Monday, April 23, 2018

Federal Briefs

Democratic Lawmakers, Multiple Groups Call for Pruitt’s Departure

A group of 131 U.S. representatives and 39 U.S. senators, all Democrats, signed a resolution introduced April 18 calling on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign.

The resolution highlighted concerns about Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money, “dramatic” budget cuts to EPA and waivers given to employees to do work outside the agency.

Also on April 18, a coalition of labor and civil rights organizations joined environmental groups to place an ad in three newspapers calling for Pruitt “to resign or be removed.”

The calls for Pruitt to leave came the same day that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said his office was opening an investigation to see if EPA broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a secure phone booth for Pruitt without notifying Congress first.

More: The Hill; The Washington Post; ABC News; Bloomberg Politics

House Subcommittee Approves DOE Cybersecurity Bills

The House Energy Subcommittee on April 18 approved four bills to bolster the Department of Energy’s cybersecurity efforts in response to revelations of Russian cyberattacks targeting natural gas pipeline operators and the power grid.

The bills would require Energy Secretary Rick Perry to establish a program to boost the physical and cybersecurity of pipelines and LNG facilities; make the leader of the department’s emergency response and cybersecurity efforts an assistant secretary; establish a program to help private utilities find and use strongly cybersecure products; and enhance public-private partnerships to ensure that electric utilities are secure.

The bills now advance to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote.

More: The Hill

TVA Lawmakers Urge Trump not to Sell Tx Assets

Fifteen members of Congress from the Tennessee Valley on April 18 wrote a letter urging President Trump to abandon his proposal to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission assets.

The letter was signed by Tennessee’s entire congressional delegation plus four lawmakers from Kentucky and Alabama.

In the letter, they warned that splitting up TVA’s generation and transmission assets could threaten the low-cost model of the federal utility, which was created in 1933 to serve the seven-state Tennessee Valley.

More: Times Free Press

Wind Provided 6.3% of US Power Last Year

Wind provided a record 6.3% of U.S. electricity last year, according to a report released April 17 by the American Wind Energy Association.

The “U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report 2017” said wind now supplies more than 30% of the power in four states: Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

New Mexico, where the report was released, had the biggest capacity growth of all the states in percentage terms last year. Its wind power capacity grew by 570 MW, or 51%. The country’s wind power capacity grew 7,017 MW, or 9%, to 88,973 MW last year.

More: American Wind Energy Association

DOE to Provide up to $105.5 Million for Solar Projects

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said April 17 that the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) will provide up to $105.5 million to fund about 70 projects to advance both solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal power technologies, as well as facilitate their secure integration into the grid.

SETO plans to provide up to $46 million to fund about 14 projects involving advanced solar systems integration technologies; up to $21 million to fund about 14 projects involving concentrating solar power research and development; up to $27 million to fund about 28 projects involving PV research and development; and up to $8.5 million to fund four projects that involve improving and expanding the solar industry through workforce initiative.

More: Department of Energy

DOE to Provide $25 Million for Cybersecurity Development

The Department of Energy on April 16 made a $25 million funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support the development of next-generation cybersecurity technologies.

Under the FOA, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems program will seek applications for funding to conduct research and development for, and demonstrations of, innovative approaches to advancing cyber-resilient energy delivery systems.

Funding applications must be submitted by June 18.

More: Department of Energy

Top Domestic Energy Adviser Leaving White House

Michael Catanzaro will leave his position as special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy next week to return to his former lobbying firm, CGCN Group, the White House said April 17.

Catanzaro will leave next week. He will be replaced by Francis Brooke, an aide to Vice President Pence, who will start April 30.

More: Washington Examiner

Trade Groups Urge Trump to not Support Emergency Order

The Electric Power Supply Association and the American Petroleum Institute separately sent letters to President Trump on April 12, asking him not to support FirstEnergy Solutions’ request to have the Department of Energy issue an emergency order directing PJM to compensate coal-fired and nuclear power plants that have 25 days of onsite fuel.

“There is simply no emergency,” EPSA CEO John Shelk said. “We believe granting this request would be at odds with your stated goals of energy dominance, economic growth and improving America’s infrastructure,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in his group’s letter.

Both organizations have members that benefit financially from not having FirstEnergy’s coal and nuclear plants subsidized. EPSA represents merchant power plant owners and API represents natural gas companies, whose fuel, which is cheap and plentiful because of the advent of fracking, is making coal and nuclear plants economically unsound.

More: Washington Examiner; CNBC

Lazard Focusing on Potential Investor to Save Navajo Power Plant

George Bilicic, a vice chairman at Lazard Freres, which is trying to find a buyer for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, told a House subcommittee April 12 that his firm is focusing mostly on a potential investor, although he didn’t name it.

Bilicic said the investor is a reputable company that operates power plants and has met with key players involved in the efforts to sell the coal-fired power plant, which is set to close in 2019 unless a buyer is found for it.

