agreeing to consider whether to take the regulatory action that the groups want.

In a Monday statement, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman defended Pruitt’s policy.

More: The Hill

TVA Board Votes to Boost President’s Salary, Bonuses

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to boost the $995,000 base salary of President Bill Johnson by 5% and add up to $100,000 more to his performance pay.

Howorth | © TVA

TVA Chairman Richard Howorth said the salary and bonus increases reflect Johnson’s “outstanding performance” and a legal requirement to pay employees competitive wages.

Johnson is the highest paid federal employee, but his pay is less than half the median pay for comparable private-sector utility CEOs, according to TVA’s compensation consultants, Frederic W. Cook & Co.

More: Times Free Press

Global CO2 Emissions Projected to Grow After 3-Year Plateau

After three years of remaining flat, global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to grow up to 2% this year and continue growing next year, the Global Carbon Project said in a report issued Monday.

The group forecasts carbon dioxide emissions will total 37 billion tons this year. That would be a record high for emissions from fossil fuel burning and industrial uses, although carbon emissions from deforestation and land-use changes were actually higher in 2015.

The Global Carbon Project attributed the renewed increase largely to more fossil fuel burning in China and many other nations.

More: The Washington Post

Senate Tax Bill Retains Breaks for Renewables, EVs

The tax bill unveiled Thursday night by the Senate Finance Committee is friendlier to renewable energy and electric vehicles than the tax bill released Nov. 2 by House Republican leaders.

The Senate bill continues the production tax credit for energy from wind and other renewables that the House bill cut by a third. It also retains a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy EVs that the House bill eliminates.

In another reversal of the House bill, the Senate bill doesn’t extend a tax credit for the nuclear power industry that would help Southern Co. in its effort to build two new reactors at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in southeast Georgia.

More: Bloomberg Politics

Group of States, Cities Pledges to Meet Paris Commitment

A group of 20 states, more than 50 cities and U.S. companies and universities calling itself America’s Pledge said Saturday that its members still plan to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement despite President Trump’s plan to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

But the group also released a report that said federal action would be required for the U.S. to meet its 2025 carbon-reduction commitments.

More: The Hill

Pruitt to Keep Rolling Back CPP Despite Govt.’s Climate Report

EPA CPP D.C. Circuit Clean Power Plan

Pruitt | EPA

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday told USA TODAY that the National Climate Assessment won’t stop him from continuing to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

The report, which the federal government released last Friday, says climate change is real, its effects are already being felt and it’s caused by human activity.

Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued to stop the Obama administration from administering the CPP, said Congress never gave EPA the authority to implement such a sweeping regulation.

More: USA TODAY

Bill to Speed Approval Process for Hydro Dams Passes House

A bill sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) to speed the process for approving the construction and relicensing of hydroelectric dams cleared the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill enables FERC to establish a schedule for federal and state agencies, local governments and Native American tribes to provide comments on a dam’s construction.

While the congresswoman argues the law is necessary to expand the nation’s output of green energy, environmental groups and a coalition of western state governors warn it could hasten the approval process at the expense of ensuring older dams meet current environmental regulations and the authority of local governments to determine water rights.

More: The Spoksesman-Review

EPA’s Science Panel Policy Could Face Court Challenge

In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, 62 members of the House of Representatives said his new policy blocking scientists who receive grants from serving on the agency’s science panels is an “arbitrary and unnecessary limitation to disqualify preeminent experts” from advising the agency.

Foster

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) was the lead signatory of the letter, which was signed by one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Legal experts said Pruitt’s policy could be challenged in federal court, where EPA could face an uphill battle to prove that blocking certain scientists from its boards serves legitimate government interests.

More: The Hill; The Hill

France Doesn’t Invite Trump to Climate Change Summit

President Trump is “for the time being” not invited to a climate change summit to be held in Paris on Dec. 12, an official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.

The U.S. is still invited to the summit, but not Trump. More than 100 countries and non-governmental organizations have been invited to the summit.

More: Reuters

Children, Environmental Group Sue to Keep CPP in Place

Two children and a Philadelphia-area environmental group on Monday filed a lawsuit against President Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to stop them from scrapping the Clean Power Plan.

The children, ages 7 and 11, and the Clean Air Council filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The suit alleges that the children are suffering from the effects of a rapidly warming climate and says that the U.S. is “relying on junk science” and ignoring “clear and present dangers of climate change, knowingly increasing its resulting damages, death and destruction.”

More: Reuters

NRC Extends Review of Vermont Yankee Sale

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission now expects to extend its review of the license transfer of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt., through March.

Entergy, which owns the plant, and NorthStar Group Services, which is buying it, had asked the commission to rule on the transfer by the end of the year.

NRC said NorthStar must answer more questions about its financial plans and technical qualifications.

More: VTDigger

House Bill Would Expand Federal Incentives for Offshore Energy

Two Republicans and two Democrats on Friday introduced a House bill that would expand the financial incentives that the federal government offers to states that allow energy development off their shores.

The SECURE American Energy Act would extend revenue-sharing agreements from Alaska to the Atlantic states while raising existing revenue-sharing caps to provide Gulf states like Louisiana with hundreds of millions in additional dollars to help restore their coasts.

Revenue sharing involves the federal government sharing part of the money it gets from oil and gas producers and wind farm operators that have offshore leases with the states whose shores the leases are off of.

More: Washington Examiner

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