Energy in the News: Friday, May 5

Friday, May 05, 2017

EPA in the Crosshairs

Ann Arbor Observer, feat. John DeCicco and Brad Cardinale

When he ran for president, Donald Trump vowed to "get rid" of the Environmental Protection Agency. By the time he was done, he said, there would be only "little tidbits left."

Now he's making good on that promise. Trump's proposed federal budget targets the EPA for a 31 percent budget cut, from $8.3 billion this year to $5.7 billion in 2018. Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney declared that more than enough to meet "the core functions of the EPA."

That depends on your definition of core functions. Trump wants to cut the EPA's science budget by more than 40 percent, curtailing the agency's ability to challenge polluters. "It may move our regulatory system closer to that of Europe," says John DeCicco, a U-M prof formerly with the Environmental Defense Fund. "Basically, good old boys in the industry talking to good old boys in government. This is going to cripple progress. And that is of course the objective." Trump also wants to slash the research budget at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 26 percent.

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Climate, energy programs get budget reprieve

Climate Central, feat. Mark Barteau

Lawmakers are set to vote this week on a bipartisan appropriations bill that would keep the government running through the remainder of the 2017. The spending package fully funds the government and keeps many climate, renewable energy and environmental programs funded at close to 2016 levels.

The deal almost fully funds most agencies compared to 2016, including the EPA. Climate, environment and energy programs see both budget cuts and increases.

Scientists are hoping that is a sign that Congress may be unwilling to give in to President Trump’s demands to kill off federal climate, environment and energy programs and research funding.

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Should US exit the Paris climate deal? Some fossil-fuel firms say no.

The Christian Science Monitor, feat. Andrew Hoffman

As a candidate, Donald Trump appealed to Americans’ worries about jobs by vowing to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement and end job-killing environmental regulations. But what happens if President Trump calls for a revolt on the international agreement and corporate America doesn’t show up?

Increasingly, US businesses have been coming to the conclusion that they’re better off if the United States sticks with the Paris accord. Although it may seem counterintuitive, oil and gas companies ranging from ExxonMobil to Royal Dutch Shell, and even coal company Cloud Peak Energy, are pressing the Trump administration not to withdraw from the accord. A dearth of corporate support for a pullout makes it less likely the president will carry through on his campaign promise to “cancel” the agreement.

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US auto fuel economy rating rises to 25.3 MPG in April

24/7 Wall St., feat. Michael Sivak

The average fuel-economy rating for new vehicles sold in the United States in April 2017 was 25.3 miles per gallon, up 0.1 mpg compared with the March average. For all of 2016, the average fuel-economy rating for new vehicles sold was also 25.2 mpg, down 0.1 mpg from the 2015 average.

For model year 2017, the EPA has revised its methodology for calculating the window-sticker fuel-economy value for new vehicles. In order to make the data for previous model years comparable with model year 2017 (and future model years), the EPA also retroactively revised the corresponding data for some vehicles in model years 2011 to 2016.

Compared with October 2007, fuel economy ratings on new cars sold has improved by 5.2 miles per gallon, or nearly 26%.

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Michigan thumb voters reject wind farm proposals

Associated Press

Voters have rejected plans to expand the number of wind turbines in an eastern Michigan county along Lake Huron.

The two proposals rejected Tuesday would've added dozens of more wind turbines in Huron County, at the tip of the state's Thumb region. The county is already home to most of the 28 utility-scale wind farms in operation or under development in Michigan, according to the state Public Service Commission.

One of the rejected proposals would have allowed DTE Energy to implement 70 turbines in four townships. The second proposal sought approval for NextEra Energy Resources to implement 60 turbines.

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Small city sets big clean-energy goal

Yale Climate Connections

Traverse City, Michigan, may be small, but it has set a big goal: to power all city operations with 100 percent clean energy within four years.

Madigan: “That includes city buildings, streetlights, wastewater treatment plants … all of the operations of the city will be powered by renewable energy.”

That’s Kate Madigan, of the Michigan Climate Action Network. The organization joined other groups and citizens to demand action by their local officials. They persuaded the city commission to adopt the 100 percent goal.

