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CHAMBER BLAMES ANTI-ENERGY ACTIVISTS FOR $92B IN LOST COMMERCE: The Chamber of Commerce, together with labor unions, is lashing out at anti-energy activists that they argue are to blame for a $92 billion loss to the economy.
A new report, set for release Thursday but then postponed for the upcoming days, by the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute and the Laborers’ International Union of North America blame “anti-energy activism” for preventing tens of billions of dollars in economic activity in the U.S., eliminating 745,000 job opportunities, and undermining $58.4 billion in project investment costs. “To top it all off, we estimate that these cancelled or delayed projects have cost us nearly $20.4 billion in lost tax revenue,” the report says.
The report is taking aim at the so-called “Keep it in the Ground” activist movement, or KIITG, which is most recognized for its actions ahead of the 2016 presidential election in mounting a campaign to block the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota. One of President Trump’s first actions was to order the pipeline’s approval be expedited.
McKibben spotlighted: The report provides a primer on the KIITG movement by describing one its leaders, Bill McKibben, founder of the anti-fossil fuel group 350.org, as well-funded and influential. The group is now considered the leader in a push for transitioning to 100-percent renewable energy before the middle of the century, which in turn calls for the end of all coal mining and oil drilling.
The report claims to cover only part of the KIITG movement’s activities. The report only focuses on one statewide ban and 16 projects, including coal export facilities, natural gas pipelines, and power plants. The report explains that the 16 projects were delayed or cancelled almost entirely due to KIITG activities.
“While the degree and effectiveness of opposition varies widely from project to project, the activists leading the KIITG movement are explicitly calling for an end to all natural gas, oil, and coal production, transport, and use,” the report continues. “Therefore, the estimates set forth in this analysis should be considered a conservative snapshot of the potential economic harm posed by KIITG.”
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TRUMP DONOR RECOMMENDS EASING BACK ON IRAN SANCTIONS AMID SAUDI CRISIS: “The Trump administration can’t forget what kind of partner it has in Riyadh,” said Dan Eberhart, CEO of the oil services firm Canary, in an op-ed in Thursday’s online edition of the Washington Examiner.
While the U.S. struggles to get its diplomatic response right with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there are a few things in Trump’s control to ensure against oil price shocks in the market, he wrote.
“The White House would be wise to focus on what it can control to keep energy prices under control in the near term,” which begins with Iran, he wrote.
Dial it back and grant waivers: “Taking Iran’s exports all the way to zero isn’t necessary to inflict severe economic pain on Tehran,” he continued. “Granting sanctions waivers to some Asian allies would keep some Iranian oil flowing and help keep prices in check.”
Make good on infrastructure promise: Second, and most importantly, “it’s time to put U.S. ‘energy dominance’ back at the top of the agenda” by making good on Trump’s promise to inject $1 tillion of investment into infrastructure.
“U.S. oil and gas production and exports have grown to the point where infrastructure bottlenecks are slowing the pace of growth,” Eberhart wrote. “Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure program, financed by public-private partnerships, but has yet to deliver.”
He adds that an infrastructure program could go a long way to unleash more U.S. energy into global markets, leaving the U.S. “less vulnerable to power plays by Mideast.”
UTILITY GROUP CHIEF WHO LED FIGHT AGAINST TRUMP’S COAL BAILOUT PLANS TO RETIRE: Electric Power Supply Association President and CEO John Shelk on Thursday said he will be ending his 14-year career in Washington representing the utility industry next year.
Leaving next summer: “Serving as EPSA president for what will be 14 years when Melissa and I leave Washington next summer is the career capstone of over four decades working on a range of public policy issues,” said Shelk, who has been a well-known voice for merchant utilities before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Outspoken advocate against state and federal bailouts: Most recently, Shelk’s group has been an outspoken voice against state-based programs meant to keep uneconomic nuclear power plants afloat. Shelk later became one of the founding members of a major industry block with the oil and natural gas industry and renewable groups opposing Trump’s plan to provide incentives to uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, which is commonly referred to as the “bailout.”
Filling the gap: The EPSA board also announced that it has retained the global consulting firm Korn Ferry to assist it in its search for the utility group’s next leader.
AILING CHAIRMAN PROMPTS TRUMP TO RESHUFFLE FERC: The White House announced Wednesday night that Trump is designating Neil Chatterjee as chairman of the Federal Regulatory Commission, replacing Kevin McIntyre, who is suffering from health issues.
Chatterjee, a Republican, does not need Senate approval to become chairman, since he is already a commissioner.
McIntyre, also a Republican and a Trump nominee, said that he intends to remain on FERC as a regular commissioner, but will relinquish his chairmanship.
He’s familiar with the top role: Chatterjee, a former staffer for Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., previously served as FERC chairman on an interim basis before McIntyre was confirmed by the Senate last November.
He stressed his commitment to continuity in a statement, after some environmentalists expressed concern about Chatterjee’s ties to coal.
Coal is on the agenda: The reshuffling comes as FERC has a busy to-do list. It is currently deliberating over whether to change how power providers are compensated as the grid transitions away from coal and nuclear power, to more natural gas and renewables.
FERC in January voted unanimously to reject a proposal from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide special payments to struggling coal and nuclear plants in the name of resilience and reliability, saying the grid faces no immediate risk without them.
McIntyre and Chatterjee both opposed the Perry plan. Chatterjee, who comes from the coal state of Kentucky like McConnell, expressed sympathy to the coal industry’s plight, but said providing subsidies would upset the balance of competitive wholesale electricity markets that reward the cheapest generation source.
How FERC could still act: FERC, in rejecting Perry’s plan, directed regional transmission operators to submit information on resilience challenges in their markets. The commission is reviewing those responses and could act on its own. Trump has repeatedly pressed for action to save coal and nuclear plants, but the White House has reportedly stalled over an effort to use emergency executive authority.
