Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 25, 2014

October 24, 2014

ICYMI: Wastebooks, Oil Bans & Energy Politics


coalrally002 091510 240x166 ICYMI: Wastebooks, Oil Bans & Energy Politics

Attendees of a rally for American coal jobs held by the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, bow their heads in prayer in Upper Senate Park.  (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

  • Earlier this week, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released his final Wastebook, an annual report that targets government funded projects he views as indulgent and wasteful. The senator’s scorn was aimed at several projects related to energy and environment, including money for beer farms, international coal shipments and “poop paks.”
  • Energy and environment issues are playing increasingly larger roles in many 2014 senate campaigns. As control of the Senate hangs in the balance, both parties are ramping up spending for energy ads in Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Alaska, West Virginia and Michigan. Ad content ranges from pro-coal and pro-oil to green energy and climate change. Electric automobile manufacturer, Tesla Motors, suffered a setback as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that forbids automakers from making direct car sales outside the franchise dealership network.
  • The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has a new study out that surveys the potential damage wind farms inflict on marine life. Calls for lifting the ban on American crude oil exports are growing louder as proponents have found a new argument: lifting the ban could be detrimental to Russia’s economy, thus giving the United States a foreign policy “win.” 

Market Demand For Frac Sand On The Rise

As fracking continues to grow in popularity, so to has the demand for one of the most important elements involved in the process: Proppant. Yes, according to a ProppantIQ report released by PacWest Partners, demand in the North American market for proppant is expected to grow by 23 percent per year through 2016. This growth is largely a factor of increasing demand for frac sand, a popular proppant.

Although demand is on the rise, customers should expect higher prices as supply has not kept up. Supply growth, while strong, is only expected to increase by 18 percent in capacity per year.

October 23, 2014

Offshore Wind Farms Pose Threat To Marine Wildlife

Offshore wind turbines might pose a hazard to the birds that fly into them, but marine mammals bear most of the risk during their construction, according to a recent study from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The recently released paper doesn’t offer solutions for mitigating the environmental damage caused by turbine installation, but it does make recommendations for “future monitoring and assessment” of potential consequences.

Scientists have been watching the turbines’ possible danger for birds, but according to the study, mammals like harbor seals and porpoises may also face risks. ”The loud sounds emitted during pile driving could potentially cause hearing damage, mask communication or disorient animals and fish as they move out of the area to avoid the noise,” the study says.

The researchers found that there are very few studies examining how marine wildlife responds to wind farm construction and operation, and none that measure the long-term effects of the farms — largely because U.S. wind power operations are in their nascent stages.

Among their recommendations, the Maryland researchers call for targeted data collection and better scientific modeling. This fall, the Maryland Energy Administration’s Offshore Wind Development Fund and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will fund a study that measures noise pollution. Over the course of two years researchers will place underwater microphones off the coast of Maryland and record marine mammals. Their goal is to better understand their habits and inform any future planning of wind farms with the new data.

By Clyde McGrady Posted at 5:25 p.m.

Another State Deals A Blow To Tesla’s Business Model

dw0904211081 240x159 Another State Deals A Blow To Teslas Business Model

A view of the 2009 Tesla Roadster plug, during a show of various company’s models of hybrid, alternative fuel and electric vehicles outside the Russell Senate Office Building, in anticipation of the April 22 celebration of Earth Day. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly)

Tesla Motors lost a crucial legislative battle in Michigan on Tuesday when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bipartisan bill that would prevent the electric vehicle manufacturer from selling its cars outside of a dealership network. It is already illegal to make direct sales of any new automobile but the new law, supported by General Motors, will explicitly require manufacturers to sell through auto franchises.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, has been fighting to sell his cars directly to consumers but so far more than half of all states have laws on the books similar to Michigan’s that protect their automobile franchises from direct sales competition. The California-based company has been selling its cars through galleries in 23 states, mainly along the east and west coasts. And in the states where they can’t sell directly, they take orders online.

Snyder, a governor known for his championing of entrepreneurship, drew charges of hypocrisy and took criticism from several quarters, including from supporter and Detroit billionaire, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert decried the role lobbying played in the decision and added, “To me you have to have a philosophy and you have to stick to it and you can’t let your personal circumstances compromise that.”

