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Stop If You've Heard This One Before

TOP ENERGY NEWS

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

STOP IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE. A very familiar wrinkle in the effort to pass a modest, bipartisan Senate energy-efficiency bill reemerged Wednesday.

 

Louisiana Republican David Vitter is again pushing for a vote—as an amendment or a separate bill—on his plan to cut the federal support that Congress and Capitol Hill aides receive for their insurance.

Vitter's Obamacare amendment is among the reasons that the Shaheen-Portman efficiency bill stalled on the floor last year. It's supposed to return to the floor very soon.

But at the same time, Republicans (backed by Democrat Mary Landrieu) want a vote on approving the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline.

 

Despite the bills bipartisan backing and slate of GOP cosponsors, Vitter's move signals that the bill sponsored by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman faces rough seas.

"Bipartisan negotiations over amendments to Senator Shaheen's energy-efficiency legislation are ongoing," Shaheen spokesman Shripal Shah said.

TRAIN CARRYING OIL DERAILS, CATCHES FIRE. Tankers carrying oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va., prompting a major fire, the Associated Press reports. Multiple buildings were evacuated. No injuries have been reported yet in the derailment. City officials say three or four cars were breached, and more than a dozen were involved in the accident, according to AP.

It's the latest of several accidents over the last year involving trains carrying crude oil and will likely increase pressure on Transportation Department regulators to complete a long-planned rule to increase safety standards.

 

GAS-EXPORT BILL LEAVES PORT FOR HOUSE FLOOR ... The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill Wednesday to speed up the federal review of liquefied natural-gas export proposals. Five committee Democrats joined Republicans in support of the measure, which is expected to come before the full House soon.

The Ukraine conflict—which has spotlighted European reliance on Russian gas—has given fresh political momentum to gas-export advocates who have long argued that the Energy Department vets the proposals too slowly. A half-dozen applications to nations that lack a formal free-trade deal with the U.S. have been approved thus far.

"The current Ukraine crisis further puts the spotlight on a policy that already makes good sense both here and abroad," said committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., after passage of GOP Rep. Cory Gardner's bill.

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The bill would force the Energy Department to act on natural-gas export applications within 90 days after passage of the bill (or 90 days after the comment period for an application ends).

... BUT STATE DEPT. WARNS THAT LNG IS JUST 'ONE TOOL' TO AID EUROPE. Obama administration officials caution that U.S. natural-gas exports—which mostly would not start flowing for a few years—are far from a panacea for Ukraine and Europe's energy vulnerabilities.

In testimony before a separate House panel Wednesday, a senior State Department official noted U.S. involvement in other efforts, such as reversing pipeline flows in Europe to aid Ukraine and increasing storage capacity.

"LNG exports may become an important factor in assisting our friends and allies in Europe to enhance energy security through diversification. But this is only one factor and one tool in achieving that goal," said Amos Hochstein, State's deputy assistant secretary for energy diplomacy, in testimony before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee panel.

Still, Hochstein noted that the U.S. gas production boom has already aided Europe, because LNG cargoes once bound for the U.S. now go elsewhere. Check out the testimony here.

MEET THE OIL INDUSTRY'S NEW SENIOR LOBBYIST. The American Petroleum Institute has snagged Louis Finkel from the Grocery Manufacturers Association to head its government-relations team.

Finkel once worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill, serving as chief of staff for the House Science Committee when it was headed by then-Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, and before that as a lobbyist for companies, including Exxon.

After leaving Capitol Hill, Finkel worked for McGuireWoods, where his clients included power companies. He later went to GMA.

FOR REPUBLICAN AND GREEN GROUP, NO HARD FEELINGS. The Huffington Post reports that Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp is cohosting a New York fundraiser for GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Flashback: In 2010, Graham walked away from negotiations on sweeping climate-change legislation with then-Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. The absence of a GOP coauthor was a bad wound for the bill, which died without ever reaching the floor.

HOUSE PANEL ADVANCES ENERGY-EFFICIENCY BILLS. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a pair of energy saving measures on Wednesday. One of the bills—cosponsored by Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Peter Welch of Vermont—would incentivize energy-efficiency upgrades in federal buildings. The other was offered by Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright to improve energy efficiency in schools. While the House pushes energy savings, the Senate is also poised to act on efficiency. But choppy waters lay ahead in the upper chamber. The Senate is on the brink of reconsidering Shaheen-Portman, but efforts to pass the legislation are all but guaranteed to become mired in debate over Keystone XL and possibly the Affordable Care Act. Last month, the lower chamber passed H.R. 2126, an energy-savings bill sponsored by Welch and Republican David McKinley of West Virginia. Welch-McKinley could be conferenced with the latest iteration of Shaheen-Portman, if it ever clears the Senate.

NEARLY HALF OF AMERICANS LIVE WITH DIRTY AIR, REPORT SAYS. The American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report found that 147 million Americans, or nearly half of the country, live in areas with unhealthy ozone and particulate-matter levels. Los Angeles kept its spot as the metro area with the most smog pollution, while Fresno and Madera had the worst particulate-matter pollution.

CARBON CAPTURE HITS A SNAG. Southern Co. pushed back the expected operation start date for a Kemper County, Miss., power plant. Once built, the Kemper plant will implement carbon-capture and sequestration technology—a type of tech that could soon be mandated at all new power plants if the Environmental Protection Agency's draft regulation for new plants goes into effect as written. The Kemper plant has so far suffered cost overruns. The delay is the latest setback for the power generator. (Eileen O'Grady, Reuters)

EPA SCIENCE ADVISER DEPARTS. Glenn Paulson, the EPA's science adviser, is moving to take an advisory role to the assistant administrator for the agency's Office of Research and Development, according to an email to staff from Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. Filling his role will be Robert Kavlock, the deputy assistant administrator for science in ORD.

EXELON PURCHASES PEPCO. Exelon announced plans to purchase Washington-based Pepco Holdings for $6.83 billion, a move that will make it the nation's largest power distributor. (Swetha Gopinath and Kanika Sikka, Reuters)

BEWARE CAFE LOOPHOLES. In an editorial for the Detroit News, Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang of the Safe Climate Campaign caution that the Obama administration's fuel-economy standards could contain some loopholes. For example, they say automakers could offset some gas-guzzling cars with those that run on E-85 ethanol, or collect credits for a lower mileage target for improving air-conditioning systems, which most automakers are doing anyway. (Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, Detroit News)

LNG TERMINAL MOVES CLOSER TO GREENLIGHT. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said that a proposed natural-gas export facility in Hackberry, La., does not stand to have a substantial environmental impact. The determination paves the way for a final FERC approval of the project. (Timothy Cama, The Hill)

WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING

WILL THE PRESIDENT PUNT ON KEYSTONE? What does Obama have to lose by delaying a final determination and what does he stand to gain?

"The Keystone XL pipeline has become a symbol of the president's failed leadership on job creation and energy. By continuing to delay this project for the sake of politics, the president is putting thousands of American jobs at risk and jeopardizing our access to Canada's rich energy supplies." –Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY

HAPPENING TOMORROW

PROPANE HEARING. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on this winter's propane shortages.

RESILIENCE DISCUSSION. The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Study hosts a discussion titled "Gambling With Nature: Reframing Disaster Risk and Resilience."

UKRAINE ENERGY DISCUSSION. The George Washington University Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies hosts a discussion titled "Energy, Russian Power, and Populism in the Shadow of Ukraine."

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