Opening the SPR taps

With help from Catherine Morehouse, Ben Lefebvre and Ximena Bustillo

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 29.

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— The Biden administration announced it was tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in coordination with fellow high-consuming countries, to try to bring down high fuel prices.

— Jerome Powell got the nod from the White House to serve another term as Federal Reserve Chair as the central bank fields calls to take a more aggressive stance on climate change.

— The State Department sanctioned three more entities connected to the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

HAPPY TUESDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. I hope if you’re on the move this short Thanksgiving week that your travels are going smoothly. Congrats to EEI’s Emily Fisher for knowing Sapporo is the most populous island on Hokkaido. For today’s trivia: What is the biggest airport by surface area? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected]. Find me on Twitter @matthewchoi2018.

Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at On today’s episode: The Manchin family business.

A STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RELEASE: President Joe Biden ordered the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s petroleum reserves early today in a bid to tamp down high fuel costs that have fed inflation worries and helped chip away at the president’s approval ratings.

The release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Pro’s Ben Lefevre reported was largely expected, will be coordinated with similar moves by the governments of China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, marking the first time such a large group of countries acted in unison to put the brakes on high oil costs.

The Energy Department make 32 million barrels of oil currently stored in salt caverns along the Gulf Coast available “in response to the highest oil prices experienced in seven years,” DOE said in its announcement of the release. The move “aims to ensure adequate supply as we exit the pandemic,” it added. Another 18 million barrels would be offered on Dec. 17.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm had hinted at potentially tapping into the SPR for months as Republicans bashed the administration over the rising gasoline costs going into the holiday season.

But most energy market analysts assert that an SPR release is likely to offer only some short-term relief, not to mention that it wouldn’t do much to ease natural gas prices, which have also been high heading into winter.

Oil and gas industry lobby group American Exploration and Production Council CEO Anne Bradbury made the point in a statement Monday, arguing it would be more effective to support domestic oil and natural gas production, which the group says is under fire from several of the administration’s environmentally driven decisions. “The Biden Administration – from the Department of Energy to the Interior Department to EPA – should support made-in-America oil and natural gas as a tool to help keep energy costs low and stable,” she said.

A group of climate-focused House Democrats wrote to President Joe Biden on Monday urging him to open the SPR for immediate relief, but they said that longer-term solutions were needed to wean the country off the global fossil fuel markets and shore up domestic renewable generation and manufacturing.

“The investment in renewable energy will eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and ensure we win the competition for a clean energy future against our global competitors. We want the solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and batteries of the future made in America and not in China. We should not be importers but lead the world in clean energy jobs and products,” wrote the lawmakers led by Reps. Ro Khanna and Darren Soto. Read their letter here.

POWELL TO STAY AT THE FED: Biden named Jerome Powell to a second term at the top of the Federal Reserve, focusing on continuity at the central bank. The move has the backing of members from both parties, but progressives are less thrilled, particularly with his approach to climate change, having called on the Fed to scale back fossil fuel financing.

“We need a focus on climate action in all facets of the federal government, including the Federal Reserve. Jerome Powell has already proven that he won’t answer calls for climate action. I will vote no,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted Monday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also took a swing in a statement, saying “Powell’s failures on regulation, climate, and ethics make the still-vacant position of Vice Chair of Supervision critically important.”

Still, Powell has strong backing from several powerful Democrats from his handling of the pandemic-driven economic crisis, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Curbing inflation is becoming a significant political point for the administration as the economy reawakens.

Powell has also overseen some movement on the climate front at the Fed, including a report where the central bank said climate change was a potential threat to financial stability. The Fed also joined a network of other central banks in collaborating on climate change.

Biden named Fed Governor Lael Brainard as vice chair of the board. Victoria Guida has more for Pros.

NEW NORD STREAM PAIN: The Biden administration expanded the number of parties facing U.S. sanctions for their roles in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, the latest diplomatic show of disapproval against the project that is expected to begin operating soon.

The new State Department move puts three more entities it says are connected to the building of the pipeline under sanctions. The agency says it submitted a report to Congress listing two vessels and the company Transadria Ltd. to be sanctioned under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, which Congress passed in 2019 to punish companies that were working to construct the pipeline bringing natural gas into Europe. “Transadria Ltd. will be sanctioned under PEESA, and its vessel, the Marlin, will be identified as blocked property,” the State Department said in a press release.

The pipeline has caused a rift with Ukraine, since it stands to lose transit fees for gas that traverses the country. Russia supplies about 40 percent of Europe’s gas market. State said in its statement that the U.S. would “continue to work with Germany and other allies and partners to reduce the risks posed by the pipeline to Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries and to push back against harmful Russian activities, including in the energy sphere.”

TVA MEMBERS CHALLENGE FERC: Two of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s member utilities filed a request for rehearing with FERC on Monday, arguing the agency failed to provide an adequate explanation when it struck down their request to unbundle the rates they pay to the federally-owned power company.

FERC in a 3-1 October decision declined to act on the petition, which would have allowed the municipal and local utilities that rely on TVA to shop for cheaper, cleaner power elsewhere, while maintaining critical transmission services. But the Athens Utility Board and the Gibson Electric Membership Corporation argue FERC erred in its ruling and did not properly address petitioners’ arguments.

A FIRST FOR FERC: Elin Katz was sworn in as FERC’s first director of the Office of Public Participation on Monday, an office established by the commission in June to make it easier for people to intervene in often opaque regulatory proceedings.

Katz was tapped for the role by Chair Richard Glick in October and was previously head of the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel and president of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates. “Honored to be part of … this great agency and excited for the work ahead!” she said in a tweet.

THANKFUL FOR BIOFUELS: A bushel of farm and ethanol groups wrote to the chairs of the House and Senate Ag committees Monday thanking them for biofuel provisions in the reconciliation package. The legislation is headed to the Senate after it passed the House last week, where it is all but certain to undergo some major shifts.

The letter, addressed to Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), makes the case not to touch the biofuel bits during the rearrange. The proposed spending package includes nearly $1 billion in funding to expand biofuel infrastructure and increase usage of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

“As biofuel producers capture the value of low carbon farming practices, farmers would also have the opportunity to benefit in the form of premium prices for their commodities,” the groups write. “These further reductions are important to ensure a long-term future for biofuels as policymakers and the public look to lower the carbon intensity of transportation.”

Signatories include Growth Energy, the National Biodiesel Board, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union and the Renewable Fuels Association. Read their letter here.

LEAD THE WAY: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer directed her state’s departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Treasury; and Technology, Management, and Budget on Monday to send a report to her and the Michigan Legislature on how best to allocate new money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe removal, accelerating the state’s previous plans, Michigan Live reports. Lead pipe removal was a significant bipartisan priority in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee long before the infrastructure bill was drafted.

— Delta Solar named Katie Laning Niebaum as its new president. She has been an owner and partner and consulting firm CDP Strategies and was communications director for then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).

“Supreme Court rules against Miss. in Interstate water fight.” via E&E News.

— “To Breed or Not to Breed?” via The New York Times.

— “Israel, Jordan to partner in water-for-energy deal,” via Reuters.

— ”Latta gets an earful from Ohio energy execs about Line 5, supply chain issues,” via The Toledo Blade.

— “Portugal’s power production goes coal-free long before deadline,” via Reuters.



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