Peabody Energy, the plant’s only coal supplier, hired Lazard as part of its campaign to save the 2,250-MW power plant. The Navajo and Hopi tribes are seeking help from the federal government to keep the plant open and preserve jobs for their members.

More: The Associated Press; Cronkite News

NRC Says Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Funding Inadequate

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a letter released April 12 that the plans by NorthStar Holding Co. and Entergy Nuclear for funding the decommission and clean-up of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant don’t appear to provide enough money for the tasks.

The commission said it needed additional information from both companies to fully analyze the financial underpinnings of their deal, under which Entergy would transfer Vermont Yankee’s license and decommissioning trust fund to NorthStar. The fund currently has about $570 million in it. Entergy has been making withdrawals from it to pay for preliminary decommissioning work since it closed the plant in December 2014.

Also on April 12, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a statement in support of the deal between NorthStar and Entergy prior to the Vermont Public Utility Commission’s final hearing on it. The people who testified at the hearing overwhelmingly supported the deal.

More: Rutland Herald; VTDigger

Pruitt Pushed for Luxury Hotels, Airlines with Frequent Flier Miles

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels that were costlier than allowed by the government and pushed to fly on an airline not on the government’s approved list so he could get more frequent flier miles, according to former EPA Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin Chmielewski.

The allegations are detailed in an April 12 letter signed by two senators and three representatives — all Democrats — whose staff members met with Chmielewski, who said he was removed from his post for questioning Pruitt’s spending.

In a separate letter on April 12, Democratic lawmakers demanded information about two previously unknown EPA email addresses used by Pruitt, asking if they were a way to withhold public information from records requests.

More: The New York Times

Senate Confirms Coal Lobbyist as EPA Deputy

The Senate voted 53-45 on April 12 to confirm Andrew Wheeler, a coal lobbyist whose clients included Murray Energy, as deputy administrator of EPA.

Wheeler has worked for the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels for the past nine years. Prior to that, he served as an adviser to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). He also spent four years as a career employee at EPA under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. President Trump nominated Wheeler last fall.

More: The Washington Post

EPA Gives North Dakota Power to Regulate Waste CO2 Wells

EPA on April 10 gave North Dakota the authority to regulate underground wells used to store waste carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources.

The agency said the state was the first to be given such authority.

North Dakota has five mines that last year produced more than 29 million tons of lignite and seven coal-fired power plants, according to the Lignite Energy Council.

More: The Associated Press

California Sues EPA over Repeal of ‘Once in, Always in’

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said April 10 that he and the state Air Resources Board have filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to invalidate EPA’s repeal of the “Once in, Always in” policy.

Under the policy, once a facility, such as a power plant or a factory, was determined to be a “major source” of air pollution under the Clean Air Act, it was always treated as one, even if it reduced its emissions to the point that it would have been labeled an “area source” of pollution had they been that low when its status was initially determined.

Becerra said the repeal contravenes the intent of Congress expressed in the Clean Air Act and constitutes an arbitrary and capricious reversal of EPA’s position.

More: California Office of the Attorney General

Korea Asks WTO for Permission to File Trade Sanctions Against US

Korea on April 9 filed a notice with the World Trade Organization (WTO) asking for permission to file for trade sanctions against U.S. goods that would be “substantially equivalent” to the United States’ tariffs on imported solar cells and modules and would last as long as the United States’ tariffs do.

The country said the day after the United States’ tariffs were announced it would file such a notice. Japan already has filed one.

More: PV Magazine USA

EPA Fires Staffer Responsible for Report Contradicting Pruitt Claims

EPA on April 10 fired the career staffer who approved an internal report undermining Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that he needed expensive security protection, including 24-hour bodyguards, according to two former EPA employees familiar with the situation.

Pruitt | © RTO Insider

The firing of Mario Caraballo, the deputy associate administrator of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, came on the same day Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and another committee member, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), wrote to the committee’s chairman, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), asking for oversight hearings and quoting the report.

EPA’s ethics office on April 9 forwarded a request to investigate various allegations against Pruitt to its inspector general. The request was sent by the Office of Government Ethics on April 6.

Also on April 9, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson said Pruitt was not involved in using bureaucratic maneuvering to give hefty raises to two political appointees who had worked for him in Oklahoma, despite a report in The Atlantic last week.

More: Politico, BuzzFeed News, Politico

Agencies Agree to Speed Infrastructure Review Process

The leaders of FERC, the Department of Energy, EPA and at least nine other agencies on April 9 signed a memo of understanding implementing an Aug. 15, 2017, executive order by President Trump meant to expedite the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects.

The memo requires the agencies involved with an infrastructure project to conduct simultaneous, rather than sequential, environmental reviews. The agency with the most relevant expertise to the project will lead the review process, setting timelines for the other agencies to follow, and all the agencies involved with a project will produce a single environmental impact statement for it.

Trump’s executive order called for agencies to make “timely decisions” on major infrastructure projects with the goal of completing “environmental reviews and authorization decisions … within two years.”

More: Washington Examiner

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