OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate panel to examine crude-by-rail safety

IN RAIL WE TRUST?  Lawmakers are worried about increasing accidents involving railcars transporting crude oil across the U.S.

On Thursday, a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee will hold a hearing on rail safety, taking a specific look at the recent accidents plaguing states like North Dakota, home to the Bakken formation, which produces crude oil.

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Witnesses include Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) chief Cynthia Quarterman and administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Joseph Szabo, among others.

Following the increased number of crude-by-rail accidents resulting in explosions and leaks, lawmakers have called for stricter standards for tankers.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) urged federal regulators and industry groups to work together on testing the contents of U.S. crude oil.

"An objective study of crude oil and how it interacts with the material in rail cars or other products is particularly needed as we take a deep dive into how to prevent harm from future derailments, like the recent incident in Casselton," Heitkamp said in a statement.

"That is why I’m pushing PHMSA and key industry stakeholders to do the right thing and work together – as they previously agreed to do – so we can get the facts and determine if we need to take any further action."

ON TAP WEDNESDAY: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will evaluate potential chemical threats, and possible improvements that can be made on oversight of chemical facilities.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: A House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the challenges facing the nation's fuel supply and infrastructure.

Discussion will cover natural-gas infrastructure in the U.S., which as of late has been troubled by harsher winters. Head of the Energy Department's stat shop, Adam Sieminski, will testify on the prices of natural gas and propane, among others.

Another topic that will come up is the issue of leaks in the natural-gas infrastructure, which recent studies have revealed occurs more often than previously thought, and adds to the country's methane emissions.

Rest of Wednesday's agenda ...

D.C.'s Newseum and the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation on Thursday will hold an event to explore the nation’s move toward a 21st century electric grid.

With more renewable energy sources coming online, experts and industry groups say the electric grid needs attention. Participants in the Newseum event will discuss how utilities, lawmakers and technology companies can help with the transition.

The House Natural Resources Committee will consider a slew of conservation, watershed protection and wilderness bills.

NEWS BITES: 

A House Energy and Commerce subpanel said Wednesday evening that it will hold a hearing next week on the Republican draft proposal overhauling the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act.

Last week, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) released the draft legislation, the Chemicals in Commerce Act, which so far has not received rave reviews. The hearing will be on March 12.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says heavy downpours will become more intense and more frequent as the globe continues to warm on the current trajectory.

"Climate models project increasing days of extreme rainfall in the Northwest, Midwest, and parts of the Northeast, including some populated coastal areas that are already challenged by inundation and sea level rise," NOAA said.

AROUND THE WEB:

So that guacamole scare earlier today, while still an issue, is not worrying Chipotle any time in the near future. The Los Angeles Times reports the disclosure of the risk by Chipotle to its investors is routine.

"As a public company ... we are required to disclose any potential issues that could have potential impact on our business, and we do that very thoroughly," Chipotle's Chris Arnold said.

The Houston Chronicle reports Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz suggested new opportunities may be possible to help steer natural-gas exports to foreign allies on Wednesday.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out what ran on E2-Wire on Wednesday...

- House passes bill on energy efficiency
- Sen. Whitehouse takes climate push to Iowa
- Boehner: Weaken Russian influence by exporting US natural gas
- Chinese government to 'declare war' on smog
- Climate change threatens Chipotle's guacamole 

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