Monday, February 21, 2011
New Mexico is calling for a state of emergency because of natural gas shortages, natural gas pipes in Texas are experiencing low pressure, and several other states are managing rolling blackouts and record-high energy usage. While the recent energy turmoil is a result of extreme weather conditions, it is symbolic and a grim foreshadowing of what our energy policy in the United States has become: an anti-energy agenda.
Although the following examples are not all related to electricity use, the following stories showcase the misguided anti-energy agenda from the Obama Administration.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will start regulating emissions from new power plants and major expansions of large greenhouse-gas-emitting-plants that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. This has led to a contentious battle between the state of Texas and the EPA over new permits that have been issued. A number of states, businesses, and industry groups filed lawsuits, mostly on the grounds that the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding did not include conclusive evidence that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and public welfare.
The EPA recently revoked a coal-mining permit in West Virginia. Pulling a previously issued clean water permit is a clear affront to the coal industry and sets a dangerous precedent moving forward. Having a regulator that is willing to seemingly arbitrarily obstruct energy development projects will have a drastic negative impact on expanding domestic energy sources. A number of groups—including National Realtors Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association—have already expressed concern to the White House after the EPA revoked the permit, writing that “every similarly valid permit held by any entity—businesses, public works agencies and individual citizens—will be in increased regulatory limbo and potentially subject to the same unilateral, after-the-fact revocation.”
Shell Oil nixed its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea in 2011, citing the EPA’s egregious regulatory delays. Vice president of Shell Alaska Pete Slaiby said at a press conference, “We’ve been trying to [obtain] an air permit for five years … and now the continuous regulatory delays have forced us to make a decision … to forgo drilling in 2011.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is sitting on 103 exploratory drilling permits.
Obama Administration rescinded drilling permits already issued in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska and in December announced that the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts will not be part of the government’s 2012–2017 Outer Continental Shelf program.
On natural gas, the EPA evasively posted a new rule on hydraulic fracturing that requires a company to obtain permits if the company uses diesel when fracking. The EPA ignored the process of posting the rule in the Federal Register and completely forwent the comment period.
Despite 25 years of research and $10 billion invested, President Obama, without a shred of scientific or technical justification, directed his Department of Energy to arbitrarily end the Yucca Mountain nuclear materials repository project. This creates a huge obstacle to the broad expansion of nuclear power in the United States.
The rolling blackouts should now be a wakeup call for the Administration that we need a pro-energy agenda that does not include needless regulations. It should be a priority for Congress to rein in the EPA’s regulatory invasions and unilateral decision making on our economy.
Furthermore, Congress should focus on a pro-energy policy that opens access to America’s resources and creates a predictable, efficient regulatory framework for all energy sources.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
A new drilling technique is opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, helping reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude. Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.
This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.
"That's a significant contribution to energy security," says Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse.
Oil engineers are applying what critics say is an environmentally questionable method developed in recent years to tap natural gas trapped in underground shale. They drill down and horizontally into the rock, then pump water, sand and chemicals into the hole to crack the shale and allow gas to flow up.
Because oil molecules are sticky and larger than gas molecules, engineers thought the process wouldn't work to squeeze oil out fast enough to make it economical. But drillers learned how to increase the number of cracks in the rock and use different chemicals to free up oil at low cost.
"We've completely transformed the natural gas industry, and I wouldn't be surprised if we transform the oil business in the next few years too," says Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy which is using the technique.
Petroleum engineers first used the method in 2007 to unlock oil from a 25,000-square-mile formation under North Dakota and Montana known as the Bakken. Production there rose 50 percent in just the past year, to 458,000 barrels a day, according to Bentek Energy, an energy analysis firm.
It was first thought that the Bakken was unique. Then drillers tapped oil in a shale formation under South Texas called the Eagle Ford. Drilling permits in the region grew 11-fold last year.
Now newer fields are showing promise, including the Niobrara, which stretches under Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas; the Leonard, in New Mexico and Texas; and the Monterey, in California.
"It's only been fleshed out over the last 12 months just how consequential this can be," says Mark Papa, chief executive of EOG Resources, the company that first used horizontal drilling to tap shale oil. "And there will be several additional plays that will come about in the next 12 to 18 months. We're not done yet."
Environmentalists fear that fluids or wastewater from the process, called hydraulic fracturing, could pollute drinking water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency is now studying its safety in shale drilling. The agency studied use of the process in shallower drilling operations in 2004 and found that it was safe.
