Southern Legislative Conference | Serving the South

The Southern
Office of


The Council of State Governments
Loading

Energy & Environment Committee

June 15 - 21, 2012
News Bulletin


Previous News Bulletin

To read periodic issue alerts addressing Energy & Environment issues in the South, please visit the SLC Recent Research section.

Top News

House advances bill tying oil reserves to domestic energy development
The Hill
The House advanced an energy bill Wednesday that would encourage more development of domestic energy sources, in part by tying expanded production to use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Members approved the rule for the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, H.R. 4480, in a 245-178 vote. Passage of the rule sets up two hours of debate on the bill in the House, and consideration of up to 27 amendments later in the day. Under the legislation, decisions to take oil from the SPR would have to be balanced with a plan from the Department of Energy to increase domestic production, by increasing the federal lands available for drilling.

House votes to give Gulf states billions more in offshore oil revenue
The Hill
The House voted on Thursday to let Gulf states, over a 32-year period, keep billions of dollars more in the revenue they help generate through offshore oil production. Members voted 244-173 in favor of an amendment from Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) to the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, H.R. 4480. Landry's amendment would amend the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) to boost the cap on oil revenue-sharing with four Gulf states to $750 million per year, up from the current $500 million per year cap. This change would start in 2023 and last through 2055, giving these states more than $8 billion over that time period, in addition to the roughly $16 billion they are already slated to receive in those years.

State News

(FL) EPA approves state Everglades plan  
The Miami Herald
Federal environmental regulators on Wednesday approved an $880 million state plan intended to dramatically reduce the flow of farm and suburban pollution into the Everglades. Both sides hailed the agreement as a milestone in a decades-long dispute over cleaning up the River of Grass. If approved by two federal judges, it would commit Florida to a major expansion of projects intended to clean up storm run-off before it flows into the Everglades, adding to the $1.8 billion the state has already poured into cleanup efforts. In a letter announcing the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the state’s plan represented “a significant and historic milestone in restoring America’s Everglades.”

(LA) Gov. Bobby Jindal signs bill directing Gulf oil spill money to coastal restoration
The Times-Picayune
Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed legislation that will direct money Louisiana receives from the Deepwater-Horizon-BP oil spill to coastal protection and restoration programs. Jindal's office said late Thursday that he signed House Bill 838 by Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, one of the last bills passed in the waning hours of the legislative session that ended June 4. The bill became effective when Jindal signed it. Champagne's bill calls for any money the state receives from the federal government as a result of fines imposed under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, associated with the April 20, 2010 spill, to be placed in the state treasury and used for "integrated coastal protection efforts, including coastal restoration; hurricane protection and improving the resiliency of the ... coastal area affected" by the spill. Backers of the bill said its passage will show Congress that the state is serious about using the money for coastal needs.

(NC) N.C. Senate approves fracking bill
The News and Observer
The N.C. Senate passed a bill Thursday that would legalize fracking in North Carolina within several years, leaving the fate of natural gas exploration in the hands of Gov. Bev Perdue. Perdue has 10 days to decide whether she’ll sign or veto the controversial legislation that would dramatically reshape the state’s energy landscape. Supporters laud the bill for its potential economic benefits and opponents denounce it as environmentally destructive. Perdue, who has expressed support for fracking in the past, has remained conspicuously silent on the Republican-backed fracking legislation. A recent state study concluded that opening the state to the natural gas industry would create several hundred jobs but would require strict safeguards to prevent chemical spills, well blowouts and exploitation of property owners.

(SC) Support for mini-nuclear reactors gaining steam in SC
The State
State and regional officials on Tuesday continued their push to build support both here and in the nation’s capital to build the first small, modular nuclear reactors at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County. The U.S. Department of Energy has given the green light for three companies to partner with SRS to potentially develop the nation’s first mini-reactors there. The three companies are competing with other plant design companies across the nation – and each other – for federal matching grants totaling up to $452 million to support engineering, certification and licensing for up to two mini-reactor designs. Winners are expected to be announced later this summer. The mini-reactors, which could be a small as a double-wide trailer and power factories, small cities or remote areas, have been called the nuclear technology of the future. They can be built at a fraction of the cost of large reactors at a central location and transported to wherever they are needed.

(TX) Texas Gets Creative With Recycling Water
The Texas Tribune
On the outskirts of the Permian Basin town of Big Spring, workers have spent the last few weeks putting a roof on a facility that will, when it begins operating this year, become perhaps the first plant in the nation to process wastewater to put into a drinking water system. Experts say such use of wastewater, a drought-proof resource, provides a key part of the water solution for fast-growing, drought-prone Texas. "Reclaimed water," the term for cleaned-up wastewater that gets reused, currently provides a little less than 3 percent of Texas' water supply, often for purposes like irrigating golf courses. The figure is projected to rise to 10 percent by 2060, according to the Texas Water Development Board. Reclaimed water "is a way to stretch our existing supplies and potentially avoid expensive infrastructure projects," said Myron Hess, the manager of the Texas water program for the National Wildlife Federation. Putting potable water on grass is especially wasteful, environmentalists say.

