President Donald Trump on Oct. 18 indicated he plans to nominate Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette to succeed Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy.
Trump made the announcement on Twitter, noting Brouillette's experience in energy is "unparalleled."
Perry said Oct. 17 he will resign at an unspecified date later this year, bringing to an end a tenure shadowed in the last few weeks by his part in the Trump administration's interactions with Ukraine officials.
A House impeachment inquiry is investigating whether Trump abused his power by pressing for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son over alleged conflicts of interest.
Perry's resignation letter to Trump did not mention Ukraine. The letter focused on what he called policy successes in boosting U.S. energy production, security and research. "We no longer depend on other nations for our energy supply, nor are we beholden to the geopolitics of other world leaders for our energy security," his letter said.
He sent a video entitled "The Coolest Job I've Ever Had" to Department of Energy employees.
Perry faces an Oct. 18 deadline to comply with a subpoena to hand over documents in connection with his interactions with Ukrainian officials and alleged pressure on them to replace board members of Naftogaz, Ukraine's state-owned oil and gas company.
At an Oct. 7 press conference, Perry acknowledged in response to questions that he urged Trump to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but added that he asked Trump to speak with Zelensky about energy matters. Trump's July 25 call to Zelensky is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
The subpoena was issued Oct. 10 by chairmen of three House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry. One of the chairmen was the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the Oversight and Reform Committee head, who died Oct. 17.
Memorable moments of Perry's tenure at DOE include his efforts to expand domestic energy production and to help coal and nuclear plants facing low-cost competition from natural gas-fired generation and renewables. DOE under his watch came under fire over what critics called the department's slow-walking of appliance energy-efficiency standards.
Perry said he plans to return to Texas, where he served as governor from 2000 to 2015.
Brouillette has held the No. 2 position at DOE since 2017. His government service includes a 2001-2003 stint as DOE's assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs during the George W. Bush administration. Between 2003 and 2005, he was staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
PHMSA Falling Behind on Storage Checks
The federal pipeline safety agency is unsure it will meet its goal of inspecting all U.S. natural gas storage sites by 2023 because only 10 of 25 eligible states so far have agreed to help with the checks, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Oct. 16.
The report, requested by leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, also outlined potential health and environmental impacts of stored gas and associated chemicals, including sulfur-based odorants added to gas to detect leaks. GAO added, however, that "research is limited on the health effects" of stored natural gas or of chemicals that may be present at storage sites or in leaks.
Following the four-month Aliso Canyon leak near Los Angeles, Congress in 2016 passed legislation requiring the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to set and enforce safety standards for the nation's approximately 400 gas storage sites, located in 31 states. The law also allows PHMSA to authorize states to take on inspection responsibilities for storage sites fully within their borders.
So far, however, only 10 of the 25 eligible states, including California and Oregon, have agreed to carry out inspections under the federal program, the GAO report said.
PHMSA data shows that approximately 10,000 of the 17,000 gas-storage injection and withdrawal wells in the U.S. "have characteristics similar to the well at Aliso Canyon. This could increase the risk of more natural gas releases, according to a 2017 study by Harvard University researchers," GAO said.
The report also said a DOE analysis estimated that 300 cities, towns and other populated sites are within three miles of a gas storage site.
Depleted oil fields used for gas storage, like the Aliso Canyon facility, can leak "if the wells lose integrity because of cracking of the cement used to seal them," the report said, adding that "older wells used for natural gas storage were often drilled for other reasons, such as oil and gas production, and are more likely to have age-related degradation."
The leaky well at Aliso Canyon was drilled in 1953 for oil production.
Court Blocks Sage Grouse Plan Changes
A federal court on Oct. 16 blocked the Bureau of Land Management's easing of development restrictions, including fossil-energy production, on sage grouse habitat in seven Western states.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the Idaho District issued a preliminary injunction blocking the BLM's land-use plan amendments for northeastern California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
"Under these weakened protections, the BLM will be approving oil and gas leases; drilling permits; rights of way for roads, pipelines and power lines; coal and phosphate mining approvals; and livestock grazing permit renewals," Winmill wrote. "It is likely that these actions will cause further declines of the sage grouse under the weakened protections of the 2019 plan amendments," he wrote.
Winmill added that the plan amendments "were designed to open up more land to oil, gas and mineral extraction as soon as possible. That was the expressed intent of the Trump administration and then-[Interior] Secretary Ryan Zinke. There is no indication that current Secretary David Bernhardt is proceeding at any slower pace."