In the Bakken formation, production is rising so fast there is no space in pipelines to bring the oil to market. Instead, it is being transported to refineries by rail and truck. Drilling companies have had to erect camps to house workers.
Unemployment in North Dakota has fallen to the lowest level in the nation, 3.8 percent — less than half the national rate of 9 percent. The influx of mostly male workers to the region has left local men lamenting a lack of women. Convenience stores are struggling to keep shelves stocked with food.
The Bakken and the Eagle Ford are each expected to ultimately produce 4 billion barrels of oil. That would make them the fifth- and sixth-biggest oil fields ever discovered in the United States. The top four are Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, Spraberry Trend in West Texas, the East Texas Oilfield and the Kuparuk Field in Alaska.
The fields are attracting billions of dollars of investment from foreign oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Norway's Statoil, and also from the smaller U.S. drillers who developed the new techniques like Chesapeake, EOG Resources and Occidental Petroleum.
Last month China's state-owned oil company CNOOC agreed to pay Chesapeake $570 million for a one-third stake in a drilling project in the Niobrara. This followed a $1 billion deal in October between the two companies on a project in the Eagle Ford.
With oil prices high and natural-gas prices low, profit margins from producing oil from shale are much higher than for gas. Also, drilling for shale oil is not dependent on high oil prices. Papa says this oil is cheaper to tap than the oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or in Canada's oil sands.
The country's shale oil resources aren't nearly as big as the country's shale gas resources. Drillers have unlocked decades' worth of natural gas, an abundance of supply that may keep prices low for years. U.S. shale oil on the other hand will only supply one to two percent of world consumption by 2015, not nearly enough to affect prices.
Still, a surge in production last year from the Bakken helped U.S. oil production grow for the second year in a row, after 23 years of decline. This during a year when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation's biggest oil-producing region, was halted after the BP oil spill.
U.S. oil production climbed steadily through most of the last century and reached a peak of 9.6 million barrels per day in 1970. The decline since was slowed by new production in Alaska in the 1980s and in the Gulf of Mexico more recently. But by 2008, production had fallen to 5 million barrels per day.
Within five years, analysts and executives predict, the newly unlocked fields are expected to produce 1 million to 2 million barrels of oil per day, enough to boost U.S. production 20 percent to 40 percent. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates production will grow a more modest 500,000 barrels per day.
By 2020, oil imports could be slashed by as much as 60 percent, according to Credit Suisse's Morse, who is counting on Gulf oil production to rise and on U.S. gasoline demand to fall.
At today's oil prices of roughly $90 per barrel, slashing imports that much would save the U.S. $175 billion a year. Last year, when oil averaged $78 per barrel, the U.S. sent $260 billion overseas for crude, accounting for nearly half the country's $500 billion trade deficit.
"We have redefined how to look for oil and gas," says Rehan Rashid, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets. "The implications are major for the nation."
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Feb 3, 2011; 7:21 AM ET
This winter is on track to become the coldest for the nation as a whole since the 1980s or possibly even the late 1970s. According to AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi, three or four out of the next five winters could be just as cold, if not colder.
He is worried that next winter, for example, will be colder than this one.
Bastardi adds that with the U.S. in the middle of one of its worst recessions in its history and the price of oil in question, he is extremely concerned about the prospect for more persistent cold weather in the coming years putting increased financial hardship on Americans.
"Cold is a lot worse than warm," Bastardi said, "and that's why your energy bill goes up during the winter time: because of the fact that it takes a lot to heat a house."
While there are many different factors that are playing into Bastardi's forecast, one of the primary drivers is La Niña and the trends that have been observed in winters that follow the onset of a La Niña.
Hear more from Bastardi on his forecast, La Nina and the implications that more cold winters could have on energy demands and the economy, click on this video.
Current La Nina Signals More Cold Winters Ahead
La Niña occurs when sea surface temperatures across the equatorial central and eastern Pacific are below normal. La Niña and its counterpart, El Niño, which occurs when sea surface temperatures of the same region are above normal, have a large influence on the weather patterns that set up across the globe.
The current La Niña, which kicked in this past summer, is unprecedented after becoming the strongest on record in December 2010. Bastardi thinks this La Niña will last into next year, though it will be weaker, and will not disappear completely until 2012.
