OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Impasse over NRC confirmation drags on

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The NRC has already approved a 20-year license extension.

Ostendorff’s first term ends Thursday, so Sanders' hold means the commission could be forced to operate below full capacity if the matter isn't quickly resolved.

In the Capitol late Wednesday morning, Sanders said he has not heard from the Justice Department, and added that he is willing to let Ostendorff's term expire over his concerns with the Vermont Yankee plant.

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told The Hill Wednesday evening that the lawmaker has yet to hear anything from the Justice Department that will cause him to withdraw his hold on Ostendorff’s confirmation.

Company says deepwater containment system works at 10,000 feet

A consortium of oil companies announced Wednesday that its enhanced system for containing deepwater oil-and-gas well blowouts can now be applied to potential accidents in depths up to 10,000 feet.

The Helix Well Containment Group had previously announced its ability to deploy the system in depths up to 8,000 feet.

It’s one of two industry consortia — the other is the Exxon-led Marine Well Containment Company — that has developed enhanced containment systems. 

The Interior Department is requiring oil companies to show compliance with beefed-up safety standards in the wake of the BP oil spill, including their ability to contain a deepwater blowout, in order to receive drilling permits.

NRC: No ‘abnormal occurrences’ at reactors in 2010

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday there were no “abnormal occurrences” at the country’s 104 nuclear reactors during fiscal year 2010.

That's good news for the nuclear industry, which has been reeling in the aftermath of an investigative series by the Associated Press which paints a portrait of a lax regulatory environment.

NRC defines abnormal occurrences like this: “moderate exposure to or release of radioactive material licensed by the NRC or a state agency; major degradation of safety-related equipment; or major deficiencies in design, construction, use of or management controls for facilities or radioactive material at NRC-licensed facilities.”

Kempthorne gets official Interior portrait

They certainly don’t have a lot in common when it comes to policy. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and former George W. Bush Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne will appear together at an event Thursday morning.

Salazar will unveil a portrait of Kempthorne that will hang in the Interior Department.

Harkin: Congress must pass mine safety bill

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said new findings from federal investigators on a mine explosion that killed 29 men last year show that Congress must move forward on mine safety legislation

Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Congress must act to give the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) the tools it needs to properly oversee the industry.

Harkin pointed to MSHA investigators' conclusion announced Wednesday that Massey Energy – the operator of the Upper Big Branch mine that exploded last year – tried to hide its safety problems by altering its safety reports.

“This deception allowed Massey’s greed to go unchecked because MSHA lacks the power to subpoena those production documents,” Harkin said in a statement.

“In order to prevent future mining tragedies, Congress must provide MSHA with subpoena power and other critical tools that will allow the agency to more effectively target the unfortunate segment of this industry that continues to put profits over people’s lives," he said.

MSHA said Wednesday that Massey – which has since been acquired by Alpha Natural Resources – could have prevented the explosion.

More than a year after the Upper Big Branch disaster, proposals in Congress to improve mine safety have sputtered, despite efforts by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and others to pass legislation that would overhaul oversight of the industry.

Republicans say the Democratic reforms are too tough on the coal industry and threaten vital jobs in corners of the country already struggling with high unemployment.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

Inhofe to keynote climate skeptics’ conference

Thursday brings the opening of the two-day climate change conference hosted by the conservative Heartland Institute.

The conference aims to challenge the consensus view among climate scientists that global warming is under way and human actions are a major cause.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who calls global warming a “hoax,” will be Thursday’s keynote speaker.

EPA air chief to headline Senate hearing

A panel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will gather to review upcoming EPA rules to curb power plant pollution.

Witnesses will include Gina McCarthy, who is EPA’s top air quality official.

White House climate aide, energy expert Yergin headline event

White House energy and climate aide Heather Zichal and Pulitzer Prize-winning energy analyst Daniel Yergin will headline at event at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The event will feature release of a study called “America’s Security Options” and feature discussion of “proposed remedies, from expanded domestic oil production to accelerated deployment of natural gas and electric vehicles,” an advisory states.

Sen. Lugar to roll out energy plan via Facebook

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will unveil his new energy legislation – called a “Practical Energy Plan – via streaming video on Facebook.

Viewers should “like” his Facebook page here to watch the 11 a.m. event, his office said.

Alaska’s governor to make energy announcement

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell will appear via videoconference at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, where he will make an announcement about Alaska’s energy policy that “could have a significant impact on U.S. energy supply,” an advisory states.

Vilsack to talk energy

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Chicago to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative America summit. He’ll be on the “Energy Innovation and Built Environment” panel.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

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

- Federal investigators: Mine operator could have prevented explosion that killed 29 men
- Senate Dems use GOP ethanol votes to push for tax revenues in deficit deal
- Governors warn against 'overreaching' fuel economy standards
- Obama: Slash oil industry tax breaks as part of debt deal
- Threats could have chilling effect on climate research, science group says
- Interior boosts offshore penalties, wants Congress to mandate larger increase

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

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