Monday, June 25, 2018

Federal Briefs

EPA Nixes Plans to Open Office in Pruitt’s Hometown

EPA said in a June 19 letter to a Democratic representative that it has scrapped plans to open an office for Administrator Scott Pruitt in his home town of Tulsa, Okla.

“Although the EPA staff did explore whether office space was available in Tulsa, this possibility was ultimately abandoned,” Troy Lyons, EPA associate administrator for congressional affairs, said in the letter to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the House Science Committee.

Johnson and two other high-ranking Democrats on the committee had obtained documents that showed EPA staff were trying to establish the office.

More: The Hill

House Subcommittee Holding Hearing on Offshore Renewable Energy Bills

The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on June 26 on three bills dealing with offshore renewable energy.

One bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to provide for a leasing program for offshore renewable energy; a second would create an offshore wind career training grant program; and a third would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to apply to U.S. territories, establish offshore wind lease sale requirements and provide dedicated funding for coral reef conservation.

More: House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources

McIntyre Says Perry Will Make Right Decision on Emergency Declaration

FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre said June 19 that Energy Secretary Rick Perry will make “the right decision” on whether to declare a grid emergency to keep struggling nuclear and coal-fired power plants open.

“If anybody is going to make a decision, right or wrong, it’s going to be him,” McIntyre told reporters on the sidelines of a natural gas roundtable sponsored by the American Gas Association in D.C. “The law assigns that role to him. And I trust he will make the right decision.”

McIntyre said the Department of Energy has not conferred with FERC and doesn’t have to.

More: Washington Examiner

EPA OKs Oklahoma’s Application to Run Coal Ash Disposal Program

EPA said June 18 it has approved Oklahoma’s application to operate a permit program for disposing of coal ash, making the state the first one authorized to run a federally approved coal ash permit program.

The move “places oversight of coal ash disposal into the hands of those who are best positioned to oversee coal ash management: the officials who have intimate knowledge of the facilities and the environment in their state,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

On the same day the agency announced the move, Earthjustice said new analysis by it and the Environmental Integrity Project showed that all four of the coal ash dumps in Oklahoma testing nearby groundwater found it contained coal ash contaminants at levels that made it unsafe for drinking by EPA standards.

More: EPA, Earthjustice

DOE Awards $15 Million to Atmospheric and Ecological Sciences Projects

The Department of Energy said June 19 it has awarded $15 million to 27 three-year atmospheric and ecological sciences projects in an effort to improve the power of Earth system models to predict weather and climate.

“Improving Earth system modeling and prediction capabilities is a critical step in mitigating future risks to the nation’s energy supplies,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The projects cover a range of topics, from the role of aerosols in cloud formations to the impact of hurricane damage on carbon cycling in Puerto Rican forests.

More: Department of Energy

Six Governors Form Partnership to Promote Carbon Capture

Six governors said June 19 they have formed the Governors’ Partnership on Carbon Capture to provide state executive leadership, focus and outreach on behalf of carbon capture policy and technology deployment.

The group initially will be led by Govs. Matt Mead of Wyoming and Steve Bullock of Montana. It also will include Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Mead and Bullock will communicate with other governors interested in the group in the coming weeks. 

More: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

ACORE Launches Campaign for $1 Trillion in Corporate Renewables Investment

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), a national group of companies that finance, develop, manufacture and use renewable energy, on June 19 announced the launch of a campaign to get the private sector to invest $1 trillion in renewable energy and enable grid technologies by 2030.

The campaign, called “$1T 2030: The American Renewable Investment Goal,” will be managed through the Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance, an educational program on renewable energy finance for senior ACORE members.

As part of the campaign, ACORE said that it will be engaging with key business and government leaders, releasing new reports, hosting events and taking other steps to help reach the campaign’s goal.

More: American Council on Renewable Energy

Report: $11.5 Trillion to Be Invested in Power Generation

A total of $11.5 trillion will be invested in power generation from 2018 to 2050, with $8.4 trillion going to wind and solar, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s “New Energy Outlook (NEO) 2018,” released June 19.

The report says $1.3 trillion will be invested in new gas capacity (nearly half of which will go to gas-fired power plants, rather than to combined-cycle turbines) and $548 billion will be invested in batteries.

The report anticipates solar and wind will account for nearly half of global electricity generation 2050.

More: pv magazine, Microgrid Knowledge

Ethics Head Considering Proceeding Against Pruitt

David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, said in a June 15 letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins that he is considering a “formal corrective action proceeding” regarding allegedly improper behavior by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In the letter, Apol urged Elkins to expand his investigation of Pruitt to include recent allegations, such as that Pruitt had EPA aides try to find a job for his wife. Apol also asked Elkins to complete his investigation as soon as possible so he “can decide whether to begin a formal corrective action proceeding in order to make a formal recommendation to the president.”