According to Bastardi, studies over the past 100 years or so show that after the first winter following the onset of a La Niña, the next several winters thereafter tend to be colder than normal in the U.S.
He says the first winter during a La Niña tends to be warm. The next winter that follows is usually less warm, and the winter after that is usually cold.
"There's a natural tendency for that to happen because of the large-scale factors," Bastardi commented. "What's interesting about what we're seeing here is that [the current La Niña] is starting so cold."
Temperatures this winter so far are averaging below normal across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country.
He adds, "If the past predicts the future, then the first year La Niña is warmer than the combination of the following two."
He said that with the exception of the winters of 1916-1917 and 1917-1918, the first year of every moderate or stronger La Niña available for study has featured a warmer-than-normal winter from the Plains eastward. This winter, it has been colder than normal.
Taking a look at one of the exceptions, the La Niña winter of 1916-1917, colder-than-normal conditions were observed across the northern part of the Plains and East (not the South). Bastardi said that never before have colder-than-normal conditions been observed across the South during a first-year La Niña winter, as has been the case this winter.
If this winter, which has been colder than normal across the eastern two-thirds of the country, is historically supposed to be the warmest of the next three winters for the U.S., according to Bastardi, we have some frigid times ahead.
Bastardi: Shift to Colder Climate Predicted Next 20-30 Years
Bastardi thinks that not only will the next few winters be colder than normal for much of the U.S., but that the long-term climate will turn colder over the next 20 to 30 years.
"What's interesting about what we're seeing here is that [the current La Niña] is starting so cold," said Bastardi, "and it's coinciding with bigger things that are pushing the overall weather patterns and climate in the Northern Hemisphere and, in fact, globally over the next 20 to 30 years that we have not really dealt with, nor can we really quantify."
"That ties into a lot of this arguing over climate change," he added.
Bastardi has pointed out that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which is a pattern of Pacific climate variability that shifts phases usually about every 20 to 30 years, has shifted into a "cold" or "negative" phase.
Over the past 30 years or so, according to Bastardi, the PDO has been "warm" or "positive."
This change to a cold PDO over the next 20 to 30 years, he says, will cause La Niñas to be stronger and longer than El Niños. Bastardi adds that when El Niños do kick in, if they try to come on strong like they did last year, they will get "beaten back" pretty quickly.
"When you have a cold PDO and lots of La Niñas, when El Niños do come on, you generally tend to have cold, snowy weather patterns across the U.S.," Bastardi said. "That's what we saw in the 1960s and 1970s."
Overall, Bastardi is predicting three or four of the next five winters to be colder than normal for much of the U.S., based on trends observed in La Niñas throughout history.
He is concerned that, amid the current recession, more colder-than-normal conditions in the winters ahead will put extra financial strain on families in the form of higher heating bills.
Bastardi is also predicting the long-term climate to turn colder over the next 20 to 30 years with global temperatures, as measured by satellite, returning to levels they were at in the late 1970s.
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U.S. Adminstration In Contempt Over Gulf Drilling Moratorium, Judge Rules
By Laurel Brubaker Calkins - Feb 3, 2011
The Obama Administration acted in contempt by continuing its deepwater-drilling moratorium after the policy was struck down, a New Orleans judge ruled.
Interior Department regulators acted with “determined disregard” by lifting and reinstituting a series of policy changes that restricted offshore drilling, following the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, U.S. District Judge, Martin Feldman of New Orleans ruled yesterday.
“Each step the government took following the court’s imposition of a preliminary injunction showcases its defiance,” Feldman said in the ruling.
“Such dismissive conduct, viewed in tandem with the re-imposition of a second blanket and substantively identical moratorium, and in light of the national importance of this case, provide this court with clear and convincing evidence of the government’s contempt,” Feldman said.
President Barack Obama’s administration first halted offshore exploration in waters deeper than 500 feet in May, after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast led to a subsea blowout of a BP Plc well that spewed more than 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Feldman overturned the initial ban as overly broad on June 22, after the offshore-drilling industry and Gulf Coast political and business leaders challenged it. U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar said later that day that he would “issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities.”
In July, Salazar instituted a second drilling moratorium that was also challenged by an industry lawsuit claiming the ban was harming the Gulf Coast economy, which is heavily dependent on deepwater drilling activities. That ban was rescinded in October, before Feldman could rule on its validity.
