OVERNIGHT ENERGY: GOP warns against tapping strategic oil reserve

State of play: Republicans
launched a preemptive strike Tuesday against the possibility that the
Obama administration will tap the country’s emergency oil stockpiles to make up for supply loses from Iran and ease high gas prices.

Republicans on the House Energy and
Commerce Committee circulated a document explaining why they
think it’s a bad idea.

“While the SPR presents an easy target to
score political points, tapping our nations energy reserves will do
little to combat rising prices and will threaten our national and energy
security,” the document says, adding that Congress established the
Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make up for significant supply
disruptions.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on
the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, echoed the
committee’s concerns Tuesday.

“Rising gas prices are painful for
all of us, but the SPR is our nation’s insurance policy against serious
oil supply disruptions, not a political lever to be pulled when rising
prices at the pump make life uncomfortable for the White House,” she
said in a statement.

President Obama in June approved
the release of 30 million barrels of oil
from the reserve to
combat supply losses from Libya that officials said were threatening the
economic recovery. The administration coordinated the release with
International Energy Agency nations.

White House and
administration officials have said in recent weeks that they will
not rule out tapping the SPR again
.

“We are looking at
that and we’re looking at all the ways we can possibly do this,” Energy
Secretary Steven Chu told reporters Tuesday when asked about the
possibility of releasing oil from the SPR. “Nothing final has been done,
but we are considering all these tools to try to moderate the price.”

Asked
what factors would influence the administration’s decision, Chu said:
“There are many factors, but remember that the fundamental reason we
have an SPR is to deal with a disruption in supply. What happened in
Libya was an interruption in supply and we’re very concerned about what
is happening in Iran.”

Chu initially suggested that the Energy
Department is working with the International Energy Agency on whether to
release SPR oil. But an Energy Department spokeswoman clarified that
Chu was referring to broader discussions. 

“[A]s we do in our
normal course of business, we continue to work with the IEA to monitor
global oil supplies and demand,” DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said in an
email. “The Secretary was not implying that we are working specifically
with the IEA on a potential release from the SPR.”

Emergency
sales of oil from the reserve are rare and have occurred in 1991 at the
outset of Operation Desert Storm and again in 2005 after Hurricane
Katrina pummeled the Gulf oil-production and refining sector.


NEWS BITES:

GOP lawmaker objects to EPA use of ‘polluter’

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) on Tuesday scolded Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson for press releases that use the word “polluter” to describe companies that have been subject to enforcement actions for allegedly violating environmental laws.

He noted that in some settlements with EPA officials over alleged environmental violations, companies do not admit to wrongdoing.

“And yet you use the term polluters. We think of polluters as being folks we don’t think very highly of, and yet your agency uses that kind of term in a press release for their neutral enforcement powers and I would just suggest you ought to talk to folks about not using language like that,” he said at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.

Pompeo specifically took aim at a late 2010 press release from EPA’s Region 7, which includes Kansas, that noted compliance and enforcement actions in fiscal year 2010 secured more than $3 billion in “investments in pollution control and cleanup as a result of legal actions taken against polluters.”

“Is that the kind of press release you think is appropriate, sort of bragging about how much money you have taken out of the United States economy?” said Pompeo, a conservative freshman who is no fan of the EPA (see here and here).

Jackson defended the agency’s work to force compliance with environmental laws.

“Bragging on investments in cleanup … those are generally injunctive relief, where we require a company not as much to pay the fine but to do the work to come into compliance, and we think it is important that the American people know that there’s an environmental cop on the beat,” Jackson said. “It deters people from violating and that is an important part of an enforcement program.”

Clinton: SEC should go ‘as far as possible’ on transparency rule

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added pressure on the Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday to issue strong rules requiring petroleum and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.

The SEC is working on rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, but faces pressure from oil companies to include various exemptions and leeway in the regulation.

“We are encouraging them to go as far as possible because the [European Union] is already considering provisions similar to Section 1504 because we have passed 1504,” said Clinton, referring to Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank law, which was authored by Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Clinton’s comments at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing could buoy advocates of the rules, which have been delayed at the SEC.

The law requires the SEC to issue regulations that force SEC-listed oil, gas and mining companies to reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects.

Oil companies say the rules could create a competitive disadvantage, while human-rights groups accuse the industry of seeking provisions that would gut the intent of the law. Click here for more on the battle over the rules.

The provision is aimed at increasing transparency to help undo the “resource curse,” in which some countries in Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption, conflict and poverty despite their energy and mineral wealth.

“We know that there are challenges in doing this. I hope the regulations expected from the SEC reflect the clear intent of the law, namely to require all relevant companies operating in this sector to disclose the payments they make to foreign governments. I think everybody is benefited from the disinfectant of sunshine and the spotlight to hold institutions accountable,” Clinton said.

She noted that the rules will compliment State Department efforts to improve oil-and-gas governance in other nations that have large hydrocarbon reserves, pointing to State’s Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative.

The program seeks to “ensure sound and transparent energy sector governance for the benefit of national economic development.”

Salazar, Jackson back on the Hill Wednesday

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will be back on Capitol Hill Wednesday testifying on President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request.

Salazar is slated to testify at 9:30 a.m. in front of a panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Jackson will testify before a House Appropriations Committee panel at 1 p.m.

Interior unlikely to fully merge lands, coal mining agencies

Salazar said Tuesday that he is unlikely to follow through with plans to fully merge the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

“At the end of the day it’s going to continue as a separate OSM and a separate BLM,” he told reporters after testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, adding, “There will be some transfers of some functions and some efficiencies.”

But Salazar warned that he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to make final decisions on the merger.

Read more about the merger plans, which Salazar first teased last year, here.

Fun fact: Chu spent his 64th birthday (and his wedding anniversary) testifying before a House Appropriations Committee panel on the Energy Department’s budget.

“My wife, being a very wise woman, decided that I’m less likely to forget the anniversary if it’s on my birthday,” Chu told reporters after the hearing. “She didn’t realize that I also have a tendency to forget my birthday.”

Watchdog issues report on nuke safety

The Union of Concerned Scientists released its annual report on nuclear safety Tuesday.

“Last year’s record shows that the NRC is quite capable of being an effective watchdog that protects the public and saves the nuclear industry from its worst tendencies,” Dave Lochbaum, the report’s author, said in a statement.

“But the agency too often does not live up to its potential, and we are still finding significant problems at nuclear plants that could too easily trigger a serious accident.”

Read the report here.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a quick roundup of Tuesday’s E2 stories: 

— Clinton: No timeline yet for new Keystone pipeline decision
— White House dismisses GOP plan on gas prices as an ‘empty promise’
— EPA still hopes for power plant climate rules ‘early’ in ’12, but refinery plans unclear
— Salazar ‘confident’ Grand Canyon uranium mining ban will withstand legal challenge
— Democratic leaders intensify blame on Wall Street for rising oil prices
— Boehner hits Obama over high gas prices
— McConnell skewers Obama for algae ‘pipedreams’
— RNC’s new Web ad hits Obama on gas prices
— EPA chief vows ‘strong science’ on hydraulic fracturing
— Boehner challenges Obama to approve full Keystone pipeline

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