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Coal Makes a Comeback, for Now

TOP ENERGY NEWS

By Ben Geman (@ben_geman), Jason Plautz (@jason_plautz) and Clare Foran (@ckmarie)

KENTUCKY OFFICIALS ACCUSE McCONNELL'S WIFE OF ABANDONING COAL. A group of Democratic lawmakers from Kentucky have penned a letter to the Kentucky Coal Association asking him to denounce Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, for her position on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation. The letter asks association President Bill Bissett to join the elected representatives in calling for Chao to resign her position. It comes on the heels of a Yahoo! News article published last week that detailed Chao's role on the board of an organization that supports the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign.

 

GROUP VOWS COURT ACTION 'PROMPTLY' ON DELAYED OIL AND MINING RULE. Oxfam America is on the cusp of taking the Securities and Exchange Commission to court in order to force the completion of delayed rules that will force oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. The group recently asked the SEC to commit, by August 1, to finalizing the rule by the end of 2014. But on Tuesday Oxfam America told National Journal that the SEC has not answered their demand.

"As we have not received a response to our letter from the SEC, Oxfam America intends to promptly return to court to enforce the SEC's legal obligations to issue a final rule for Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act," Oxfam America said. The rule is aimed at increasing the transparency of financial flows in order to chip away at the "resource curse" of corruption, conflict, and poverty in energy-rich nations in Africa and elsewhere. "It is past time for the US – and the SEC – to once again show leadership by completing implementation of this provision supported by investors holding trillions of dollars of assets under management," Oxfam America said. Click here and here for more coverage of the rule.

WHAT DONALD TRUMP, BON JOVI, AND FRACKING HAVE IN COMMON. Three unlikely adversaries are squaring off to buy western New York's cherished Buffalo Bills. Donald Trump, Bon Jovi, and fracking billionaire Terry Pegula have all put in bids to become the new owner of the NFL franchise with the dubious distinction of losing the Super Bowl four years in a row. Pegula can't compete with the star power of Trump or Bon Jovi, but he's considered the front-runner in the sports-team showdown. Pegula's bid would keep the Bills in Buffalo. He also has the financial muscle to pull off the purchase. The Pennsylvania native is the founder of a natural-gas drilling company called East Resources and has gobs of money from oil and gas. (Clare Foran, National Journal)

 

CHINA'S HITS SHALE-GAS HURDLES. MIT Technology Review reports: "China is finding it harder than it expected to unlock a shale gas boom like the one in North America, calling into question its lofty goals to use natural gas to help clean up its air and control the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Citing complicated geology and high production costs, the Chinese government has cut its ambitious 2020 target for shale gas development roughly in half." (Mike Orcutt, MIT Technology Review)

EPA ACCUSED OF BLOCKING ACCESS TO SCIENTISTS. The Associated Press reports: "Journalist and scientific organizations accused the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday of attempting to muzzle its independent scientific advisers by directing them to funnel all outside requests for information through agency officials." (Dina Cappiello, Associated Press)

COAL MAKES A COMEBACK (FOR NOW). Coal is regaining some of the ground it has lost in U.S. power markets. The federal Energy Information Administration reports that U.S. coal use is forecast to rise by 2.5 percent this year due to higher electricity demand and natural-gas prices in the power sector that are 22 percent above last year's levels. "Coal's share of U.S. electricity generation in the second half of 2014 will average almost 41% compared with about 39% last year," said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski in comments alongside EIA's latest Short-Term Energy Outlook. But the comeback may be brief. The agency predicts that consumption will fall 2.7% in 2015. That's because more coal-fired power plants are going offline in response to EPA air-toxics rules, slowing electricity sales growth, and natural-gas prices coming back down relative to coal prices. Sieminski also noted that U.S. coal exports are lower this year due to weaker demand growth, lower foreign prices, and higher production from other exporters.