Winmill ruled the environmental organizations that challenged the plan changes in court are likely to prevail in their arguments that BLM's environmental impact statements violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
Plaintiffs in the case included the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society.
"This ruling throws a wrench into the Trump administration's efforts to weaken protections for the greater sage grouse, a species that is declining Westwide," Erik Molvar, the Western Watersheds Project's executive director, said.
The plan amendments eliminated approximately 10 million acres of sage grouse "focal areas" proposed for withdrawal from mineral development under 2015 plans. In 2017, Zinke canceled the proposed withdrawal.
In addition, the plans eased restrictions on oil and gas leasing inside "priority habitat management areas" that total 29 million acres across the seven states.
Senate Rejects Repeal of EPA Rule Killing CPP
The Senate on Oct. 17 rejected a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's action earlier this year to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.
The vote on SJR 53 was 51-43, which fell mostly on party lines. Three Democrats voted against the resolution: Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, Alabama's Doug Jones and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. One Republican, Maine's Susan Collins, voted for the resolution.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed for the vote to put Senate Republicans on the record on the CPP repeal, which he called a "dirty power scam."
Ditto Named New Head of APPA
The American Public Power Association on Oct. 15 named Joy Ditto as its new president and CEO, effective Jan. 13.
Ditto, currently CEO of the Utilities Technology Council trade association, will take over from Sue Kelly, who plans to retire in December.
"Many of us have worked with Joy for a long time and know that she will be an excellent leader for APPA," Scott Corwin, executive director of the Northwest Public Power Association, said.
Ditto worked for APPA for 15 years, including as senior vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs from 2014 to 2016. Before joining APPA, Ditto worked as legislative assistant to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and two Pennsylvania House Republicans, Joseph McDade and Don Sherwood.
FERC Approves Storage Compliance Filings
FERC on Oct. 17 approved Southwest Power Pool and PJM Interconnection filings for complying with Order No. 841, the 2018 order that cleared the way for storage resources to participate in organized wholesale power markets.
FERC said the filings "largely complied" with the order's requirements, but both failed to include in their tariffs minimum run-time requirements for resource adequacy and capacity. FERC directed both markets to file revisions.
Commissioner Bernard McNamee said he concurred with the decision, but reiterated his concern that FERC overstepped its authority by claiming jurisdiction over distribution-level storage resources participating in wholesale markets.
In a statement, McNamee said the commission "should have, at the very least, provided states the opportunity to opt out of the participation model created by the storage orders."
FERC Issues Pumped-Storage Guidance
FERC issued guidance on Oct. 17 for developing closed-loop pumped-storage facilities at abandoned mine sites.
The guidance spotlights issues, including potential environmental impacts, for developers considering projects at abandoned surface pits or underground mines.
FERC also released a list of 230 nonpowered federal dams that have the "greatest potential for non-federal hydropower development," the commission said.
The Western dam on the list with the largest potential capacity, at 78.9 MW, is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' John Martin Dam in Colorado. The second-largest potential capacity in the West, at 26.3 MW, is the Corps' Howard Hanson Dam on Washington's Green River.
Trump Sends Danly FERC Nomination to Senate
Trump on Oct. 15 formally nominated FERC General Counsel James Danly to sit on the commission.
Trump sent Danly's nomination to the Senate for consideration. If confirmed, Danly would serve out the term of Kevin McIntyre, who died Jan. 2. The term ends June 30, 2023.
Danly's confirmation would give FERC three Republican commissioners to one Democrat, Richard Glick. The White House has not said whether Trump plans to nominate a Democrat to fill the vacancy left by Cheryl LaFleur's Aug. 31 departure. Under federal law, the commission cannot have more than three members from one political party.
Danly's nomination will be vetted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The panel's chairman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has said she welcomed Danly's nomination. The committee's ranking Democrat, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, said, however, that Trump set a "dangerous precedent" by not nominating a Democrat to fill FERC's other vacancy.
Trump on Oct. 15 also nominated Katharine MacGregor to serve as the Interior Department's deputy secretary, the No. 2 position.
MacGregor is exercising the deputy's authority under an order signed Sept. 30 by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who served as deputy until his April 11 elevation to the department's top job.
Murkowski Introduces Tribal Energy Bill
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Oct. 16 introduced legislation to ease land requirements for Native American energy grants and allow electric cooperatives serving tribes to apply for federal energy grants and loans.
The bill would authorize DOE's tribal energy programs at $50 million per year for fiscal years 2020-2030. The legislation also would reauthorize tribal energy loan guarantees.
