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CONGRESS TARGETS NUCLEAR REGULATORS OVER SAUDI DEALMAKING: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been drawn into the growing controversy over the administration’s approval of seven licenses for exporting U.S. nuclear know-how to Saudi Arabia.
Members of Congress are complaining that the administration granted the licenses without their consent and oversight, and to a country that has threatened to develop a nuclear weapon while opposing nuclear safety protocols.
One GOP Senate aide tells John that the transfer of U.S. nuclear material and knowledge to Saudi Arabia is a “special case” that necessitates congressional oversight, and that if the administration won’t cooperate, Congress will force them.
The Department of Energy maintains that, under the section of the Atomic Energy Law that provides the authority for the export licenses in question, it does not need congressional approval. That line of argument has only spurred senators to demand more answers.
The NRC was the latest federal agency to be brought into the controversy during the budget hearings early this week. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., put NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki, a Republican, on the spot about whether the commission raised concerns about the exports, as the NRC is designated under the law to provide an advisory role to the Energy Department on exports.
Svinicki and the other commissioners before the Environment and Public Works Committee said that they didn’t have direct involvement in the consultations between the NRC and the Energy Department, as Van Hollen barked that the commission is required to consult with the administration.
Svinicki suggested that staff would have likely been involved but not the commissioners.
Van Hollen asked for a full briefing from the commission on the Saudi nuclear license approvals.
“These 810 authorizations were apparently kept secret, and I must say, I am surprised” the chairwoman was not involved in the consultation, Van Hollen said.
Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes sent out a statement that all necessary consultations with related agencies occurred in regard to the export licenses.
She explained that several agencies were consulted before the approvals were made, including the NRC. The commission staff that were consulted “had no objections to the recommendations, before these authorizations were granted,” Hynes said.
Scott Burnell, spokesman for the NRC, tells John that the commission will soon be responding in more detail directly to Sen. Van Hollen regarding the talks.
Van Hollen’s office says it expects details on the nature of the consultation with the Energy Department and specific information about what was contained in the export authorizations.
For the most part, the nuclear industry has tried to stay out of the public fray. But one industry source tells John that he is dismayed over the lack of understanding on Capitol Hill over the authorization process.
The source says the seven authorizations were merely consultation agreements by seven companies, and nothing material like blueprints for a nuclear power plant, for lack of a better example, were exchanged. Certainly, nuclear fuel was not part of these agreements.
The industry is concerned that the nuclear approval process with other countries has become too bogged down and slow, which is placing the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to China and Russia in gaining a foothold with their nuclear technology in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The U.S. nuclear exchange process does not mean much if exports and cooperative agreements aren’t occurring because of the “cumbersome” process in Washington, the source says.
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RENEWABLE INDUSTRY EYES BIPARTISAN VICTORIES BEFORE GREEN NEW DEAL: The renewable energy industry is aiming to build upon rapid growth it achieved the last decade by prodding Congress to pursue immediate, modest bipartisan measures, instead of devoting all focus to partisan bickering over the Green New Deal.
The industry’s main trade group, plus solar and energy storage lobbyists, deployed to Capitol Hill on Thursday for their annual lobbying day, outlining a wish list that Congress is already moving on.
“The big long-term things are important,” Greg Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told Josh Thursday after he finished briefing legislative staff on the industry’s priorities. “We also want to make bipartisan progress where it’s possible — progress here and now in this Congress.”
Tax incentives are a key priority this Congress: The main focus of Wetstone’s group is preserving and expanding tax credits for renewables. It wants Congress to create an investment tax credit for energy storage, to boost a technology that can accelerate the use of intermittent wind and solar. ACORE is also asking for an extension and expansion of the electric vehicle tax credit, with two leading automakers, Tesla and GM, already seeing their tax benefit phased down because they’ve reached a sales limit.
It is also lobbying Congress for a tech-neutral tax credit for carbon-free sources, as investment credits for wind and solar phase down over the coming years. Congress extended wind and solar tax credits under the 2015 deal through 2021 to lift the oil export embargo, but the industry argues the fossil fuel industry unfairly benefits from permanent incentives.
“Over time, the tax code becomes more and more tilted against renewable power,” Wetstone told Hill staff in a briefing Thursday.
Industry is pushing hard for transmission upgrades: The renewable industry is pushing hard for building out transmission lines that can deliver wind and solar from rural areas to populated urban ones as part of any infrastructure bill.