(TX) High above Texas' rivers, drones track environmental data
The Austin American-Statesman
About as far as one can get from the mountains of Pakistan, on a small ranch amid old farm equipment and rustic silos 10 miles southeast of San Marcos, a crew of researchers from Texas State University has been routinely launching an unmanned drone. This drone has no missiles aboard. Its mission is not to track terrorists, but rivers and wildlife. Called Ronnie, short for Ronald McDonald, because of its cheery yellow-and-red coloring, the drone is a 7-foot-wide polystyrene craft that weighs 8 pounds and is laden with GPS, batteries and two digital cameras. It is operated by a three-person crew from the River Systems Institute at Texas State.

(VA) Uranium debate still fierce
The Times-Dispatch
Gov. Bob McDonnell's uranium-mining study group will provide its first public update tonight in Pittsylvania County. The group is studying the safety of mining the radioactive metal, particularly at a proposed site in Pittsylvania about 145 miles southwest of Richmond. Environmentalists last week continued to criticize the openness of the group, saying it operates behind closed doors and provides little new information on its website. Maureen Matsen, McDonnell's energy adviser, said the group is working hard to be transparent, adding that tonight's meeting will consist of about an hour of presentations and an hour of interaction with the public. The study group will develop information to help the 2013 General Assembly, which is expected to consider lifting the state's 30-year uranium mining ban. A December report by the National Academy of Sciences said Virginia faced "steep hurdles" in protecting people and the environment if the state pursued mining. The report also said modern mining methods could reduce risks.

(VA) House bill allows leases for drilling off Virginia's coast
The Virginian-Pilot
A proposal to grant leases for gas and oil exploration and drilling off Virginia's coast was approved by the U.S. House on Thursday as part of a larger energy production bill. The offshore provision was successfully amended to the legislation by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, before the bill was approved in the Republican-controlled chamber in a 248-163 vote that broke mostly along party lines. If the bill were to pass the Senate, it could still face a veto by President Barack Obama, who last year canceled plans for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf off Virginia after the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rigell's amendment, which became part of the House-approved bill, would require the Department of the Interior to include Virginia in its 2012-2017 lease sales. It would prohibit offshore drilling in any areas where the military would object.

(WV) Energy tour aims to showcase W.Va. as diversified energy state
The Charleston Gazette
In an effort to create a "commonsense" energy policy across party lines, Sen. Joe Manchin hosted a two-day tour to showcase the state's diverse energy industries and show West Virginia as more than just a coal producing state. Manchin, D-W.Va., led Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on a two-day tour across the state to tour energy production sites that demonstrate West Virginia's commitment to an "all of the above" approach to energy. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin greeted them at a reception in the West Virginia airplane hanger at Yeager Airport in Charleston on Saturday. "Coal has been backbone of our state for 100 years," Tomblin said. During their trip to West Virginia, the senators visited several energy-producing sites, including Mount Storm Power Station, a coal-fired power plant owned by Dominion near Mount Storm, and Arch Coal's Mountain Laurel Complex in Sharples in Logan County.

U.S. & World News

Pressured, E.P.A. Proposes Soot Limit
The New York Times
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new national air quality standards that would significantly reduce levels of fine-particle soot. The rule, to be announced on Friday, would reduce the range of fine particulates allowed in the atmosphere by roughly 17 percent, according to an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity, and Paul G. Billings, a vice president of the American Lung Association, who said he had been briefed on the standard by Obama administration officials.  A Thursday deadline had been imposed by a federal judge in a legal battle waged by 11 states and health and conservation groups.

House appropriators advance bill slashing EPA funding
The Hill
The House GOP on Wednesday advanced a 2013 spending bill with deep cuts and limitations to the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill cuts EPA by $1.4 billion, about 17 percent, compared to current funding. The GOP points out that this brings the EPA below fiscal 1998 funding. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who hails from coal country, said he is especially proud of the measure, which was advanced from subcommittee to the full spending panel on a voice vote.

House Dems press Interior to toughen gas ‘fracking’ rule
The Hill
More than three dozen House Democrats want the Interior Department to require natural-gas producers using the method called hydraulic fracturing to disclose the chemicals they’re injecting underground before they begin the process. The lawmakers, in a letter, are upset that rules proposed in May to govern “fracking” on federal lands only require the disclosure after the fact. The pressure from Democrats underscores the political delicacy of White House energy policies. The Obama administration is seeking to show that it backs oil-and-gas drilling while also emphasizing its efforts to expand environmental safeguards. Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations in order to open up seams that enable trapped natural gas and oil to flow.