Adam Jonas, auto analyst with Morgan Stanley, thinks that this is just the beginning and that a broader debate on the national level is due. In a client note mentioned in the Detroit Free Press, Jonas wrote, “As Tesla grows in significance and expands its sales network, we expect more debate at the Federal level on the double standard in the application of dealer franchise laws. It’s only a matter of time before something gives. We expect that in the next two to three years, this could likely mushroom into a national issue. We believe these laws exist to support the weakest link in the network.”

October 22, 2014

Energy Ads Intensify As Senate Campaigns Heat Up

LAPOL14 312 092214 240x159 Energy Ads Intensify As Senate Campaigns Heat Up

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., right, answers questions from the local media during her event to exchange endorsements with Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., left, in Baton Rouge, La., surrounded by local elected officials on Sept. 22, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With just under two weeks until an election in which control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs, campaign ads are starting to intensify — in volume and rhetoric — in several key battleground states (Louisiana, Alaska, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Colorado and Michigan). Somewhat surprisingly, energy and environment are the third most mentioned issue in Senate races this cycle (surprising since it barely registered during the 2012 presidential campaign). Some are running because the states they air in are significant energy producers. Others are running in states that feature environmentally conscious electorates.

The ads tend to focus on coal, oil, green energy and climate change. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that West Virginia and Kentucky are leading the way in coal-related ads with both states featuring pro-coal positions in 87 percent of their energy-related ads. Also unsurprisingly, 39 percent of Iowa’s energy ads are anti-oil while 40 percent focus on green energy (likely, due to ethanol).

It’s also notable that both Democrats and Republicans are finding politically advantageous ways to deploy these energy ads. For instance, in blue states, Democrats are attacking Republicans for denying climate change and accepting money from the Koch brothers. And in red states, Republicans look to tie President Obama’s new environmental regulations around the necks of their opponents.


Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook: Beer Farms, Worm Power & Poop Paks

Tom Coburn 19 033111 240x159 Coburns 2014 Wastebook: Beer Farms, Worm Power & Poop Paks

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., makes his way to the U.S. Capitol from the Senate subway. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call )

Retiring Sen. Tom Coburn is out today with the last edition of his annual Wastebook. The Wastebook offers the Oklahoma Republican, a notorious budget hawk, a creative way to lambast congressional spending habits by pointing out programs that he views as silly and wasteful. It’s quite the hit!

The report highlights the top 100 projects Coburn deems wasteful. Just about every industry earns his ire, but the following pertain to energy and environmental spending.

New York Beer Farm. I initially thought this was a plot by some handle-bar mustachioed hipster in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who had tricked the federal government into providing seed money to start a microbrewery in his backyard. I even pictured him peddling his fixed gear bike all the way to Sen. Charles Schumer‘s state office to make a pitch– Here man, just try this chocolate chip blueberry pancake stout. But alas, it’s a $200,000 Department of Agriculture grant to New York brewer Empire Brewing to expand from one location in Syracuse to a 22-acre farm in Cazenovia, New York.

Worm Power. A $199,000 grant to farmers to produce compost for Worm Power, a company responsible for creating a process known as “vermicomposting.” According to Coburn, “These earthworms are not just eating through manure. They are also digesting taxpayer dollars.”

Coal to Germany. $638,910 to send anthracite coal to military bases in Germany. The practice was first established in the 1960s by an earmark from the late coal country Rep. Daniel Flood (D-Pa.).

Watching the Grass Grow. This one is exactly what it sounds like. The Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife service is spending $10,000 to “cover the cost to monitor grasses, restore two acres as a demonstration and publish a guide on best practices for cultivating the cordgrass, known formally as Spartina alterniflora.”

Perfect Poop Pak. A $50,000 USDA grant to package and market alpaca manure as “Poop Paks.” Just in time for the holidays!

October 21, 2014

Would American Crude Oil Exports Hurt Putin?

Over the last month or so the chorus supporting the lifting of the decades-old American crude oil export ban has grown increasingly louder.

For years, exporters have argued for lifting the ban, motivated by the promise of more profits. But lately their argument has gained a bit more traction due to increased tension with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to exporters, not only would lifting the ban be good for business, but it could provide the United States with a geopolitical “win” as well. Russia, whose economy relies heavily on oil and gas exports, could take a significant hit due to falling international prices.

