USDA approves new modified corn, soybean seeds

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Agriculture Department has approved the use of genetically modified corn and soybean seeds that are resistant to a popular weed killer.

However, farmers won't be able to take full advantage of the seeds until the Environmental Protection Agency issues a second ruling allowing the use of Enlist, a new version of the 2,4-D weed killer that's been around since the 1940s. The EPA has said it will rule this fall on Dow AgroSciences' application to market the chemical.

The agriculture industry has been anxiously awaiting the approvals, as many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide commonly used on corn and soybeans now. Herbicide-resistant seeds introduced in the 1990s allowed farmers to spray fields after their plants emerged, killing the weeds but leaving crops unharmed.

Senate next after House backs Obama on rebel aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's request for congressional backing to train and arm rebels battling Islamic State militants in Syria is halfway home after its easy approval by the GOP-controlled House sent the issue to the Senate, where leaders in both parties say approval is ensured.

Obama won support from staunch Republicans who typically are reflexively against him and lost the votes from some of his most loyal Democratic allies in the 273-156 House tally. Republicans backed Obama by a more than 2-1 margin; Democrats backed him as well, but to a lesser degree.

Obama, Ukraine president to meet at White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a symbolic show of support for Ukraine's fledgling government, President Barack Obama is meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office on Thursday after the leader of the former Soviet republic speaks to a rare joint session of Congress.

Poroshenko arrives in Washington seeking more robust U.S military assistance to help his country in its fight against Russian-backed rebels. Obama so far has resisted Ukraine's request for lethal assistance, though the U.S. has provided about $60 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine's military.

White House officials made clear that Poroshenko's visit — his first to the U.S. since being elected this summer — was aimed in part at sending a message to Russia about the West's backing for the embattled former Soviet republic.

Office of Sen. Murkowski

Murkowski, Scott point to energy insecurity

Two Republican senators on Thursday sought to call attention to the impact of higher energy prices on the poor, which they said could push struggling families into poverty.

A white paper issued Thursday by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.,  proposes tools to calculate the number of families that fall below the poverty line if energy prices rise.

Feds must address social cost of carbon: Judge


Environmentalists are encouraged by a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson in Colorado last week, which scrapped Obama administration moves to expand coal leasing on federal lands and also said regulators had to explain why they weren’t using a calculation on the social cost of carbon in making their decisions, E&E reports.

Murkowski, Scott forum on 'energy insecurity'

Washington, September 18, 2014, 8:00 am

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Tim Scott hold forum to discuss her white paper on energy cost impacts to the poor, "Is Energy Insecurity on the Rise in America?" 

Suh heads to NRDC

The Washington Post

Rhea Suh -- an Interior assistant secretary who became the target of Republican anger during spring confirmation hearings – is leaving the government to become the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental group that some in the GOP charge is the driving force behind the administration’s carbon rule, The Washington Post reports.

Senate Foreign Relations business meeting on Russia sanctions

Washington, September 18, 2014, 2:15 pm

Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting to vote on Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, other bills and nominations. 

Office of Sen. Ron Wyden

Wyden sees 'performance-based' energy tax breaks

Fault lines were on display at Wednesday at a Senate hearing on energy tax breaks, illustrating again that a comprehensive tax reform effort would have to bridge partisan and regional divides over incentives for fossil and renewable fuels.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who called the hearing -- his first on energy tax policy as chair of the Senate Finance Committee -- endorsed a performance-based approach that he said would allow the U.S. to display "energy exceptionalism" in the global clean energy market.

A relatively small number of remaining energy tax breaks could be "based on performance, not fuel type," he said. "I think this has the potential to be bipartisan."

Wyden avoided specifics about what performance factors he would support, however, or whether he would bring back a tax reform blueprint laid out by his predecessor, former Sen. Max Baucus, that tied clean energy production and investment tax credits to carbon output.

"Obviously senators will have differences of opinion with respect to it," Wyden told reporters about the approach.

He said the proposal raised by Baucus, D-Mont., would get attention in any discussion in the context of tax reform.

The timing of any comprehensive effort remains uncertain, and whether it happens anytime soon could depend on whether Republicans take control of the Senate this fall for President Barack Obama's final two years in office.

In the meantime, Wyden and ranking Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah both called for Congress to pass the $85 billion, two-year package of business tax break extensions and renewals the committee voted out earlier this year.

That package would retroactively renew the wind Production Tax Credit through 2015 and includes incentives for biofuels. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has pledged to bring it to the Senate floor after the November elections.

Hatch offered no detailed proposals for energy tax reform, but made a pointed attack on any attempt to use a carbon tax to generate revenue to offset lower tax rates, saying it would send U.S. jobs overseas and depress U.S. gross domestic product.

He also said all tax provisions should be reviewed.

"When we turn to tax reform, hopefully soon, I believe we need to examine all existing tax provisions, including energy tax provisions, under President Reagan's three criteria for reform: fairness, simplicity and efficiency," Hatch said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., raised Democratic arguments that oil companies no longer need tax incentives after a century of backing by the tax code.

"For folks that have said, "ah you know, we shouldn't pick winners and losers,' well as I've said before, we picked the winner and they won. So now the question is, can we create more competition for different kinds of energy?" she said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who authored the PTC, pushed back against criticism of it leveled by former Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., who testified that it was a government subsidy that should be eliminated.

Nickles said breaks for oil and gas companies should be seen as expensing provisions, different from tax credits, which he argued distort the energy market.

"Would you believe that raising taxes on alternative energy, raising their cost of doing business, will lead to job losses, and is there a difference then between a job lost in the oil and gas sector, vs. one lost in the renewable energy sector?" Grassley said.

Nickles responded: "I happen to think there's a difference between allowing somebody to deduct an out-of-pocket expense, I don't consider that a subsidy."

Senate panel to vote on extending Russia sanctions to drilling finance


The sanctions package up for a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday is aimed at companies -- like Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell -- that finance unconventional oil projects in Russia, including drilling in the Arctic, in deep water and in shale, Platts reports.


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