ACORE wants Congress to establish “national priority transmission plans,” modeled after success experienced in Texas, the country’s top wind producer — which Josh recently wrote about.
The group says Congress should direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require regional planning for transmission and more fairly allocate costs among users across the entire line.
Transmission has received short-shrift in the debate over the Green New Deal, as Josh has also noted.
“Transmission is going to be critical to any of these ambitious proposals to get dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” Wetstone told Josh. “We’re putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage globally if we continue with an antiquated grid.”
CONGRESS BEGINS DELIVERING ON RENEWABLE PRIORITIES: Congress already began delivering — and emphasizing — some of the renewable industry’s priorities on Thursday.
Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., introduced legislation creating a 30 percent investment tax credit for energy storage. The legislation is intended to close a loophole that allows for storage to qualify for tax incentives only when paired with certain solar projects.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., first introduced a similar bill in 2016, which was co-sponsored by former Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
“It’s clear that combining clean, reliable solar energy with effective storage is the next frontier in securing a resilient and reliable electrical grid,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Also Thursday, a coalition of 100 House Democrats led by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., sent a letter to Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., urging him to extend tax credits for a range of clean energy technologies, including solar and wind, EVs, and energy efficiency.
“We encourage the Ways and Means Committee to continue tax incentives for clean-energy technologies in order for the United States to remain on track to meet its commitments under the Obama Administration to the Paris Climate Accords,” the letter says.
ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL TO STAY IN PARIS DEAL: The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill Thursday that would prevent Trump from taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement.
The Democratic bill passed 29-19 along party lines. It now goes to the Foreign Affairs Committee, where it will be marked up on April 9.
“Our committee took decisive action to ensure our economy will not falter and Americans will not suffer simply because President Trump denies both established science and economic reality,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the committee’s chairman.
Republicans complained Democrats are rushing the bill without following regular order, with the committee vote happening a week after it was introduced, with no hearings.
“We know we can work with Democrats to further the progress we made last Congress to reduce carbon emissions, boost clean energy options, and modernize power generation,” said top Republican Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon and John Shimkus of Illinois. “The legislation we’ve considered falls far short of that standard.”
But Democrats argued the U.S. must move fast to preserve its leadership on combating climate change, and noted Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., similarly rushed a “show vote” on the Green New Deal.
EPA’S WHEELER CONTINUES CLEAN WATER PUSH IN MIAMI: Environmental Protection Administrator Andrew Wheeler continued his push Friday on cleaning up the nation’s drinking water, traveling to Miami to announce a nearly $100 million loan to improve the city’s water infrastructure.
Wheeler has called clean water "the largest and most immediate environmental and public health” issue facing the world right now, ahead of climate change.
During testimony before Congress this week, he projected that more than $700 billion will be needed to upgrade water infrastructure in the U.S. over the next 20 years.
The EPA’s 2020 fiscal year budget includes a 25 percent increase to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program — which the Miami loan drew from — compared to last year. Miami’s $100 million loan will fund advanced wastewater infrastructure upgrades, the EPA said.
Democrats see through water focus : As Wheeler delivered remarks in Miami, Democrats mocked his clean water focus, noting the agency has proposed weakening the Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, or WOTUS.
WOTUS expanded the EPA's jurisdiction over waterways by broadening the definition of "navigable waters" protected under the Clean Water Act.
“Why does he deny the consequences of #climatechange and actively undermine clean water protections?! #ActOnClimate,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said of Wheeler, writing in a Twitter post Friday.
Reuters Saudi Arabia threatens to ditch dollar oil trades to stop 'NOPEC’
Wall Street Journal FirstEnergy’s bankruptcy deal with power units collapses
Bloomberg Venezuela blackouts cut oil output by half during March
FRIDAY | April 5
All day, The Washington Auto Show official kicks off for the public, April 5-14. This year features autonomous vehicles and all-electric vehicles.
TUESDAY | April 9
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s fiscal year 2020 proposed budget with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifying.
WEDNESDAY | April 10
10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee holds a legislative hearing on a series of bills aimed at making Americans’ homes, buildings and energy infrastructure more efficient and cost-effective.
THURSDAY | April 11
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds its second hearing on climate change to examine opportunities for energy innovation and other potential solutions to help address global warming.