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Washington Week: Batteries, nuclear technology on US Congress agenda

Congress returns to session after a Memorial Day break with a number of energy or environment-related hearings scheduled, including on batteries, advanced nuclear technologies and climate change.

As U.S. lawmakers near the halfway point of 2019, they are running up against an unofficial August deadline to make meaningful progress on legislation, including on infrastructure funding, before much of the focus on Capitol Hill turns to 2020 elections.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is slated on June 4 to examine opportunities for the expanded deployment of grid-scale energy storage in the U.S. Expected panelists include officials with Argonne National Laboratory, Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, Xcel Energy Inc., and Fluence Energy LLC, which is a battery storage company formed in 2018 by AES Corp. and Siemens Ltd. Also on the panel is PJM Interconnection CEO and President Andy Ott, who recently announced plans to retire from the position at the end of June.

Also on June 4, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold a subcommittee hearing on advanced nuclear energy security, but as of May 31 the speakers had not been announced. And on June 5, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will hold a hearing on the national security implications of climate change.

On June 4, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler will speak at a National Press Club luncheon. And later that week the EPA's Science Advisory Board is slated to meet. Wheeler is scheduled to give opening remarks at the advisory committee's meeting on June 5. The two-day agenda also includes discussions on the agency's proposed science and transparency rule and other initiatives the agency recently listed on its upcoming Spring unified agenda.

2018 U.S emissions figures are in

Energy-related emissions in the U.S. ticked upward in 2018 after three years of continuous decline as did economywide U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which jumped between 1.5% and 2.5% from the prior year, the Rhodium Group reported.

Given that net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 were 10.7% to 11.6% under 2005 levels, the findings indicate the U.S. is still far short of its pledge under the Paris Agreement on climate change to curb emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

President Donald Trump has said he will pull the U.S. from the Paris accord and his administration has moved to roll back a number of environmental regulations.

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At the same time, the Trump administration is reportedly moving to limit the scope of the federal government's climate analysis, including at the United States Geological Survey.

In another part of the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Oregon will hear oral arguments June 4 on a lawsuit by a group of youth seeking to make federal agencies address and limit the impacts of climate change. A federal court ruling that the government must act on climate change could have wide-reaching implications for U.S. energy policy.

More trade tariffs announced

The ongoing trade dispute with China and President Trump's announcement that he may impose tariffs on Mexico if the southern neighbor does not address Central American migrants crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. could continue to cloud the economic outlook for some industries.

The White House announced last week that the U.S. will impose a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico beginning June 10 and will gradually raise the rate to as much as 25% by October if Trump's illegal migration concerns are not addressed.

While the move is poised to hit the automotive sector the hardest, utilities may continue to perform relatively well compared to the broad market. In general, utility businesses are arguably less reliant on and sensitive to changes in international trade and tariffs than many other businesses. Also, the regulated business model of most utilities means more stable revenues, earnings and cash flows for these companies.

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US Congress

June 4

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to examine opportunities for the expanded deployment of grid-scale energy storage in the U.S.

June 4

Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety hearing on advanced nuclear energy technology.

June 5

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the national security implications of climate change.
Federal agencies
June 3

National Press Club headliners luncheon featuring Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

June 5-6

Meeting of the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.

Industry events

June 5

Center for Strategic & International Studies event exploring emerging tools policymakers and planners can use to anticipate climate risks, disasters, and other shocks that can disrupt global development progress, policies, and planning.

June 6

The D.C. chapter of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy will hold a lunch & learn event featuring Solar Energy Industries Association president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper.

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