SENATE SHUFFLE: IMPACT ON ENERGY, CLIMATE, FORESTS & MORE

Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers activities impacting federal policy in the areas of conservation, energy, environment, animal welfare, and natural resources. For education policy issues, please visit my new blog Fed Ed Policy.

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IN THIS ISSUE:

Capitol News:

CONGRESS: Budget Bill; China Reverberations; National Forests; Sage Grouse; Energy Efficiency; Climate; Arctic Exploration; Energy Taxes; Wind Power; Oil & Gas Royalties; Hearings, Mark Ups, and Meetings.

Administration & independent agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; Road Rejection.

Noteworthy News: Keystone; Coal Ash; Renewables.

RECOMMENDED READING: Publications worth a look.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

Capitol News.

CONGRESS

Budget Bill: Congress, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan (R-WI), agreed to a two-year budget deal in time for the holidays.  Now, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees must work to finish their bills that fund the various government and agencies and their programs.  The good news is that budget conference committee restored some of the funding cuts from sequestration, so the appropriators have a bit more money, which eases the path to finalizing spending bills and avoiding another government shutdown in January.  The agreement is not the “grand bargain” many had hoped for, as it did not tackle taxes or entitlement (e.g. Social Security, Medicaid, etc.) programs.  For a deeper understanding of what the budget deal does (and the politics behind it), here are some articles and videos, including from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR.

China Reverberations.  With Senator Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, committee leadership shakeups were expected.  Now that President Obama has nominated him to be Ambassador to China, things will change a lot sooner than expected. Current Senate Energy Committee Chairman Wyden (D-OR) is expected to take the reins of the Finance Committee, leaving Senator Landrieu (D-LA) to lead the Senate Energy Committee.  Senator Landrieu is facing a tough re-election and the fortuitous timing has oil and natural gas companies enthused, since she is a staunch supporter of their agenda.

National Forests.  While Chairman Wyden may be heading to the Finance Committee sooner than anticipated, he continued his (and the Energy Committee’s efforts) to advance legislation overhauling national forest management.  The legislation passed by the Committee recently have not been fully embraced by all Republicans on the panel who general want to reduce protections and increase logging, roads, and commercial uses in national forests.

Sage Grouse.  Greater Sage-Grouse are in trouble and the BLM has proposed plans for protecting the sage grouse on lands managed by BLM.  The “National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy” covers nearly 50 million acres of land in 10 Western states.  In response, and fearing an ESA designation, Senators Reid (D) and Heller (R) of Nevada are floating a plan that the Senators claim protects the sage grouse in Nevada while providing protections for local economic development.

Energy Efficiency Bills.  Sponsors of several bipartisan an energy efficiency bill (Find bill names and number), which have been held up by unrelated amendments (mostly by Senator Vitter (R-LA) are hoping that their bills will finally pass the Senate early next year.

Climate.  Congressional Democrats continue efforts to address climate change.  In the Senate, EPW Chairwoman Boxer (D-CA) announced plans to focus on climate change in 2014, including holding a hearing in mid-January on Obama’s Climate Action Plan and a bill to tax carbon.  In a related event, House Democrats on the House Energy Committee again requested a climate hearing, this time related to methane emissions from natural gas extraction, given the recent report claiming EPA has drastically underestimate emission levels.  Finally, a bicameral group of Democrats sent a document outlining their suggestions for Interior for implementing Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  As expected, the suggestions include: reduce methane emissions from extraction on federal land; adjusting royalty rates for oil, gas, and coal extraction; protect critical habitat; and increase the focus of USGS research on climate.  At the same time, Congressional Republicans plan to continue their attack on the Administration’s actions to address climate change.

Arctic Exploration.  Fearing environmental damage (partially based on the recent debacle by Shell in the Arctic), several Democrats in the Senate wrote Interior Secretary Jewell encouraging her to delay issuing permits or leases in the Arctic Ocean pending complete analysis of the possible safety and environmental issues. Several Democrats in the House sent a similar letter.

