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Energy & Environment Committee

June 1 - 7, 2012
News Bulletin


Current News Bulletin

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

Top News

House approves $32 billion Energy and Water spending bill
The Hill
The House approved a $32 billion Energy and Water spending bill that increases spending in 2013 above current levels, and includes some amendments that signal House GOP opposition to the Obama administration in several areas. Members voted 255-165 in favor of the bill, and had the support of 48 Democrats. The bill, H.R. 5325, is the second 2013 spending bill approved by the House — it approved a Veterans Affairs bill in late May. Despite spending $87.5 million more than current year levels, the Obama administration has said it would veto the bill, since it's part of a Republican plan to spend $19 billion less in 2013 discretionary accounts than was agreed last year. The administration said last week that increases in the bill would have to be offset by unacceptable and deeper spending cuts elsewhere.

Coal's share of power generation falls to 34 pct.
The Lexington Herald-Leader
Coal now accounts for slightly more than one-third of the electricity generated in the United States. The federal Energy Information Administration says coal's share of the market dropped to 34 percent in March because of the warm spring and historically low natural gas prices. Natural gas accounted for 30 percent of power generation. The figure for coal-generated power is the lowest since January 1973. It dropped by 29 billion kilowatt hours between March 2011 and March 2012, while natural gas generation increased 27 billion kilowatt hours in the same period.

State News

(AL) Some want states to regulate red snapper instead of federal government
The Birmingham News
For a growing group of scientists, regulators and fishermen, the red snapper has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the way the federal government manages the nation’s fisheries. The time has come, they say, to take control of the snapper harvest away from the feds and give it back to the states.  At the center of the debate is this simple fact: Though snapper populations are the healthiest they’ve been for decades, the National Marine Fisheries Service set the shortest season in the history of the Gulf of Mexico, just 40 days long. Now, three days into the 40-day season, Bob Shipp, a longtime member of the federal commission that sets the snapper rules, says the system is broken.

(FL) State moving forward with new Everglades restoration permit after talks with federal agencies
The Florida Current
South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa Meeker on Monday described a tentative agreement reached with state and federal officials for proceeding on a revised plan for Everglades restoration. In October, Gov. Rick Scott met with federal officials in Washington to propose a revised state plan to reduce Everglades phosphorus pollution. Meeker said the plan, with new construction projects and revised pollution measures, has been developed based on an augmented plan developed in October. The plan provides $880 million in new projects through 2025, Meeker said, in addition to some projects already under way. The district, she said, now has $220 million in the bank toward such projects.

(LA) Legislature approves plan to use oil spill fines for coastal restoration
The Times-Picayune
Money Louisiana receives from fines resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will go directly into the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund under a bill that won final approval in the last hours of the legislative session Monday. The measure is expected to help rally support for the federal legislation which would disperse those funds. However it leaves open the possibility that the money could be redirected by future legislators, something a failed attempt to enshrine that commitment in a constitutional amendment could have prevented. House Bill 838 by Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, requires that all Clean Water Act fines resulting from the 2010 oil spill go toward coastal restoration, hurricane protection and "improving the resiliency" of the coastal areas impacted by the catastrophe.

(LA) Shaw to develop new power technology
The Advocate
The Shaw Group Inc. is teaming up with NET Power LLC and Exelon to develop a new technology for gas-fired power generation that could result in major benefits for electricity producers and consumers, energy security and the environment, the companies said Wednesday. The new technology, called NET Power, is based on a high-pressure, supercritical carbon dioxide oxyfuel power cycle, which produces cost-effective electric power with little to no air emissions. Unlike other power-generation technologies that release emissions to the atmosphere or employ expensive, add-on carbon capture systems, the primary byproduct of NET Power is pipeline quality, high-pressure carbon dioxide.

(MO) Nuclear energy interest amping up
The News-Tribune
Missouri utility regulators said Wednesday they are interested by a proposal for expanding nuclear energy in the state— although state officials so far have no authority over the possible project. Westinghouse Electric Co. and power company Ameren Missouri formed a partnership to compete for federal energy funds designed to support the engineering, design certification and operation licensure of small modular nuclear reactors. The energy companies announced the plans earlier this spring at the Governor’s Mansion and briefed members of the state Public Service Commission during a meeting Wednesday in Jefferson City.

(NC) N.C. Senate panel OKs framework to regulate fracking
The Virginian-Pilot
A Senate committee has recommended a framework which the state of North Carolina should follow while legalizing a controversial form of natural gas drilling. The Senate Commerce Committee voted Tuesday in favor of the measure, which would lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But state permits wouldn't occur for at least another two years while regulations are developed. The bill would direct state agencies to devise a regulatory program to manage oil and gas exploration that ultimately would be approved by the General Assembly.

