Daily On Energy: Puerto Rican Governor Makes Big Promises To Congress

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‘SOMEBODY IS NOT DOING THEIR JOB’: Lawmakers Tuesday morning demanded accountability for the $300 million no-bid contract that the Puerto Rican power company gave to a tiny firm from the same small town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The contract was canceled Sunday after a week of mounting outrage.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, the state where Whitefish is based, asked for someone to be held accountable for the Whitefish contract, during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on hurricane response.

I don’t understand what is going on here and where the accountability is,” Tester said at Tuesday morning’s hearing. “Maybe the financial [oversight] board is not doing their job. Somebody is not doing their job.”

‘Exhibit A’: The issue with Whitefish is Exhibit A of how careful we need to be with spending taxpayer money,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement. “The primary problem long-term in Puerto Rico, and even before the disaster, is the power grid. We will be spending an awful lot of money, and that has to be controlled.”

Strengthening the grid: Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his agency will help make Puerto Rico’s power grid more resilient.

“A discussion has to be had on how we build a power grid that is resilient,” Long said. “Typically, we have to restore to pre-disaster condition. That is not optimal, and I would not recommend how this [island] should go. We should not be back in this situation again.”

Other hearings coming: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee also plans to hold a hearing Thursday on hurricane recovery and response efforts.

A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told the Washington Examiner that Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is working with Whitefish to fulfill his request last week for documents related to the contract.

Walden and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, expect Whitefish to brief them by Nov. 9.

‘TRICK OR TREAT’ FOR PERRY’S GRID PLAN: Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman James Hoecker doesn’t think that Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposed power plan to help out the nuclear and coal industries is going to happen this year.

Hoecker made the comments at a Tuesday conference on Perry’s grid plan, which FERC is considering. Former FERC member Colette Honorable hosted the conference, wishing the packed room “trick or treat.” The conference was held by the Bipartisan Policy Center, where Honorable now works. The center is a think tank meant to bring Republicans and Democrats together on key policies.

Perry’s plan is aimed at helping to keep coal and nuclear plants supplying power during times when electricity generation is challenged the most. FERC has taken a proposed rule he sent to the commission last month and expedited its work to implement it under a 60-day deadline.

Hoecker said he doesn’t think the Energy Department has pulled together the resources to support taking the action FERC has proposed in the new regulation.  

Needs evidence: “It’s going to have to marshal evidence,” Hoecker said. FERC also needs “pull together evidence ... above and beyond” what it has presented in the proposal.

Not going to happen this year: “It’s not going to happen this year. I don’t see how it can,” the former FERC chief said.

Pat Wood, another former chairman, said the Perry plan was “like your best friend drove his truck through your house.” He said it was a surprise to see the former Texas governor propose the rule because it would threaten the markets that Perry had been a vocal supporter of.

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EPA TO ANNOUNCE MAJOR CRACKDOWNS WITH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: The Department of Justice and EPA will make a “significant announcement” Tuesday afternoon regarding Clean Air Act settlements with the states of Colorado, Texas and Louisiana, the agencies announced.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been saying in recent interviews that he is not a friend of polluters and that his role is to hold violators of the law accountable. It’s a different tack from reports that he put off meeting with environmental groups to hold talks with fossil fuel industry officials.

PRUITT SET TO BLOCK SCIENTISTS WHO GET EPA FUNDING FROM ADVISING HIM: Pruitt will announce Tuesday that he will block scientists who receive EPA funding from serving on a key advisory board.

Telegraphed move: Pruitt said earlier this month that he would not allow scientists who receive EPA funding from being on the agency’s advisory boards.

“If we have individuals who are on those boards receiving money from the agency, sometimes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, that calls into question the independence of the recommendations that come our way," Pruitt said at a Oct. 17 Heritage Foundation event. "I will issue a directive that addresses that, to ensure the independence and transparency and objectivity with respect to the scientific advice that we are getting at the agency."

Industry over science: The Washington Post late Monday >reported the details of Pruitt’s new policy, which he will announce at 2 p.m. Pruitt will appoint industry experts and government officials from conservative states to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, the Post says. They would replace scientists who have EPA grants and whose terms are expiring.

Fitting a pattern: The move likely will be criticized by environmentalists and Democrats who say the EPA under Pruitt does not respect science.

Pruitt already has overhauled the EPA's advisory boards. He dismissed half of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors this year.

