August 26 News: U.S. Energy Sector Braces for Direct Hit from Irene; Clinton Review of Keystone XL Ignores Risks

U.S. energy sector braces for direct hit from Irene

From nuclear plants to pipelines and refineries, energy companies braced on Thursday for a potentially devastating Hurricane Irene that is barreling toward the most populated part of the United States.

The storm has prompted energy suppliers from North Carolina to Maine to secure equipment, activate emergency plans and warn customers about potential power disruptions.

“We’re battening down the hatches,” said Alan Griffith of NextEra Energy (NEE.N), which operates the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire.

Seabrook was designed to withstand hurricane and tornado-force winds, Griffith said.

Irene was still pummeling the Bahamas late on Thursday afternoon and was expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday.

While the East Coast region has no major offshore oil and gas production like the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, the stakes are still daunting. The region has around a dozen nuclear plants, a massive oil delivery hub at New York Harbor, and its pipelines and power networks serve more than 100 million Americans.

Clinton Review of Canada Pipeline Ignores Risks, Groups Say

The U.S. State Department has failed to respond to environmental concerns over a proposed oil pipeline from Canada ahead of an assessment that may come as soon as tomorrow, environmental groups said.

There is “no evidence” the department is analyzing whetherTransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed $7 billion Keystone XL project should be rerouted or may be prone to leaks, said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director at the New York- based Natural Resources Defense Council. The department in April found that the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast would have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”

Should the project clear a final environmental assessment, it must still be found to “serve the national interest,” a review that will consider issues such as U.S. efforts to enhance energy security and the pipeline’s impacts on “broader foreign policy objectives,” according to the department. Opponents include Senator Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, who says the current route threatens a major water aquifer in his state.

“My sense is that the most important concerns will not be satisfied,” Casey-Lefkowitz said yesterday in an interview. “These are major pieces of analysis identified as being needed. We see no evidence that’s happening.”

UPS buying 100 EVI electric commercial delivery vehicles; Valence battery packs

UPS is purchasing 100 fully electric commercial delivery vehicles from Electric Vehicles International (EVI) for deployment in locations throughout California. This purchase marks the largest deployment of electric delivery vehicles in California, and one of the largest single deployments of commercial all-electric vehicles in the world.

EVI and UPS have been working for over two years on this project, including a successful 90-day demonstration in the fall of 2010. (Earlier post.) Through that demonstration, UPS used data collected to analyze the vehicle return on investment. Early next year 100 class 6 walk-in delivery trucks with a 90-mile range will be placed in service in the South Coast Air Basin, San Joaquin Valley, and the Sacramento Valley.

EPA Delays Mandate to Report Products Leading to Carbon Releases

The Environmental Protection Agency said it would put off reporting requirements for manufacturers and power plants on the products they use that lead to greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a Federal Register notice today, the EPA said that companies would have until at least 2013 to submit information about the raw materials. Representatives of chemical makers, oil refiners and other manufacturers have tried to scuttle the EPA’s proposal, saying it would force them to disclose confidential information.

The rules were set to take effect this year. The EPA proposed in December that they be deferred and today’s notice makes that decision final. The rules will be delayed until March 31, 2013, for some substances and two years later for others.

CFTC eyes September action on oil speculation limits

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission may vote next month on long-awaited final rules to impose new curbs on speculative trading in oil and other commodities markets.

Lawmakers including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who allege Wall Street speculators are driving up energy costs, haveassailed delays in finalizing rules required under last year’s Dodd-Frank law.

CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a speech Thursday that speculative-position limits will likely be among the rules that commissioners vote on at the next commission meeting, set for Sept. 22.

Bloomberg reported that Gensler said the rule will be considered in September or early October.

“I feel very good about the progress staff has made,” he said to reporters, according to Bloomberg, which has more on the rules here.

Inhofe calls out Romney on climate

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a leading conservative voice in Congress on climate issues, said GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney should stop trying to “play both sides” on key environmental issues.

Mr. Inhofe spoke to The Washington Times a day after he endorsed the presidential bid of Mr. Romney’s top rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow climate-change skeptic.

“I think people need to make up their minds,” said Mr. Inhofe. “You know, we’ve had a lot of time, 10 years we’ve been thinking about this. We ought to decide where we are and not try to play both sides.”

For conservatives like Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Romney has a checkered history on issues such as global warming. As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney signed on to a regional “cap-and-trade” carbon-reduction plan, though he later withdrew, citing a lack of economic safeguards. WhileMr. Romney now opposes federal cap-and-trade legislation, he has said repeatedly that he thinks greenhouse-gas emissions are a “contributing factor” to climate change.

EPA’s Regulating Authority Targeted By Republicans In Appropriations Bills

House Republicans are looking to appropriations bills they plan to debate when they return from recess in September as an opportunity to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulating authority.

The 2012 appropriations bills for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency contain a number of anti-environmental “riders,” provisions attached to bills that have little or nothing to do with the primary measure under consideration.

The office of Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who introduced a number of the riders, defended the provisions an attempt to prevent over-regulation. Of one rider that would block the EPA from designating which streams and wetlands are protected, Simpson’s spokeswoman Nikki Watts told HuffPost, “They are already being regulated through the United States Department of Agriculture and the Congressman feels there is no need to be regulated by two different departments.”

Watts also cited economic reasons for the provisions, going so far as to suggest the EPA has affected the labor market.

“It’s not just the Interior Committee that has these concerns,” she said. “It’s just a frustration that Congress is hearing from across the country about the EPA either over-regulating, or changing the rules, or being a huge hindrance on job creation.”

The riders have met a high degree of opposition from environmental groups. In a memorandum, the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest and oldest environmental advocacy group, called the riders “the worst single attack on our nation’s air, water, wildlife and land to date.”