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BROUILLETTE TOUTS NEW FUNDING FOR CLEANER COAL PLANTS: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette played up millions of dollars in new funding Friday to make coal plants smaller, more efficient, and cleaner, continuing a Trump administration effort to ensure a future for fossil fuels.
Brouillette announced $64 million in R&D funding for its existing “Coal FIRST initiative” to “produce more coal power more efficiently and transform it into a near zero-emission energy source.”
Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Brouillette said the department’s goal is not to “subsidize” coal and “preserve” the coal industry’s “status” — he acknowledged coal use will continue to decline — but rather to make coal plants cleaner and to export the technologies to developing economies that project to rely on fossil fuels.
“There is still a bright future for coal and we just have to continue to develop that,” Brouillette said in a later gaggle with reporters.
His decision to emphasize coal during a wide-ranging address comes on the same day Democrats are set to compete in a presidential debate in New Hampshire, where climate change is polling as a top issue of concern.
Brouillette did not mention climate change in his address, instead touting the administration’s hands-off approach to regulations and “all of the above” emphasis of technology innovation.
Earlier this week, the Energy Department announced $125.5 million in new funding for advanced solar research.
Brouillette cited other areas where his department can contribute to decarbonization goals, including extracting rare earth minerals from coal that can be used to “allow more energy storage and renewables.”
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BROUILLETTE DOWNPLAYS CORONAVIRUS ENERGY TOLL: Brouillette said the impact of the coronavirus on energy markets has been “marginal” despite crude oil prices reaching their lowest level in a year.
While he acknowledged “some impact” from reduced travel and economic activity in China — reducing demand for oil and petroleum products — he said potential long-term effects remain unclear.
He is keeping an eye on OPEC as it deliberates over deepening production cuts to raise prices.
“Their decision is going to have an impact across the world,” Brouillette said, although he said it won’t be a “dramatic” effect because of OPEC’s diminished influence due to record U.S. oil production.
EXCLUSIVE…ROB PORTMAN TO JOIN SENATE CLIMATE CAUCUS: Coal state Republican Rob Portman of Ohio plans to join the Senate’s bipartisan climate change caucus, Josh exclusively reported last night.
Portman’s office confirmed Thursday he will become a member of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, adding more Republican support to the first such bipartisan forum for senators to talk about climate policy. Portman follows the additions of Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Susan Collins of Maine.
Portman’s addition is noteworthy because he represents the third-largest coal-consuming state in the country, and fifteenth largest producer, along with a growing producer of natural gas.
Portman, a relative centrist on many issues, has long supported some narrow policies to address climate change. Last year, he introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for power plants and industrial facilities to finance carbon capture equipment, along with a bill to incentivize energy efficiency in buildings, industry, and the federal government.
‘YUCCA MOUNTAIN IS DEAD’: No one wants to try to store nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain during an election year, not even President Trump.
Trump, in a tweet Thursday, suggested his administration was “exploring innovative approaches” that wouldn’t include using the long-controversial Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles west of Las Vegas. Just after Trump fired off that tweet, his campaign announced he’d hold a rally in Vegas later this month, just one day before Democrats hold a presidential debate there.
What’s next: Brouillette told reporters Friday that the Energy Department is looking at “innovative solutions” that could include interim storage or other types of storage.
The Energy Secretary also placed the blame for political stalemate over nuclear storage squarely on Capitol Hill. “Congress has taken too long to act on this important issue,” he said. “We have spent nuclear fuel across the country. The American people are looking for an answer.”
Budget politics: As at least one Democratic presidential candidate was quick to point out, Trump’s budget previous budget requests have sought to restart the Yucca Mountain project.
Joe Biden slammed Trump in a statement for making “empty promises” to Nevadans, who have long opposed the project. The Obama administration in 2010 shut down efforts to finalize the Yucca Mountain site for nuclear waste storage.
“The only promise worth making to the people of Nevada is one that ensures absolutely no dumping of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain,” Biden said, pledging he wouldn’t pursue storage there if elected.
Harry Reid is happy: The former Senate majority leader led the fight against Yucca Mountain.
In his own tweet Thursday, Reid said the project has been dead for a long time. “Donald Trump finally realizing this, changing his position and trying to take credit for its demise will not change that fact,” Reid said. “I’m glad he has finally seen the light.”
