The Senate Environment and Public Works committee on July 30 unanimously reported out a five-year, $287-billion transportation bill that would authorize $1 billion in competitive grants for charging and fueling infrastructure for electric, hydrogen and natural gas-fueled motor vehicles.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, said the legislation, S. 2302, includes “the first-ever climate title, committing $10 billion to programs and policies that will reduce global warming pollution” from motor vehicles and improve resilience of roads and bridges to extreme weather.
The bill would authorize grants for charging and fueling infrastructure along designated corridors designated by a state or group of states, such as the Regional Electric Vehicle West Plan states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
States in the Western group signed an agreement in 2017 to develop policies supporting development of electric-vehicle charging facilities on Interstate Highways 10, 15, 25, 40, 70, 76, 80, 84, 90 and 94.
In addition, the bill would authorize $370 million in grants for projects to reduce idling at marine ports, including electrification projects.
The bill also would authorize research into direct-air capture of carbon dioxide and CO2 utilization.
Bill Speeding Rules for Gathering Lines Advances
Legislation requiring the federal pipeline agency to finalize proposed safety regulations for nearly 100,000 miles of gas gathering lines 90 days after bill enactment passed July 31 out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
The bill, S. 2299, would reauthorize the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The proposed PHMSA safety regulations for gathering lines were first proposed in 2016.
The committee accepted Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) amendment on the gathering-lines rules. Udall, however, voted against reporting out the underlying bill because it did not include his proposed amendment requiring pipeline companies to upgrade technology for detecting gas leaks and to capture gas when making repairs. Udall said his amendment was critical for reducing methane emissions.
The bill also would require PHMSA to report publicly every 30 days the status of safety and reporting rules mandated by pipeline legislation enacted in 2011 and 2016.
Lawmakers have complained that the agency is taking too long to finalize the rulemakings.
Renewable-Energy Bill Draws Broad Support
Legislation to speed permitting of renewable-energy projects on federal lands, share rent and royalty revenues with state and local governments, and fund conservation won broad support July 25 at a House subcommittee hearing.
The bill, HR 3794, also would authorize the Interior Department to adjust rental rates and capacity fees for renewable-energy projects if the agency determines they are not competitively priced with comparable charges on nonfederal lands.
HR 3794 has 33 co-sponsors from across the House political spectrum. The bill has drawn favorable reactions from a broad range of interest groups, including the Solar Energy Industries Association, the National Association of Counties, Trout Unlimited and The Wilderness Society.
“You can do things together,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), the bill’s sponsor, said at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. Gosar is the subcommittee’s ranking Republican.
Gosar said the bill would establish a permitting coordinating office and require the Interior Department to identify high-priority Bureau of Land Management acreage for wind and geothermal development. Currently, the priority-lands requirement applies only to solar.
In addition, Gosar said, the bill would share out rental and royalty revenues from renewables projects, with 25 percent each for affected counties and states, and 25 percent for a fund to finance conservation and recreational access projects.
Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of SEIA, said in written testimony that the bill’s provision for adjusting rents and capacity fees would remove a barrier to solar development on federal lands.
Speaking for the National Association of Counties, San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood said revenue sharing would help local governments pay for services and infrastructure to support renewable-energy projects.
EPA Proposes NSR Rule Change
The Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 1 proposed a rule to change its calculation method for determining whether modifications at power plants and other industrial facilities would trigger New Source Review permitting requirements.
Under the change, EPA would take into account a plant’s overall projected emissions increases and decreases in determining whether NSR permitting requiring emissions-control upgrades would be triggered.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposed change would simplify permitting.
The Sierra Club said the proposal would open a “major loophole” by allowing facilities planning modifications “to claim that planned decreases in pollution will offset any immediate increases in pollution, thus escaping their obligation to install critically needed pollution-control technology.”
The American Forest and Paper Association praised the proposal, arguing that the change would “exclude minor projects from a burdensome and inefficient permitting process.”
The rule would codify a guidance memo issued in 2018 by then-Administrator Scott Pruitt. The memo was challenged in court by the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
EPA Proposes Coal-Ash Rule Changes
The Environmental Protection Agency on July 30 proposed changes in coal-ash regulations, in response to a 2018 court ruling remanding parts of the 2015 rule back to the agency.
EPA’s proposal would drop a requirement that reusing 12,400 or more tons of unencapsulated coal ash for structural fill or other nonroad uses would trigger an environmental review.
The proposal would replace the numerical trigger with “location-based criteria,” such as proposed placement of ash in a wetland or floodplain. Proponents of reusing coal ash for such nonroad purposes would have to show the reuse would not result in releases above health and environmental standards, under the agency’s proposal.