(NC) Catawba County landfill fuels eco-energy hub
The Charlotte Observer
Growing up on a Wake County farm, Barry Edwards learned to find uses for what others would throw away. As Catawba County’s utilities and engineering director, he’s taken that ethos to an award-winning extreme. Edwards oversees the county’s Regional EcoComplex, which has paired with the county landfill to become a center of energy enterprise and research. From a rise overlooking the 800-acre site about 37 miles northwest of Charlotte, Edwards points out the pieces of a massive jigsaw puzzle: Dozens of small wells dot the landfill, tapping methane gas from rotting waste. The methane fuels three engines capable of generating 3 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 1,500 homes. Heat from the engines is piped to a new, $3 million biodiesel facility the county and Appalachian State University operate. The fading yellow blooms of canola, whose seeds will be turned into biodiesel, color a field on the site.

(TN) UT gets $300,000 to study cleaner coal
The Tennessean
The Obama administration just announced that a $300,000 energy grant has been awarded to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to help develop clean coal technology. At UT, a student-led team will study the alloys used in boilers as well as steam and gas turbines and specifically how they perform at the highest temperatures and stress levels. Their research will combine with studies from eight other grant-winning universities to develop high-temperature, high-pressure, corrosion-resistant alloys, protective coatings and building materials for coal-fired power plants and gas turbines. Other Department of Energy grant winners were Southern Illinois University, Brown University, Indiana University, Texas Engineering Experiment Station, Ohio State University, Dartmouth College, University of North Texas and University of Toledo.

U.S. & World News

Industry groups: Administration overestimating emissions at ‘fracking’ sites
The Hill
The amount of methane released from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is half what the Obama administration estimates, according to a study released Monday by the American Petroleum Institute and the America's Natural Gas Alliance. Howard Feldman, API’s director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs told reporters on a conference call that the study “provides the best, most comprehensive estimate of methane emissions from U.S. natural gas production.  It’s based on data from ten times as many wells as support the estimate EPA has been using.” The industry groups say their emissions estimate is more accurate than that by the Environmental Protection Agency because it is based on emissions from 91,000 wells, while the EPA’s estimate derived from studying only 8,800 wells.

Oklahoma regulator says states can monitor hydraulic fracturing
The Oklahoman
States have comprehensive programs to regulate hydraulic fracturing and are adapting to new challenges from the rapidly growing practice, an Oklahoma Corporation Commission official testified here Thursday. Lori Wrotenbery, the commission's director of the Oil and Gas Conservation division, told a House subcommittee that outside organizations also are helping states build regulatory frameworks to monitor potential pollution problems. State regulatory programs are “strong, they're responsive, they're flexible and they're adaptive,” Wrotenbery said. “For all of those reasons, I believe they are effective in ensuring hydraulic fracturing operations are done safely.”

House gives another $10M to NRC to keep Yucca Mountain open
The Hill
The House voted Wednesday to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) an additional $10 million for its 2013 appropriation, to ensure the commission can complete a review of the permitting process to use Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear waste storage site. Members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations bill, 326-81. In that vote, most Democrats supported the additional funds, and just five Republicans opposed it. Members of both parties said Tuesday they did not believe the NRC needed the extra funding, but that the NRC was using funding as an excuse not to complete the Department of Energy's application for a permit to use the site. The Obama administration is known to favor the closing of Yucca Mountain, and Republicans and Democrats alike said the NRC was ignoring U.S. law by stalling the process.

Report: Hackers could access US weapons systems through vulnerable chip
The Christian Science Monitor
A secret nanoscale "backdoor" etched into the silicon of a supposedly secure programmable chip could give cyberattackers access to classified US weapons systems, including guidance, flight control, networking, and communications systems, according to a new report by cybersecurity researchers in Britain. The Cambridge University study is apparently the first public documentation that such a serious vulnerability has been deliberately built into a class of microchips used across the military and in key industrial applications such as power grids, the researchers say. The discovery underscores the Pentagon's growing concerns over the vulnerability of the "supply chain" for computer chips it relies on. The new research illustrates how spying or even destructive functions, such as a "kill switch" that could make a plane fall out of the sky like a brick, could be added unnoticed to microchips while they are being designed and manufactured either at home or overseas, hardware-security experts say.

Climate change causes nuclear, coal plant shutdowns
USA Today
Climate change, by warming water and reducing river flows, has caused production losses at several nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the United States and Europe in recent years and will lead to more power disruptions in the future, researchers report. The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama, for example, had to shut down more than once last summer because the Tennessee River's water was too warm to use it for cooling. The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation from total or partial plant shutdowns will triple in the next 50 years, according to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change.

