By Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman - 03/03/11 12:14 AM EST
State of Play: House Republicans are fond of saying they support an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that boosts oil-and-gas, nuclear power and alternative energy.
But two months into the new Congress, top Republicans that oversee energy policy have been very short on specifics about how that broad goal will translate into legislative reality.
Hastings, however, signaled to reporters Wednesday that he’s still gathering more information before tipping his hand on legislation.
“There are two factors that are coming to the fore here. No. 1, the unrest in the Middle East is driving up gas prices and the uncertainty is still there. No. 2 ... it becomes a national security issue that we ought to be looking at,” Hastings said.
“To the extent that we can find out what the thinking of this administration is in those regards, we are going to do that on the committee. That is probably the most immediate thing that we can do, and that is what we will do,” he added.
He said there have been talks about legislation with GOP leadership and committee members and noted his preference — which is shared by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) — to move targeted bills rather than a single, sweeping piece of energy legislation.
“We are in favor of an all-of-the-above plan. The most immediate one, and the one we ought to respond to more quickly, in my view, is oil-and-gas because we have so much potential here in this country,” Hastings said.
An oil industry lobbyist suspects there’s a reason why Hastings, for now, is only willing to speak in broad terms.
“Generically, I think he knows what he wants, but I don’t think he knows specifically how he wants to get at it,” the lobbyist said.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) — who heads the energy panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee — was no more specific when chatting with reporters Wednesday.
“We are looking at some legislation. We have got a lot of people [with] a lot of different ideas, so we are trying to look at the different approaches and trying to come up with what is the most effective, reasonable quick way to get it done,” he said.
Whitfield said, in essence, to stay tuned.
“I think we need to have some hearings relatively soon on the overall energy issue,” he said. “With these ever-increasing oil prices and gas prices, we have got to start getting focused on supply and we are going to be doing that relatively soon.”
Upton, for his part, has said his priorities include measures to speed up approvals for construction of new nuclear power plants.
One area where Upton and Whitfield have been quite specific: blocking EPA climate rules. The committee has already held multiple hearings on the regulations.
Upton and Whitfield have floated a draft bill that could remove the agency’s authority to regulate emissions from power plants, refineries and other sources. They are expected to formally introduce the bill Thursday.
Big Question: Will any Dems sign on to GOP bill to block climate rules?
When Republicans introduce a bill to permanently block the EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions Thursday, E2 will be looking closely at the list of co-sponsors to see how much support lawmakers have been able to wrangle for the legislation.
So far, E2 knows of at least one co-sponsor in the Senate: Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Murkowski confirmed to E2 Wednesday that she’d co-sponsor the bill, which would permanently eliminate EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from stationary sources.
Murkowski tried unsuccessfully to block EPA climate rules last year, and she is now the ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of the agency’s budget.
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday he hopes to have Democrats sign on to the legislation, which is expected to be introduced Thursday in both the House and the Senate. But it’s unclear which Democrats are in play.
The bill was authored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Whitfield, who chairs the House Energy panel's energy subcommittee.
Boxer promises fight over efforts to block EPA climate rules
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) promised Wednesday to put up a major fight against efforts by her Republican colleagues to block EPA climate rules.
Noting that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is aggressively pushing a bill (which he’ll introduce Thursday) to block EPA climate rules, Boxer said, “We’re going to be just as strong.”
Boxer warned that the bill, if enacted, would severely threaten public health and she said she would warn the public about those health effects.
“I’m going to take it to the American people,” she said.
She also lamented the fact that Democrats and Republicans are so divided on the issue.
“We just don’t have agreement on this and that makes me really sad — sad for the people who, if they get their way, are going to get sick and die prematurely.”
Bingaman calls on Obama to be ready to tap U.S. oil reserves
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) called Wednesday on President Obama to be ready to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
“Between the lost production in Libya, the crude-oil dislocation associated with additional Saudi production, and the prospect of further turmoil in the region, we are now unquestionably facing a physical oil supply disruption that is at risk of getting worse before is gets better,” Bingaman said in a floor speech Wednesday.
“For this reason, I believe that it would be appropriate for the president to be ready to consider a release of oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve if the situation in the Libya deteriorates further.”