EPA’s proposal also would regulate coal-ash piles with one set of rules. Under current rules, different regulations apply to piles at power plant sites and piles storing ash for reuse.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in August 2018 agreed to EPA requests to remand rule sections addressing coal-residual piles exceeding 12,400 tons and regulation of materials that will be repurposed.
The court also sent back for rewriting the rule’s provisions allowing unlined impoundments to continue receiving coal combustion residuals unless they leak, classifying clay-lined impoundments as lined, and exempting unlined impoundments at inactive power plants from regulation.
Wind Tower Imports Probed
The Commerce Department on July 30 kicked off investigations to determine whether wind tower imports from four countries are being sold in the U.S. at below-market prices. The four countries are Canada, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam.
In addition, Commerce is examining allegations that Canada, Indonesia and Vietnam are unfairly subsidizing towers exported to the U.S.
The International Trade Commission is conducting a separate investigation, launched July 15, to determine whether dumping and subsidies involving the four countries’ wind towers are harming domestic manufacturers.
The probes could result in imposition of antidumping and countervailing duties.
Two domestic manufacturers, Arcosa Wind Towers of Dallas and Broadwind Towers Inc. of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, filed petitions requesting the investigations.
If the Commerce Department rules for the petitioners and if the trade commission determines alleged dumping and subsidies have resulted in economic harm, Commerce would impose duties equal to the dumping and subsidy amounts. The commission must make a preliminary finding by Aug. 23.
Commerce said final determinations would be made by Dec. 16 on its subsidies probe and by March 2 for the antidumping investigation.
Alleged dumping margins, according to Commerce, are 53.63 to 61.59 percent for Canadian towers; 26 to 47.19 percent for Indonesia’s products; 280.69 to 331.26 percent for towers from South Korea; and 39.97 to 65.96 percent for Vietnamese towers.
Of the four countries, South Korea is the leading exporter of towers to the U.S., totaling 34,937 metric tons in 2018, up sharply from 2,796 metric tons in 2017, according to Commerce Department figures.
Trump Threatens More Tariffs on Chinese Goods
President Donald Trump on Aug. 1 threatened to impose tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods exported to the U.S. starting Sept. 1, which would expand charges to virtually all products consumers and businesses buy from China.
Tariffs have drawn fire from business groups, which say they drive up prices of goods purchased by Americans and create uncertainty.
Electrical machinery, including transformers, generators and motors, is among the top sets of goods the U.S. imports from China, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. currently charges 25-percent tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese products. China has levied retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, including a 25-percent charge on liquefied natural gas that took effect June 1.
In 2017 and 2018, China was the destination for about 10 percent of U.S. LNG shipments, and tariffs are likely to dry up LNG trade between the two countries, according to Nikos Tsafos, an energy and national security researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In a May 14 commentary, however, Tsafos noted that Chinese buyers “have never been major customers for U.S. LNG.”
Chinese products currently subject to U.S. tariffs include solar inverters; AC generators up to 75 kVa in output and single-phase AC motors; tungsten halogen, mercury, sodium vapor and metal halide lamps; non-lithium-ion electric-vehicle batteries; vacuum cleaners and vacuum parts; electric ranges, ovens and parts; television sets; and various electrical products, including insulators, plugs, sockets and resistors.
Cantwell Introduces Energy R&D Bills
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on July 31 introduced a package of bills aimed at modernizing the grid and strengthening cybersecurity.
Cantwell’s package includes:
- S. 2332, authorizing Department of Energy programs to demonstrate storage, microgrid, EV charging, and advanced distributed-generation technologies.
- S. 2333, creating DOE programs to identify and test supply-chain vulnerabilities and response capabilities among DOE, national laboratories and private industry.
- S. 2334, creating a DOE advisory board on developing skilled energy workforces.
- S. 2335, supporting research in emerging building technologies.
Senators Float Industrial Emissions Bill
A bipartisan group of senators and House members on July 25 introduced bills authorizing research into reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sectors, including cement and steel production, chemicals and plastics.
Sponsors said about 30 percent of U.S. GHG emissions come from what they called “hard-to-reduce,” energy-intensive industrial sectors, along with shipping and aviation in the transportation sector.
“In the industrial sector, there remain many obstacles which demand additional research and resources to overcome,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), sponsor of the House legislation, said.
Casten said the bill would coordinate research into low-carbon industrial technologies that DOE is carrying out.
A broad group of industry and environmental organizations support the legislation, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund.
Carbon Tax Bills Introduced
Bills to tax greenhouse gas emissions were introduced July 25 by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Carbon tax legislation has little chance of enactment in the 116th Congress because of opposition from Senate leaders and Trump, but the bills could set a marker for the 117th Congress, especially if a new president takes office in 2021.
