Climate Rules in the spotlight
The confirmation hearing for Janet McCabe to head the Environmental Protection Agency's air and radiation office unsurprisingly focused more on the science and economic impact of EPA's air regulations than on McCabe's own qualifications. Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee used the hearing this morning as an opportunity to challenge McCabe about whether the agency does enough to consider the economic impact of its regulations, especially the coming greenhouse-gas limits for power plants. Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming even questioned whether EPA had done enough to consider that the rising cost of energy, coupled with layoffs in the coal industry, was perpetuating poverty.
McCabe, who has been leading the air office in an acting capacity since the summer, said that she had been involved in the agency's work reaching out to industry, states, and other stakeholders throughout the rule-making process and that she was confident the power-plant rules would have flexibility states sought. Being a state-level regulator in Indiana, she said, gave her experience in reaching out to all stakeholders and considering both environmental and economic angles in writing rules.
At the hearing, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma also issued a threat to use the Congressional Review Act on every EPA regulation going forward, saying the "people who are elected need to be participating in the process."
CHEMICAL INFORMATION OFFICE NOMINEES. The committee also considered two other nominations: Manuel Ehrlich to be a member of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and Ann Dunkin to be EPA's assistant administrator for environmental information, a role that would oversee the agency's information technology. Neither faced intense questions from the panel.
DEM SEEKING GEORGIA SENATE SEAT BACKS KEYSTONE PIPELINE. Michelle Nunn, the Democrat seeking Georgia's open Senate seat, believes the Keystone XL oil pipeline should be approved. "I have a lot of friends who have different perspectives on Keystone," Nunn said. "We need to continue to focus on green energy and finding sustainable sources of energy, but I do believe we should move forward with Keystone." (Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
EARTHQUAKES HIT OKLAHOMA. State authorities are trying to determine if a surge in quakes is linked to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the state. (Jim Efstathiou, Bloomberg)
WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT THE GRID? New research indicates that breaking up the nation's vast network of power lines into smaller grids could reduce the likelihood of power outages. (Marina Koren, National Journal)
INTERIOR PLANS TO FLOAT ARCTIC DRILLING RULE 'SHORTLY.' Brian Salerno, the Interior Department's top offshore-drilling regulator, said today that he hopes to unveil proposed drilling-safety standards for Arctic regions soon. Check out his online comments here.
NATURAL GAS, SOLAR ON THE MARCH IN 2013. Just over half the new U.S. electric power generating capacity added in 2013 came from natural gas, the Energy Department's statistical arm said in a short report issued today. Solar accounted for nearly 22 percent of the new additions, a big jump from less than 6 percent of new additions the prior year.
Why the big gains for solar? It's getting cheaper and still gets a hand from state and federal policies. "Solar photovoltaic (PV) added 2,193 [megawatts] of capacity in 2013, continuing the trend of the past few years of strong growth, helped in part by falling technology costs as well as aggressive state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and continued federal investment tax credits," the Energy Information Administration reported.
MEET THE NEW GAS PRICES, SAME AS THE OLD GAS PRICES. Speaking of EIA, the agency unveiled its summer fuel-price projections today. EIA forecasts that regular gasoline prices will average $3.57 per gallon this summer, a cent below last year. But, of course, who really knows? "Multiple market uncertainties have the potential to significantly affect prices and supplies during the rest of 2014," their outlook states.
JAMES RIVER COAL FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY. Richmond, Va.-based James River Coal has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the economic downturn, EPA regulations, and competition from natural gas. (Associated Press)
EUROPEAN NATIONS HUDDLE AS TENSIONS WITH RUSSIA RISE. Ukraine's energy minister met with representatives from the European Union to talk about how to wean themselves off Russian energy supplies. (Barbara Lewis, Reuters)
CORPORATIONS WEIGH IN ON CLIMATE. Royal Dutch Shell joined 69 corporations in asking international policymakers to limit carbon emissions. What's the cap they're pushing for? 1 trillion metric tons of carbon. (Alex Morales, Bloomberg)
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER ITCHING TO FRACK. David Cameron has intensified a push to intensify fracking across Europe as a result of the tensions with Russia. (Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola, Washington Post)
A MODEST CLIMATE PROPOSAL. Author McKenzie Funk has a way to end battles with people who don't believe global warming is real: Stop having them. In a piece in Slate, Funk points to a recent Yale survey that showed 23 percent of respondents don't believe in global warming, and argues that "no amount of charts or stats or forced viewings of An Inconvenient Truth are going to move the dial."
"The binary conversation we keep having around global warming—pro versus con, consensus versus conspiracy, liberal vs. conservative, Gore vs. Inhofe—isn't a conversation.… So what if we just stopped trying to have it?" writes Funk, author of the book Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming.
"What if we focused instead on the majority opinion in the Yale survey? There are almost three times as many believers as there are deniers, and not many of them spend their days trying to convince the holdouts," he adds.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"You worked up in Massachusetts over the years and that's going to qualify you to be the one to understand and translate Administrator McCarthy's Boston accent to other people at the EPA. That's a very important role" —Sen. Edward Markey, speaking to Janet McCabe about her nomination to head EPA's air office
WHAT EXPERTS ARE SAYING
SHOULD THE PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT FOR RENEWABLE-ENERGY PROJECTS BE REVIVED? Is the legislative outlook for an extension clear as day or cloudy with a chance of showers? What challenges await if the credit does move, and what's the most likely scenario under which it could be passed?
"Why would we not extend the wind credits, when we keep the tax subsidies of the mature energy technologies, offered by mature companies, in mature energy markets (and costing each and every taxpayer a minimum of $500 per year) ? Congress needs to stop year-to-year tax credit extensions (and expirations) because that harms emerging energy efficiency, wind, storage, and other renewable energy companies and projects." —Scott Sklar, founder, The Stella Group
HOUSE PANEL MAKES EXPORT PUSH. The House Ways and Means Committee holds a trade subcommittee hearing titled "Trade Implications of U.S. Energy Policy and the Export of Liquefied Natural Gas."
EPA IN THE SPOTLIGHT. The Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the fiscal 2015 budget request for EPA. Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify before the committee during the hearing.
HOUSE BILLS MARKUP. The House Natural Resources Committee will mark up a series of bills, including the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act and the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2013.