OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Chu to tout nuclear in Georgia

Nuclear power enjoys support from Republicans and many Democrats. But some liberal Democrats, including Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and others, have raised safety concerns about nuclear power in light of last year's disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Chu will meet with Southern Co. President Thomas Fanning and Georgia Power President W. Paul Bowers. Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., owns the Vogtle plant.

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The company won conditional approval in 2010 for an $8.3 billion Energy Department loan guarantee to help build the new reactors. Chu signaled Monday that he expects the department to soon finalize the loan guarantee.

But an Energy Department spokesman said Chu will not announce the loan guarantee’s final approval Wednesday.

Markey has called on President Obama to hold off on finalizing the loan guarantee until the Energy Department makes improvements to its loan program, recommended in a White House-mandated report released last week.

Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request doles out $770 million for the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy to develop small modular reactors and implement the recommendations of a federal commission on nuclear waste management.

The department’s loan guarantee program would not receive any expanded funding authority under budget request. The plan instead calls for continuing to vet loan proposals and oversee the existing loan portfolio.


NEWS BITES:

Hoeven looks for deals on Keystone

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is looking for a political sweet spot as he seeks to advance legislation that would require approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Hoeven said in the Capitol Tuesday that he’s open to pairing legislation to advance the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline with other provisions on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The North Dakota senator, whose Keystone bill is backed by GOP leadership, is trying to secure a Senate vote on attaching Keystone’s approval to highway programs legislation.

“We have talked to a lot of the Democratic senators. Where they are is hard to say at this point because we have talked about a lot of different ideas, and I think it is going to depend on what’s included, is it going to be this amendment by itself, is there going to something else attached that’s going to be included as part of a package,” Hoeven said.

He noted, for instance, that Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are promoting major energy-efficiency legislation.

“We talked about maybe matching those two up as a concept,” he said. “That is something we are certainly open to now or in another package too.”

It remains unclear whether the Keystone amendment will come up for a vote during the highway bill debate, and Hoeven and other backers would face a steep uphill climb getting the 60 votes needed. “Leadership is working on that right now, so we will see. We are hopeful,” he said.

Hoeven noted that even if the amendment doesn't get a vote, the issue would be alive in a House-Senate negotiation on the transportation bill because separate Keystone-approval language is in the House highway bill.

“This doesn’t mean this is the only opportunity to do it,” he said of the Senate highway bill debate. “That is why we are talking to as many members as possible on the Democratic side as well as Republicans, making our case as well as talking about ‘do we pair up with something else.’ ”

Hoeven backs the pipeline as a way to expand energy security, while critics point to greenhouse gas emissions and other ecological damage from developing Alberta’s oil sands.

President Obama rejected the pipeline last month but Republicans hope to force approval – and make Obama pay a political price for nixing TransCanada Corp.’s project.

The White House in January said the administration didn’t reject Keystone on the “merits” but because a decision deadline that Republicans demanded left too little time to complete review. The administration has invited TransCanada to reapply.

Activists deliver Senate leaders petitions opposing Keystone pipeline

Anti-Keystone activists delivered to top Senate leaders nearly 800,000 petitions in opposition to the controversial oil sands pipeline Tuesday.

The activists had organized a 24-hour push to sign the petition ahead of a possible Senate vote this week on a GOP amendment that would authorize Keystone's construction. Republicans want to add the provision to broad Senate transportation legislation.

Organizers said the petition had received more than 800,000 signatures by Tuesday evening.

“The voice of three quarters of a million Americans is a force that the Senate will ignore only at great peril," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Tuesday.

“Big Oil is spending millions on political influence to force approval of this dangerous and unnecessary pipeline. But Congress shouldn’t be in the business of permitting oil industry projects, and they shouldn’t be promoting oil profits above the health and safety of Americans.”

Activists delivered the petitions to the Capitol Tuesday in dozens of boxes.


ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

Salazar to defend budget plans

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will appear before the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday for his latest brawl with Republicans over White House energy policy.

Salazar will be defending Interior’s $11.5 billion fiscal year 2013 budget plan, which provides essentially level funding for the department.

Interior’s offshore oil-and-gas regulators would see more resources under the plan, and it would also boost funding for Interior’s renewable energy programs by 21 percent.

Look for GOP criticism of proposals to impose new fees on oil-and-gas companies.

The plan calls for fees on non-producing oil-and-gas leases, and new “user fees” on companies to pay for federal processing of drilling permit applications and inspections in federal lands and waters.

The overall White House budget plan also seeks to repeal billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.

“Instead of promoting new American energy production, this budget will make energy more expensive for American families and small businesses by imposing new taxes and fees,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) in a statement.

Vilsack to headline rural energy hearing

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be the star witness at a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee hearing Wednesday.

“This hearing will examine policies that make investments in jobs and opportunities for farmers and rural businesses through new markets, entrepreneurship, regional strategies and energy innovation,” an advisory states.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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

— White House won’t take tapping strategic oil reserve off the table
— Energy groups pressure White House on derivatives rules
— House Dems seek delay in transportation/energy bill after process change
— While touting 'fracking,' Salazar confronted by professed victim
— House to debate transportation bill in pieces
— Lawmakers seek fight over Arctic drilling, oil taxes on highway bill
— GOP revives pipeline push in highway bill

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

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