Nuclear waste: why environmentalists are pressing NRC on reactor licenses
The Christian Science Monitor
The nation's top nuclear power plant regulator is being petitioned by environmental groups to halt all further license extensions for 35 power reactors nationwide until their on-site nuclear-waste storage systems undergo more in-depth environmental evaluation. The legal petition filed Monday followed a June 8 ruling by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had failed to adequately evaluate on-site nuclear waste storage prior to granting license extensions. The groups want the NRC to establish procedures for ensuring that members of the public can comment on the environmental analysis and raise site-specific concerns about the environmental impacts of highly radioactive spent nuclear reactor fuel in individual licensing cases.

GOP sees roadblock to Keystone pipeline
The Washington Times
Capitol Hill Republicans say yet another environmental impact study of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline is unwarranted and nothing more than a stall tactic by the Obama administration that threatens the project. The State Department announced Friday it had ordered a new study because the Canadian firm TransCanada revised its proposed Canada-to-Nebraska pipeline to avoid Nebraska’s environmental sensitive Sandhills. In January, President Obama rejected the company’s previous bid because he said more time was needed to vet alternative routes. The Republican lawmakers say the new review should be limited only to the new 88-mile rerouted section in Nebraska, not the entire 900-plus mile route from the Montana-Canada border to Steele City, Neb. - a move they say is unnecessary in light of an exhaustive four-year study of the project completed last year.

Report: Natural-gas trucks economical without incentives
The Hill
Low natural-gas prices mean that it’s economical to power heavy trucks with the fuel even without federal incentives, according to a new report that finds up-front investment costs for the vehicles could be recovered in three years. The analysis by the consulting firm IHS CERA could be another blow to stalled legislation on Capitol Hill that would provide billions of dollars in federal tax credits to help convert trucking fleets to natural gas. The report says trucking is better poised than the passenger vehicle market to use liquefied natural gas as a fuel. IHS CERA expects major fleet operators to gradually increase their purchase of gas-powered vehicles in “small quantities” over the next few years.

House tells highway conferees: Keep language blocking coal ash regulations
The Hill
The House voted to instruct conferees on the highway bill to keep language in the House measure that would block the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) attempt to regulate coal ash. Members voted 260-138 in favor of the motion to instruct, which was offered by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.). The motion was debated Wednesday evening. The House has considered several of these non-binding motions, which are not expected to have any real effect on the House-Senate negotiations that have been ongoing for several weeks. Republicans have indicated a few times that Congress might end up in a stalemate, in which case it would likely approve another short-term extension of highway spending authority before that authority expires on June 30.

Bid to kill EPA coal plant regulations thwarted in Senate
The Hill
Senate lawmakers on Wednesday blocked a GOP-led effort to scuttle Environmental Protection Agency regulations that mandate cuts in mercury pollution and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants. The 46-53 vote against Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) resolution staves off what would have been a stinging election-year rebuke of the White House green agenda. Five Republicans joined 48 Democrats in blocking Inhofe’s measure to overturn regulations that coal industry groups and other critics contend will hurt the economy, cause power costs to spike and force numerous plants to shutter.

Gulf oil lease 30-year record
The Advocate
The federal government generated $1.74 billion Wednesday in high bids on oil-and-gas leases for 454 central Gulf of Mexico tracts, including 43 winning bids from BP. The lease sale in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans was the largest Gulf lease sale since the 2010 BP oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and along Louisiana’s coast. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call after the lease sale that the event was the Gulf’s fourth-largest lease sale ever and included the single-largest winning bid in the Gulf in more than three decades. The $157 million record bid was from Statoil, of Norway, for a tract in the central Gulf’s Mississippi Canyon that is south of Louisiana’s coastline, he said.

World's Top 10 Generators of Clean Energy
Energy Boom
With Rio 20+, the latest United Nations organized Earth Summit, less than a week away, the Natural Resources Defense Council has released a scorecard ranking the G20 nations and their commitment to clean energy development. It comes as no surprise that G20 countries lead the world in renewable energy investment.  Since 2004, investment in clean energy from G20 countries has grown by nearly 600%, while electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave power has tripled.

Senate backs EPA coal rule
The Arkansas News
The U.S. Senate backed a new EPA rule aimed at reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants that had Sens. James Inhofe and Mark Pryor feuding. Inhofe, R-Okla., called on his colleagues today to back a “resolution of disapproval” that would have effectively blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating mercury emissions from power plants. The Senate voted 53-46 against considering Inhofe’s resolution. Five Democrats, mostly from energy-producing states, supported the resolution while five Republicans, mostly from New England, opposed it.