NEW ARCTIC ENVOY HEADS FOR ALASKA. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp, the State Department's top diplomat on Arctic issues, is visiting Alaska for a week starting today for a suite of meetings with local officials, indigenous leaders, environmentalists, and others. The trip arrives as the U.S. prepares for its stint as chair of the multinational Arctic Council next year. "Admiral Papp's meetings in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Barrow will focus on climate change, economic, environmental, and security issues in the Arctic region as the United States prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015," the department said. Secretary of State John Kerry named Papp as the department's first "special representative" to the Arctic in July, and the trip to Alaska is Papp's first Arctic visit since taking the job. Diminishing Arctic ice is expanding access to the region for shipping, and bringing both new competition for energy resources and environmental risks.

 

DEMS SPLIT WITH ENVIROS ON OIL-AND-GAS POLICY. The Wall Street Journal reports: "The [U.S.] energy boom is shaping a new kind of Democrat in national politics, lawmakers who are giving greater support to the oil and gas industry even at the risk of alienating environmental groups, a core of the party's base." (Amy Harder, Wall Street Journal)

ENERGY AGENCY SAYS PRICE SURGE UNLIKELY DESPITE TURMOIL. Reuters reports on the latest projections from the International Energy Agency: "Big rises in oil production from North America are helping to keep oil markets well supplied, the West's energy watchdog said on Tuesday, suggesting oil prices are unlikely to rise much soon despite armed conflicts near key oil-producing areas." (Christopher Johnson, Reuters)

PEABODY CEO: SPEND MORE MONEY FIGHTING ACTIVISTS. Greg Boyce, the CEO of Peabody Energy, said that while he thinks "coal will always win out," the industry ought to do more to fight "symbolic" movements to restrict coal use. "If as an industry if we spent more time educating, if we all spent more money, we would have less of these symbolic moves, which are really done without a full knowledge of the equation," he told the Australian Financial Review. (Amanda Saunders, Australian Financial Review)

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BIG BROTHER IS ALREADY WATCHING YOU DRIVE. To replace the gas tax, many advocates are in favor of a user-fee system that would fund transportation by charging drivers per mile. That's raised plenty of privacy concerns about the government tracking where drivers go, but ridesharing and on-board computers have made location tracking a reality. (Jason Plautz, National Journal)

STUDY: COMPANIES FRACKING AT SHALLOWER DEPTHS. A study from Stanford University that looked at hydraulic fracturing at two Wyoming geologic formations found that companies were fracking at shallower depths than most people believed, including through underground drinking-water sources. The ongoing study, which has not been peer reviewed, found no direct evidence of contamination of the water supply, but the researchers said that regulators need to do more to assess the impact of oil and gas drilling. (Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times)

GULF OYSTER POPULATION DOWN DRAMATICALLY SINCE OIL SPILL. In the four years since the BP oil spill, oyster beds in the Gulf Coast are producing less than a third of what the pre-spill harvest, despite an uptick last year. Scientists are still working to determine what impact the spill had on the oyster population, but BP denied that the spill was to blame. Geoff Morrell, a senior vice president at BP, told the Associated Press in a statement that "data from government studies have indicated it is likely due to other conditions." (Stacey Plaisance, AP)

SIERRA CLUB SAYS THANK-YOU. The Sierra Club debuted a digital ad campaign thanking members of the Illinois congressional delegation for supporting the renewable-energy production tax credit, which expired at the end of last year and now faces an uncertain fate. The ads urge viewers to call up the representatives and thank them for supporting clean energy jobs.

FEDS PULL WOLVERINE PROTECTION PLAN. The Associated Press reports: "Federal wildlife officials plan to withdraw proposed protections for the snow-loving wolverine Tuesday." The agency is citing uncertainty over how climate change will affect the animal as the reason for pulling the plan. (Associated Press)

For the latest energy news throughout the day, check out National Journal's Up-To-The-Minute Energy.

WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING

CAN WE REACH A GLOBAL-WARMING DEAL? What should success at next year's climate negotiations look like? What is it likely to look like?

"As climate meetings get ready for their next big round in Paris in 2015, it is finally time to admit the U.N. process is broken and will never be fixed. Already, we have wasted years looking for solutions that will never be achieved." Frank Maisano, senior principal, Bracewell and Giuliani

HAPPENING TOMORROW

FRACKING BRIEFING. The Environmental Integrity Project holds a conference call on its new report titled "Fracking Beyond the Law."

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