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a 727 million barrel stockpile of oil that can be used in the event of a major oil shortage.
Bingaman’s comments come as Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday that spare world oil capacity would likely tame oil price spikes and tapping the reserve is not yet necessary.
Browner's White House climate office folded into DPC
A White House reshuffling means the energy and climate change office will be absorbed into the Domestic Policy Council.
White House climate czar Carol Browner announced several weeks ago that she was going to be leaving the administration.
"As part of the reorganization, the office is transitioning to DPC, under the leadership of Melody Barnes. The functions, staff and mission will continue, with Deputy Assistant to the President Heather Zichal leading the policy development and coordination work in DPC," a White House aide said. The move is part of a broader reorganization.
Energy Department plans to share energy storage technology with DOD
The Department of Defense is planning to take advantage of energy storage technology developed by the Department of Energy.
DOD is hoping to use storage technology developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy — which invests in high-risk, high-reward research — for military applications.
“A Marine platoon in Vietnam took 2 or 3 radios on patrol, now a squad in Afghanistan takes over 10. On our ships, the ability to maintain steady, uninterrupted power, even if damaged, is absolutely critical for success. We need the ability to effectively store the energy we create — to be able to use it when it's needed, and to use it where it's needed,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement.
The effort builds on a memorandum of understanding signed last year by the departments.
Energy Secretary taking ‘fracking’ reports ‘seriously’
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday that he is “taking seriously” recent reports by The New York Times on the potential public health hazards of a natural-gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
“I think you have to take them very seriously and ensure that when you are using these new technologies to extract natural gas that it be done in a safe way, an environmentally safe way,” Chu told reporters Wednesday. I think that’s all very important.”
But Chu said fracking is important to accessing the country’s vast natural-gas reserves.
“We certainly have to pay attention to the fact that there are potential dangers, but having said that, we have to extract this gas in an environmentally responsible way,” he said.
The Times reported this weekend that toxic chemicals have made their way into drinking water supplies as a result of fracking, during which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to loosen valuable natural gas reserves.
ON TAP THURSDAY:
White House budget defense II: The House
A day after appearing at Senate hearings, the Obama administration’s top energy and environment officials face questions — and, probably, plenty of criticism — when they testify at House hearings on the White House's fiscal year 2012 budget request.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will appear before the panel of the House Appropriations Committee that controls her agency’s spending.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will testify before the House Natural Resources Committee, where he’s sure to face GOP attacks over the pace of offshore-drilling permits.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify before House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
'Power the People' forum to feature FERC, Commerce chiefs
The Edison Foundation’s “Powering the People” forum at the Newseum will feature remarks by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, among others.
The event “will demonstrate how electric utilities, energy technology and IT companies, auto manufacturers, and policy makers are leading the way toward smart homes, electric transportation choices, and how collaboration and partnerships are transforming energy markets,” an advisory states.
Think tank forum to weigh electric vehicles
The Bipartisan Policy Center will host an event on the role of electric vehicles in U.S. transportation and energy policy. Participants will include Robbie Diamond, who heads Securing America’s Future Energy and the Electrification Coalition.
What's at stake:
“Some say electric vehicles offer one of the best ways to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, while others believe there are still too many problems with this new technology. The president and some leaders from each party on Capitol Hill have said they are willing to work together on electric vehicle legislation, but every federal dollar spent is drawing increased scrutiny," an advisory states.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Here's a quick roundup of Wednesday's E2 items:
- Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) clashed with Republicans over the issue of increasing fees on the oil industry.
- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suggested he would challenge a court decision critical of the Interior Department's offshore drilling policies.
- Salazar also said his department needs more funding to approve deepwater permits.
- Energy Secretary Steven Chu said there's no reason to tap the country's oil reserves at this time.
- The White House dismissed a claim by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) that President Obama wants high gas prices.
- Republicans will introduce a bill to block EPA climate rules Thursday.
- EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson applauded Fox News for going carbon neutral.
- House Democrats called for "fracking" hearings.
This post was updated at 9:25 p.m. on March 2 and 4:38 a.m. on March 3