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EPA Weighs Fracking Mandate

TOP ENERGY NEWS

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

EPA, GINGERLY, WEIGHS FRACKING-DISCLOSURE MANDATE. The Environmental Protection Agency moved a small step closer today to forcing industry disclosure of data on chemicals and chemical mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing.

 

EPA solicited comment on what a potential regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act might look like, but isn't committing itself to writing an actual rule.

The idea has been kicking around for quite a while.

In 2011 environmentalists seeking chemical testing and data petitioned EPA to write broad fracking rules under the toxic substances law. EPA agreed to explore a piece of what they wanted (the possible disclosure rules), but the two years-plus between the petition and today's notice is slower action than activists had hoped.

 

The Environmental Defense Fund, one the groups seeking new rules, noted Friday that EPA's action is merely the "first baby step" and issued a call to arms for pressuring the agency to go ahead with a rule.

"It's unfortunate that this process has taken so long, as it addresses a critical need to ensure the safety of chemicals used in fracking," said Richard Denison, an EDF scientist, in a blog post.

"It will be essential that the public engage in the development of EPA's reporting system to ensure it delivers the needed information to EPA and maximizes public access to that information," he said.

WHITE HOUSE SOLAR PANELS RETURN. The Obama administration unveiled solar panels on the White House roof, bringing them back for the first time since they were taken down in 1986. (Emma Roller, National Journal)

 

OBAMA WEIGHS CRUDE-OIL EXPORTS. White House adviser John Podesta said Thursday that the administration is conducting an interagency review of the topic, Platts reports. The review arrives amid pressure from oil producers and some lawmakers to relax the nation's de facto ban on large-scale crude oil exports.

Podesta said the administration is gauging the capacity of U.S. refineries—many of which are equipped to process heavy crudes—to absorb lighter oil from the booming U.S. shale formations in Texas and elsewhere.

"We're taking an active look at what production looks like, particularly Eagle Ford, and whether the current refinery system can support the capacity increase [needed] to refine the product that's being produced through the boom," Podesta said at an energy conference in New York, according to Platts.

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"We're taking a look at that and deciding whether there's potential for effective and economically utilizing that resource through a variety of different mechanisms."

The Financial Times called Podesta's remarks "the Obama administration's most detailed statement yet of its thinking on the issue."

COURT UPHOLDS EPA SOOT STANDARDS. EPA continued its winning streak in the court system today, as the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the agency's decision to tighten air-quality standards for fine particulate matter, or soot. The National Association of Manufacturers had challenged the 2012 standard, which tightened the previous soot limits by 20 percent. In a 3-0 ruling, the judges on the panel said the petitioners "simply have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science."

The judges also upheld EPA's plans to require particulate matter monitors near roads in a bid to better measure and regulate soot from traffic. NAM had argued that the roadway monitors would mean greater crackdowns on industry sources, but the judges said the plan was reasonable to measure the full range of pollution.

DEMS (AND MAINE-ERS) MAKE THEIR STAND ON GAS EXPORTS. Twenty-two senators are putting fresh pressure on the Obama administration to hit the brakes on approval of more natural-gas exports proposals.

Their new letter to Obama says "large-scale" liquefied natural gas exports could raise costs for consumers and undercut U.S. manufacturers currently benefiting from the domestic gas-production boom.

"Integration of U.S. and Asian natural gas markets through U.S. exports could lead to further increases in prices for American consumers and businesses, which may fundamentally reverse many of the economic benefits that have led to the current surge in manufacturing job growth in the United States," states the letter led by Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Edward Markey.

Republican Susan Collins and her Maine colleague, Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, signed the letter alongside 20 Democrats.

The Energy Department has already approved a half-dozen applications to export gas to nations that lack formal free-trade deals with the U.S.—those plans are heavily vetted to determine whether they're in the national interest.

Many Republicans, joined by oil-and-gas industry groups and some Democrats from gas producing states, have been pressing for more and faster approvals.

OBAMA PILES ON CONGRESS, CLIMATE DENIERS. In a speech announcing new energy-efficiency initiatives, President Obama doubled down on his strategy of using executive action to boost deployment of renewable-energy and conservation technology.

It's a strategy he's increasingly leaning on, especially with a gridlocked and politicized Senate and House. "Congress has not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like," he said, adding: "It can be a little frustrating."

Of course, the remarks come the same week that a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill appears headed for defeat in the Senate over a series of amendments having to do with EPA rules and a carbon tax, among others. In his speech at a California Wal-Mart, Obama continued his push on science that followed this week's release of the National Climate Assessment, saying: "Inside of Washington, we've still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they're wasting everybody's time on a settled debate."

The speech contained a number of announcements on the Energy Department and White House initiatives to advance clean energy, including agreements from more than 300 companies, utilities and other partners to deploy more solar power and efficiency. The actions also included a commitment to extend efficiency spending for federal facilities, efficiency standards for walk-in coolers, and job training for the solar industry.

Read more about the announcements here.

AND WAL-MART SPENDS BIG ON SOLAR. The retail giant announced plans to double the amount of solar-panel arrays connected to its chain of stores in the U.S. The company said it'll have the installations up and running by 2020. (Erin McCarthy, Wall Street Journal)

COMMENT CLOCK IS TICKING. Today's the last day for groups to submit comments to EPA on proposed greenhouse-gas standards for new power plants and they're flooding in—already regulations.gov reports more than 995,000 in the docket.

FEDS SAY PIPELINE OVERSIGHT LACKING. The Transportation Department's Office of Inspector is pointing fingers at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, saying that the agency isn't doing a good job of making sure that the nation's system of pipelines are adequately maintained. A review of pipeline oversight by the OIG found that inspections aren't being carried out as often as they should, leaving the door open for accidents and explosions. (Joan Lowy, Associated Press)

THE NATIVE AMERICAN RAPPER WITH THE KEYSTONE PROTEST SOUNDTRACK. "Oil 4 Blood," a song from Native American rapper Frank Waln, has taken off in the last year as part of the protests to the Keystone XL pipeline. (Jason Plautz, National Journal)

MOVING TARGET FOR REOPENING NEW MEXICO DUMP. It could be as much as three years before operations fully resume at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear-waste repository in New Mexico. (Associated Press)

WALL STREET LINES UP BEHIND NATURAL GAS. Investors looking to minimize climate risks tied to their portfolios aren't ditching fossil fuels. Instead, they're upping their stock in natural gas. (Jim Polson, Bloomberg)

EUROPE POISED TO ADD SANCTIONS. European Union diplomats have tentatively agreed to sanction two Crimean companies with major stakes in the energy sector. The sanctions are set to be finalized Monday. (Adrian Croft, Reuters)

VIOLENCE MAKES MEXICAN ENERGY SECTOR VULNERABLE. Infighting between Mexican drug cartels has put assets within the country's energy sector at risk. Criminals frequently siphon off oil production using the profits to fund illicit activities. (Ryan Holeywell, Houston Chronicle)

COURT DEFENDS GREEN MANDATE. A District Court judge in Colorado upheld the state's renewable-energy standard in a move that won applause from conservation groups and clean-energy backers. 

WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING

Next week's energy and environment Insiders discussion will ask the question: Can Congress ever have a reasonable energy debate? What will it take for lawmakers to pass an energy bill or carry out meaningful debate on energy policy? And what gets lost when bipartisan bills can't get to a vote?

HAPPENING MONDAY

UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR EFFICIENCY. Energy-efficiency legislation authored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio is headed for a procedural vote to end debate in the Senate on Monday, butit  seems unlikely to achieve the 60 votes needed to clear the cloture hurdle.

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