Today’s Key Takeaways: Call for pause in offshore wind power construction due to whale and dolphin deaths. CA may penalize oil companies for high gas prices. Gas industry pushes FERC for a faster permit process. West Su Road opens door to opportunity. House Republicans focused on lowering energy prices.
NEWS OF THE DAY:
OFFSHORE WIND BUILDOUT THREATENED BY WHALE AND DOLPHIN DEATHS: Lawmakers called for a pause on offshore wind power construction yesterday after eight dolphins washed up and died in a “mass stranding event” in Sea Isle City, New Jersey.
“We are not even in the construction stage of these industrial wind turbine grids, yet we are already witnessing a highly unusual mortality rate of these intelligent marine animals,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew said in a statement. He noted that the siting and pre-construction activities off the state’s coast are being conducted “right in the middle” of feeding and breeding grounds, as well as migration routes, for marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.
Rep. Chris Smith told Breanne that the offshore wind project represents a “potentially catastrophic threat” to the coast.
The deaths bring to 23 the number of dolphin and porpoise strandings in 2023.
And it’s part of an alarming trend: Since early December, 29 whales have washed ashore along the East Coast, including humpback whales and the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
At a field hearing in South Jersey earlier this month, officials from the nonprofit group Clean Ocean Action noted an unusual trend: Beginning in December, large commerce shipping in the area decreased by 20%, making it unlikely that shipping traffic alone was responsible for the increase in deaths.
And beginning in December, at least six survey vessels “within close proximity” of each other in the Atlantic and in Cape May were conducting sonar and other geotechnical activities – which “could have had cumulative effects” due to the multiple sonar activities, Clean Ocean Action director Cindy Zipf said.
From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy
California may punish oil companies for high gas prices
Associated Press, March 23, 2023
California lawmakers on Thursday will vote on whether to allow penalties on oil companies for price gouging at the pump, a first-in-the-country proposal aimed at stopping the kind of spikes last summer that caused some drivers pay up to $8 per gallon as the industry reaped super-sized profits.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat seen as a possible presidential candidate beyond 2024, has used all of his political muscle to get the bill this far by making in-person pleas with state lawmakers in private ahead of Thursday’s first vote in the state Senate.
The oil industry has pushed back, paying for a wave of digital ads that have labeled any potential penalty as a tax — an idea more likely to be scorned by voters. But they have failed to stop the bill, which after months of stagnating in the Democratic-controlled Legislature is now racing through the process with the Senate vote followed by a final vote in the state Assembly likely next week.
Gas Industry Pushes Congress, FERC to Speed Up Permit Process
Daniel Moore, Bloomberg Law, March 23, 2023
- FERC has quickened reviews of pipelines, LNG projects
- Gas industry pushing for regulatory, legal changes
Natural gas pipeline developers are pressing Congress and US energy regulators to speed up the permitting process as a way to build more projects that deliver energy to the Eastern states.
It’s a two-pronged effort in Washington, as the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America described in an interview with Bloomberg Law this week ahead of a meeting on Capitol Hill.
The first step is to move the authority to issue water quality certifications, currently delegated to state governments under the Clean Water Act, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which issues final approvals to interstate gas pipelines.
The second is to urge Congress to amend the National Environmental Policy Act to require higher standards for legal challenges to FERC gas approvals, including requirements that claimants must have commented to FERC and file lawsuits within a timeline of 120 days of a decision.
FERC Acting Chairman Willie Phillips, a Democrat who took the gavel in January, has granted certificates to gas projects and has sped up some environmental reviews.
Phillips—replacing a chairman who was ousted last year over a move to scrutinize gas projects—pledged last week to forge consensus on the commission, which is split 2-2 between the two political parties. Phillips said he wants certainty for the industry, to not only “have things approved but to have things built.”
The natural gas industry isn’t alone in intensifying lobbying efforts in the hopes that a bipartisan desire for permitting legislation will yield a compromise this year between Democrats and Republicans. But pipeline developers, in particular, have the ear of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who blocked the renomination of former FERC chairman Richard Glick last November amid opposition from the natural gas industry.
West-Su Road unlocks AK opportunities
Shane Lasley, North of 60 Mining News, March 23, 2023
Extending Alaska’s limited road network 100 miles northwest from the Port MacKenzie area near Anchorage into the West Susitna area would open up a new area for Alaskans to visit the great outdoors, provide highway access to this mineral-rich region, and create a new revenue stream for the state, according to an independent economic study carried out by McKinley Research Group.
“The West Susitna Road is important for local residents and gaining fair access to hunting, fishing, and potential jobs,” said Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “My administration is constantly looking at ways to grow our economy and this project is a great opportunity for not only south-central Alaska but the entire state. I am committed to this project and unlocking resources that benefit all Alaskans.”
Originally proposed under Alaska’s Roads to Resources program, the West Susitna Access Road would provide Alaskans with easier access to 6 million acres of recreation area for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, and snowmachining.
The West Susitna area also hosts the last large area of state-owned agricultural lands in Southcentral Alaska. This opens large swaths of land suitable for growing hay and raising livestock, as well as Alaska-grown potatoes and other vegetables.
The largest impact of the road, when it comes to the state’s economy and jobs for Alaskans, would be from mineral projects that would stand a better chance of being developed into mines with year-round access.
The proposed 100-mile road extends into an area enriched with copper, gold, silver, and other minerals critical to green energy and the economy.
Republicans plot path on energy, permitting package
Kelsey Brugger, Jeremy Dillon, E & E Daily, March 22, 2023
During their three-day retreat in Orlando, House Republicans sought to put Democrats on the defensive with a message focused on lowering energy prices.
