By Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia - 05/05/11 10:45 PM EDT
Former U.S. intelligence chief makes the rounds in Congress
The country’s former top intelligence official was on Capitol Hill Thursday meeting with lawmakers to discuss the country’s dependence on foreign oil and to advocate for electric vehicle legislation.
Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who served as Obama’s director of national intelligence until he stepped down last year, told The Hill Thursday that recent unrest in the Middle East and North Africa shows it’s time to wean the country off imported oil.
“Right now we’re tethered so tightly to [the major oil-producing countries] that we cannot do something in our national interest long term because we have to worry about short-term supply disruptions and prices affecting people’s pocketbooks,” he said.
“If you look at the big international events we’re had over the last six months or so – Osama Bin Laden being taken out, the Arab Spring that started back in December – that gives an amazing opportunity to the United States to change its Middle East policy.”
Blair is a member of Securing America’s Energy Future’s (SAFE) Energy Security Leadership Council. The council, which is made up of business leaders and former military officials, advocates for policies to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign oil.
Blair met with top lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week to advocate for legislation to promote electric vehicles.
A closer look at the House drilling vote
Two Republicans voted against a GOP-backed offshore drilling bill Thursday. They are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.). Thirty-three Democrats voted for the bill, which passed the House Thursday afternoon.
Here’s the full roll-call vote.
Meanwhile, the oil industry praised passage of the bill.
Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute called the vote a “bipartisan victory,” noting the 33 Democrats who backed the plan.
“It is important to us that we can refocus the debate on the great opportunities we have with American energy resources to create jobs and grow the economy,” said Durbin, the group’s executive vice president.
But environmental groups blasted the legislation.
“It’s astounding enough that the House would even consider expanding offshore drilling before implementing any of the recommended safeguards to prevent another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill,” Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. “But doing so under the false premise that more drilling will somehow help consumers struggling with high gas prices today is simply misleading and wrong.”
DOE forms task force to assess ‘fracking’ safety
The Energy Department announced Thursday the membership of a task force made up of industry and environmental groups and academics to make recommendations on improving the safety of a natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing.
During the drilling process, commonly known as “fracking,” water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to jar loose valuable natural gas reserves.
Here are the members of the group, via a Department of Energy release:
John Deutch, institute professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Chair); Stephen Holditch, head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University; Fred Krupp, president, Environmental Defense Fund; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Susan Tierney, managing principal, Analysis Group; Daniel Yergin, chairman, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics, Stanford University.
Fracking opponents have increased their criticism in recent months, buoyed in part by a series of investigative stories on the potential health impacts of the practice published in The New York Times.
Committee passes pipeline-safety bill
The Senate Commerce Committee approved a pipeline-safety bill Thursday. The bill, authored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), would increase the civil penalties imposed on companies that violate pipeline regulations, and require the installation of automatic or remote shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines.
The bill comes after two major pipeline accidents made headlines last year: an oil pipeline break in Michigan that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into a nearby river and a natural gas pipeline explosion in California that killed eight people.
White House: Work with Congress on ‘clean’ power standard proceeding
White House energy adviser Heather Zichal said Thursday that work with lawmakers on President Obama’s proposed “clean energy standard” is moving ahead.
Obama is pushing a plan that would require power companies to greatly increase supply from “clean” sources including renewables, natural gas and nuclear power over 25 years.
The plan to require 80 percent of the nation’s power to come from “clean” sources by 2035 faces major hurdles. But Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate policy, said “we are committed to working with Congress” on the proposal.
She spoke on a conference call with reporters ahead of Obama’s visit to Indiana. Zichal and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also touted White House policies on auto efficiency and other areas.
Natural gas trade groups team up on vehicles
A pair of natural gas industry trade groups are launching an effort to promote use of natural gas-powered vehicles.
The effort unites America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which represents producers, and the American Gas Association, the trade group for natural gas utilities.
“The ANGA-AGA joint initiative will encourage stakeholder dialogue to advance greater use of North American natural gas for transportation. Specifically, the collective effort will focus on infrastructure development, greater fleet usage, vehicle production, and marketing and education for natural gas transportation,” a summary of the new effort states.
Vitter to float bill requiring congressional approval to restrict exploration
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said Thursday that he would be introducing a bill that would “require congressional approval for expansion of federal regulations restricting energy exploration on federal lands and the Outer Continental Shelf that could provide domestic natural resources and generate revenue to the federal treasury that could be used to pay down the deficit,” according to a statement from his office.
In a floor speech, Vitter slammed the Obama administration’s energy policies.
“Enough is enough, and my bill would prevent those overreaching federal actions that would further destroy jobs on our domestic energy businesses,” he said.
Republican Study Committee releases energy bill
Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), the head of the Republican Study Committee’s Energy Task Force, released a bill Thursday aimed at expanding domestic oil and gas production.
According to a statement from Latta’s office, the bill:
- Repeals the Obama permatorium on America’s outer continental shelf;
- Opens up ANWR to exploration and production;
- Establishes a streamlined process for permitting and lease sales;
- Increases access to onshore oil, including shale oil;
- Blocks burdensome and unnecessary regulations; and
- Simplifies the judicial review process to limit frivolous environmental litigation on leases and permits that would indefinitely halt energy production.
ON TAP FRIDAY:
Gas briefing features authors of controversial climate study
A Capitol Hill briefing on natural gas Friday will include a pair of Cornell University professors who authored a highly controversial study that alleges some natural gas may be worse than coal from a climate change standpoint.
The Cornell study – which The Hill covered here – claimed that natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing has an equivalent or greater climate impact than coal due to emissions of methane in the production process.
Gas industry groups and some analysts have attacked the results, while the Cornell authors say more study of the issue is vital. The office of Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) is sponsoring the event, which also includes a scientist from Ithaca College.
“As natural gas production increases across the country, it is vital that Congress rely on good science to guide federal policy. These scientists will discuss recent research about the impact of natural gas production, and specifically hydraulic fracturing, on public health and the environment,” an advisory states.
House panel to review fracking benefits
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a field hearing in Bakersfield, Calif., titled “Pathways to Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing and Other New Technologies.”
U.S., China energy demand under the microscope
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will hold a forum titled “Energy Demand vs. Water Scarcity: The Dilemma Facing the U.S. and China.”
“The confrontation between growth, water, and energy is readily visible in both the U.S. and China and is virtually certain to grow over the next decade,” an advisory notes.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…
Here’s a quick roundup of Thursday’s E2 stories:
-Gas prices may threaten Obama’s Osama ‘bounce.’
-The Obama administration floated a draft plan to tax cars based on mileage.
-Then the administration disowned the plan.
-House Democrats released an energy bill.
-The White House bashed GOP drilling bills.
-Republicans rejected an effort by House Democrats to vote on a bill to repeal a key oil tax subsidy.
-House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) vowed to take up an offshore drilling revenue-sharing bill
-The House approved a GOP drilling bill.
-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the public won’t go back to gas guzzlers when gas prices go down.
-Oil prices fell below $100 a barrel.
-The Senate will take up a bill repealing oil industry tax breaks next week.