Sherwood-Randall, Baran, Burns advance in Senate

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Sherwood-Randall, Baran, Burns advance in Senate

President Barack Obama’s nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Energy Department easily advanced through a Senate committee on Thursday, but Republicans lined up in another panel against his two picks to join the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the nomination of Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall for deputy secretary to the Senate floor by voice vote, with no stated opposition, setting her up for a confirmation vote as soon as next week. She would replace Dan Poneman, who is stepping down.

Most Republicans, however, voted against NRC nominees Jeffery M. Baran and Stephen G. Burns, in a vote held by the Environment and Public Works Committee off the Senate floor.

Senator questions Hanford legal fees

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Private contractors for the U.S. Department of Energy have spent at least $3.5 million in legal expenses to battle two critics of a massive construction project at the nation’s most polluted nuclear site, according to a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The letter is from the chairwoman of a U.S. Senate subcommittee that is investigating whether there was retaliation against two Hanford Nuclear Reservation workers who raised safety concerns and then lost their jobs at the former nuclear weapons production site.

“The Department of Energy may be providing an incentive to contractors to engage in protracted litigation with whistleblowers by reimbursing the contractors’ legal expenses,” said the letter from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Senate races hot on accusations, light on ideas

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year’s Senate races have featured astronomical spending, ceaseless attack ads and innumerable slaps at a president who’s not on the ballot. Largely missing, however, are ideas on how best to govern the nation.

Even with control of the Senate at stake, serious discussions about deficit spending, climate change, immigration, Social Security’s long-term future and other knotty issues rarely emerged.

Republican gains could aid Obama’s Asia trade pact

WASHINGTON (AP) — Big Republican gains on Election Day would be a blow to much of President Barack Obama’s agenda, but one stymied item on his to-do list might get a fresh chance to move forward: trade. That could breathe life into Asia-Pacific trade talks essential to his efforts to deepen engagement in the region.

Obama needs special authority, known as fast track, to negotiate trade deals that Congress can accept or reject, but cannot change. It would smooth the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is under discussion with 11 nations, and help advance separate negotiations with the 28-member European Union.

Regulators: Design flaws led to DuPont plant deadly gas leak

HOUSTON (AP) — A poisonous gas leak that killed four workers at a Houston-area chemical plant in November can be traced to the design of a network of pipes and valves inside the facility, federal investigators said Thursday.

The DuPont chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, had a faulty ventilation system that exposed workers to a highly toxic and flammable chemical typically used in insecticides, officials from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said.

Record $100M fine for Hyundai, Kia to settle EPA mileage case

The Obama administration and automakers Hyundai and Kia announced on Monday they’ve agreed to a record-setting $100 million fine that will end a federal investigation into allegations of inflated mileage claims, the largest ever under the Clean Air Act.

The settlement stems from findings two years ago by EPA that Hyundai and Kia, with three other companies in the Hyundai Motor Co. of South Korea, reported inaccurate mileage testing results for 1.2 million 2012 and 2013 model year cars and sport utility vehicles.

Obama’s NRC picks present another dilemma for environmental groups

The machinations the Obama administration has needed to stock two key independent energy oversight bodies haven’t been entirely consistent with the president’s professed “no-drama” approach to governing.

Last week it won Senate confirmation of energy markets enforcement chief Norman Bay to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but to do so it had to agree to an unusual deal to keep Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur in place for nine months while he gets experience as a regulator. She was also confirmed to a second term.

Now the administration has put environmental groups in something of a box over one of its nominees to fill two Democratic slots on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Crude ban repeal arguments ‘over-ventilated,’ Moniz says

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday threw more cold water on oil industry hopes that the Obama administration will quickly loosen the ban on crude oil exports.

Speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum conference, Moniz downplayed the impact of the industry campaign for a repeal and reiterated that the U.S. still imports more than 7 million barrels a day of oil.

Nuclear industry raises flags over Baran, Burns nominations to NRC

The head of the nuclear power industry’s trade group raised questions Tuesday about President Barack Obama’s two nominees to the fill one current and one expected vacancy on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The White House said earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would nominate Jeffery M. Baran, a congressional staffer, and Stephen G. Burns, a former longtime NRC official who rose to general counsel before leaving in 2012 to become head of legal affairs at the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency

Newsmaker: Benson says EPA won’t impose toughest regs on coal ash

The head of the nation’s largest recycler of coal fly ash says the Obama administration has informed him that it will complete new regulations that will continue to treat the power plant waste as a non-hazardous substance.

Such a decision, expected to be unveiled in court as early as next week, would mark a victory for recyclers and utilities and a setback for environmentalists who have pressed to regulate coal ash more stringently as a hazardous waste.