As they put the finishing touches on their massive energy package, House Republicans plan to pressure Democrats on a core kitchen table issue: energy costs.
In wrapping up a three-day retreat here, Republicans seemed to be chomping at the bit to harangue Democrats on Capitol Hill next week over prices at the pump and the supermarket.
Their package, H.R. 1, the “Lower Energy Costs Act,” is a “first start in the energy push for this Congress to try to lower prices and make energy and electricity affordable, reliable and secure for this nation,” declared Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security.
“I look forward to the debate and moving this over to the Senate to put some pressure on them,” he said.
Republicans say the proposal, which will be debated and voted on next week, would allow the United States to produce more oil, gas, solar and wind in a manner that is more environmentally sound than anywhere else on the planet.
The bill, the work of three committees, would require the federal government to hold quarterly oil lease sales in Western states. It would speed up environmental permitting that GOP lawmakers complain drags on years longer than it should. The package would also allow for more hardrock mining in mineral-rich states like Minnesota and Idaho.
“This is something that really is transformative,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who wrote a significant portion of the final package. “It addresses so many of the things that are problems right now. It creates new revenues for the United States Treasury. It helps to reduce energy costs.”
And, he said, it “helps to promote cleaner energy sources.”
Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dismissed the bill as “dead on arrival” and pointed to severe warnings in the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as a further indication that the GOP is going in the wrong direction.
But here in Orlando, no one was talking about the big climate report. When asked, Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.) blamed China and other nations that burn more carbon-intensive fuels than the United States.
“We should be using our natural resources so we’re not dependent on them,” he said.
Lawmakers have filed nearly four dozen proposed amendments on the bill, some of them from Democrats seeking to defend climate action.
Clean energy group backs GOP
Republicans picked up a key endorsement of their legislation late last week when the American Clean Power Association, the nation’s largest clean energy trade group, threw its support behind the permitting section of the bill.
“The Lower Energy Costs Act contains important provisions and reforms that will help advance clean energy in the United States,” ACP President Jason Grumet said in a statement.
“This legislation would create a predictable and timely federal permitting framework which is critical to the future development of America’s vast clean energy resources,” he added. “Additionally, encouraging the development of clean energy infrastructure on public lands will create thousands of jobs, reduce energy costs, strengthen grid reliability, and improve energy security.”
Renewable and clean energy generation advocates are some of the biggest proponents of congressional efforts to revamp the federal permitting process. Most trade groups say they remain neutral on the GOP bill, though they would prefer bipartisan consensus over partisan bills.
“Negotiations on any energy legislation must be bipartisan to have any real chance of enactment this Congress, and a truly comprehensive permitting bill needs to help streamline the transmission approval process,” said Gregory Wetstone, president, and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen oil groups heartily endorsed the bill for its robust fossil fuel provisions, calling it a “welcome answer to government-imposed distortions to energy markets that have decimated the energy independence that America enjoyed just a few short years ago.”
In a letter to House Republican leaders, the groups added, “In the continued absence of alternatives that do everything oil and natural gas do, suppressing American production means sending billions of dollars overseas, lost jobs, dirtier energy, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.”
H.R. 1 amendments
Even as House Republicans appear united on the base bill, amendment fights on the House floor await next week. The deadline to file proposed changes with the House Rules Committee was Tuesday night.
Republicans are expected to advance the bill under a “structured rule,” which gives the Rules Committee discretion as to what amendments should be made in order. That is after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) talked up the “open rule” process — an amendment free-for-all — as one of his signature achievements since Republicans took back the House in January.
Asked about the discrepancy Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said, “We’re working through that right now.”
He noted the bill is made up of 20 different pieces of legislation.
“We’re talking to members now that have some other ideas that they’re interested in,” he said.
For example, Scalise said, Duncan is working on a separate nuclear energy bill for future consideration.
But as for H.R. 1, Republicans said Tuesday there were very few outstanding concerns raised by members in the morning closed-door session, according to six lawmakers who sit on energy-related committees.
“Any time you have a big package like this, you’re going to have some sensitivities come up,” said Graves. “But I feel like we’ve worked through some pretty good solutions on those items, and I think we’re in a good spot.”
Democrats have already lined up some amendments from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and others in defense of climate-focused provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that would be eliminated as part of the Republican bill, including the methane fee and a green bank funding program.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) similarly filed amendments in defense of those programs, in addition to measures to limit oil and gas operations in the Delaware River Basin. He also backed language authorizing his vision of a carbon tax.
Democrats will look to limit drilling off California’s coast and other areas with amendments from Democratic California Reps. Mike Levin and Jimmy Panetta.
Mountain Valley pipeline
Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) introduced an amendment that closely mirrors old language that would try to force approval of the Mountain Valley pipeline, a 300-mile natural gas pipeline that would transport product from West Virginia to Virginia. It has been one of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) pet projects in recent years and was a key provision in his failed permitting overhaul effort last year.
Other politicians hailing from the Mid-Atlantic are eager to see the pipeline operate. But Republicans have previously opposed the idea of singling out one project for special congressional treatment. And they might not want to hand Manchin a win at a time when the moderate Democrat mulls running for reelection.
Graves acknowledged that some lawmakers might not be keen on giving preferential treatment for such a project. But he said he understands the frustrations from the West Virginia lawmakers, calling Mountain Valley a “really critical pipeline that has really been dragged through the mud and caught up in political fodder.”
Graves said he had not made up his mind on whether to support any of the amendments. He was planning to read all of them on the plane ride back to Washington.
Graves downplayed the politics at play: “Do we really come in and say, ‘We’re going to jam Manchin and don’t want him to get a win?‘ Or do you come and say actually what’s right for the country? I hope that the latter would prevail.”