Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lawmaker Urges Probe Of Possible Energy Market Manipulation

The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee called Tuesday upon regulators to launch an investigation into possible manipulation of the market for ethanol credits.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is asking the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) to look into reports of suspicious activity involving Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are assigned to ethanol-blended fuels that meet the Renewable Fuels Standard and traded in the financial sector.

The unregulated RINs market has experienced volatility and dramatic price spikes in recent months.

“I would like the CFTC to help determine whether factors other than supply and demand have been causing extraordinary volatility in the price of RINs and to what extent fraud and manipulation have been affecting the price of RINs,” Stabenow wrote in a letter to CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler.

She questioned whether increased regulation is needed in the renewable energy market.

“I am concerned that a lack of transparency in these markets has made them more susceptible to manipulation,” she wrote. “If this is the case, it is a problem that must be identified and fixed.”

Earlier this month, Scott Mixon, the CFTC’s acting chief economist, told The New York Times that the issue was agency’s radar, and regulators were considering expanding scrutiny of the market for ethanol credits.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What to Watch For In the Coming Weeks - BP Bites Back - Probe Clears BP Claims Center Chief But Flags Others

WELCOME BACK CONGRESS: Congress returns to the Hill this week after a long August recess, but don’t look for too much action on energy issues in the coming weeks. Lawmakers’ dance cards are already filling up with issues like Syria, a continuing resolution and the debt ceiling. Here’s what to watch for in the near future:

Shaheen-Portman: The Senate’s long-awaited energy efficiency bill will have to wait a little longer. The chamber had been scheduled to take up S. 1392 tomorrow morning, one of the first items on its agenda after the August recess. However, with a Syria resolution set to get consideration starting Wednesday and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office making it clear Shaheen-Portman comes after Syria, the odds of the chamber getting around to energy efficiency this week are slim to none. After that, the Senate’s legislative calendar begins to fill up with the need to pass a CR by the end of the month and address the debt ceiling soon after — threatening to punt floor time for Shaheen-Portman to mid-October or potentially even later.

Ron Binz: His confirmation hearing to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 17 (a date that could change, so stay tuned). The August recess gave opponents of Binz more time to dig up dirt and make their case in the media and to lawmakers. Binz is also getting a boost from a Washington PR firm. (If you need a refresher on preparations for the Binz nomination battle, check out Darius Dixon’s story from last month

House GOP’s climate change hearing: House Democrats have been asking Republicans to hold a hearing on climate change for years, and now they’re getting their wish. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy are scheduled to show up at the Energy and Power subcommittee hearing next week, which is focused on what various federal agencies are doing on climate change issues. The committee is still hoping to snag top officials from nearly a dozen other agencies.

Tax extenders: It’s that time of year — when industries with sunsetting tax breaks start ramping up their lobbying efforts. Of particular interest is the production tax credit, which runs out for wind and other renewable energy sources on Dec. 31. Although the language was changed to allow any project that has made a minimal investment by the deadline — no matter when it begins generating electricity — to qualify, manufacturers are still hoping to secure a long-term extension of the credit. Also gaining steam is a proposal for a phase-out of the PTC. Whether Congress will get to tax extenders, or what vehicle it will use, is unclear.

OFF THE HILL: Because, while it may not always seem like it, not everything is about Congress.

Keystone XL: The State Department continues to work on its environmental review of the pipeline, posting public comments and dodging questions about a timeline for making a decision. Meanwhile, supporters of the project are eager to point out that Sept. 19 marks five years since TransCanada first submitted an application to the State Department.

Emissions rule: The White House’s Office of Management and Budget is currently going over EPA’s new rule for emissions from new power plants. Industry and environmental groups have been making their case to OMB and to EPA chief Gina McCarthy, but exact details of the regulation remain confidential for now. The president set a Sept. 20 deadline to release the proposed rule, although the administration could move sooner than that.

Other regs: The administration also continues to plug away on some high-profile regulations, including one for fracking on public lands, EPA’s “Tier 3” rule cutting sulfur in gasoline and the so-called 316(b) cooling tower rule for power plants and other facilities.

SPEAKING OF SYRIA: Deputy Energy Editor Matt Daily has a smart energy story on the issue: For once, almost nobody is accusing the United States of going to war for Mideast oil. “No blood for oil” was a familiar anti-war cry during the two U.S. military actions against Saddam Hussein, and access to the region’s abundant petroleum resources is a major reason that the U.S. has placed such strategic importance on the Middle East for decades. But so far, at least, the Syria debate has been different. Matt explains why

BP BITES BACK: Three years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP’s post-disaster demeanor has gone from contrite to combative. The oil giant is increasingly sparring with the federal government, Louisiana leaders like Gov. Bobby Jindal and the throngs of businesses that still want compensation for the April 2010 spill. BP continues to tend its public image, blanketing the airwaves with upbeat ads about its “commitment to America,” and it agreed last year to pay a record $4.5 billion in fines stemming from the spill. But it’s also mounting an aggressive legal, advertising and public relations attack on the court-administered process for weighing spill victims’ damage claims, alleging that it’s become rife with fraud. Talia Buford has more for Pros.

PROBE CLEARS HEAD OF BP SETTLEMENT CENTER BUT FLAGS OTHER STAFFERS FOR DOJ: Via the AP: “A former FBI director recommended Friday that the Justice Department investigate whether several lawyers plotted to corrupt the settlement program designed to compensate victims of BP's 2010 Gulf oil spill. But the independent probe led by Louis Freeh didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing by the multibillion-dollar settlement's court-appointed administrator, who has been a target of BP's increasingly aggressive campaign to challenge payouts to Gulf Coast businesses. …

“The report also found nothing that warranted shutting down payments to victims of the oil spill, which spewed millions of gallons of oil into the water, fouling marshes, fisheries and beaches from Louisiana to Florida. However, Freeh concluded that then-top members of Juneau's staff engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal. He recommended that his report be forwarded to the Justice Department.”

ICYMI: BP America last week announced several changes to its PR shop, including promoting Geoff Morrell to senior vice president and consolidating various comms teams. BP’s press release.

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