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Washington Week: Oil, gas industry cheers NEPA revamp; EPA science panel to meet


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Washington Week: Oil, gas industry cheers NEPA revamp; EPA science panel to meet

Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran and a looming impeachment trial have not stopped the Trump administration from advancing efforts to ease regulatory hurdles for energy producers.

The White House on Jan. 9 proposed to update implementing rules under the 50-year National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The proposal would reduce the types of infrastructure projects needing review under NEPA and narrow the scope of environmental impacts that federal agencies must consider when deciding whether to approve permits for new oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects.

"Endless and repetitive reviews for infrastructure, renewable energy, natural gas and oil projects have been misused to delay and derail development, which hurts job creation, reduces tax revenue and saps investments in communities across the country," the American Petroleum Institute's President and CEO Mike Sommers said. "Reforming the NEPA process is a critical step toward meeting growing demand for cleaner energy and unlocking job-creating infrastructure projects currently stuck in a maze of red tape."

But environmental and science groups worry the proposed revisions will allow agencies to forego a fuller analysis of the climate change impacts associated with new oil and gas pipelines, including downstream emissions from gas burned at power plants.

"We're going to scrutinize this proposal closely, but it's clear the Trump administration intends to push public health, climate, and the public's interest aside in the interest of helping politically powerful industries," Union of Concerned Scientists Executive Director Kathleen Rest said. "That's unacceptable."

The White House Council on Environmental Quality Jan. 9 sent the proposed rule for publication in the Federal Register, with comments due 60 days after it is published.

EPA science panel to meet

Also on the regulatory front for energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board has set a Jan. 17 public meeting to discuss draft reports that the independent panel assembled on four proposed EPA rulemakings.

The draft reports, which were made public Dec. 31, 2019, laid out concerns that the board had with the EPA's scientific and technical basis for the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule, which would relax corporate average fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2021-2026.

The meeting will also go over the board's criticisms of the EPA's justification for its proposed new definition of federally protected waters, a proposed rule aimed at improving scientific transparency around agency actions, and the EPA's proposal to rescind the legal basis for the Obama administration's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

In response to the findings, the EPA said it respected the board's work but that the draft reports "may potentially be revised by the [board] members as they strive for a consensus on these documents."

Market digests PJM order

Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern power grid operator the PJM Interconnection does not have to submit a compliance filing until March 18 for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's recent order directing PJM to update its capacity market rules to address the impact of state-sponsored resources.

But power generators and clean energy advocates are already sharing their worries over the order and mulling its potential impacts, including the possibility of higher capacity prices and increased financial hurdles for renewable projects in the 13-state market.

During a Jan. 8 market implementation committee meeting, PJM took feedback from stakeholders to help the regional transmission organization craft its compliance filing for the order. Despite pressure from some market participants to act quickly, the complexity of the order and the need to resolve questions on certain aspects of the decision mean the PJM may not be able to hold its next base capacity auction for the 2022-2023 delivery year until late 2020, beyond its originally scheduled date in May 2019.

Buttigieg infrastructure plan touches on energy

Democratic U.S. presidential contender Pete Buttigieg unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan on Jan. 10 that would set aside money to expand electric vehicle deployment and help displaced fossil fuel workers transition to jobs in the clean energy sector.

The proposal provides $6 billion in grants and loans for states and cities to partner with private industry to install "publicly available charging infrastructure powered by clean energy."

Furthermore, the plan would create a $200 billion transition fund to "align mining and fossil fuel workers with new well-paying jobs with strong labor protections in clean energy and sustainable infrastructure." It would also offer $100 million in grants for initiatives that introduce kindergarten through 12th-grade students to infrastructure and clean energy jobs.

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US Congress
Jan. 14

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a business meeting to consider H.R. 5430, which would implement a new trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Jan. 14

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a legislative hearing entitled "Promoting American Innovation and Jobs: Legislation to Phase Down Hydrofluorocarbons."

Jan. 14

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a hearing on "The Path to a Carbon-Free Maritime Industry: Investments and Innovation."

Jan. 15

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will examine the implementation of the one-year-old Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act.

Jan. 15

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold "An Update on the Climate Crisis: From Science to Solutions."

Jan. 15

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy will host a hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, with the office's director Chris Fall to testify.

Federal agencies
Jan. 17

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board will hold a public meeting via teleconference to discuss draft reports on the scientific and technical basis of four proposed EPA rules, including the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule, and proposed revisions to the EPA's definition of waters of the U.S.

Industry events

Jan. 14

Resources for the Future will release a "first-of-its-kind" assessment of a new national emissions pricing mechanism that China is adopting to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

Jan. 15

The U.S. Department of Energy and ClearPath are hosting their next Atomic Wings lunch series in Washington, D.C., featuring special guest Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the DOE. The event will focus on "Movers and Milestones in Nuclear Energy, 2017-2019."

Jan. 16

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit will take place in Altoona, Iowa.

Jan. 17

The National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics will host Chris Bliley, vice president of regulatory affairs at trade association Growth Energy, for an update on the state of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. The lunch presentation will take place in Washington, D.C.

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US greenhouse gas emissions fell 2.1% in 2019, Rhodium Group estimates