The rest of 2014’s top energy questions

With help from Zachary Warmbrodt

2014’S TOP ENERGY QUESTIONS — PART II: Here’s the second half of Morning Energy’s list of the biggest energy questions of the coming year. The first five items are here:

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6) Will the Senate approve nuclear waste or energy efficiency legislation? Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Rob Portman will soon reintroduce their big energy efficiency bill, now with more bipartisan amendments they hope will make it immune to filibusters. But after their bill was derailed in September by a dispute over an unrelated amendment, it’s not clear if or when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will carve out more floor time. As for the nuclear waste legislation from Wyden, Murkowski and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Lamar Alexander, Wyden hopes to get that bill marked up by ENR later this month. But it’s not clear what his impending departure for the Finance Committee will mean for that effort, or its chances on the Senate floor.

7) Does the RFS take a hit? All sides were stirred up last year when EPA decided to scale back the RFS’s biofuel blending requirements. Will it mean a big hit for traditional corn ethanol, and problems for investment in burgeoning advanced biofuels industries? Also, what will Congress do? Bipartisan efforts in both chambers have hinted at major changes to the underlying law, or to repealing the corn ethanol mandate. Will any of those efforts move forward in 2014?

8) What happens with LNG exports? Does the administration reconsider the oil export ban? DOE has been steadily making its way through the pile of applications to export liquefied natural gas to non-FTA countries. But the push for more LNG exports amid the U.S.’s production boom has plenty of backers — including President Barack Obama himself. And Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stirred things up last month when he suggested revisiting the ban on almost all oil exports, something controlled by the Commerce Department.

9) Does Arctic drilling take off this summer? Shell pulled out of its nascent Arctic operations for a while after several big missteps in 2012 — but the company is sticking its toe back in the water with a renewed smaller effort this summer. The Interior Department says it will turn a strict eye to Shell’s plans, but environmentalists fear an oil spill could spell disaster in the remote region.

10) What happens with energy production and consumption this year? Will the nation’s electric generating fleet continue to shift towards natural gas and renewables and away from coal? Will the nuclear fleet see more closures this year, even while a few more reactors are under construction? Meanwhile, can the coal industry find a replacement market overseas? And what happens with the brewing fight over coal exports in the Pacific Northwest?

Bonus: When does FERC get a new chair? Jon Wellinghoff departed in November and Ron Binz’s nomination to replace him fell through in the Senate, leaving the commission with just four members. It’s not clear what sort of timeline the White House has to nominate a replacement — so FERC could be left in Acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur’s hands for a while.

HAPPY FRIDAY and welcome to Morning Energy, where the news that Netflix has 76,897 genre categories ( has ME wondering why there still isn’t a category for “gritty coming-of-age Valentine's Day mockumentaries featuring Rene Auberjonois.” Send your news to, and follow on Twitter @alexcguillen, @Morning_Energy and @POLITICOPro.

N.D. OIL TRAIN BLAST AGAIN STOKES FEARS ON OIL-BY-RAIL: Monday’s fiery North Dakota train explosion is reviving long-simmering questions about the safety of transporting crude oil by train and whether many tank cars are sturdy enough for the job. The accident, which occurred when a BNSF train pulling 104 crude tankers plowed into the grain cars of a separate derailed train hauling soy beans, is the latest in a string of major rail incidents involving tank cars carrying oil from the booming Bakken formation. It comes about six months after a train packed with crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing nearly 50 people in a massive explosion. Andrew Restuccia and Kathryn A. Wolfe team up for the story on oil-by-rail’s biggest issues:

FERC, CFTC TO COOPERATE BETTER: FERC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission yesterday signed agreements required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on how they will address inter-agency jurisdictional disputes and share data when it comes to policing natural gas and power market manipulation. The memoranda of understanding have taken years to finalize. During that time, the CFTC and FERC faced off in court last year over the FERC's $30 million fine against alleged natural gas market manipulator Brian Hunter, a case that the CFTC also pursued. The agencies have been working together under a 2005 MOU that allowed information sharing for oversight and investigations. Jurisdiction MOU: Information sharing MOU:

STATE DEPARTMENT RELEASES CLIMATE REPORT FOR UN: If you’re looking for some Friday reading, check out the State Department’s 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report, which was submitted to the United Nations on Wednesday. If it looks familiar, that’s because a draft version was released back in September. Since it’s for the UN, the report includes everything from recent legal precedent on climate regulations to estimated carbon mitigation broken down by federal program. Check out the final report here:

— In his cover letter with the report, Secretary of State John Kerry works hard to reassure the increasingly skeptical international community that the U.S. can indeed lead on climate issues. “We know we must do more, and believe me: we are,” he writes. “President Obama's Climate Action Plan will keep the United States on track to reach our goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Commitments like this are an important signal to the world that America is ready to act.”

INTERIOR WILL LOOK AT W.VA. MINING REGS: The Office of Surface Mining will examine portions of West Virginia's regulation of surface coal mining after complaints by environmental and other groups. AP: “The state and national groups … claimed in a petition last June that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has shown ‘callous disregard’ for both the environment and federal law. They cited chronic failures in oversight, from permitting to inspection, and fines that are too small to deter violations. … In a letter, the federal agency told the groups that it dismissed 14 allegations but determined the other five warrant further investigation. Regulations prohibit the federal takeover sought by the petitioners without further evaluation, the agency said.” AP: OSM’s letter:

W.VA. COAL FIGURE BUCK HARLESS DIES: James H. "Buck" Harless, a big name in West Virginia's coal and logging industries, died Wednesday night at 94. NBC affiliate WSAZ: “He often financially backed candidates and causes. In 2000, he was credited with helping George Bush take West Virginia, and eventually win the White House. It's one reason why his life-size picture still hangs in the Republican party's headquarters in Charleston. ‘It's quite legendary,’ WV GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said. ‘A lot of folks can single-handedly give credit to Buck Harless for George Bush becoming president. It was those five electoral votes in West Virginia which pushed President Bush over the top.’” More:

IN TODAY’S FEDERAL REGISTER — CCS RULE: EPA today will publish a final rule changing hazardous waste management regulations to remove most carbon dioxide that is captured and sequestered underground. EPA released the rule back in December. Refresher:

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing next week on the Dec. 20 Interior inspector general report that questioned how the Office of Surface Mining handled parts of its rewrite of the stream buffer zone rule. In case it wasn't clear how panel Republicans feel about the isseue, the hearing is titled "Obama Administration’s War on Coal: The Recent Report by the Office of the Inspector General." ICYMI, more on the IG report here: The hearing is set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 9.


— The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a new $16 million machine to test wind turbine performance. Denver Post:

— A federal judge's ruling may boost solar power over natural gas in Minnesota. AP:

— Attorneys with two state agencies want the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider its decision striking down important parts of a natural gas drilling law. AP:

— The main public investor in Cape Wind will keep its financial commitment to the project, even though it missed a key deadline. Wall Street Journal:

— Geoengineering is just like Pringles — once you pop, you just can't stop. Washington Post:

— Arizona Public Service is shutting down three of five units at the Four Corners coal-fired power plant. Arizona Republic:

— BlueFire Renewables says DOE won't continue funding for development of a cellulosic waste facility in Mississippi after the company missed some deadlines:

— Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fundraising for Sen. Brian Schatz in his primary against Colleen Hanabusa. TPM:

— The National Propane Gas Association has a new video out, "Beyond the Backyard."

THAT’S ALL FOR ME. See you next week.

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