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EPA pick 'drinking from a fire hose'; senators try to revive energy bill


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EPA pick 'drinking from a fire hose'; senators try to revive energy bill

A weekly snapshot of recent regulatory activity in the midstream and gas utility sectors.

Lacking experience, EPA nominee will be 'drinking from a fire hose'

The most recent earthquake in Oklahoma was a 3.5-magnitude shaker that rocked Yale, Okla., on Dec. 6. This was just a day before news broke that President-elect Donald Trump would name the state's attorney general Scott Pruitt as the nominee to become the administrator of the U.S. EPA. And despite numerous lawsuits being filed by residents of his state against the oil companies blamed for causing the earthquakes, Pruitt has yet to get involved in an official capacity in any of the cases, according to Johnson Bridgwater, leader of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club.

The experience of running the attorney general's office will certainly provide some help to Pruitt once he takes over the sprawling organization that is the EPA, Brendan Collins, an attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP who represents utilities that are supportive of the EPA's Clean Power Plan said. "But I think he will be drinking from a fire hose with respect to lots and lots of other aspects of environmental regulation."

US senators make plea to revive energy bill after House says time ran out

U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and ranking member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., are making a plea to revive the wide-ranging energy bill after House lawmakers said time had run out to pass the legislation in 2016.

Murkowski said in a statement released late on Dec. 7 that conferees had resolved all but two issues, and the House is running down the clock in order to prevent a bill from passing by the end of the current session of Congress in late December. House Speaker Paul Ryan's office on Dec. 7 said the U.S. House of Representatives would not consider the legislation this year because the House and Senate had yet to iron out differences in their respective energy bills through a conference process.

"The House may want to claim that this bill cannot move forward because we are running out of time," Murkowski said in the statement. "The reality is that the House is attempting to run us out of time, in order to prevent this bill from moving forward, even though it contains the priorities of dozens of its members."

Ryan's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Court ruling on Dakota Access could come by early February, legal analysis finds

A federal judge could decide by early February 2017 whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must approve an easement for Energy Transfer Partners LP's controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline if the Trump administration does not first intervene, ClearView Energy Partners analysts said after a court hearing.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg at a Dec. 9 hearing ordered that briefs from the corps and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe be filed by Jan. 6, 2017, in response to developers' motion for summary judgment, ClearView reported in a case update. Dakota Access then has until Jan. 31, 2017, to submit its response, to which the Corps and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe would be given 10 days to respond.

Boasberg said that if the court feels it is required, it will notify the parties of a date for oral argument.

"We think Judge Boasberg's decision reflected what we thought was Dakota Access' politely but clearly implied assertion that the corps is withholding relevant information. Judge Boasberg's scheduling order directs the corps to make 'good-faith' efforts to 'begin compiling' the ... documents Dakota Access requested," a note from ClearView said following the court's status conference. "Absent action by the incoming Trump administration, we think Dakota Access could receive a ruling from Judge Boasberg by early February."

Columbia Gas' 1.3-MMDth/d WB XPress does not require water permit

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection announced that Columbia Gas Transmission LLC's proposed WB XPress natural gas pipeline project will not need the type of Clean Water Act certificate New York used to block the Constitution pipeline.

In a Dec. 5 letter to FERC, the West Virginia agency's Division of Water and Waste Management said it had determined that the project will not require Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification. The decision was made based on information from consulting firm Environmental Resources Management that verified the project by Columbia Gas, a Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. company, met all the conditions for a Nationwide Permit No. 12.

Rice Energy pays $3.5M in fines for Pa. well, pipeline violations

The Appalachian shale gas producer Rice Energy Inc. paid more than $3.5 million in fines to settle multiple environmental violations at well pads and pipelines in Washington and Greene counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, the state Department of Environmental Protection said on Dec. 7.

"The violations span several years and include failing to obtain required permits, failing to maintain erosion and sedimentation controls, releasing wastewater to the ground and waters of the Commonwealth, and failing to have a pre-operational inspection of a well site by DEP prior to drilling, among others," said the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP.

Included in the fines are $1.6 million related to two well pads in Greene County and $1.3 million for multiple earth-moving and sediment-control violations in both counties, the DEP said.