Overnight Energy: 2015 nearly breaks US temperature record

SECOND-WARMEST: Buoyed by a record-smashing December, federal scientists officially named 2015 the second-warmest year on record for the United States on Thursday.

The annual average temperature in 2015 in the U.S. was 54.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.4 degrees above the 20th century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced. Since record-keeping began, only 2012 has been warmer.

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December was six degrees warmer than average, and it shattered the previous monthly warmth record set in 1939. Last month was also the wettest December on record, making it the first month since 1895 to break both its temperature and precipitation marks.

There were at least 10 weather disasters last year that caused more than $1 billion in damage, officials said, ranging from winter storms to wildfires and droughts.

The near-record heat in the U.S. comes as NOAA and other international meteorological groups prepare to name 2015 the hottest year on record globally.

NOAA officials blamed a confluence of several weather events, including El Nino in the Pacific Ocean, climate change and unique temperature patterns throughout the year.

"I wouldn't pin all of this on El Nino or overall large-scale global warming," Deke Arndt, the chief of NOAA's Climate Monitoring Branch, told reporters Thursday.

"Climate is an outcome of many ingredients and many factors working together to give us the outcome that they do, and they all came together to give us the year that we had."

Read more here.

WATER BILL RUSHING TO HOUSE FLOOR: The House is set to vote soon on a Senate-passed resolution blocking a controversial Obama administration water rule.

The House Rules Committee said Thursday that it will consider next week a Congressional Review Act resolution against the water rule. The rules panel is generally a bill's last step before floor consideration.

The Senate passed the water rule bill in November, and if the Senate clears it, it will go to the White House for an eventual veto from President Obama.

The regulation is controversial among Republicans and agriculture groups, who say it gives the government too much power over waterways.

But most Democrats and the Obama administration support the rule. When the Senate considered the resolution last fall, the White House said the bill would "would "nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water."

Read more here.

DEMS PUSH FEDS ON METHANE LEAK: Three top Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats are asking federal officials to detail how they're monitoring a major methane leak in California.

In a letter to the heads of the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said they want to know what environmental and pipeline regulators are doing to track the leak, which has spewed thousands of tons of methane into the air since October.

"Nearby residents are reporting suffering from nausea, nosebleeds, headaches and vomiting from breathing in the chemicals added to the gas," they wrote in their Thursday letter. "Press reports further indicate there may be toxins such as hydrogen sulfide and benzene present in the air, which can cause severe short- and long-term health effects."

They asked the agencies to brief them on their role in tracking the leak by Jan. 13.

VW CEO TO MEET WITH EPA HEAD: The chief executive of Volkswagen Group is meeting the EPA administrator next week to try to resolve the automaker's ongoing emissions scandal.

Matthias Mueller, head of the Germany-based company, will fly to Washington on Wednesday for the meeting that Volkswagen requested, EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said Thursday.

The meeting will come just over a week after the Obama administration filed a federal lawsuit against Volkswagen for violating the Clean Air Act.

As the EPA revealed in September, Volkswagen admitted to selling nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles that violated pollution standards, but had been programmed to cheat on emissions tests.

Officials have been trying to negotiate a resolution with Volkswagen to remedy the cars that are on the road, but so far, the Obama administration has not felt that the company is stepping up to the challenge.

"We've been having a large amount of technical discussions back and forth with Volkswagen," McCarthy said Thursday at a Council on Foreign Relations event. "At this point, we haven't identified a satisfactory way forward, but those discussions are going to continue. We are really anxious to find a way for that company to get into compliance, and we're not there yet."

AROUND THE WEB:

Pizza politics: An Italian mayor is taking heat for trying to ban wood-burning pizza stoves that don't have proper ventilation, The New York Times reports.

A design firm is looking to Kenya's largest slum to try solving the problem of severe urban flooding, the University of Minnesota's Ensia magazine reports.

A group of scientists is worried human activity has pushed the Earth into a new "geological epoch," The Guardian reports.  

Saudi Arabia is considering spinning off its state-owned oil company, Aramco, into what would likely be the largest investor-owned company in the world, the Economist reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-Manatees no longer endangered, feds say
-EPA science advisers buck agency on fracking safety
-House to take up bill blocking EPA water rule
-EPA head: Court won't block climate rule
-Militia movement growing at rapid rate
-Dems push Volkswagen to offer 'generous' emission compensation
-2015 was second-hottest year on record in the US
-Car efficiency falls slightly in 2015

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