Jenergy: Week ending April 10, 2013.

I know you’ve been champing at the bit to learn about what’s interesting in the world of energy and energy policy this week, so I’m delaying the advent of my weekend Jenanigans to give you what you want. I’m an altruist like that. So let’s do this!

The Sub-subcommittee on the Affairs of Subcommittees SubcommitteeThis week, a fascinating little bill goes up for a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power. The Energy and Commerce Committee, you should know, is the oldest, crustiest, standing legislative committee in the House (if you say that in a DJ voice, it’s a lot more interesting), and has the broadest jurisdiction of any Congressional committee. They oversee the EPA, Health and Human Services, the FDA, the FTC, and The FCC. So pretty much everything ever.

But we were talking about a bill.

The bill would prohibit the administrator of the EPA from setting any energy-related rules “estimated to cost more than $1 billion and will cause significant adverse effects to the economy.” Technically, the bill says “promulgating,” and not “setting,” but “promulgating” sounds kind of dirty to me, and I’m really trying not to think about my weekend plans (promulgating Jenanigans).

So what?

Here’s my take: remember when we talked about the EPA’s recent activities last time? Of course you do! Recall that the EPA is trying to roll out Tier 3 fuel regulations, which would reduce the sulfur content of gasoline. This is a deeply unpopular move in Congress. If you were paying attention last week, you’ll also recall that several states tried to sue the EPA for overstepping their authority on regulating greenhouse gases, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EPA, saying they have authority to regulate GHGs as a public health issue.

So, Congress can’t stop new EPA rules on that basis any longer. However, introducing legislation that curtails EPA activity in terms of money is totes under Congressional authority. They hold the purse-strings, right? GENIUS. Whether it’s evil genius or not, I’ll leave to your judgment. But wait! There’s more!

Checks and balances and… checks?

To put this little bill in a broader context, you might be interested in hearing about another bill that’s coming up soon: the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny).  Under this rule, Congress would have to give an up or down vote for any major rule from a federal agency. “Major” here means anything that would have a $100 million or more cumulative economic impact.

Let’s stop and take that in for a moment: $100 million. That sounds like pretty much any federal agency rule that would achieve anything would require a Congressional up or down vote. Can you imagine the TIME this would take?! And how much argument would ensue about each agency’s methods of cost estimation? The mind boggles and needs several restorative beverages.

The REINS Act passed the House in 2011, and has gone through a couple versions since then, but isn’t likely to get through a Democrat-controlled Senate, and Obama has asserted he’d veto it. But this bill isn’t likely to die easily. Expect it to rear its head in the future.

And if that doesn’t flick your Bic:

In other, terrifying, news, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this week that all 104 nuclear reactors in the US have a safety problem that cannot be fixed. Many reactors were granted a 20-year extension on their initial 40-year leases, but the former chairman, Dr. Gregory Jaczo, said most of those probably won’t last that long. He was ousted as chairman, in part, because he resisted a proposed measure to extend some leases another 20 years—which, if you’re following along at home, would mean some reactors would be in operation for 80 years.

And if THAT wasn’t terrifying enough:

This sliver of horror coincided with even MORE horrifying news from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan this week: a massive underground storage pool leaked 120 tons of contaminated water. Contaminated water storage has become a daunting problem at Fukushima. Water is used to cool the overheating core, but then you have to do something with the thousands upon thousands of gallons of water, and they can’t build storage facilities fast enough to keep up with the output. It will take decades to clean up the site as it is. So if you have awesome Science ideas about what to do with radiation-contaminated water, please forward them to Fukushima ASAP.

But what does that mean for my American-Style Freedoms?

Meanwhile, because Japan’s nuclear power generation capacity is, well, beleaguered, to massively understate the problem, their demand for natural gas is through the roof. Natural gas is used in electricity generation, and is therefore required for Japan to send you hentai on the Interwebs. Don’t think US natural gas operators haven’t noticed.

[This message brought to you by the Natural Gas Industry Association: “Promulgating naughty tentacles for 20+ years!”]

A bill has been introduced that would grant Japan and ally nations Free Trade Agreement status just for the export of liquefied natural gas from the US. Those who frown say it would drive up natural gas prices in the US. On the other hand, natural gas operators are desperate for the price to go up—they’re losing money hand over fist because our glut of natural gas has tanked prices here. “But Jen,” you ask, how is that people are making money off natural gas if the prices are abysmally low?” Well, stay tuned: this week, I’ll school you in the basics of natural gas markets and other commodities investment markets. Wait, where are you going?! I promise, I’ll make it fun!

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