OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Secretary Chu to defend energy budget

State of play: Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify before Congress Thursday on the Obama administration’s budget request.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing is certain to be more friendly than Chu’s last appearance before Congress, where the secretary spent more than five hours in front of a House panel defending his decision to grant a $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar panel firm Solyndra.

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This time, Chu will appear before a more friendly, Democrat-controlled committee. He’ll defend the Energy Department’s budget blueprint, which seeks to boost renewable energy funding and repeals billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, among other things.Read E2’s budget coverage here and here.

Expect some questions about Solyndra and the Energy Department’s loan program. The Energy Department loan guarantee program would not receive any expanded funding authority under President Obama’s budget request. The plan instead calls for continued oversight of the existing loan portfolio.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will give an encore performance of his defense of his department’s budget request Thursday. He’ll appear before a House Appropriations Committee panel in the afternoon.

Here’s what Salazar said Wednesday before the House Natural Resources Committee.


NEWS BITES: 

White House responds to subpoena threat

The White House pushed back Wednesday night against a GOP threat to subpoena officials as part of its ongoing Solyndra probe.

Here’s the full statement, from White House spokesman Eric Schultz:

“After 187,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, and five Congressional hearings, Republicans’ allegation of unresponsiveness is as unfounded as their allegation of political favoritism. Congress has now been investigating this loan for an entire year and everything disclosed affirms this was a decision made on the merits at the Department of Energy. Yet, despite no evidence to support their accusations — or perhaps because of it — the Committee continues to demand more materials with no real relevance to the Energy Department’s decision making on the loan. At last month’s House Republican retreat, the Leadership increased pressure on its members to ratchet-up oversight of the Obama Administration for political reasons. It is no coincidence that within days of that directive, House Republicans are escalating this investigation. It is troubling that House members would use their investigative authority and taxpayer resources to seek a political advantage. We believe political motivations shouldn’t drive this investigation.”

Salazar readies plan to improve drilling rig ‘blowout preventers’

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department is planning to float new rules this year that further strengthen offshore drilling safety standards.

The latest effort has been expected since the release of the joint Interior Department-U.S. Coast Guard report last year on the 2010 BP oil spill.

A major focus of the rules will be improving standards for “blowout preventers,” or BOPs, the supposedly fail-safe devices that are meant to stop runaway wells but failed to stem BP’s out-of-control Macondo well.

“I have no doubt that at the end of the day we are going to see a new generation of blowout preventers, and that will be something which we will be announcing ... in this year, in 2012,” Salazar told reporters Wednesday.

“There is certainly a recognition that we need to move to a whole new generation of BOP’s that have the right kind of technology, the information sensing, and a whole host of other precautions that I think people have learned from in terns of taking a look at the BOP on the Deepwater Horizon,” he said.

The April 2010 blowout of BP’s well led to the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and touched off the months-long spill that dumped several million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Interior has already toughened drilling and workplace safety standards in the wake of the disaster. But Salazar said that the blowout preventers can be substantially improved upon, and noted that companies are already moving forward with better safeguards.

“There are some BOPs now that have the kind of instrumentation that we think is necessary on these BOPs. Industry is already moving forward in that direction and we hope to be able to formalize the rule that creates some set of standards with respect to the new generation of BOPs,” he said after an appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Green business groups push EPA on greenhouse gas rules

Groups promoting sustainable businesses and green investing are pushing the White House Office of Management and Budget to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to propose delayed greenhouse gas standards for new and modified power plants.

“We understand the importance of certainty and clear market signals and believe a national standard will both clarify risks and opportunities for US businesses, while also leading to technological innovation and investment in the domestic clean energy market,” states a Feb. 14 letter to OMB from the American Sustainable Business Council, Ceres, Environmental Entrepreneurs, the Main Street Alliance and the Small Business Majority.

EPA has delayed the rules multiple times but says it’s on track to propose them early this year; it won’t commit to finalizing them before the 2012 election. The Obama administration is under pressure from Republicans to back off the plan.

But the green business groups say they will help create jobs.

“Derailing or delaying such standards leads to increased uncertainty and undermines the potential for capital investment and economic growth, weakening the opportunity presented to US businesses by the growing $243 billion global clean energy market,” the letter states.

House Dems to SEC: Don’t let industry ‘water down’ transparency rule

Several senior House Democrats are urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to “promptly” finalize oil payments transparency rules that the oil industry wants to delay and soften.

Fourteen Democrats including Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, wrote to the SEC Wednesday in support of already-delayed rules that will require SEC-listed oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.

The rules are required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

“[W]e are aware of efforts by industry to press the SEC to throw out a year and a half of important work and start the rulemaking process anew, or to release a watered down rule that does not reflect the statutory language as well as the legislative intent of Section 1504,” the letter obtained by E2 states.

“We urge you to resist this pressure and promptly release a strong and effective final rule,” adds the letter from lawmakers including Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s financial services panel, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The letter comes after the American Petroleum Institute recently urged the SEC to pull back and re-propose the rule, and more broadly amid oil industry efforts to win certain exemptions from the rule and the ability to report the information in a way that transparency advocates say would gut the measure.

The industry, however, says that without leeway under the rules that U.S. and other western companies will be placed at a competitive disadvantage compared to state-owned and state-controlled Russian and Chinese firms.

The Dodd-Frank provision is meant to help undo the “resource curse,” in which some countries in Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption, conflict and poverty despite their energy and mineral wealth.



The rules will require SEC-listed oil and mining companies to disclose what they are paying foreign governments (and the United States) for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects.

Click here and here for much more about the battle over the rules.

Markey floats bill to increase LIHEAP funding

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to Tuesday to increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps poor families buy heating oil during the winter months.

“New England winters are often severe, but with budget cuts threatening programs that serve the neediest, including LIHEAP, this could be an historically harsh winter,” said Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement.

President Obama, in his fiscal 2013 budget request, proposed cutting funding for LIHEAP to $3 billion.

The bill would fund LIHEAP at $7.6 billion per year from fiscal year 2013 to 2016.

Read more about the LIHEAP cuts here.

Follow The Hill’s Floor Action blog for the latest developments over the energy portions of the House transportation bill.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

Salazar to face House on budget

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will appear before a House Appropriations Committee panel to defend his agency’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget.

Clinton, Jackson to talk unveil climate initiative

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will appear with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson Thursday at the State Department to unveil “climate and clean air initiative to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.”

“Short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) together account for approximately one-third of current global warming, and have significant impacts on public health, the environment, and world food productivity,” an advisory says.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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

— Rep. Upton pushed for loan to now-bankrupt solar company
— Bill Gates jumps into fray over SEC oil transparency rule
— House advances controversial transportation, energy bills
— House GOP looks to subpoena White House officials over Solyndra
— House might vote on highway bill’s energy piece this week
— Energy working group to assess nuclear waste recommendations
— Sen. Alexander: Don't extend wind energy tax credit in payroll package
— Salazar hits GOP plan to fund highway bill with drilling
— Boehner delays highway bill vote

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