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Washington Week: Trump demands vote on court pick; EPA to hold CAFE hearings

Another U.S. Senate hearing on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and public hearings on the Trump administration's proposed rollback of vehicle fuel efficiency standards are on tap for the energy industry the week of Sept. 24-28.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a Sept. 27 continuation hearing on Kavanaugh's nomination as lawmakers investigate a sexual assault claim against the Supreme Court pick. The hearing was previously set for Sept. 24 but pushed back to allow Kavanaugh's accuser Christine Blasey Ford to testify.

The committee launched an investigation into Ford's claims after ranking member U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., disclosed a letter from Ford describing her allegations. Ford sent the letter to Feinstein in late July, but Republicans on the committee said the California senator did not alert them of the letter until Sept. 13. In addition, Democrats have urged the FBI to investigate the claims against Kavanaugh.

In a Sept. 21 tweet, President Donald Trump blasted Democrats for not releasing Blasey's letter sooner, saying they did so to obstruct and delay Kavanaugh's nomination. "Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!" Trump tweeted.

If confirmed, legal experts expect Kavanaugh to shift the court to the right on regulatory issues. The appeals court judge has said Congress must clearly authorize agencies to issue any regulations with major economic or political significance, showing support for a legal theory called the "major rules" doctrine. He has also sided several times with industry challengers seeking to overturn environmental rules for the energy sector, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

Public to weigh in on CAFE changes

The EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have set three public hearings for Sept. 24-26 on their planned revisions to corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards for cars and light-duty truck. The hearings will take place in Fresno, Calif., followed by Dearborn, Mich., and Pittsburgh.

In early August, the Trump administration proposed to suspend rules that would lift vehicle fuel efficiency standards and revoke California's ability to set its own, tougher standards.

The agencies are taking comments on a range of options but would prefer to suspend the Obama administration's requirement to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks to a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon in model years 2022 through 2025. The agencies would then seek to establish a new national standard for the model years 2021 through 2026.

House panel to examine DOE's new cyber office

The U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a Sept. 27 subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy's newly formed Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, or CESER. The hearing is one of several the committee has held recently on modernizing the DOE.

CESER's responsibilities range from helping with emergency response efforts, including in the wake of Hurricane Florence, to cybersecurity research and development. During a Sept. 18 call with reporters, CESER Assistant Secretary Karen Evans said the office and DOE's national labs were looking at the interdependencies of various electric power resources to identify possible cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

But Evans, who was sworn in for her new position on Sept. 4, said she still needed to "come up to speed" on interagency discussions regarding specific generating resources that could be critical to national security. In a draft plan leaked in late May, the DOE proposed requiring grid operators to buy power or capacity for two years from certain "fuel-secure" power plants while the government determines which U.S. generating units might be needed to support critical military and defense installations.

The plan worried industry stakeholders who feared the proposal would undermine competitive power markets and unfairly advantage plants that can store fuel onsite, including coal-fired and nuclear facilities. But Evans said she understood that the plan was not final.

"When those decisions are made by the administration, I'm sure we'll be happy to share those decisions with you," she said.

Trump signs energy spending bill

On Sept. 21, Trump signed a fiscal year 2019 appropriations package from Congress into law that included funding for energy and water development.

The legislation will increase spending on DOE research and development programs, including by providing $112 million for advanced nuclear reactors and $100 million for small modular reactors, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

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US Congress

Sept. 27

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold a continuation hearing to examine the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sept. 25

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will look at DOE efforts in the field of quantum information science.

Sept. 26

The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing to examine several bills to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Sept. 27

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce's energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on the DOE's new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.

Sept. 27

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology's energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Advancing Nuclear Energy: Powering the Future."

Sept. 27

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's interior, energy and environment subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled "Restoring Balance to Environmental Litigation."

Federal agencies

Sept. 24-26

The EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hold three public hearings on their proposed revisions to federal fuel economy standards. The hearings will take place in Fresno, Calif., on Sept. 24; Dearborn, Mich., on Sept. 25; and Pittsburgh on Sept. 26.

Industry events

Sept. 23-26

The U.S. Association for Energy Economics/International Association for Energy Economics will hold its 36th annual North American conference in Washington, D.C.

Sept. 25

The U.S. Energy Association will hold a carbon capture forum at its Washington, D.C., office featuring MIT senior research engineer Howard Herzog.

Sept. 26

The National Clean Energy Week Policy Makers Symposium will take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Sept. 26

RealClear Politics will hold a forum on energy sector cybersecurity at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Sept. 26-27

The North American Development Bank will host the XXIII Border Energy Forum in San Antonio, Texas.

Sept. 27

Experts from the R Street Institute, Breakthrough Institute, Heritage Foundation and the ClearPath Foundation will speak on a panel discussion on "Bringing 21st-Century Innovation and Reform to the U.S. Nuclear Industry." The discussion will take place at R Street's Washington, D.C., office.

Other notable stories from last week

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China's tariff on US LNG threatens access to key market

DOE commits $120M to superbattery research center