OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Oil sands in focus as Canadian leader visits

State of Play: Opponents of Canadian oil sands will ramp up their advocacy Friday to coincide with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s White House visit with President Obama.

Canada is the largest supplier of oil to the U.S., and the two countries in 2009 launched a joint “clean energy dialogue.” 

But what Obama and Harper really should be talking about, green groups say, are the ecological harms that accompany expanded development and imports of Canada’s massive oil sands.

Environmental groups have long opposed oil sands due to greenhouse gas emissions, and the leveling of Alberta, Canada's boreal forests for massive mining projects that include huge waste ponds, among other reasons.
Scores of green groups are expected to release a joint letter to Obama Friday on the issue. It will call on the administration to reject TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta to oil refineries in Texas.

And there will be a protest! Activists plan to gather in Lafayette Park across from the White House, where they will “erect a colorful display of scenes from across the nation, showing how many citizens in each state are against the use of oil from the northern Alberta tar sands,” an advisory states.

Already, several environmental groups have taken to the blogosphere to call attention to Harper’s visit.

“This Friday, President Obama will be meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to talk energy. President Obama has promoted clean energy as an engine for U.S. economic growth and a key to ‘winning the future’ in his most recent State of the Union,” the Sierra Club said on its Compass blog Thursday.

“Prime Minister Harper, on the other hand, is predicted to push for an expansion of U.S. imports of tar sands and specifically U.S. government approval to jumpstart the controversial Keystone XL pipeline,” they added.


Klobuchar to lay down energy marker

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) signaled Thursday that she hopes to be in the middle of Capitol Hill negotiations to boost low-carbon power sources.

Klobuchar — who faces reelection next year — said she will introduce legislation with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) that would create a renewable electricity standard.

She has praised President Obama’s call for a wider “clean energy standard” for utilities, which would include nuclear power and other non-renewable sources, and suggested that her effort could be broadened. Klobuchar is planning to float the renewables plan and “then we’ll see where we go,” she told reporters in the Capitol.

“I’m putting my bill out again with Tim Johnson and then we’ll see what else we can do,” she said, later adding, “I want that renewable electricity standard idea out there to show support for this kind of idea.”

Her bill is also expected to include an energy efficiency standard for utilities and tax credits for biofuels producers. She and Johnson floated an earlier version of the measure last year.

Manchin slams EPA in first floor speech

Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), in his first floor speech Thursday, slammed the Environmental Protection Agency for vetoing a permit for a major mountaintop removal mining projet in West Virginia.

“I believe it is fundamentally wrong for any bureaucratic agency, including the EPA, to regulate what has not been legislated, to have absolute power to change the rules at the end of the game and to revoke a permit, as the EPA did in southern West Virginia’s Spruce Mine, after it was lawfully granted and employees were hired,” he said.
“Giving any agency such absolute power will have a chilling effect on investment and job creation far beyond West Virginia and I am proud that there is already bipartisan support for my legislation.” Manchin has introduced legislation to block EPA from retroactively vetoing permits for such projects.

Senators introduce pipeline safety bill

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced pipeline safety legislation Thursday. The bill would increase civil penalties for those companies that violate pipeline regulations and require automatic shut-off valves on new pipelines, among other things.

The legislation comes several months after two major pipeline accidents — involving a natural gas pipeline in California and an oil pipeline in Michigan — have raised the profile of pipeline safety.

Fight looming over oil tax breaks

The fight over whether to eliminate tax breaks for the oil industry is heating up, sparked in part by an energy efficiency proposal unveiled by President Obama Thursday. Obama said the cost of the proposal, which calls for making commercial buildings more energy efficient, will be offset by repealing oil industry tax breaks.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, released a report Thursday calling on Congress to repeal billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.

“Most oil and gas subsidies have been on the books in the United States for many decades. They represent an era when oil and gas exploration was in its infancy, and when resources were plentiful but remained largely unexplored,” the report says.

“However, while the industry has now become the most profitable in the world, its legacy of U.S. tax subsidies remains alive and well. Some of the subsidies have been on the books for nearly 100 years.”

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing back against calls to eliminate the tax breaks.

“While we’re pleased that President Obama is also focusing on this topic, we do not believe that these initiatives should be funded by imposing higher taxes on the energy industry which would only raise prices for consumers and reduce production of America’s homegrown resources,” Karen Harbert, head of the chamber’s energy policy arm, said in a statement Thursday. “An energy policy that gives with one hand and takes away with the other does not address our daunting energy or economic challenges.”

The proposal to eliminate oil industry tax breaks, outlined by President Obama in his State of the Union address, faces opposition from Republicans in both chambers of Congress. Even a top Senate Democrat, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), has said he doesn’t expect the proposal to pass.


Chu to announce new solar energy funding

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will "announce new funding for solar technology and manufacturing projects" Friday, according to the Energy Department. The new funding is part of the department's "SunShot Initiative," a plan to develop solar energy technology in the United States.


On Thursday, E2 previewed Obama’s remarks on energy efficiency and then gave you more details once the president spoke. We told you about a federal judge holding the Interior Department in contempt over its offshore drilling moratorium. We also reported on senators concerns about the country's reliance on foreign oil.

Then we told you that Shell scrapped plans to drill off Alaska’s coast in 2011, angering drill-state lawmakers. And we reported on a new campaign from public health groups to defend EPA’s climate rules.

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