Feldman later ruled that enhanced drilling safety rules Salazar imposed to permit companies to resume offshore exploration violated federal law, and he struck down those as well. Opponents of those rules complained to Feldman that regulators were continuing to block the resumption of drilling after Feldman’s rulings.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said the government is reviewing yesterday’s ruling. He declined to comment further.
The Offshore Marine Service Association, a group representing offshore service vessels and shipyards, urged the president to end what it called an informal moratorium on offshore drilling.
“President Obama claims to have lifted the Gulf moratorium, yet not a single deepwater permit has been issued in nine months,” Jim Adams, the association’s president, said in a release after the ruling. “As a result, thousands of workers are out of jobs, Americans are paying more for gasoline and heating oil, and our nation is becoming even more dependent on unstable nations for our energy needs.”
Feldman also ordered the government to pay the legal fees of Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC, which filed the initial lawsuit. The company had described the fees as “significant.”
Hornbeck “was put to considerable expense, after Judge Feldman issued the injunction, contending with the government’s litigation posturing and defiance of the court’s order,” Sam Giberga, the company’s general counsel, said today in an e-mail.
“The government was not at liberty to impose its own will after the court struck down the policy,” Giberga said. “The government, like any citizen, had to obey the ruling, even if it didn’t like it.”
The case is Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC v. Salazar, 2:10-cv-01663, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
Electric Power Outages Suspended, But Conservation Critical
Plants trip due to cold weather, leads to shortage of power
By FRANK HEINZ
Updated 6:33 PM CST, Wed, Feb 2, 2011
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas suspended rolling outages nearly eight hours after ordering utility companies across the state to begin rotating power outages to compensate for a power generation shortage.
When it ordered the rolling outages, ERCOT said it expected them to continue until a sufficient amount of power is back online. By 2 p.m., power generation was determined to be at an acceptable level, and ERCOT called for a suspension of the rolling outages.
It means if usage spikes again and the generators that are online can't meet demand, more rotating/rolling outages may be possible.
Rotating outages are controlled, temporary interruptions of service designed to ease the load on the electric grid.
"Without this safety valve, generators would overload and begin shutting down to avoid damage, risking a domino effect of a statewide outage," ERCOT said.
ERCOT said the outages were necessary because of a shortage of available power after some plants were knocked offline because of broken water pipes at the Oak Grove and Sand Hill plants. Natural gas power plants that should have provided back up had difficulty starting because to low pressure in the supply lines that was also caused by the cold weather.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this event was something that "should not happen" and that the demand placed on the Texas grid was nowhere near peak capacity. He said he was frustrated by the situation.
ERCOT issues plea for conservation
ERCOT said energy conservation is still critical during peak demand hours this evening between 6 and 10 p.m.
"ERCOT is urging all consumers who can reduce their energy consumption to do so at this time. Severe weather has led to the loss of more than 50 generation units more than 7,000 MW, and additional units are continuing to trip offline due to the extreme cold temperatures," ERCOT said in a news release issued just after noon Wednesday. "Conservation is very critical at this time to reduce the load on the system."
"As of 9 a.m., more than 7,000 MW of capacity was still out of service or not producing at its expected level," Dottie Roark, ERCOT spokeswoman, said in a news release. "Rotating outages were implemented around 5:30 a.m. this morning to shed 4000 MW of load. The rotating outages are continuing as this time, although the amount has been reduced to about 3000 MW."
At noon, ERCOT said it would order outages to cut down the load by 2000MW. One megawatt is enough to power 200 homes in extreme conditions. To see recent reports on the grid load, click here.
The outages affected Texas' largest cities, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Abilene and the Rio Grande Valley -- more than three-fourths of the state.
Oncor: They're outages, not blackouts
Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina told The Associated Press that the structured outages are not considered blackouts and that the outages are very structured.
"We are carefully selecting the feeders that were chosen throughout the ERCOT system. This is not blackouts," Molina said.
The outages last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, though many NBCDFW readers reported outages lasting longer than an hour -- in some cases several hours. The locations and durations of the outages are determined by the local carrier.
Critical-need customers such as hospitals and nursing homes are not included, state regulators said.
Dallas Fire-Rescue said that some residential and business alarms tripped as power was cycled back on, requesting emergency response. DFR is prioritizing calls, but it is responding to all automatic fire alarms. But DFR also said it did not cause any significant delays in response time.
Drivers are advised to not only use caution on roads because of ice, but also because rolling blackouts will affect traffic signals and they can malfunction after a power loss. Drivers are advised to be extremely careful at intersections without powered signals.
