OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior vows 'major' step on offshore wind

State of play: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be in Baltimore Thursday to roll out the next steps in the department’s efforts to spur construction of offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Coast.

The department isn’t saying much, other than promising a “major” step towards development off the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.

But the energy news service Platts reported that Interior will announce that an environmental study shows that wind development off the mid-Atlantic coast will have “no significant impact” on the environment.

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Officials will announce completion of an assessment of plans by Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to begin issuing offshore wind leases later this year, Platts reported.

Salazar is holding a news conference at the Baltimore World Trade Center with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.


NEWS BITES:

Dems rally around 'Gasland' director Fox

House Democrats are rallying around Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland,” who was arrested at a House hearing on “fracking” Wednesday.

"It is beyond unacceptable that acclaimed documentary director Josh Fox was arrested for trying to film a public hearing on groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing in Pavilion, Wyoming. This was a public hearing, there was plenty of room for cameras,” Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a vocal critic of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” said in a statement.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, echoed Hinchey’s sentiments.

“I cannot recall a chair of any committee or subcommittee having ever ordered the removal of a person who was filming a committee proceeding and not being disruptive, whether or not that person was accredited,” he said in a statement. “It is a matter of routine that all sorts of people photograph and record our proceedings.  Most of them are not accredited.”

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Republicans on a House Science Committee panel objected to Fox filming a hearing on fracking Wednesday, noting that he was not a credentialed member of the press. Capitol Police then arrested Fox when he refused to leave the hearing. He was charged with “unlawful entry.”

Fox is a vocal opponent of fracking, the natural-gas drilling method whereby water, chemicals and sand are injected into the ground to gain access to valuable natural gas supplies.

In his documentary “Gasland,” Fox takes aim at the drilling method, arguing, among other things, that it threatens to pollute groundwater. Wednesday’s hearing focused on a draft Environmental Protection Agency study that concludes fracking likely led to groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo.

The study has come under fire from industry groups and Republicans, who say it is error-ridden. But EPA defended the study at Wednesday’s hearing.

Fox blasted Republicans for asking him to leave the hearing, arguing that his First Amendment rights had been violated. Fox is currently filming the sequel to “Gasland,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary last year.

Here is part of Fox’s statement:

“As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including Congressional hearings. It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception. No one on Capitol Hill should regard themselves exempt from the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly ‘Congress shall make no law ... that infringes on the Freedom of the Press.’ Which means that no subcommittee rule or regulation should prohibit a respectful journalist or citizen from recording a public hearing.”

House drilling bills head for floor this month

The House Natural Resources Committee, voting largely along party lines, cleared a trio of bills to expand oil-and-gas production Wednesday, and they’re making a beeline for the floor.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the measures would come to the floor the week of Feb. 13 as part of a more sweeping energy and infrastructure package.

The bills are part of House GOP plans to fund transportation and infrastructure projects with revenues from expanded oil-and-gas development.

The three bills approved in committee would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development; mandate an expansion of offshore oil-and-gas leasing to include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico; and seek to spur oil shale development in western states.

Democrats Dan Boren (Okla.) and Jim Costa (California) voted for all three, and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) joined them in support the bill to open the Arctic refuge.

Business groups want to delay boiler rules in payroll tax package

About 300 business groups are pressing House and Senate lawmakers to include in an upcoming extension of the payroll tax cut a measure that would delay and weaken Environmental Protection Agency boiler pollution regulations.

The measure, known as the EPA Regulatory Relief Act, “is critical to preserving jobs in many manufacturing industries, and we urge you to help pass this important legislation,” the groups wrote Wednesday in a letter to members of Congress. 

House and Senate conferees are meeting to negotiate an extension of the payroll tax cut.

Industry groups have launched an aggressive lobbying campaign against the EPA regulations, which would require operators of industrial boilers and incinerators to install technology to reduce harmful air pollutants like mercury and soot.

Opponents of the rules say they will impose huge costs on industry and result in thousands of job losses.

But EPA says the rules are narrowly tailored and will only affect 1 percent of the country’s boilers. The agency also estimates that the regulations will prevent 8,100 premature deaths and 5,100 heart attacks a year starting in 2015.

The House passed the bill delaying and weakening the rules in October.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

Senate’s turn to examine major nuke waste report

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will explore the new report by a presidential panel on the path ahead for U.S. nuclear waste policy.

A House panel put the report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future under a microscope Wednesday. More on that here.

The report calls for, among other things, development of consolidated interim storage sites to handle waste that’s piling up at the nation’s power reactors; revived efforts to develop one or more permanent geologic disposal sites; and a new federally chartered body to take control of the issue away from the Energy Department.

Energy secretary continues post-SOTU road trip


Energy Secretary Steven Chu will be in Texas Thursday to promote the energy themes of President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech (basically, oil and natural-gas production = good, renewables and efficiency = good, too).

Chu will “meet with executives from various oil and gas companies, tour a recently completed major energy efficiency upgrade at the Texas Medical Center, and host a State of the Union Town Hall with students from Houston Community College,” an advisory states.

He will specifically tour the control room of the Thermal Energy Corporation at the big Texas Medical Center.

The corporation, helped by $10 million in federal funds, last year completed a 48 megawatt combined heat and power plant that’s expected to save roughly $11 million annually in heating costs, according to the Department of Energy.

Forum to explore U.S., China low-carbon efforts


The Brookings Institution will hear from an Energy Department official and other experts at a forum on efforts by the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters to foster low-carbon development. More here.

Conservative think tank to host energy forum

The George C. Marshall Institute will host a forum titled “Effective Energy Policy: Learning Lessons from Forty Years of Trying.”

Speakers include Karen Harbert, who heads the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The forum will cast a critical eye on federal financial support for green energy. More here.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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

— EPA stands by ‘fracking’ study but calls reach limited
— Feds: Public health risks from major nuclear accident 'very small'
— GOP makes it official: No Kochs at Keystone hearing
— Oscar-nominated director arrested at House hearing
— Official: Lack of nuclear waste dump is a ‘serious failure of the American government’
— Crossroads GPS hits Obama over Solyndra with new ad campaign
— Markey to revive oil-lease revenue battle
— House GOP: No decision yet on Solyndra contempt charges

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

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