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Great Lakes community contemplates nuclear plant closure

Marketplace

Back in the 1970s and '80s, Great Lakes beaches were the perfect spot for nuclear power plants. The fresh water helped cool nuclear reactors and small, lakeshore towns got jobs. Today nuclear power plants are finding it hard to compete with cheaper energy sources, forcing some to shut down. That’s divided one community on Lake Michigan that relies on Palisades Nuclear Power Plant.

Mike Neiss of South Haven, Michigan, worked at Palisades for a short time in the 1980s.

“It’s just a very sad thing, and I think it’s not only going to affect us economically, but socially the town will change as well,” he said. “Since it’s going to be pretty much summer home owners and summer rentals. And we’re going to miss that neighborhood and that community feel.”

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How environmental NGOs are shifting conversation on climate and energy

E&E News, Feat. UMEI External Advisory Board Member Howard Learner

With President Trump making several significant moves on energy and environment policy in his first 100 days, how are environmental groups shifting strategy? During today's OnPoint, Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, discusses the role nongovernmental organizations will play in the climate and energy conversation over the next four years.

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Dems blast DOE study as biased toward coal, nuclear

The Hill

A group of Senate Democrats slammed the Department of Energy’s (DOE) ongoing electric grid reliability study as biased toward power sources such as coal and nuclear.

The Democrats, who all sit on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the study Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered last month appears from the outset to be designed to boost coal and nuclear energy at the expense of renewable sources like wind and solar energy.

“The study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators and to suggest that renewable energy resources threaten the reliability of the grid,” the group led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote to Perry Monday.

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Trump puts critic of renewable energy in charge of renewable energy office

The Washington Post

President Trump has appointed Daniel Simmons, a conservative scholar who sharply questioned the value of promoting renewable energy sources and curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, to oversee the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), according to an email distributed to department employees.

The selection marks one of several recent Trump appointments to top energy and environmental posts, which appear to repudiate the Obama administration’s policies aimed at shifting the nation to low-carbon sources of electricity. Last week, Trump nominated David Bernhardt, a lobbyist who served at the Interior Department under George W. Bush, as Interior’s deputy secretary. And Alex Herrgott, who had served as majority deputy staff director at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has joined the White House Council on Environmental Quality to serve as associate director for infrastructure.

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S.C. congressional delegation loses fight to get nuclear tax credit in government spending bill

The Post and Courier

The budget agreement worked out in Congress has disappointed every member of the South Carolina delegation after a highly desired nuclear power plant tax credit was left out.

Excluded from the plan that's supposed to keep the government running through September is a provision extending the deadline for nuclear power plants to take advantage of the tax bonus, threatening to undermine a major economic driver in the state.

At issue is a credit Congress created in 2005 to incentivize nuclear power production. But it gave plants a 2020 deadline to complete their work in order to qualify.

Westinghouse Electricity's recent bankruptcy filing, however, has had a profound effect on the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant's ability to stay on schedule, putting the site's future in question.

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Wood pellet fuel deemed ‘carbon neutral’ in U.S. spending bill

Reuters

A week after President Donald Trump vowed to impose new tariffs on Canadian lumber imports to help the U.S. timber industry, lawmakers passed a spending bill that could push U.S. government agencies to promote burning wood pellets to fuel power plants.

The budget bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed on Wednesday, which makes way for nearly $1.2 trillion in federal spending, directs the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture to "establish clear policies that reflect the carbon neutrality of biomass."

Biomass, or wood pellet fuel, is considered a renewable energy source because it is composed of trees, which can be replaced after they are cut down. It is used to heat homes and fuel power plants.

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How two cutting edge U.S. nuclear projects bankrupted Westinghouse

Reuters

In 2012, construction of a Georgia nuclear power plant stalled for eight months as engineers waited for the right signatures and paperwork needed to ship a section of the plant from a factory hundreds of miles away.

The delay, which a nuclear specialist monitoring the construction said was longer than the time required to make the section, was emblematic of the problems that plagued Westinghouse Electric Co as it tried an ambitious new approach to building nuclear power plants.

The approach - building pre-fabricated sections of the plants before sending them to the construction sites for assembly - was supposed to revolutionize the industry by making it cheaper and safer to build nuclear plants.

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