Energy Taxes. Prior to his expected confirmation as the Ambassador to China, Chairman Baucus plans to address energy tax policy, and has introduced a draft plan for an incentives system that has provisions for clean electricity, fuels, plug-in vehicles, appliances, carbon dioxide sequestration credit, and others.  The draft seeks comments and suggestions on various other issues including retrofitting facilities, pre-certification of new technologies, and investment tax credits.  There are also provisions for existing technologies, like nuclear.

Wind Powerless. The war over the wind tax credit continues.  This time, Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Manchin (D-WV) are leading another effort to end the wind production tax credit permanently that expires at the end of 2013, this time by send a letter to the Chairman ? Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Wind Turbines & Bird Deaths.  As mentioned in a previous Federal Policy Week posting (Somethings in the Air) US Fish and Wildlife plans to issue long-term permits for wind turbine developers, despite expected eagle deaths.  As part of the permitting process, turbine owners are required to implement measures to reduced eagle deaths (anticipated at 46-64 each year), and Fish & Wildlife just announced a 60-day comment period for a project supporting 1,000 wind turbines, the largest in the US.

Wind Advocates.  Many environmental groups support wind energy, including offshore wind power generation.  The support stems from a need to move away from carbon-based energy sources.

Royalty Rip Off.  A recent GAO report found that the Department of Interior should continue updating its procedures to ensure that it is collecting an appropriate level of royalties’ revenue from oil and gas produced on federal lands, which are woeful inadequate. Chairman Wyden recently questioned Interior officials about the findings and Interior’s plans to update royalty regulations.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

House Natural Resources

The Science behind Discovery: Seismic Exploration and the Future of the Atlantic OCS, January 10, 2014

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Nominations, Confirmations, Entrances, and Departures:

Energy & Interior Nominees.  Expect delays in the confirmation of several key officials at DOE and EPA, including Kenneth Kopocis to lead U.S. EPA’s water office; Frank Klotz for undersecretary for nuclear security and Elizabeth Robinson for undersecretary for management and performance.

Road Rejection.  For some good news, Interior Secretary Jewell announced that she would not approve building a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge wilderness area, as proposed by Alaska as part of a land swap. Secretary Jewell cited the “irreversible damage” the road would cause to the refuge and dependent wildlife.

NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

Keystone Pipeline.  The Keystone Pipeline saga continues.  Most recently, it was discovered that the a company with ties to industry groups pushing for approval of the pipeline contributed to the environmental assessment review for the State Department, creating at least an impression of conflict of interest, and undermines the conclusion that the project has no (or limited) environmental impact.

Coal Ash.  EPA, far behind in releasing final rules for the disposal of coal ash, is under court order to provide a timeline and plans for releasing the rules.  In the meantime, many environmental groups are hopeful, EPA will completely eliminate wet ash disposal over time.

Renewable Obstacles.  Renewable energies sources face various obstacles to expansion and success, including cheap natural gas, infrastructure inefficiencies, siting, regulations, and federal policies (e.g. subsidies).  Instead of renewables, like nuclear, wind, and hydro, replacing carbon-based energy sources, they are competing against each other for a small share of the market.

Recommended Reading:

1.             Best Available and Safest Technologies for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations: Options for Implementation, National Academies, “Explores a range of options for improving the implementation of the US Department of Interior’s congressional mandate to require the use of the best available and safety (sic) technologies in offshore oil and gas operations.”

2.             An Ecosystem Services Approach to Assessing the Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, National Academies, “As the Gulf of Mexico recovers from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural resource managers face the challenge of understanding the impacts of the spill and setting priorities for restoration work.  The full value of losses resulting from the spill cannot be capture, however, without consideration of changes in ecosystem services—the benefits delivered to society through natural processes.

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

Brookings, The Future of Energy Trade: A Conversation with Senator Lisa Murkowski, January 7, 2014

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