OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Obama's agenda in focus; Markey staffer heads to EPA

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STATE OF PLAY: Obama will talk energy at GE, but will his agenda come to life?

President Obama will make the economic case for green energy Friday when he visits a General Electric plant in upstate New York.

But his latest speech at an energy-related plant – they’ve been a staple of Obama’s travels – comes amid uncertainty about the White House’s post-cap-and-trade, post-stimulus agenda.

Obama has spoken broadly about looking at other ways to tackle climate change now that cap-and-trade has sputtered in Congress. And he has talked up bipartisan cooperation on natural gas, electric cars, nuclear power and efficiency.

But whether this coalesces into a specific legislative agenda is less clear. Last year, Obama similarly spoke in broad terms about climate and energy legislation, but didn’t float a specific proposal, leaving that to Congress. An energy and climate package that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) crafted never came up for a Senate vote.

“I don’t know if they [the White House] are actually going to be more proactive,” said one Senate Democratic aide Thursday. “Getting into the details and pushing a legislative agenda isn’t their strong suit in the last two years.”

The aide also notes that the administration has been able to point to the tens of billions in low-carbon energy investments in the stimulus when touting its record over the last two years.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered few hints Thursday when asked whether Obama’s post-cap-and-trade agenda will surface in next week’s State of the Union speech.

“There are continual reminders that we have to transition to a clean energy economy. Without getting into whether or not that’s in the speech, obviously there are a number of different policy ways to do such a thing -- whether it is setting renewable energy standards that create the type of market conditions where you see that transition -- again, there are obviously a number of different ways to do that,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs added that curbing oil imports remains vital, and touted the administration’s increases in auto fuel economy requirements, but said, “there’s no doubt that we have a lot more to do.”

The GE plant in Schenectady is a logical place to discuss a range of energy matters. It is “home to GE’s largest energy division, including steam turbines, generators, wind and solar, and the future home of GE’s advanced battery manufacturing facility,” a White House advisory states.

“The President will tour the site with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt and he will make remarks on the importance of growing the economy and making America more competitive by investing in jobs, innovation and clean energy,” the White House said.


NEWS BITES

Markey staffer goes to EPA policy office

Michael Goo, staff director and chief counsel to the now-disbanded Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, is leaving Rep. Edward Markey's (D-Mass.) office and heading to the EPA. There, he'll be the associate administrator for the Office of Policy.

Goo, who used to work at the Natural Resources Defense Council, joined the select committee in 2009. Goo has also worked for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the past.

Goo isn't the only Markey staffer heading to EPA.

Energy Secretary calls shale gas a game-changer, advisors eye new inquiries

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that development of abundant natural gas from shale formations is a seismic shift in the energy landscape. Chu said Thursday that it will “help the world transition to a cleaner fossil fuel supply.”

“It does change the geopolitics of energy in a significant way,” Chu said during a meeting with his Secretary of Energy Advisory Board.

In the U.S., natural gas is prized due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon content than oil or coal. But the use of a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing – which is enabling a U.S. development boom – is also bringing fears of water contamination (which the industry calls unfounded).

The advisory board – a panel of experts such as former Under Secretary of Energy John Deutch, who is now at MIT – may form a subcommittee on natural gas, which would include shale gas.

Chu and the advisory board held a long, wide-ranging discussion Thursday about Energy Department policies and programs.

They focused on issues such as how to help cutting-edge technologies bridge the “valley of death,” which refers to the gap between pilot-scale demonstrations and commercialization.

Upton mum on strategy for scuttling EPA climate rules

Everybody’s wondering when and whether House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will introduce his own bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate authority. But Upton isn’t talking.

“We’ll have to just wait and see,” he told The Hill Thursday. “We’ve got some discussions that need to go forth.”

Asked if he’s leaning more toward legislation that will block EPA’s climate authority completely (as energy subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky said he was Thursday) or whether he’d prefer a delay in the agency’s climate rules, Upton demurred. “We’ll see where the hearings take us,” he said.

Upton meets with subcommittee heads

Upton was equally unwilling to talk about his meetings Thursday with the various subcommittee chairmen of his panel. Upton met with Whitfield and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who is the chairman of the environment subcommittee, among others.

Republican hopes to make EPA climate regs a 2012 presidential election issue

Here’s another interesting tidbit from Whitfield. He says it’s important for Congress to pass legislation limiting EPA’s climate authority even if Obama ultimately vetoes it, because a veto will make it an election issue.

"We're going to try to pass what we think is right out of the House. We're going to make every effort that we can do to get it through the Senate," he said. "And if the president vetoes it, then one thing that's going to do is elevate these issues for the 2012 presidential election."

Greens blasts Upton for holding staff meetings with industry

A major environmental group is blasting Upton for holding staff meetings with members of various energy industry groups, comparing them to controversial secret meetings of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force.

The Natural Resources Defense Council's Rob Perks said in a statement:

"The Republican majority's open-door policy for polluters is creating the greatest feeding frenzy since Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. Inviting polluters in to help write legislation did not work before and we are not going to let it work this time."

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) held similar closed-door meetings last year with industry groups in the midst of efforts to craft broad climate legislation.

NRDC staffers are meeting with Whitfield’s staff to discuss their legislative priorities on Monday.

Science panel’s subcommittee chairmen named

House Science Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) announced the panel’s subcommittee chairmen Thursday. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) will chair the panel’s energy and environment subcommittee.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

E2 talked to Whitfield Thursday about his plans for his energy subcommittee (Whitfield said he plans to hold an energy subcommittee hearing in February about the country's domestic energy potential). We also caught up with Upton, who told us about some unusual new names for the panel’s committee rooms. He also said that the committee’s oversight subcommittee will be holding a hearing on Obama’s regulatory review plan.

We also reported that Energy Secretary Steven Chu is arguing that cuts to the Energy Department’s budget will be bad for the economy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is planning to introduce legislation to block EPA’s ability to veto certain mountaintop removal mining permits. His fellow West Virginia senator, Jay Rockefeller (D), voiced support for Manchin's efforts.

In other news, environmentalists are calling on Obama to defend the Clean Air Act in his State of the Union address; House Republicans introduced a resolution demanding that the Obama administration start issuing offshore drilling permits; and the Energy Department offered its first "advanced" biofuels loan guarantee.

AROUND THE WEB

Judge blocks long delay of contentious EPA boiler rules

“A federal judge on Thursday rejected the Obama administration's request to delay by more than a year controversial new regulations targeting emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from industrial boilers,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The ruling by U.S District Judge Paul Friedman is a setback for the White House's effort to demonstrate to business leaders that it is prepared to moderate the pace of new regulation,” their piece adds.