Pruitt also has removed an EPA web page focused on climate change and is encouraging the concept of a "Red Team/Blue Team" exercise, in which two groups of experts debate the science behind climate change. Many climate scientists blame greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels for driving man-made climate change.

GOP sees conflict: Republicans long complained that the Obama administration favored filling EPA's advisory boards with scientists who backed its views on climate change.

House Republicans have unsuccessfully pursued legislation in recent years that would prevent recipients of agency grants from serving on EPA's boards.

ACTIVIST SCIENTISTS SHUN PRUITT’S DECISION: The Union of Concerned Scientists said the EPA’s expected announcement Tuesday could mean the end of independent oversight at the agency.

“In the end, the consequences of these decisions aren’t just bad for a few scientists,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy with the science group. “This could mean that there’s no independent voice ensuring that EPA follows the science on everything from drinking water pollution to atmospheric chemical exposure.”

The risks: “This opens the door to political interference in science and, ultimately, puts us all at risk.”

Breaking precedent: “The EPA’s science advisory boards are supposed to be composed of the best experts in the field, putting their knowledge and skills to work on behalf of the public,” Rosenberg added.

Opposed to the law: “Pruitt broke with precedent by refusing to renew the terms of several board members, and his choices to fill open slots are, in many cases, opposed to the laws the EPA enforces and funded by the industries the EPA oversees.”

CONGRESS PUSHES LONG-TERM REFORMS FOR PUERTO RICO: Congress over the coming weeks >will scrutinize the no-bid contract between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Whitefish Energy, even though it was canceled Sunday, and will push for long-term reforms of the island’s bankrupt power utility.

House Republicans in pursuit: Fresh off a trip to Puerto Rico, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he still expects to receive documents from PREPA to explain how Whitefish landed the contract, his office told the Washington Examiner.

His committee, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, will host two oversight hearings on the island’s recovery efforts beginning next week.

The first, scheduled for Nov. 7, will focus on the role of Puerto Rico's financial oversight board in facilitating Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Helping install emergency manager: Bishop was integral in creating legislation signed last year by former President Barack Obama that established the oversight board to oversee the restructuring process of Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt load.

Last week, the oversight board said it will install an emergency manager, known officially as a chief transformation officer, to oversee PREPA.

"Transparent accountability at PREPA is necessary for an effective and sustained recovery in Puerto Rico,” Parish Braden, spokesman for the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “Immediate actions must also be responsibly aligned with long-term rebuilding and revitalization efforts. Success depends on the cooperation and coordination of the governor, the oversight board, PREPA's chief transformation officer and federal partners.”

But the board filed an “urgent motion” Thursday with the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico to permit Zamot’s appointment. The court is expected to make a ruling in the coming days.

FBI OPENS WHITEFISH PROBE: Federal authorities also are investigating the contract.The FBI's field office in San Juan opened an investigation.

Inspector general undecided: The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office is still deciding whether to probe the contract, a spokesman told the Washington Examiner on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office told the Washington Examiner that it will not investigate the contract because it “falls under the jurisdiction” of the DHS’s inspector general.

ARMY CORPS TURNS TO FLUOR CORP. FOR PUERTO RICO REPAIRS: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the federal power restoration effort, said it plans to increase the size of a key contract awarded to Fluor Corp. by $600 million, to $840 million, according to a government filing first >reported by Reuters.

The Army Corps said it was adjusting the contract to ensure “continued execution of the critical repair and restoration of the electric power grid in Puerto Rico.”

The Army Corps awarded Fluor $240 million in the original contract, whereas the bigger Whitefish contract was handled directly by PREPA. Only 30 percent of the island’s power has been restored.

Neither Fluor, nor the Army Corps, responded to questions on whether the resizing of Fluor’s contract was in response to Whitefish’s contract being canceled. Fluor is the largest energy services firm in the world and builds everything from nuclear power plants to highway systems.

WHITEFISH EMPLOYEES GET LOOTED: Some Whitefish employees were missing equipment, according to a Monday grid repair update detailing the work the company was finishing.

“Employees have informed us that their trucks have been showing up on the island missing tools and personal items,” the >Whitefish work report said.

Huge ramp-up: Although Whitefish employed only two workers before Hurricane Maria hit the island, the company on Oct. 19 had 300 employees working in Puerto Rico, with another 700 on their way. When its contract was pulled by Puerto Rican authorities on Sunday, those workers were still arriving with their gear in tow. But their gear and trucks appear to be showing up with missing parts.