NBC 5 freezes on cable because of rolling outages
The rolling blackouts did not impacted NBC 5 or our ability to broadcast a signal over the air.
We took two power hits to our Fort Worth studio, but we have a backup generator and were on the air the entire time.
Our signal may appear down or frozen on some cable systems because of a control panel on a transmitter that was disabled. That transmitter fed our signal to those providers. We have a crew working to restore the signal, though continued rolling outages may continue to impact the transmitter.
Dallas requests outage exemption for Convention Center, City Hall
The city of Dallas requested that City Hall and the Dallas Convention Center, which is hosting the NFL Experience, be exempt from rotating blackouts.
In a prepared statement, city spokesman Frank Librio said, "City Hall is open Wednesday for the Dallas City Council Briefing and other public business and it is also where the Emergency Operations Center is located for Super Bowl week. The EOC is operational 24 hours a day during Super Bowl Week monitoring, and responding if needed, to public safety issues associated with hundreds of special events. These operations are critical."
Hotels in downtown Dallas, where many fans are flocking in the run-up to the Super Bowl, were not affected by the controlled outages because they have a special hookup to the power grid, said Larry Auth, a spokesman for Omni hotels.
The hotels where the teams are staying have backup generators, and any power outages would be brief while the hotels switch to those generators, Auth said. The NFL said some of the hotels the league is using have had "brief but expected" outages that have caused no problems.
Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, home of Sunday's Super Bowl, was exempt from the outages, said Jeamy Molina, a spokeswoman for Oncor, which supplies electricity to 7 million consumers.
But the city of Arlington didn't request such an exemption, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
The city's fire chief told the newspaper that the stadium and city facilities were "OK from a backup power perspective." The stadium's backup generator can run for up to a couple of days, M-E engineers of Dallas told the newspaper.
How to conserve electricity in times of crisis
Residents and businesses are urged to reduce their electricity use to the lowest level possible, including these steps:
Limit electricity usage to only that consumption which is absolutely necessary. Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances, and electronic equipment.
Businesses should minimize the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production processes.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
By Thomas Sowell
Despite the old saying, "Don't cry over spilled milk," the Environmental Protection Agency is doing just that.
We all understand why the Environmental Protection Agency was given the power to issue regulations to guard against oil spills, such as that of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska or the more recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But not everyone understands that any power given to any bureaucracy for any purpose can be stretched far beyond that purpose.
In a classic example of this process, the EPA has decided that, since milk contains oil, it has the authority to force farmers to comply with new regulations to file "emergency management" plans to show how they will cope with spilled milk, how farmers will train "first responders" and build "containment facilities" if there is a flood of spilled milk.
Since there is no free lunch, all of this is going to cost the farmers both money and time that could be going into farming-- and is likely to end up costing consumers higher prices for farm products.
It is going to cost the taxpayers money as well, since the EPA is going to have to hire people to inspect farms, inspect farmers' reports and prosecute farmers who don't jump through all the right hoops in the right order. All of this will be "creating jobs," even if the tax money removed from the private sector correspondingly reduces the jobs that can be created there.
Does anyone seriously believe that any farmer is going to spill enough milk to compare with the Exxon Valdez oil spill or the BP oil spill?
Do you envision people fleeing their homes, as a flood of milk comes pouring down the mountainside, threatening to wipe out the village below?
It doesn't matter. Once the words are in the law, it makes no difference what the realities are. The bureaucracy has every incentive to stretch the meaning of those words, in order to expand its empire.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has expanded its definition of "discrimination" to include things that no one thought was discrimination when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The Federal Communications Commission is trying to expand its jurisdiction to cover things that were never included in its jurisdiction, and that have no relationship to the reason why the FCC was created in the first place.
Yet the ever-expanding bureaucratic state has its defenders in the mainstream media. When President Obama recently mentioned the possibility of reducing burdensome regulations-- as part of his moving of his rhetoric toward the political center, even if his policies don't move-- there was an immediate reaction in a New York Times article defending government regulations.
Under a headline that said, "Obama May Find Useless Regulations Are Scarcer Than Thought," the Times writers declared that there were few, if any, "useless" regulations. But is that the relevant criterion?
Is there any individual or business willing to spend money on everything that is not absolutely useless? There are thousands of useful things out there that any given individual or business would not spend their money on.
