OVERNIGHT ENERGY: The Gulf oil spill, two years later


State of play: Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the massive BP oil spill, which spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating the region and igniting a firestorm over the future of offshore drilling.

The spill dominated headlines for months, but two years later, it’s a distant memory on Capitol Hill.

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Frenzied discussions about protecting the country’s shorelines from future spills have been replaced by arguments over expanded domestic drilling, high gasoline prices and the Keystone oil pipeline.

A recent report released by a disbanded commission charged with investigating the spill said the Obama administration has made progress on drilling safety, imposing a series of beefed-up regulations in the aftermath of the spill.

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But the report gave Congress low grades, noting that it failed to pass broad legislation in response to the spill.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke to reporters earlier this week about progress since the spill and work that remains, and slammed Congress for inaction.

But the administration appears to be taking a low-profile approach to the two-year mark of the fatal disaster. At press time, neither the White House nor the Interior Department had announced any Friday events to commemorate the accident.

Still, there was some good news Thursday for those affected by the spill. The Justice Department said thousands of spill victims will receive an additional $64 million in compensation. Read more here.

The April 20, 2010, blow-out of BP’s Macondo well and the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig resulted in the death of 11 workers.


NEWS BITES:

House GOP presses Jaczko for answers on nuke power

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are pressing Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to explain his recent opposition to licenses the NRC has recently approved that allow construction of the first new nuclear power plants in more than three decades.

“Collegial policy differences are essential to proper Commission policymaking. In your votes on these new plant licenses, you undermine the collegiality of the Commission by once again portraying yourself as the only commissioner who places public health and safety as the paramount concern,” top Republicans on the panel, including Chairman Fed Upton (R-Mich.), wrote in a letter to Jaczko Thursday.

“Given that all four of your colleagues felt compelled to write the White House last fall that your ‘conduct as Chairman is inconsistent with the NRC’s organizational values and impairs the effective execution of the agency’s mission,’ this strikes us as a less than accurate portrayal of what is transpiring at the Commission. In light of this, we seek a clearer understanding of the basis for your views.”

Jaczko was the lone dissenting commissioner on two recent votes to allow construction of new nuclear reactors at power plants in Georgia and South Carolina.

In his dissents, Jaczko said the plant operators should provide assurances that they will take into account the regulatory changes being put in place as a result of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Read more here and here.

Bingaman lays groundwork for ‘clean energy standard’

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is trying to build support for a proposal that requires power companies to supply escalating amounts of electricity from low-carbon sources.

Bingaman, in his final year in the Senate, has acknowledged that the White House-backed plan is extremely unlikely to pass in 2012, but hopes to lay a foundation for future action.

He used an op-ed in The Hill to tout the "clean energy standard," discuss plans for a hearing next month on the topic and note that more analysis is en route. The plan to drive a doubling of “clean” power generation by 2035 would not hurt the economy, he said.

From the op-ed:

Past analysis of CES policies by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has shown that a properly designed CES would have almost zero impact on GDP growth and little impact on nationally averaged electricity rates for the first decade of the program. EIA’s analysis last year showed that a CES would result in a substantial deployment of new clean energy, and carbon dioxide reductions of between 20 percent and 40 percent in the power sector by 2035. I have asked the EIA to update their analysis to reflect my introduced legislation. I expect to have their results shortly, and plan to hold a full committee hearing to receive expert testimony on the CES in May.

Chu, Justice Department to mark Earth Day

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will tout the Obama administration’s investments in clean energy Friday during a Web chat that starts at 10:45 a.m.

Separately, the Justice Department Environment and Natural Resources Division is holding an Earth Day event.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Ignacia Moreno will both speak at the event.

Earth Day is Sunday.

Fact-checking group knocks anti-Obama gas price ad

Politifact, an independent fact-checking organization, is out with an analysis that claims ads by the conservative American Energy Alliance attacking President Obama over gasoline prices are inaccurate.

The alliance, which pushes for expanded oil-and-gas drilling and other policies, linked what it alleges are undue restrictions, as well as the Solyndra loan guarantee, to the recent run-up in pump prices.

That’s fuzzy logic, according to Politifact, which is a project of The Tampa Bay Times. From Politifact:

The American Energy Alliance connects today’s higher gas prices to a grab bag of Obama’s energy policies. We can’t see how the failing of Solyndra — a solar panel company that focused on powering commercial buildings — has any connection with today’s gas prices. On Alaska, if Obama had approved drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which, to be clear, he opposes), actual production would still be at least six years away, and that’s a best-case scenario. The Keystone pipeline, meanwhile, is more directly related to gas prices, but even that project would have more impact on future gas prices, not today’s higher prices.

 We rate the statement False.

UN chief to set the table for Rio Earth Summit

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will deliver the keynote address Friday at a major event previewing the upcoming Rio +20 Earth Summit.

The event is hosted by the Center for Global Development, the Embassy of Denmark and Climate Advisers. More about the event — and what's at stake — can be found here.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

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

- Audit finds 'significant' errors in oil spill compensation process
- House Dems press Holder to probe oil-market manipulation
- Obama to nominate nuclear official that Reid accused of lying
- Sen. Franken chides GOP no-shows at hearing on impact of climate change
- Bachmann: Obama 'waving tar baby in the air' with oil crackdown
- Keystone pipeline developer proposes new route
- Dem senator: Romney in 1 percent on wealth and 3 percent on climate change

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

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