Legislative Activity

  • Tuesday, July 29: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing titled “Breaking the Logjam at BLM: Examining Ways to More Efficiently Process Permits for Energy Production on Federal Lands.”
  • Tuesday, July 29: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “FERC Perspectives: Questions Concerning EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan and Other Grid Reliability Challenges.” The hearing will feature testimony from all give members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, including Mr. Norman Bay’s first public testimony in his new role.
  • Tuesday, July 29: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining the Threats Posed by Climate Change.”

Regulatory Activity

DOT Publishes Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for New Rail Safety Standards

On Wednesday, July 23, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released a proposed rule designed to enhance the transportation safety of oil and ethanol by rail. The DOT also released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to govern oil spill response requirements. The “oil-by-rail” safety proposal, which was released by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), proposes amendments to the PHMSA standard for “high-hazard flammable train[s]” codified at 49 C.F.R. §§ 171-180, and applies to rail cars that carry 20 or more carloads of a class 3 flammable liquid – which primarily covers ethanol and crude oil. According to PHMSA, the standard intends to “update and clarify the regulations to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a train accident involving flammable liquids, should one occur.” The proposed rule would: (1) require shippers of crude oil or ethanol to: adhere to a new written sampling and testing program for all mined gases and liquids; (2) require rail carriers to perform a rail routing risk assessment, ensure that trains carrying 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil to notify state emergency response commissions or other appropriate local governments, adhere to reduced operating speeds of 50 miles per hour, and ensure that trains carrying affected liquids covered by the rule are equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems; and (3) require tank car manufacturers, owners, shippers and rail carriers that carry ethanol or crude oil to replace older tank cars over the next two years with new, safer models or retrofit existing cars to meet new performance standards.

President Obama Nominates Two New NRC Commissioners

On Tuesday, July 22, President Obama announced that he will nominate Mr. Stephen Burns and Mr. Jeffery M. Baran to serve as commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Mr. Burns formerly served at the NRC as general counsel before departing in 2012 for a stint at the Nuclear Energy Agency, and Mr. Baran currently serves the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s minority staff director for energy and environment issues. The President made the announcement soon after deciding not to re-nominate Commissioner George Apostolakis to a second term, and days after current commissioner William Magwood announced that he will be departing the Commission at the end of August.

EPA’s IG Publishes Report Critical of EPA Methane Emission Control Actions

On Friday, July 25, the EPA’s Inspector General (“IG”) published a report titled “Improvements Needed in EPA to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines.” As the title of the report indicates, the IG is highly critical of EPA’s effort to control methane emissions from natural gas distribution pipelines. While the President’s Climate Action Plan called on the EPA to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to address methane emissions, and the EPA has in fact initiated that effort through a series of actions in the spring of 2014, the report concludes that the EPA’s voluntary program to address methane leaks through the Natural Gas STAR program has been ineffective at reducing emissions – partly due to lack of resources and “policy barriers, including disincentives for distribution companies to repair nonhazardous leaks.” The report also notes that EPA needs to “set goals and track its progress in reducing emissions” and evaluate current studies under way that are being carried out by private stakeholders to determine if the 1996 study that EPA currently relies on for its benchmark emission factors is still relevant.