When I had young children, I often thought it would be useful to have a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica for them. But I never bought one. Why? Because there were other little things to spend money on, like food, clothing and shelter.
By the time I could afford to buy a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the kids were grown and gone. But at no time did I consider the Encyclopedia Britannica "useless."
Weighing benefits against costs is the way most people make decisions-- and the way most businesses make decisions, if they want to stay in business. Only in government is any benefit, however small, considered to be worth any cost, however large.
No doubt the Environmental Protection Agency's costly new regulations may somewhere, somehow, prevent spilled milk from pouring out into some street and looking unsightly. So the regulations are not literally "useless."
What is useless is making that the criterion.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.
By SEAN HIGGINS, INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
Posted 07:18 PM ET
The Environmental Protection Agency is getting a harsher light aimed at it from Congress since the last election — and not just from Republicans. The scrutiny is increasingly bipartisan.
West Virginia Democrats last week joined a push to strip the EPA of its authority to pull permits after they have been issued. That follows the agency's decision two weeks ago to pull a permit from the state's largest mountaintop coal mine.
It is the latest case of coal-state Democrats balking at the EPA's regulatory agenda. Last year, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., championed legislation to strip the EPA of the power to issue greenhouse gas rules for two years. Six Democrats co-sponsored it.
That opposition will give bipartisan support to the GOP-led effort to roll back the EPA's agenda. Republicans are expected to unveil a bill soon to rein in the authority the EPA has claimed to regulate greenhouse gases. The White House had hoped to use the agency's regulatory power to bypass a gridlocked Congress. Instead, Congress may be coming after it.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, have vowed to aggressively probe the EPA and lay the groundwork for limiting its powers.
The EPA has more friends in the Senate, where Democrats still lead. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., never allowed a vote on Rockefeller's EPA bill despite private assurances to the senator.
But EPA critics are hopeful now that the Democrats' majority has shrunk.
"The Senate is much more evenly divided, so it really only would take a couple of Democrats," said a top Senate aide. "The ability to cut a deal is more in play this year than last Congress."
Coal Mine Is The Canary
One potential deal involves the West Virginia case. Last month, the EPA used a rarely invoked power to halt Arch Coal's (ACI) $250 million project. It argued that the mining could pollute groundwater. Green groups had pushed for the project to be stopped for years.
The move outraged the state's congressional delegation. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat, noted that the original permit had come after years of negotiations with the federal government.
"Now that this line has been crossed, there is nothing to prevent this, or any future, EPA from reaching back to veto a previously granted permit, which means businesses will understandably be reluctant to invest because there is no apparent finality to the process," Rahall said in a statement to IBD.
Last week, Rahall backed, along with West Virginia GOP Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, a bill to strip the EPA of the power to pull a permit once the Army Corps of Engineers has approved it. The state's two senators, both Democrats, are attacking the EPA's move as well.
"With their anti-coal agenda, the Obama administration has put West Virginia in a very tough spot, especially with the Democratic delegation," said a top Senate aide.
In a joint letter in December, Rockefeller and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the EPA: "We believe it is unwise to place a mining permit under additional scrutiny after it has been rigorously reviewed, lawfully issued and active for over a year."
Last week, Manchin vowed to introduce a Senate version of the House bill, arguing that the agency's action had "far-reaching" consequences beyond his state.
"The type of permit at issue, a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, is a requirement for commercial investment in several industries including but not limited to mining, agriculture, homebuilding, transportation and energy," Manchin said in a statement.
EPA critics say a bipartisan coal-state coalition is possible.
"It's not just West Virginia: Ohio, Kentucky, any (Appalachian state) can be affected by the EPA's gross regulatory overreach," said Jamie Corley, spokeswoman for Capito.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., author of an admiring history of the Appalachian people, is a potential ally.
"We are not going to let the EPA regulate coal out of business," Webb said at a September rally of coal miners opposed to the EPA pulling the West Virginia permit.
The newly elected Manchin, West Virginia's former governor, made the EPA a key theme of his 2010 Senate bid. He sued the EPA to stop it from rescinding the permit and later used a cap-and-trade bill for target practice in an ad.
Rockefeller has not endorsed Manchin's bill, though he's reportedly complained about the EPA's decision to the White House. His office declined to comment.
Senate sources say Rockefeller may fear that legislation could hurt Arch Coal's bid to throw out the EPA decision in court.