Trump sworn in as 45th president, kicking off shift in US energy policy
Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20, ushering in a new era of national energy policy that will likely include fewer regulations, especially with regard to climate change, and a more pro-development stance on fossil fuel production from federal lands and waters.
Trump has promised to eliminate "job-killing restrictions" on energy production in his first 100 days in office, although he has yet to say which policies he will target first. The White House website was updated with an overview of his America First Energy Plan rolled out during the campaign. The plan calls for rolling back "burdensome" regulations, embracing shale oil and gas production, tapping more of the country's energy reserves and reviving the U.S. coal industry.
Among other regulations, the new president has vowed to undo the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, as well as cancel the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. Republicans in Congress have also introduced legislation to overturn more recent Obama administration rules, including disapproval resolutions to rescind the U.S. Department of the Interior's Stream Protection Rule and the EPA's rule to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas sources.
Trump vows to cut regulations by 75%, kicks off regulatory and hiring freeze
Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump told business leaders he wants to cut federal regulations by 75% or more and repeated plans to slash taxes to encourage more manufacturing in the U.S. Trump made the comments at a Jan. 23 meeting at the White House with a group of corporate executives.
"We want to start making our products again," Trump said. "We don't want to bring them in, we want to make them here." To help accomplish that goal, the president reiterated a goal of lowering the corporate tax rate to 15% to 20% from 35% now while enacting a "substantial border tax." The president also promised to "be cutting regulation massively," by "75%, maybe more."
Trump made rolling back Obama administration regulations and other rules, as well as reassessing trade deals, a major part of his campaign. As a first step, the president signed several executive orders Jan. 23, including an order to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and another that would freeze hiring of federal workers.
Easing red tape, Trump promises 'hospitable' environment for new infrastructure
In one of his first executive orders, President Donald Trump has directed agencies to streamline and expedite environmental review processes for infrastructure projects, especially those of a high priority for the nation. While Trump focused on transportation infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges in introducing the order at the White House Jan. 24, the document also included electrical grid, telecommunications systems, airports and pipeline projects.
In a release, the White House said delays and other inefficiencies in the environmental review and permitting process are severely impeding critically important projects. The White House cited an unnamed report that showed "our antiquated power rigs [waste] the equivalent of 200 coal-fired power plants."
"We're going to make the process much more simple for the auto companies and for everybody else who wants to do business in the United States," he said. "You're going to find this to be from being very inhospitable to extremely hospitable. I think we'll go down as one of the most friendly countries and right now it's not. I have friends that want to build in the United States, they go many, many years and then they can't get their environmental permit over something that nobody ever heard of before."
Trump also called himself an environmentalist, but he stressed that regulation is out of control. "We're going to either give you your permits or we're not going to give you your permits. But you're going to know very quickly. And generally speaking we're going to be giving you your permits," Trump said.
Labor Department offers $2M grant for displaced Wyo. coal workers
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services will receive a grant of up to $2 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to help displaced coal workers in the state. The Labor Department announced the approval of the National Dislocated Worker Grant on Jan. 24, stating that about 140 workers would be served.
The money will go to the Wyoming counties of Campbell, Converse, Crook, Johnson, Niobrara, Sheridan and Weston, according to a press release.
Some see Pruitt's shift on climate change as an attempt to mollify critics
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt seemed to break with President Donald Trump at his confirmation hearing Jan. 18, agreeing that climate change is not a hoax and with the U.S. EPA's finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health and welfare and therefore need to be regulated. While his statements appear to be a change in position that might thrill environmental groups and clean energy advocates alike, an expert cautioned against any celebrations of Pruitt's support for climate change initiatives.
"There is no reason to put any great weight into anything that he said yesterday, because he was an applicant for a job," Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said in a Jan. 19 interview. "He was trying to get the job and look good in front of the cameras that he knew were trained on him."
Jeff Holmstead, an attorney for Bracewell LLC, said Pruitt's comments were profound, and should reassure EPA staff, environmental groups and clean energy advocates that Pruitt will not move to revoke the endangerment finding. "I believe that the environmental community should feel reassured that he's not interested in reversing the endangerment finding. But I don't think you'll ever get any of them to say that on the record," said Holmstead, who served from 2001 to 2005 as assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation under Republican President George W. Bush. "They are never going to say a nice word about Scott Pruitt. It's in their interest to portray him as an environmental enemy. And he's not that."
NARUC seeks open communication with Trump team on energy policy issues
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners is seeking to open lines of communication with the new Trump administration, specifically on issues of pipeline safety, Yucca Mountain and rebalancing state authority on regulatory issues.
NARUC President Robert Powelson wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to the Trump team that its members look forward to a renewed relationship with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is charged with ensuring the safety of the nation's pipeline infrastructure. Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, stressed the need to boost state funding to ensure adequate pipeline safety inspections.
The group would also like the new administration to remove restrictions placed on the Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste, clearing the way for the project to be completed.
"Given that a federal court found the deal to stop the licensing proceeding was contrary to law, there is no reason to continue the delay. Yucca Mountain remains a key priority for NARUC," Powelson wrote.
OSMRE seeking public input on Colo. coal mine expansion
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is seeking additional public input on the expansion of a GCC Energy LLC mine in Colorado.
GCC applied to modify its existing lease on the Colorado mine several years ago when it sought to add an extra 952 acres. GCC Energy is a subsidiary of Mexico-based Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua. According to a letter from the OSMRE dated earlier this month, the land is split between the federal government, which manages the underground minerals, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which owns the surface lands.
Data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration indicates that the King II mine produced 632,605 tons of coal in 2016, down from the 814,544 tons it produced in 2015.
Appalachian Regional Commission announces $26M investment in coal communities
The Appalachian Regional Commission announced a nearly $26 million investment to diversify and expand the economies of communities affected by the downturn of coal.
The economic development agency, which represents 13 states and the federal government and focuses on 420 Appalachian counties, said 28 awards would create or retain more than 2,500 jobs and train 7,300 workers in the region.
"These investments capitalize on the growing momentum for a diverse economy in Appalachia," said ARC federal co-chair Earl Gohl. "They are strategic, collaborative, and impactful projects making the region more competitive in technology, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, broadband, health, and a variety of other sectors."
DOI approves expansion of Colorado mine that feeds Tri-State plant
The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved the expansion of operations at the Colowyo mine, a vital source of coal for a Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. coal plant.
The DOI's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released a finding of no significant impact for the mine in northwestern Colorado, according to a document dated Jan. 17.
The OSMRE found the effects on the human environment of the plant were not highly uncertain and did not involve unique or unknown risks, and found the cumulative effects of the expansion project on climate change were negligible.
NC regulators deny hearing request on Duke coal plant conversion
Duke Energy Carolinas LLC does not need to present evidence supporting its plan to modify two coal units at its 1,400-MW James E. Rogers Energy Complex (Cliffside) plant to co-fire on natural gas, state regulators ruled.
The North Carolina Utilities Commission on Jan. 17 issued an order that denies a request for an evidentiary hearing on the project from the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, or NC WARN.
NC WARN told regulators that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to address potential natural gas shortages and price volatility, as well as the costs of using two fuels in combination, which according to the citizens' group are not outweighed by sufficient benefits to ratepayers.
Duke Energy Carolinas has argued that it does not need commission approval for the $56 million project.