Legislation dropped into the hopper includes:
- S. 2284, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). The bill would set an upstream fee on fossil-energy sources, starting at $15 per ton of CO2-equivalent in 2020, and tie increases to future emissions levels. The fee would not apply to “non-emissive” uses, such as gas used as an industrial feedstock. A fee would be charged on fluorinated gases, priced at 20 percent of the carbon fee. Seventy percent of fee proceeds would be rebated to citizens and legal residents with household incomes up to $150,000 per year. A companion bill in the House is sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.).
- HR 3966, introduced by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.). The bill would levy a fee starting at $40 per ton of CO2 in 2020, rising 2.5 percent plus inflation every year that the U.S. does not meet emissions targets. Coal, oil and natural gas would be charged at the point they enter the U.S. economy.
- HR 4058, also introduced by Lipinski and Rooney, would charge fossil-energy producers and large industrial emitters $30 per metric ton, rising 5 percent plus inflation every year. Seventy percent of net revenues would be used to cut payroll taxes, 10 percent would go to Social Security beneficiaries, and 20 percent would go into a fund for research and energy-bill relief for low-income households.
Dems Introduce Energy ‘Victory Bonds’ Bills
Senate and House Democrats on July 25 introduced legislation authorizing the sale of up to $50 billion per year in “Clean Energy Victory Bonds.”
Bonds with denominations as low as $25 would be available for purchase under the legislation.
Proceeds of bond sales would supplement federal financing of energy-efficiency and renewable-energy deployment, including upgrades at federal facilities, state and local grants for energy projects, and research. Proceeds also could be used for grid upgrades and EV charging infrastructure.
The House bill is sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Doris Matsui, both California Democrats. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
DOE Considers Package A/C Standards
The Department of Energy on July 29 opened a comment period on whether energy-efficiency standards should be revised for evaporatively cooled and water-cooled commercial-package air conditioners.
Standards for the appliances were last updated in 2013 and 2014, except those for water-cooled packages with cooling capacity of less than 65,000 Btu per hour, which were last updated in 2003.
One of the issues on which DOE is seeking comment is whether to use the integrated energy-efficiency ratio as a metric for the energy consumption of evaporatively cooled and water-cooled packages.
Manchin Urges Trump to Fill FERC Seats
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on July 31 urged Trump to name Republican and Democratic nominees to fill two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seats.
Manchin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged Trump to stick to the “precedent” of FERC operating “above the political fray.”
FERC has been operating with four commissioners since Kevin McIntyre’s death on Jan. 2. Another vacancy will open at the end of this month when Cheryl LaFleur steps down, leaving FERC with the minimum three commissioners needed for a quorum.
In a July 30 podcast, LaFleur said top issues facing FERC include pipeline reviews, including climate impacts, and review of Order No. 1000. “The onset of competitive transmission processes has been more trouble than anticipated,” she said of Order 1000, the 2011 transmission planning and cost-allocation rule.
BLM Releases Plan for Reduced Bears Ears
No energy leasing is provided in the reduced Bears Ears National Monument, according to a proposed management plan and final environmental impact statement the Bureau of Land Management released July 27.
The proposed plan sets out management policies for the monument’s Indian Creek and Shásh Jaa’ units, which include the acreage left in monument status when Trump in 2017 issued a proclamation shrinking Bears Ears from 1.35 million to 201,000 acres.
Trump’s proclamation has been challenged in court by tribes and environmental organizations.
“If we win the legal fight to restore Bears Ears National Monument, this plan will just be 800 pages of wasted effort,” Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office, said in a statement.
Release of the plan drew fire from Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the committee’s chairman, said, “I’m confident when the courts rule, these illegal actions will be overturned and Bears Ears National Monument will be restored.”
NRC Eyes ‘Greater Than Class C’ Disposal Option
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering disposal of “greater than Class C” radioactive waste in “near surface” facilities and is seeking public comments on a framework for adopting regulations.
A commission proposal estimated that 80 percent of the material could be disposed of in near-surface facilities, defined as within 30 meters of the surface.
Greater-than-Class-C waste is low-level waste containing radionuclides at levels exceeding Class C, considered the most hazardous of three categories of low-level waste.
Currently, such materials are stored at power plant sites and interim storage facilities. The NRC said they consist of plutonium-contaminated fuel-cycle wastes, activated metals from power plants, and waste generated in manufacturing of industrial and medical products.
The preferred alternative in a 2016 DOE environmental impact statement was sending the material to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico or to “generic commercial facilities.” The EIS estimated the current volume of activated metals from power plants at 880 cubic meters.