President Trump on Friday gave Pruitt a strong but qualified endorsement saying, “I’m not happy about certain things, but he’s done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding.”

More: Politico; Politico

Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Nixes Geothermal Development

Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor James Melonas said in a decision made public June 14 that the geothermal energy in the northern New Mexico forest will remain off limits to developers.

Melonas said development in the forest could affect its resources and recreational opportunities, as well as the cultural and spiritual interests of numerous Native American tribes.

The decision covers more than 300 square miles, although developers have expressed interest in only a small part of that area.

More: The Associated Press

Perry Says Coal, Nuclear Plant Rescue Plan Being ‘Fleshed Out’

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said June 15 that the plan requested by President Trump to keep struggling coal and nuclear plants from closing is still being “fleshed out” by the Department of Energy and the White House.

“This is not just singularly an economic issue,” Perry told reporters at the G20 Energy Ministers’ meeting in Bariloche, Argentina, citing risks of cyberattacks by “nefarious actors” or “terrorist groups” on the grid.

“You would not want to wager that your liberties and your freedoms in a country — the United States in this case — should be left solely to the free market,” Perry said.

More: Reuters

Office of Nuclear Energy Awards $64 Million to 89 Projects

The Department of Energy said June 18 its Office of Nuclear Energy has awarded nearly $64 million to 89 advanced nuclear technology projects.

The awards include $47 million through the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to support 63 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects in 29 states and $5 million through NEUP to support 18 university-led projects for research in reactor and infrastructure improvements.

More: Department of Energy

White House Nominates Renewables Critic to DOE Renewables Post

The White House said June 14 it is nominating Dan Simmons to be the assistant secretary of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, where he has been acting head since May 2017.

Simmons previously served in leading roles at the Institute for Energy Research and the American Legislative Exchange Council. Both organizations are conservative groups that generally oppose policies such as tax credits and grants aimed at boosting renewable energy.

He also said in a 2013 Heartland Institute podcast that boosting renewable energy would hurt consumers.

More: The Hill

Power Marketers Taking Retail Electricity Sales from IOUs

Competitive power marketers provided 21% of the retail electricity sold in the U.S. in 2016, up from 11% in 2005, the Energy Information Administration said June 12.

Over the same period of time, the share of retail power supplied by investor-owned utilities fell to 52% from 62%.

EIA said the changes were driven by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which repealed the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935.

More: Energy Information Administration

2 Courts Say EPA Must Enforce Clean Air Act Provisions

U.S. District Courts in New York and Maryland have ruled separately that EPA must enforce Clean Air Act requirements that states implement plans to restrict emissions within their borders that could cross into neighboring states.

The New York court ruled June 12 that EPA failed to meet an August 2017 deadline to begin the process of enforcing the CAA throughout states. The court ruled that the agency must take the necessary steps to limit the smog that blows into New York and Connecticut from five upwind states — Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan and Virginia — and set a Dec. 8 deadline for compliance.

The Maryland court made a similar ruling on June 13, saying EPA must take a final action by Sept. 15.

More: The Hill

DOE to Provide University of Utah with Geothermal R&D Funding

The Department of Energy said June 14 that it will provide the University of Utah with up to $140 million over the next five years for geothermal research and development.

The department has selected a site outside Milford, Utah, to be the location of the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy field laboratory, which will do research on enhanced geothermal systems.

More: Department of Energy

US Solar Capacity Grew 2.5 GW in Q1

Solar capacity grew 2.5 GW in the U.S. in the first quarter, according to a report released June 11 by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The report, “U.S. Solar Market Insight,” said the growth amounts to an annual rate of 13%.

Solar comprised 55% of all capacity added in the quarter, according to the report.

More: Greentech Media

Russian Companies, Executives Sanctioned for Cyberattacks on Grid

The Treasury Department on June 11 imposed sanctions on five Russian firms and three executives from one of them under legislation passed last year and an executive order meant to punish efforts to hack into U.S. computer systems.

The department said the sanctions were a response to a number of cyberattacks, including last year’s NotPetya attack and intrusions into the U.S. energy grid. It also said Russia had been tracking undersea cables carrying the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.

The sanctioned companies are Digital Security and its subsidiaries, ERPScan and Embedi; the Kvant Scientific Research Institute; and Divetechnoservices. The sanctioned men, all of whom work for Divetechnoservices, are Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov and Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy.

More: CNBC

Dem Reps Call for Criminal Investigation of Pruitt

Six Democratic representatives on June 8 asked FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan to open a criminal investigation into EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“EPA Administrator Pruitt has used his public office and official, taxpayer-funded resources for the personal gain of himself and his family, in violation of federal law,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Wray and Cronan.

The letter was signed by Ted Lieu (Calif.), Don Beyer (Va.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), Rubin Gallego (Ariz.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.).