Kirk A. Benson, chief executive of Utah-based Headwaters, Inc., told EnergyGuardian that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department plan to comply next week with a federal judge’s order to set a date to finalize new ash disposal regulations under Section D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which covers non-hazardous wastes.

Newsmaker: API unleashes military veterans to lobby lawmakers on drilling

In the grassroots equivalent of a military invasion, the American Petroleum Institute is unleashing a platoon of veterans on Capitol Hill this week to press Congress for more favorable policies to expand oil and gas drilling.

The lobbying effort by 29 veterans from 27 states is set for Wednesday and will inject a new messaging element into the oil lobby’s year-long campaign to tie expanded domestic oil and gas production to job creation, a top API executive tells EnergyGuardian.

Mystery drones fly over French nuclear sites

PARIS (AP) — French security officials are investigating a spate of mysterious and illegal flights by drone aircraft over more than a dozen nuclear power stations in France, raising security concerns in a country that largely lives off atomic energy.

In what environmental activists call a worrisome development, authorities have tallied at least 15 overflights of nuclear sites since early October, culminating Friday with five at separate sites, government and utility officials said Monday.

Low oil prices send chills through oil patchviews.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Marcus Jundt moved to Williston from Minnesota almost four years ago and has opened four restaurants there since. Food isn’t propelling his business, though. It’s oil.

“Everything I’ve done in Williston is a derivative of oil,” he says.

That oil has averaged $96 a barrel over the past four years, fueling more drilling, more hiring, and bigger appetites in North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere. Now oil has hit a rough patch, plunging to $79 from $107 in June on fears of a global glut. Many expect these lower prices are to stick around for a while.

LNG export bill faces wait in Senate

The talks between a Republican senator and the Obama administration to set deadlines for Energy Department decisions on natural gas exports isn’t leading to fast action on Capitol Hill.

Bipartisan-backed legislation by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., reflecting discussions between Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. and Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, would set a 45-day deadline for the department to rule on export applications following final project environmental reviews.

Lawmakers applaud money in Obama budget for quake warning system

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s recommendation to spend $5 million next year on an early earthquake warning system for the West Coast represents a significant breakthrough, congressional supporters of the project said Wednesday.

It’s the first time Obama has included funding for the project in his annual budget recommendation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressman Adam Schiff, both Democrats, say the change shows the president recognizes the importance of moving ahead with the project more quickly.

Keystone likely a target of GOP-controlled Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican control of the House and Senate seems tantalizingly close, so leading Republicans are turning to a matter often overlooked in campaigns: how to actually govern.

They say it will be crucial to show the GOP can legislate, lead and solve problems after years of lobbing political grenades at President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.

Hyundai, Kia to pay $100M to settle mileage case

Hyundai and Kia have agreed to pay a record $100 million civil fine under the Clean Air Act to settle allegations that it overstated the mileage of certain 2012 and 2013 model year vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.

The companies, part of the South Korea-based Hyundai Motor Group, will also spend $50 million to correct their certification process and forfeit more than $200 million worth of greenhouse gas credits, the agency said in a joint statement with the Justice Department.

EPA said the claimed mileage for some 1.2 million vehicles was overstated from one to six miles per gallon, based on tests it conducted in 2012. The companies revised their mileage estimates downward for 2011-2013 model year cars and sport utility vehicles, and reimbursed owners for their additional fuel costs.

The companies did not admit liability in the settlement and maintained that they complied with the law.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and review by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Greens cheer EPA settlement to phase out coal at most Alliant Iowa plants

The federal government and a Midwest utility on Wednesday announced a Clean Air Act settlement that would phase out coal use at five plants in Iowa and prevent the restart of a sixth, a development that environmentalists celebrated as marking the 200th coal plant closure nationwide since 2010.

The proposed settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and Interstate Power and Light, an Alliant Energy subsidiary, would have the company install pollution controls at its two remaining Iowa coal-fired plants, pay a $1.1 million penalty, and invest $6 million in environmental mitigation projects.

Florida pushes forward with plan to open bear hunting season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is pushing forward on allowing limited black bear hunting for the first time in decades as part of an aggressive plan to manage the animals after four attacks in the past year.

On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said its staff is putting together a hunting plan that it will review in April. Hunting could resume as soon as this fall.

Figueres says U.S. taking steps toward Paris climate deal

The head of the United Nations climate group on Sunday praised the Obama administration’s plan to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in advance of talks next year that are to yield a new post-2020 international climate change accord.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned regulations on carbon emissions from existing power plants as a positive step.

“They’re actually doing quite well,” she said of the administration on the weekly Platts Energy Week television program. Noting the power plant limits, she added, “the U.S. is doing a very good job in preparing what all of the other countries are currently preparing,” in terms of national commitments toward a new deal.