PARSING HOUSE DEMS’ CARBON CAPTURE CONCERNS: House Democratic leaders may not necessarily be opposed to bipartisan legislation boosting carbon capture technologies. They just want to see additional safeguards in place to protect drinking water and cap oil production.
And the sort of safeguards they want may already exist in House Energy and Commerce Democrats’ big climate draft bill released last month. That bill, known as the CLEAN Future Act, would create a new process by which project developers prove they’re safely storing captured carbon dioxide, in a way that secures the carbon and protects drinking water supplies.
Fitting the pieces together: “I think you take our standing bill and if you insert something like this bill, then there’s barriers. There’s safety standards that we establish,” said Paul Tonko of New York, who chairs the committee’s climate and environment panel and has led work on the broader climate bill.
Tonko told Abby after a Thursday hearing on the carbon capture bill that portions of it “very well could” fit into the broader climate bill he and other Democrats are working on.
“Our goal is to reduce carbon wherever we can,” Tonko said, adding they’re using hearings to air concerns and develop the “best comprehensive approach” to address climate change.
It’s clear for many Democrats the concerns with carbon capture are that it could produce more oil, since the primary application of the technology right now is enhanced oil recovery.
START SPREADING THE NEWS: New York City will soon ban any new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the move during his State of the City address Thursday, saying he would soon issue an executive order barring creation of any new infrastructure, whether it be pipelines, power plant expansions, or terminals, that would bring fossil fuels to the city. New York City will also seek to halt the use of fossil fuels, including natural gas, in large buildings by 2040, the mayor said, adding government buildings would lead the way.
“If we don’t break this addiction to fossil fuels, it will break us,” de Blasio said. “We have to overcome it.”
On stage Thursday, the mayor also signed an executive order ending the city government’s purchase of single-use plastic bottles and restricting their sale on city property by next year.
GEORGETOWN TO PULL OUT OF FOSSIL FUELS: The Washington, D.C., university will divest from fossil fuel investments over the next decade, it announced Thursday, following pressure from students.
Under Georgetown’s new policy, the university will divest from the public securities of companies primarily involved in fossil fuel extraction within five years and expand that to private investments within 10 years.
Divestment “allows us to divert more capital” to expand the university’s investments in renewables and energy efficiency, said Michael Barry, Georgetown’s chief investment officer. Georgetown’s endowment totals more than $1.5 billion.
TRUMP FINALIZES PLAN TO DEVELOP FORMER NATIONAL MONUMENT LAND: The Interior Department finalized management plans Thursday to open Utah lands formerly under national monument protections to drilling, mining, and grazing development.
Trump announced significant cuts to Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in December 2017, arguing previous presidents abused their authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare national monuments, limiting development opportunities and stifling local control.
No energy boom on the way: The Trump administration has contended that shrinking the monuments was intended to address federal overreach rather than boost energy development.
There’s been “very little real interest in mineral development” on the lands removed from the monuments, Casey Hammond, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a call with reporters. So far, no oil, gas, or coal companies have moved to mine or drill on the lands.
Legal battle: Environmental groups and Native American tribes have sued the administration over the move, arguing Trump doesn’t have the power to shrink the size of monuments so extensively.
“If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved, we would never be able to do much of anything around here,” Hammond said, explaining the decision to move forward anyway.
Environmental groups suing the administration criticized that decision.
“It’s the height of arrogance for Trump to rush through final decisions on what’s left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante while we’re fighting his illegal evisceration of these national monuments in court,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
DECISION TIME ON TRUMP SOLAR TARIFFS: The International Trade Commission faces a deadline today to make a recommendation of whether Trump’s section 201 tariffs on imported solar panels are working.
The ITC will send a report to the Commerce secretary, who will offer advice to Trump.
The solar industry’s main trade group wants Trump to eliminate the tariffs altogether, saying they’re costing tens of thousands of jobs. But the Solar Energy Industries Association has admitted it is worried Trump could decide to make the tariffs harsher instead.
The section 201 tariffs took effect in 2018 and started at 30%, with a decrease of 5% per year through 2021, with the goal of stimulating U.S. solar panel manufacturing, a trade dominated by China and other Asian countries.
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TUESDAY | FEB. 11
11 a.m. 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a business meeting to consider
WEDNESDAY | FEB. 12
10:30 a.m. 2322 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee holds a legislative hearing on six bills to improve energy efficiency and storage.