More: The Hill

DOE Provides $6.7 Million to Six Marine Energy Projects

The Department of Energy on June 8 named six awardees it has selected to receive $6.7 million to support the development of innovative technologies capable of generating reliable and cost-effective electricity from U.S. water resources.

The money comes from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, whose goals include driving down the cost of energy from marine energy devices.

More: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Idaho Power Sues EPA for Warmer Water in Snake River

Idaho Power on June 6 filed a lawsuit against EPA to force the agency to act on a 2012 request by the state of Idaho to allow warmer water in the Snake River below the Hells Canyon Complex where federally protected fall chinook salmon reproduce.

The company says in the lawsuit that the change could reduce the cost of power, saving customers up to $100 million over 50 years, and that studies by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have concluded that changing the water temperature in the area below the hydroelectric complex would not harm the fish.

More: The Associated Press

Triad National Security Awarded Los Alamos Contract

The Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration said June 8 they have awarded Triad National Security the management and operating contract for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The contract has an estimated value of $2.5 billion per year and has a five-year base period with an additional five one-year options, meaning Triad could be paid $25 billion over 10 years to run Los Alamos if all the options are exercised.

More: National Nuclear Security Administration

Amendment to Cut Yucca Mountain Funding from House Bill Fails

An amendment by Nevada Democratic representatives that would have removed funding for the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain from a Department of Energy spending bill was defeated by a voice vote in the House of Representatives on June 7.

The defeat means the funding bill still contains $267 million to restart the licensing process for the repository, which is located in Nye County, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

A Senate spending bill approved last month does not contain funding to restart the licensing process.

More: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Sens. Introduce Legislation to Remove Solar Tariff

Heller

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced legislation June 7 to remove the 30% tariff on imported solar panels imposed in January by President Trump.

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Heller’s likely challenger this fall, criticized Heller for waiting so long to take action. Rosen introduced a House version of the bill in April.

Heller’s bill seems to face a hard road to passage, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said June 6 that the Senate was unlikely to take up a proposal from a group led by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would require Congressional approval of tariffs.

More: The Nevada Independent

Perry Launches Competition to Boost Solar Manufacturing

Energy Secretary Rick Perry on June 7 announced the launch of the American-Made Solar Prize, a $3 million competition meant to boost U.S. solar manufacturing.

The competition has three phases. The first is to identify ideas, the second is to turn the selected ideas into proofs of concept and the third is to turn the proofs of concept into prototypes on which partners can perform pilot tests.

More: Department of Energy

USDA Grants $309M in Loans for Infrastructure Improvements

Hazlett | usda.gov

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett said June 7 that the Department of Agriculture is investing $309 million in 16 projects to improve rural electric infrastructure in 12 states.

The investments are loans being made through USDA’s Electric Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee program, which helps finance generation, transmission and distribution projects; system improvements; and energy conservation projects in communities with a population of 10,000 or less.

The loans will go to utilities in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota and Washington, which will use them to build or improve 1,660 miles of electric line serving rural homes, farms and businesses.

More: Department of Agriculture

EPA Seeks Input on Weighing Costs, Benefits of Regulation

EPA on June 7 issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek input from the public on whether and how it should change its method for weighing costs and benefits in considering regulatory decisions.

“Many have complained that the previous administration inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations through questionable cost-benefit analysis,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This action is the next step toward providing clarity and real-world accuracy with respect to the impact of the agency’s decisions on the economy and the regulated community.”

Conservatives have called for changes to how EPA accounts for costs and benefits. Environmentalists fear the result could hide the benefits of anti-pollution rules and regulations from the public.

More: EPA; The Washington Post

Reps Urge Pruitt to Scrap ‘Transparency’ Rulemaking

More than 100 House members, including four Republicans, on June 6 sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, calling on him to withdraw the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rulemaking that he introduced in April.

“Contrary to its name, the proposed rule would implement an opaque process allowing EPA to selectively suppress scientific evidence without accountability and in the process undermine bedrock environmental laws,” the lawmakers wrote.

The representatives also voiced concerns raised by scientists about the proposed rule, including that it would limit the agency’s ability to use public health studies in which participants are anonymized for privacy reasons.

More: The Hill

CAP Board Approves Contracts to Replace Power from Navajo Plant

The board of directors overseeing the Central Arizona Project canal on June 7 approved two power contracts to partially replace the electricity that the canal expects to lose next year when the embattled Navajo Generating Station closes.

Miners from the Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to the power plant, had asked the board to put the vote on hold for three months to give Middle River Power time to put together a proposal to buy the plant and keep it open.

The contracts only cover about 14% of CAP’s power needs, and CAP officials said that if Middle River or another entity can take over the coal plant, they’ll consider buying power from it if the power is offered at a reasonable price.

More: The Republic

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