Senators say tweak to tax code would boost renewable energy
The Hill
Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) say a small change to the U.S. tax code would provide a big boost to renewable energy projects. The duo is floating legislation that would allow investors in green-power projects to use the “master limited partnership” tax structure, which is already available to investors in fossil fuel projects. The lawmakers call it a “powerful tweak” to the tax code that would help steer capital into solar, wind, biofuels and other projects.

Wind-energy tax credit in focus
The Hill
A House panel will delve into expiring tax provisions Friday, which will likely provide an opening for debate on expiring wind-energy tax credits that renewable-energy companies and environmentalists are lobbying aggressively to extend. A House Ways and Means Committee panel will gather for a hearing on various expiring tax provisions. “The hearing will explore ideas on the framework that Congress should use to evaluate tax extenders, the principles of good tax policy that Congress should apply during this evaluation, and the specific metrics against which Congress should test the merits of particular provisions,” the committee said. While there’s no promise that the wind credits will come up, several members of the Select Revenue Measures subcommittee hail from states where the industry has a foothold. The credit is crucial to the wind sector — new installations have dropped sharply when the credit has lapsed, which last happened in 2004. The credit is slated to lapse at the end of the year if it is not extended.

Industry to monitor German energy switchover
The Charlotte Observer
Germany's powerful industry lobby group says it will independently monitor the country's ambitious switchover from nuclear power to renewable energies over the next decade. Hans-Peter Keitel, head of the BDI lobby group, on Monday criticized the government's lack of resolve in following up on last year's decision to speed up phasing out all nuclear power by 2022. Keitel says the energy switchover in Europe's biggest economy amounts to "open heart surgery" and requires "intense monitoring and professional management." He says the BDI group, which supports the switchover decision, is now launching a monitoring initiative enlisting two research institutes and a consultant to ensure a more timely and professional oversight of the mammoth project.

IEA: China natural gas demand to double
The Tennessean
Global demand for natural gas will likely grow 17 percent over the next five years as Chinese consumption doubles, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday. China’s demand for natural gas should expand 13 percent a year through 2017 while U.S. consumption will probably grow 13 percent by 2017, the Paris-based IEA said. It forecast European demand to increase by 7.9 percent. North America is poised to benefit most from the surge in Asian demand and will likely become a net exporter of liquefied natural gas over the next five years as new projects come on stream, the IEA said. Meanwhile, Asian LNG producers such as Malaysia and Indonesia will become net importers as local demand surges and output declines. Low natural gas prices should lead to gas generating almost as much electricity as coal in the U.S. by 2017, the agency said.

Water Must Be Made a Priority in the Clean Energy Economy (opinion)
Energy Boom
Considering it composes roughly 80% of our body, water is humanity's most important resource.  With more than 7 billion people on the planet, water is becoming increasingly more precious.  Given its absolute value, the Stockholm Energy Institute (SEI) recently published a report evaluating the potential impact of renewable energy technologies on water resources. The findings?  It's simple, we need to be more judicial in our water consumption in all areas of the economy, including energy.  Like the body, water is intrinsic to energy production.  It is used for electricity generation, production and processing of fuels, energy storage, and as a coolant for power plants. As the SEI points out, low-carbon energy technologies are essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.  However, some clean energy technologies require considerable amounts of water.  And, as the Institute reminds:  "given competing demands, resource depletion and projected climate impacts, sufficient water may not always be available."

More News

(AL) Aerial spraying for mosquitoes planned by coastal Alabama health departments
(AR) Dry May saw higher than usual forest fire numbers
(AR) Beebe: Opposition to wind tax break is ‘unAmerican’
(FL) Congress to pour millions into Everglades
(GA) Georgia Environment Protection Division says latest Ogeechee River fish kill caused by drought
(GA) Vogtle report highlights disagreements between Georgia Power, vendors
(KY) Miners, environmentalists flock to EPA hearing
(KY, TN) Tennessee River hits record low level
(LA) Congress might block controversial wetlands policy
(LA) Plan gives hope for lake restoration
(MS) Mississippi Power to issue refunds
(NC) Lawmakers hope to take quick action on fracking bill
(NC) Fracking bill approved by NC Senate committee
(NC) Senate passes fracking bill, but N.C. may be less rich in gas
(NC) N.C. Fracking Debate Draws Campaign Contributions
(NC) Legislators to debate bill aiming to regulate sea-level science
(SC) SC Supreme Court mulling Savannah River lawsuit
(TX) Austin council likely to vote Thursday, or early Friday, to raise electric rates
(US) Honda Fit EV Receives the Highest Fuel Efficiency Rating Ever Given by the EPA
(US) The 18-year-old who built a nuclear reactor
(VA) Study: Dismal Swamp a climate change-resilient landscape