OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate probes gas drilling amid climate-study battle

The scrutiny of the broader gas-climate nexus has been building for months – the investigative news group ProPublica published a lengthy piece in January about whether the greenhouse gas advantages of natural gas have been overstated.

Multiple oil-and-gas industry groups are pushing back vigorously against the Cornell study, questioning underlying assumptions about the global warming impact of methane and the amount of the gas lost in well development and gas transport, among other things.

“We don’t find the study credible for a number of reasons,” said Russell Jones, senior economic adviser with the American Petroleum Institute.

The industry-funded group Energy in Depth issued a lengthy rebuttal to reporters Monday – criticism the group is circulating on Capitol Hill as well. For instance, it attacks the study’s assignment of a greater “Global Warming Potential” to methane than the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But the Cornell report – led by Prof. Robert Howarth – defends the higher value by citing a 2009 study in Science that said methane becomes a more powerful greenhouse gas when it's combined with aerosols in the atmosphere.

Look for the overall issue to surface at Tuesday’s Senate hearing, which will include testimony from Robert Perciasepe, the deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Capitol Hill aides say questions to the various witnesses about the nexus between hydraulic fracturing and greenhouse gases are likely.

NEWS BITES:

Feinstein calls for new spent-fuel storage regulations


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to impose new storage regulations on spent nuclear fuel.

Feinstein called on Jaczko to consider requiring that spent fuel be transferred more quickly from storage pools to dry casks. Spent fuel must remain in ponds for several years to fully cool. It is later transferred to dry casks.

But Feinstein said spent fuel sometimes stays in the ponds for decades.

“I am writing to ask that you seriously consider regulatory policies that would encourage the movement of nuclear fuel, once sufficiently cool, out of spent fuel pools and into dry cask storage systems,” Feinstein said in an April 8 letter to Jaczko, adding later, “In fact, there are examples in the U.S. where nuclear fuel rods have been stored in spent fuel pools for decades.”

Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Appropriations panel's Energy and Water subcommittee, raised concerns about spent fuel storage at a recent hearing in light of the major problems at spent fuel ponds at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

NRDC scientist to call for independent review of U.S. nuclear plants

A top scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council will call on Congress Tuesday to support an independent review of the country’s nuclear power plants.

“It is not credible to expect the NRC staff to perform an unbiased review of its own past failings,” Dr. Tom Cochran of NRDC will say in his testimony at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

The NRC has launched a wide-ranging review of the country’s nuclear power plants, but NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has insisted that the country’s reactors are safe.

ON TAP TUESDAY:

Here are some of the notable energy-related events around town

Lott, Dorgan et al. to talk energy security, release letter

The Bipartisan Policy Center will launch a new energy project that will have a heavy focus on energy security.

It’s led by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), former National Security Adviser James Jones, former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and William Reilly, who co-chaired the recent presidential offshore drilling safety commission.

The quartet will release an open letter on energy security – a topic they feel hasn’t received the political follow-through it deserves.

White House green chief, Bingaman headline forum

The New Republic magazine has gathered a lineup of big names in the energy world for a forum called “Energy Policy: Powering the Economic Recovery.”

Speakers include White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who tried to shepherd a big climate and energy bill through the Senate last year.

EPA chief, NRC chairman headline Senate panel


The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will continue the multi-front Capitol Hill probe of nuclear safety concerns that the crisis in Japan have thrust into the spotlight.

The committee will hear from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

Senate Energy Committee to vote on nukes nominee ... 

The committee will vote on the nomination of Peter Lyons to be the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy – a step that comes amid heavy scrutiny of nuclear safety roused the Japanese reactor crisis.

Lyons is already in the role on an acting basis, and served as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from early 2005 until mid-2009.

... and mark up efficiency, hydropower bills

The panel is also getting into gear legislatively tomorrow. Lawmakers will mark up bills related to appliance efficiency, hydropower and offshore marine renewable energy. All of them have bipartisan co-sponsorship.

And don’t forget:

The hearing about natural gas drilling that’s discussed in our State of Play.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of Monday’s E2 stories:

- Actor Robert Redford said he would be “devastated” if Republicans blocked EPA regulations
- The White House completed its review of EPA’s spilled-milk plan
- A report commissioned by the Coast Guard found that the agency was unprepared for last year’s oil spill
- And Key House Democrats defended DOE’s loan guarantee program

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @E2Wire, @AndrewRestuccia.