Heat wave could bring record temps, but utilities ready for A/C demand
The Christian Science Monitor
The eastern half of the United States is about ready to get baked. The first major heat wave of the season is expected to push temperatures into the mid- to upper 90s in places like Newark, N.J.; Detroit; Philadelphia; and Washington. According to the weather forecasters, some communities will have record temperatures on Wednesday. But it won’t just be the heat: Humidity levels will be high, making it feel like a sauna. Heat waves have their own set of challenges. If they are prolonged, they can put stress on electric grids as consumers turn up their air conditioners to try to stay cool. Many homeowners can’t keep their lawns watered and instead watch them turn brown. Nevertheless, some power suppliers are preparing for the possibility of larger-than-anticipated peak demand.

Clinton to roll out green-energy plan
The Hill
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will use the big United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil as the platform to announce a new mechanism for financing green energy in Africa. “The announcement will be made in conjunction with Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The mechanism plans to align different types of U.S. financial support to catalyze higher levels of private sector investment in clean energy projects, primarily in Africa,” an advisory states.

Clinton hints China could avoid oil sanctions
The Hill
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted Wednesday that China could win exemptions from U.S. sanctions targeting financial institutions in countries that import Iranian oil, according to a news account. The United States has granted India, Japan, South Korea and other nations a waiver from the sanctions, which are slated to start taking effect in late June, because they have reduced their purchases of Iranian crude. Clinton said Wednesday evening that China, a top buyer of Iranian oil, is moving in the same direction, according to Reuters. “We've seen China slowly but surely take actions,” she said. The sanctions, required under a fiscal 2012 defense programs law, are part of broader efforts to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

Outside the Region

(AK) Arctic drilling could contribute to US oil resurgence
The Anchorage Daily News
During the last year, some 400 workers at a shipyard on Seattle's Harbor Island have been installing new diesel engines, welding bulkheads, painting and tackling other tasks to prepare the Kulluk, a Shell Oil rig, for drilling holes this summer in the sea bottom off Alaska's North Slope. The refurbishing of Kulluk and other Shell work done in the Pacific Northwest has pumped some $200 million into the local economy, according to company officials. This could be the launch to what may be a decade of exploration and development of offshore oil fields in Arctic waters.  The push into the Arctic comes amid a major resurgence of a U.S. oil industry that once appeared stuck in long-term decline. Within the past five years, new technologies exploiting oil fields in North Dakota, Texas and other states have contributed to a 15 percent rise in U.S. production since 2008.

(NY) Cuomo Proposal Would Restrict Gas Drilling to a Struggling Area
The New York Times
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology. The plan, described by a senior official at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and others with knowledge of the administration’s strategy, would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination. Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.

(OH) Natural Gas Growth Adds Strain to State Regulators
Stateline
The surging natural gas industry has sparked a hiring frenzy in Ohio. Energy companies are adding workers to tap the lucrative Utica shale deposit that stretches across the state’s eastern half. In rusty cities such as Youngstown, the demand for drilling equipment has swelled the ranks of steelmakers. Even the cash-strapped state government is hiring because of the gas boom: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says it plans to add many as 70 new field inspectors to its oil and gas team by the end of the year, more than tripling its inspection force. The agency had more than a quarter of its budget cut between 2011 and 2012, but it will be able to add the new workers thanks to a huge increase in fees collected from drilling applications. Natural gas companies drilled just 25 new wells in Ohio in 2011. But state regulators predict that number will soar to 250 by the end of this year and double by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, oil well drilling is expected to stay steady.

More News

(AR) Peanut farming making comeback in state
(AR) Dry Conditions Lead Agency to Air Patrol Forests
(FL) Palm Beach Island to be state model for beach renourishment
(FL) Florida lags behind other states on generating solar energy
(FL) Report: Pollution enforcement drops under Scott
(FL) Water war pits Silver Springs against cattle
(FL) Nuclear commission staff to meet in Florida
(GA) State wildlife officials seeking bat volunteers
(KY) Kentucky coal mine officials asked to submit plan for paying $1.5 million in overdue fines for safety violations
(KY) Kentucky coal mine whistleblower gets job back after company's 'blatant discrimination,' feds decide
(LA) Gulf panel selects UNO researcher
(LA) Water fight getting steamy
(LA) Environmental groups challenge Wednesday's offshore oil, gas lease sale
(LA) No deal has been struck on sending BP oil spill fines to Gulf Coast
(NC) House passes fracking bill; foes hope for Perdue veto
(NC) Utilities panel sets merger hearing
(NC) Fracking vote expected Wednesday
(SC) Haley: SC will fight for federal nuclear award
(TX) On Water Conservation, Texas Has Room to Improve
(TX) Texas rice farmers say proposed Farm Bill hurts them
(US) Oil hovers around 8-month lows near $80 in Europe
(US) Canadian Solar, Inc. Purchases First American Solar Projects
(VA) Activists vow to prevent uranium mining in Pittsylvania
(WV) State reaches pollution settlements
(WV) Rockefeller calls on coal industry to stop 'scare tactics'