There is already evidence that increased U.S. oil production and economic sanctions are having a negative impact on Russia, shaving a predicted 1-1.5 percent off the country’s GDP. And just yesterday CQ reported (subscription required) on a GAO study that claims lifting the ban would cause domestic fuel prices to drop, encouraging further domestic oil production.

But some argue that due to the elastic nature of oil supply, in the long term, American oil exports won’t have much of an impact on Russia exports. However, it’s the potential of expansion of the current U.S. oil production boom that should have Putin worried.

By Clyde McGrady Posted at 5:08 p.m.

Are High Gas Prices Already A Thing Of The Past?

dw09070800141 240x165 Are High Gas Prices Already A Thing Of The Past?

Energy investor T. Boone Pickens speaks at a press conference promoting natural gas as an energy source. (Photo by Ryan Kelly/Congressional Quarterly)

In large parts of the country gas prices are just below $3 per gallon. And in an interview conducted on Monday at the Concordia Summit in New York City, T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil tycoon, was asked whether he thinks these prices are here to stay.

Pickens first noted the counter intuitive nature of the oil price drop given the recent unrest in the Middle East and the fact that just six years ago consumers were paying around $4 and $5 per gallon at the pump. When asked for the explanation, he pointed to the uptick in U.S. oil production.

“The United States has changed the whole landscape for oil, I’m talking about globally. We’re using more oil, we’re using 92 million barrels in the world every day, and that’s the most oil that we’ve ever used in the world,” he said. “So, oil demand is going up, and, by golly, oil supply  — the additions that have been added to it — come from the United States.”

But according to Pickens, the future of long-term oil prices is directly tied to natural gas and its use in American automobiles.

“Today, if you went out and shopped for a natural gas passenger car, you know what you see? One Honda GX Civic and you can get the Ford F-150 pickup,” he said, adding: “If we were in Paris, France, tonight, and we were going down to shop for a passenger car, you’d see 40 that you could buy.”

But although he thinks the United States will eventually head toward natural gas cars, he refused to predict when, noting that his past market predictions feature “good direction [but] questionable timing.”

October 20, 2014

Texas Congressman Claims EPA Analysis Falls Short

Today, Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling for a more thorough cost-benefit analysis of the agency’s newly proposed electricity regulations.

In his letter, Smith roundly criticized the agency’s evaluation process, stating that “systematic biases and major omissions in EPA’s limited evaluation produced a cost-benefit analysis divorced from reality. Consequently, EPA’s Regulatory Impact Assessment fails to assess whether the proposed rule will achieve meaningful benefits and, more importantly, whether the benefits are worth the heavy cost.” Smith closed the letter by demanding that without “comprehensive energy and economic modeling,” rule making should not move forward.

The letter to EPA is Smith’s second one in three months and comes on the heels of a report released by NERA Economic Consulting. The report projects that EPA’s new proposals will cause double digit increases in the price of electricity across 43 states. Additionally, it predicts that compliance costs could end up totaling $400 billion over 15 years.

The Week Ahead: Methane & Efficiency Scorecard

On tap this week:


Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner and Judi Greenwald, the Energy Department’s deputy director for climate, environment and energy will take part in a discussion on curbing methane emissions at the Center for American Progress. Full story

October 17, 2014

ICYMI: Oil Slides, CO2 Talk & Yucca Echoes

Down, down, down was the way oil looked this week, with the global benchmark Brent crude dropping 27 percent from July before rebounding slightly Thursday. Full story

Unlike EIA, Market Anticipating Cold Winter

fercHeatingPrice 445x441 Unlike EIA, Market Anticipating Cold WinterStill feeling the sting from last winter, prices for heating commodities futures are more than double for some markets, according to an analysis from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Full story

October 16, 2014

Asian Refinery Upgrades Contribute to Light Oil Glut

Recent refinery upgrades in China and India have given those countries more flexibility in choosing imports and diminished demand for light crude on the global market, which has dropped a quarter of its value in the past three months. Full story

3D Innovation for Electric Cars

2014 inverter P05004 article 3D Innovation for Electric Cars

(Energy Department)

Researchers at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used 3-D printing to construct a high-efficiency power inverter that takes up less space than current technology, the department announced this week. Full story

October 15, 2014

Cheap Oil, Sanctions Impact Russia

453610936 445x313 Cheap Oil, Sanctions Impact Russia


Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country may cut budget spending because of falling crude prices, the government news agency TASS reported Tuesday. Full story

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