Any potential action would likely come through FERC, which is independent.
EPA TOUTS ITSELF AS COP-ON-THE-BEAT WHEN IT COMES TO PROTECTING PUBLIC FROM LEAD: The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it has been busy as the cop on the beat when it comes to lead-paint violations.
Holding violators to account: EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine announced that 141 federal enforcement actions were taken over the last year to ensure home renovation contractors, landlords, property managers, and realtors comply with environmental rules meant to protect the public from harmful lead-based paint, which can pose serious risks to human health and especially young children.
“EPA’s work to enforce federal lead paint laws helps protect communities across the country,” said Bodine.
From settlements to criminal prosecutions: From October 2017 through September 2018, the EPA’s police actions included everything from civil administrative settlements to criminal prosecutions by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Collectively, the lead-based paint settlements obtained more than $1.2 million in civil penalties,” EPA said.
NEW YORK SUES EXXON, SAYING IT MISLED INVESTORS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE: New York state announced Wednesday that it is suing oil Exxon Mobil, alleging the oil and gas giant committed securities fraud by misleading investors about the danger climate change poses for its business.
New York had been investigating Exxon for more than three years before filing the lawsuit in New York's Supreme Court, suggesting the state believes it has strong evidence to succeed in court.
Exxon has tried to block the investigation, and related ones in other states. A federal judge rejected Exxon’s attempt to shut down New York’s probe earlier this year, a decision the company has appealed.
All the way to the top: New York alleged the highest levels of Exxon management were complicit in the alleged fraud, and knew about it, specifically calling out former Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, who was briefly Trump's secretary of state.
Exxon later Wednesday issued a scathing statement rejecting the “baseless” merits of the lawsuit, saying it aims to have it dismissed in court.
Fallout to watch: Oil companies such as Exxon in recent years, facing public pressure, have sought to show support for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several state and local governments have sued oil and gas majors -- without success so far -- seeking compensation from damages contributing to climate change.
Exxon this month said it would provide $1 million over two years to Americans for Carbon Dividends, an advocacy organization set up to lobby Congress to support a federal carbon tax plan proposed by the Climate Leadership Council, a group led by two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker III and George Shultz.
It became the first oil and gas company to put money to carbon tax, but critics suggest an ulterior motive.
The plan Exxon supports would give immunity to oil companies from certain types of lawsuits related to climate change. However, lawsuits like New York's dealing with fraud are not included, so its approach could be more threatening.
CALIFORNIA ON THE FENCE WHEN IT COMES TO NEW YORK'S CLIMATE LAWSUIT: California and other state attorneys general are on the fence when it comes to joining New York’s climate lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, despite supporting the Empire State’s multi-year climate investigation that led to the case.
“We are familiar with the claims being made and look forward to talking to New York about it,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, on a call with reporters on Wednesday.
Oil companies winning in Becerra’s state: Exxon and other oil and gas companies have successfully fended off separate climate lawsuits brought by local and city governments in California and New York.
Becerra's predecessor and now senator, Kamala Harris, had been part of a coalition of Democratic attorneys general investigating Exxon Mobil over news stories that said it kept climate research it did 40 years ago from its investors. The company argues adamantly against the claims.
INTERIOR APPROVES FIRST OIL AND GAS DRILLING IN ALASKA’S FEDERAL WATERS: The Interior Department on Wednesday approved what would be the first oil and gas production facility in federal waters off the coast of Alaska, part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand where the U.S. produces fossil fuels.
Energy company Hilcorp proposes to build a nine-acre artificial gravel island in shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean, calling it the Liberty Project. The project would be near four other oil and gas producing artificial islands in waters that the state controls.
There’s more work to do: Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued conditional approval for the project after evaluating the potential environmental effects, and incorporating public input. Hilcorp still must obtain other permits from local, state, and federal agencies before moving forward with construction, development, and production, Guy Hayes, a BOEM spokesman, told Josh.
Trump has big offshore plans: BOEM's approval comes after the Trump administration in January proposed a massive offshore oil and gas drilling plan to allow it in nearly all federal waters, including sales off the Alaska coast.
The plan has received bipartisan criticism, with almost all coastal governors expressing opposition to allowing drilling off their shores, especially in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — and new parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico — for fear of spills and harm to tourism. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said he may scale back the plan when he finalizes it later this year, but Alaska politicians support drilling in the Arctic, because the state is heavily dependent on oil and gas revenue to support its budget.
Houston Chronicle Oil firms stand by Saudi Arabia amidst backlash
E&E News A look at the climate science sent to Trump
Wall Street Journal EPA to eliminate letter grades for some project reviews
San Francisco Chronicle Chevron agrees to $150M settlement with EPA for violating Clean Air Act
The New Yorker The battle for solar energy in the country’s sunniest state
THURSDAY | October 25
1 p.m., One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The Woodrow Wilson Center's Canada Institute holds a discussion on "Indigenous Involvement in North America's Energy Future: Respecting Rights Through New Relationships."
2 p.m., Conference call briefing. The Renewable Fuels Association holds a conference call briefing on "E15: From Policy to the Pump," focusing on the Trump administration's directive to the EPA to begin rule-making allowing for the year-round sale of E15 gas, an ethanol fuel for cars. Note: Call-in, 866-872-7365; passcode, 1786139.
2 p.m., Conference call briefing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, and the Laborers' International Union of North America hold a conference call on "Economic Impact of Anti-Energy Movements."
3 p.m., 2168 Rayburn. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute holds a briefing on "Energy Efficiency: America's Job-Creation Powerhouse."
The online version of this newsletter has been updated with the news that the Chamber of Commerce report was postponed.