TRADE COMMISSION TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS TO TRUMP IN SOLAR CASE: The International Trade Commission today will recommend measures to President Trump to address a claim by two U.S. manufacturers that say the solar industry is being harmed by cheap imports.

Harm found: The commission on Sept. 22 decided that the solar industry is being hurt by cheap solar panel imports, mostly from Asian countries, setting the opportunity for Trump to issue tariffs.

The claim: While the broader U.S. solar energy opposes tariffs, two U.S. companies asked the Trump administration to act. In April, solar panel manufacturer Suniva, later joined by SolarWorld, petitioned the International Trade Commission for tariffs on solar cells and a price floor on modules for imports coming from anywhere in the world, arguing that cheap foreign products are harming the domestic panel industry. Both companies are bankrupt and foreign-owned (Suniva is based in Georgia but is majority-owned by a Chinese company), though they primarily manufacture in the U.S.

Solar vs. solar: But other companies across the solar energy industry warn that tariffs could harm the industry's progress by increasing their costs and would force them to raise prices for consumers. Solar costs have fallen by about 70 percent since 2010, and the domestic industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to the Solar Foundation.

What’s next for Trump: The Trump administration will have two months to decide whether to act on the commission’s recommendations.

ENERGY CONSUMERS VS. ANTI-ENERGY GROUPS: A group that represents energy consumers started a campaign Monday to give an alternative voice to environmental groups that want the nation to put the brakes on fossil fuel development in favor of moving rapidly to 100 percent renewable energy.

The Consumer Energy Alliance, “the voice of the energy consumer,” kicked off a 12-state educational campaign, called the “Campaign for America’s Energy,” on Monday with letters sent to Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to the White House.

“The campaign across 12 key states aims to educate families, businesses, and state and local lawmakers about the benefits of energy production and delivery, without getting bogged down in contentious politics,” according to the group.

But the campaign is really meant to provide an alternative to groups such as 350.org, which helped spur the “Keep It In the Ground” movement during last year’s presidential election.

Activists aligned with the movement opposed oil and gas development and sought to pressure lawmakers to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, while spurring opposition against oil and natural gas pipelines such as the Dakota Access project in North Dakota.

Path to Bonn: The Consumer Energy Alliance began its campaign as 350.org and other environmental groups are ramping up a push to meet their goal of moving to 100 percent renewables in the runup to the U.N. climate conference in Bonn Germany, next month.

Just don’t say ‘no’: “Simply saying ‘no’ is not a solution and ignores human ingenuity and the environmental progress that has been achieved during the U.S. energy revolution,” wrote David Holt, president of the consumer alliance, in the letter to Congress.

All-of-the-above: “As a nation, we must do all we can to meet our energy needs using every available mechanism, including traditional energy, renewable energy, and energy efficiency,” Holt said.

REMEMBERING SANDY: Meanwhile, groups such as >350.org, and founder Bill McKibben are pushing their anti-fossil fuel message. On Sunday, the group helped mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which caused massive flooding in New York and did major damage along a big chunk of the East Coast in 2012.

Green groups view the hurricane as a bellwether for the types of storms that will hit the United States if actions aren’t taken to limit fossil fuel use to combat global warming. The Sandy vigil is just the beginning of a host of new campaigns McKibben and his allies will be rolling out before the COP23 climate change conference, which starts Nov. 11.

A THOUSAND PATHS TO PARIS: On Nov. 5, 350.org and the UN Development Program will host the “Pathway to Paris,” where McKibben’s group will start the “1,000 Cities” initiative that focuses on pushing cities to switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

The initiative “will work in partnership with 350.org’s new Fossil Free campaign, dedicated to stopping new fossil fuel projects and transitioning to 100% renewable energy for all as fast as possible,” the initiative’s website said.

Holt’s consumer alliance thinks 350.org’s approach is too narrow and will push up energy prices, he told the Washington Examiner. He supports solar and wind energy, but not at the expense of oil and natural gas development.

He said the “Keep It In the Grounders” are harming working families and those struggling from economic hardship.

“It seems in recent years that our national energy debate -- particularly as anti-energy advocates become more vocal -- risks forgetting about the most important voice -- families,” read the letter to the White House.

