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Documents detail multimillion-dollar ties involving EPA official, secretive industry group

Politco | Posted on February 25, 2019

The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator. Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution. Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post.

House Opens Inquiry Into Proposed U.S. Nuclear Venture in Saudi Arabia

The New York Times | Posted on February 21, 2019

Top Trump administration officials have pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the vigorous objections of White House lawyers who question the legality of the plan and the ethics of a venture that could enrich Trump allies, according to a new report by House Democrats. The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.

US Dept. of Transportation cancels nearly $1 billion grant for California's high-speed rail project

CNN | Posted on February 21, 2019

The US Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it is canceling $929 million in grant funds for California's high-speed rail system, escalating the Trump administration's efforts to regain all the federal money for the canceled rail project.If built, the high-speed rail system would have run from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The department added in a statement that it "is actively exploring every legal option to seek the return from California of $2.5 billion in Federal funds (Federal Railroad Administration) previously granted for this now-defunct project."The statement from the Department of Transportation heightens the Trump administration's quest to recoup federal money spent on the project that was originally granted in 2009. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he was scrapping the project because it was too costly and would take too long.

MnDOT: State should have 194k more electric vehicles in a decade

Minneapolis Public Radio | Posted on February 21, 2019

Minnesota transit officials have a bold new goal for electric vehicles in the state: electrify 20 percent of all cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks in a decade.An effort to tackle climate change and move away from fossil fuels, the Minnesota Department of Transportation's proposal, released last week, calls for a 3,200 percent increase in the amount of electric vehicles by 2030.The electric vehicle target comes a month after a new state report shows that personal vehicles are among the largest greenhouse gas sources in Minnesota — emitting 23.3 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2016.

Puerto Rico solar customers score a win in fight over ‘abusive’ contracts

Energy News Network | Posted on February 21, 2019

The 436 consumers who filed a complaint with the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (NEPR) against Sunnova Energy Corporation, a residential solar panel leasing company, were right. The NEPR recognized in a report the web of problems the complainants faced: the equipment did not provide the service or savings promised to consumers. They had put their signature on a tablet for an alleged credit check, but the company used the signature to stamp it on a contract that they had not been shown. The clients found out that, to challenge the invoices or seek any remedy, they had to go through an arbitration process (outside the courts and the NEPR) and pay lawyers’ fees. Thus, they ended up tied for 25 years to an energy purchase agreement that they had not seen before signing and from which there was no escape.

Hawaii ‘Postcard From the Future’ for Renewables

Bloomberg | Posted on February 21, 2019

Near Honolulu, researchers are testing how to generate electricity from the energy in ocean waves. And Hawaii’s largest electric utility is among the first to widely use advanced “smart” inverters to help manage the flow of electricity from rooftop solar panels into the power grid. Such projects help explain why Hawaii is becoming a laboratory for how to integrate wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy into an electric power grid—something the state must do in order to meet its first-in-the-nation goal to use only renewable electricity in the future.California approved a similar renewables mandate in 2018. But Hawaii is a lab for how to integrate renewable energy into the power grid because it already has the highest use of rooftop solar in the country and its power grids are small and completely isolated from one another, Andy Hoke, a senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Bloomberg Environment.The Hawaii Legislature passed a law in 2015 requiring the state to obtain all of its electric power from renewables by 2045—a goal California, New York, and other states have tried to emulate.

States Consider ‘Surge Pricing’ for Power

Pew Trust | Posted on February 21, 2019

Just as more people fly during the holidays and drive during rush hour, the demand for electricity peaks at predictable times. Flights and some toll roads cost the most when demand is highest. Now California wants residents to get used to the same dynamic when it comes to purchasing electricity.Starting in March, the state’s utility regulator will require major utilities to increase prices during the hours when electricity is in high demand and lower prices the rest of the time — a change that’s expected to affect some 6 million households.It’s Uber’s surge pricing, but for your light switch.Electricity might not feel like a hot commodity when you come home to an empty house at 5:30 p.m., but across California, millions of people also are returning from work, bumping down the thermostat a few degrees and throwing in a load of laundry before prepping dinner.All that demand at once forces utilities to ramp up production, typically turning on additional generators that rely on fossil fuels. That costs utilities more, and it releases more dirty emissions.

Criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline underway

The Roanoke Times | Posted on February 21, 2019

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is under criminal investigation into possible violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal laws, one of the companies building the project has confirmed. EQM Midstream Partners, the lead company in the joint venture, made the disclosure in an annual report filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.Since construction of the buried natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia started last year, crews have repeatedly run afoul of regulations meant to keep muddy runoff from contaminating nearby streams and rivers.Although Mountain Valley has been named in enforcement actions brought by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mark Herring, this week’s filing is the first confirmation of a criminal investigation.

POET Makes Fast Company Annual List of “World’s Most Innovative Companies”

Hoosier Ag Today | Posted on February 21, 2019

POET and its new JIVE asphalt product have earned the No. 3 spot in this year’s Fast Company “World’s Most Innovative Companies.” POET made the annual ranking in the transportation category thanks to its new proprietary asphalt rejuvenator and modifier, now being used to pave roadways in states across the U.S.

Does clean energy include nuclear? Pennsylvania is latest state to debate

Energy News Network | Posted on February 19, 2019

Clean energy advocates in Pennsylvania are weighing whether to throw their support behind a proposed bailout for the state’s nuclear power plants. The state’s environmental groups have said little publicly about the plan recently floated by two legislators, but behind the scenes some see the debate as a chance to make more progress on energy efficiency and renewables.Much like the Green New Deal, though, any bargain will have to contend with decades of cultural and political baggage with potential to splinter support.“Historically, nuclear power has been one of the big bugaboos of the environmental movement. That continues to the present,” said John Quigley, director of the Center for Environment, Energy, and Economy at Harrisburg University and a former state environmental secretary.