The bill would authorize DOE's Office of Indian Energy to award grants for electrification, energy development and energy efficiency even if a proposed project is not entirely on tribal land.
"Many rural and tribal communities face extreme energy challenges and pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the entire country," Murkowski, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is co-sponsoring the legislation.
Senate Dems Oppose Lighting Rollback
Fourteen Senate Democrats, including five Westerners, urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Oct. 11 to restore a 2017 rule that eliminated exemptions of specialty incandescent lighting from efficiency standards and to drop a proposed determination that no updates in standards are needed for general-service incandescent lamps.
In a letter to Perry, the senators said DOE's actions were "indefensible," adding that the proposed determination would run counter to "congressional intent" in writing a "backstop" into the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act triggering tighter standards for general-service lamps.
"With this proposed rule, the department is ignoring the backstop and is instead attempting to continue the exemptions for many incandescent and halogen bulbs. As a result, these short-lived and energy-intense bulbs will stay on the market, despite the widespread availability of low-cost, high-quality, and environmentally friendly light-emitting diode (LED) alternatives," the letter said.
Western senators who signed the letter included Washington's Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, Oregon's Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto.
DOE has argued that the backstop has not been triggered because it has not yet made a final decision on whether to amend standards for general-service incandescent lamps.
DOE's rule on specialty lamps is likely to be challenged in court.
Trump Delays Tariff Increase
Trump on Oct. 11 delayed a planned increase in tariffs on $250 billion worth of imported Chinese goods, citing progress in trade negotiations.
Increases from 25 percent to 30 percent had been scheduled to take effect Oct. 15.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Oct. 14 told CNBC that "we have a fundamental agreement that is subject to documentation" that would settle some aspects of the U.S.-China trade dispute. Mnuchin described the pending deal as "Phase 1" of a settlement. "As soon as we get Phase 1 complete, we'll move to Phase 2," he told CNBC.
The tariffs cover a broad range of energy goods and appliances. Another set of tariffs covering $150 billion worth of Chinese goods is slated to take effect Dec. 15, but Mnuchin said he was confident "we'll have a deal" by then.
Energy goods on that list include lithium-ion batteries, instantaneous-storage water heaters, electrical-filament lamps, and nickel-cadmium batteries, except for those used in electric vehicles.
IMF Urges Adoption of Carbon Tax
The International Monetary Fund on Oct. 10 urged adoption of a carbon tax rising to $75 per ton by 2030 in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In a report, the IMF said if a tax is "not feasible," an emissions trading system "would be equally effective if applied to a wide range of economic activities."
The report warned that actions to stave off climate change so far have been "inadequate," adding that the "2015 Paris agreement goes in the right direction, but the commitments countries have made fall well short of those needed to limit global warming to the level considered safe by scientists—2 [degrees Celcius], at most, above preindustrial temperatures."
By prodding energy markets away from fossil fuels, a $75-per-ton tax would cut U.S. emissions nearly 30 percent below a 2030 baseline, the IMF estimated.
The report acknowledged that a tax would likely face stronger opposition than alternatives that don't have as much of an impact on energy prices, such as "feebates" and regulation.
Under a $75-per-ton tax, the IMF estimated U.S. coal prices would likely rise by 254 percent, while the price of natural gas would shoot up 135 percent by 2030. Average electricity prices in the U.S. would rise 53 percent, according to the report.
The IMF, founded in 1944 and currently with 189 member countries, has a mandate to ensure international monetary stability.
Trump Order Says Guidance Documents Not Binding
Trump signed an executive order on Oct. 9 specifying that agency guidance documents for implementing regulations are not binding and ordering agencies to publish them.
Trump said that "all too often, guidance documents are a backdoor for regulators to effectively change the laws and vastly expand their scope and reach. Guidance has frequently been used to subject U.S. citizens and businesses to arbitrary and sometimes abusive enforcement actions."
Also, his order said guidance documents "may carry the implicit threat of enforcement action if the regulated public does not comply."
The order said agencies must "take public input into account when appropriate" when drafting guidance documents.
The order directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to draft regulations that would allow citizens to "petition for withdrawal or modification of a particular guidance document."
In addition, Trump signed another order requiring agencies to disclose to enforcement targets, in person or in writing, the facts and legal basis in connection with proposed enforcement actions. The order directed agencies to propose procedures "to encourage voluntary self-reporting of regulatory violations by regulated parties in exchange for reductions or waivers of civil penalties."
The National Association of Manufacturers praised the actions. "These two new executive orders make the world of agency guidance more transparent, and they give manufacturers a seat at the table when agencies begin to draft new guidance documents."