“Families all across the United States -- particularly those on low and fixed incomes -- deserve sensible, all-of-the-above energy and environmental solutions that help maintain supplies and keep prices low,” the letter added.

“For too long, energy has been treated as a partisan issue,” Holt wrote. “In reality, energy affects every man, woman and child in this country, regardless of political affiliation.”

WATCHDOG GROUP ASKS FEC TO INVESTIGATE ZINKE’S CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: A watchdog group >filed a complaint Monday with the Federal Election Commission saying that Zinke used his dormant congressional campaign committee to benefit family and friends.

Friend with benefit: Zinke’s campaign bought an RV from his wife and sold it at a discount a year later to a friend in the Montana legislature, the Campaign Legal Center said in asking the FEC to probe the transaction. The campaign bought the RV from Lolita Zinke for $59,100 in April 2016 and sold it to his friend, Ed Buttrey, for $25,000 in June.

What the law says: The FEC prohibits political committees from selling assets below fair market value. Zinke was a congressman from Montana before becoming interior secretary in March.

Hotel blues: The Campaign Legal Center also asks the FEC to look into hotel stays in the Virgin Islands and New York that Zinke’s campaign paid for after he was nominated to serve in the Cabinet. The group says Zinke may have used a joint fundraising committee to permit donors to provide money to his campaign above federal contribution limits.

Zinke under spotlight: Zinke is already facing an investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office over his use of taxpayer-funded charter planes. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, meanwhile, is investigating whether Zinke broke the law when he gave a speech in June to a professional hockey team owned by a political donor. In addition, members of Congress have asked for investigations into how Puerto Rico’s power authority signed a contract with Whitefish Energy.

RUNDOWN

>Wall Street Journal BP signals it is increasingly comfortable with low oil prices as it ramps up growth ambitions

>Associated Press U.S. close to settling pollution charges with Exxon

>Reuters China's carbon market still facing problems

>Bloomberg The market for nickel will be transformed by the electric car boom

>Washington Post Climate change fueling disasters, disease in ‘potentially irreversible’ ways, report warns

>Reuters China's Sinopec mulls U.S. oil projects ahead of Trump's visit

Calendar

TUESDAY, OCT. 31

Halloween

10 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 806 15th St. NW. The Bipartisan Policy Center holds a forum with former commissioners from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and stakeholders to explain Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposed grid reliability and resiliency rule for coal and nuclear plants.

>bipartisanpolicy.org/events/former-commissioners-and-key-stakeholders-respond-to-the-proposed-rule-at-ferc/

10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on "Efficiency in Building Management.”

>Energy.senate.gov

10 a.m., 342 Dirksen. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on "2017 Hurricane Season: Oversight of the Federal Response."

>Hsgac.senate.gov  

11 a.m., 500 E St. SW, International Trade Commission holds Global Safeguard Investigation: Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells and Modules.

>usitc.gov/calendarpad/events/usitc_vote_crystalline_silicon_photovoltaic_cells_.htm_0

2:30 p.m., 253 Russell. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing on "Exploring Native American Subsistence Rights and International Treaties."

>commerce.senate.gov

2:30 p.m., 430 Dirksen. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee committee hearing on "Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act: Achieving the Promise of Health Information Technology."

>Help.senate.gov  

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 1

9 a.m., 2777 S. Crystal Drive, Arlington, Va. The EPA holds a meeting of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee on issues associated with pesticide regulatory development and reform initiatives, evolving public policy and program implementation issues, and science issues associated with evaluating and reducing risks from use of pesticides, Nov. 1-2.

>epa.gov

THURSDAY, NOV. 2

7:45 a.m., 300 First St. SE. The Ripon Society holds a discussion on "The Future of Puerto Rico," focusing on the work of the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

>riponsociety.org/upcomingevents.htm

8:30 a.m., 9751 Washingtonian Blvd., Gaithersburg, Md. The Energy Department’s Office of Science holds a meeting of the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee, Nov. 2-3.

>science.doe.gov

10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Energy Subcommittee hearing on "The 2017 Hurricane Season: A Review of Emergency Response and Energy Infrastructure Recovery Efforts."

>energycommerce.house.gov

10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds hearing on GOP plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

>energy.senate.gov

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Source : http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/daily-on-energy-lawmakers-demand-accountability-for-puerto-rico-contract/article/2176958

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