Capitol Comments

April is National Pipeline Safe Digging Month, and yesterday the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) blogged about the importance of dialing 811 - the National Call Before You Dig Number - before performing any excavation work. Although many not realize it, excavation damage is the number one cause for serious pipeline accidents that impact not only the environment but public safety as well.

Texas power regulators are considering action to link up the Electric Reliability Corporation of Texas (ERCOT)  and its grid with more out of state projects and connections to meet growing energy demands from rapid population growth in the state. ERCOT, the first Independent System Operator in the country, is well-known to guard its autonomy but it may to have consider relying on new out of state grid connection projects to avoid repeating the stress placed on the electric system during a 2011 Summer heat wave where 6 rolling power emergencies were declared to avoid blackouts. 

Consumers may be in for more bad news on the dreary march to $4 a gallon gasoline as the largest refinery on the East Coast is expected to close this Summer - eliminating nearly 25 percent of the region's gasoline refining capacity. The closure of the Sunoco refinery is due in large part to high oil prices and decreasing domestic fuel demand, leading to substantial economic losses. Unfortunately, the trend may continue in the region as experts predict two other refineries are expected to close because of unsustainable financial impacts. If so, nearly half of the refining capacity on the East Coast will be gone with some economists predicting a 15 cents per gallon spike in New England because more imported gasoline will be needed to meet demand. 

Today the EPA announced proposed standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. The move was hailed by environmental groups and it is expected to largely impact the construction of new coal-fired power plants by essentially requiring their emissions output to mirror those of efficient natural gas units - either through capture or storage of CO2 emissions. Industry advocates opposed the new rule because of cost impacts to states heavily reliant on coal for electricity production and that the Administration is essentially mandating new technology which is not yet commercially feasible. 

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) agreed to impose small tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels by a vote of 5-0. The ITC concurred that Chinese panels were receiving export subsidies, but their decision to impose countervailing duties ranging from 2.9 percent to 4.73 percent on various companies were far lower than the penalties sought by a coalition of US firms led by SolarWorld. In their complaint, US manufacturers were originally seeking additional tariff duties between 50 and 250 percent that would be applied retroactively to solar panel import operations. The high-profile case has split the solar industry between the small number of domestic manufacturers and the overwhelmingly larger portion of the industry that performs panel installations.