Much of the G-20 summit, which begins on Friday, will focus on keeping the Paris climate pact intact after President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the historic agreement last month.
Western European members of the economic forum will attempt to isolate Trump regarding the decision while, according to The New York Times, leaders of Turkey, Indonesia and Russia are sending mixed signals about their commitment to the Paris deal.
But there's another area of energy policy sure to come up at the G-20 meeting — one on which the United States and Russia may find more disagreement.
Trump, as part of his "energy dominance" agenda, wants to make the United States a net energy exporter. And his administration is looking into making Europe, in addition to India and South Korea, a final destination of new U.S. natural gas exports.
But for decades, Russia (and before it, the Soviet Union) have sold natural gas to many European nations, with the threat of supply cutoffs always hanging over its neighbors' heads. Russia, for example, stopped piping gas to Ukraine several times over pricing disputes since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
During the White House's self-styled "Energy Week" last week, the Trump administration, which has yet to spell out a coherent Russia policy as members of the Trump campaign have been swept up into the FBI investigation of Russian meddling during the 2016 election, has signaled that it wants to ease European dependence on Russian fuel through U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
"It's not because our LNG is cheaper than Russian gas," Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser, said last week during an "Energy Week" forum. "Russian gas is actually cheaper. What our LNG is, it's guaranteed to show up once you enter a new contract."
But with the grip Russia has on energy supplies in much of Europe, using LNG exports as a diplomatic wedge between Russia and the rest of Europe has its limits for the United States.
"Given the sheer scale of Russia's energy exports to Europe, it is not realistic to expect a wholesale diversification away from Gazprom," said Edoardo Saravalle, an energy and economics researcher at the Center for a New American Security, referring to Russia's state-controlled natural gas supplier. (He recently wrote about Russian natural gas in Politico.) "Increasing diversity of supply, however, will make the relationship less one-sided forcing Russia to act more like other market participants and dissuading it from trying to coerce its customers."
On Thursday, ahead of the G-20 meeting, Trump touted the promise of U.S. natural gas to a dozen Eastern European nations that attended the "Three Seas" regional summit, named after the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas that surround the countries. During a speech, he noted Poland's first delivery of U.S. LNG in June.
"The United States is proud to see that our abundant energy resources are already helping the Three Seas Nations achieve much-needed energy diversification," Trump said, according to a transcript provided by the White House. "In fact, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the government and people of Poland for receiving their first shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas last month. And you made a very good deal, I understand."
Lithuania also recently signed a deal to buy LNG from the United States. And in a speech at the Energy Department last week, Trump also said he wants to see U.S. companies sell "millions and millions of metric tons" of coal to Ukraine.
Natural gas, which needs to be pressurized into a liquid before being loaded onto specially designed cargo ships, is different from oil in that the former is more expensive to transport. Exporting natural gas requires an investment in infrastructure, one that the United States began making under the Obama administration with the opening last year of an LNG export terminal at the border of Louisiana and Texas, with plans for five more by 2020 in the works.
But, but, but... : The Trump administration is about to be tested in how far it is willing to undermine Russian gas exports. Last month, the Senate passed by a 98-2 margin a new sanctions bill against Russia. Among other provisions, the legislation would penalize companies for doing business with the new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Germany and Russia.
The bill needs to pass the House of Representatives before it reaches Trump's desk. But the White House has expressed concerns about the sanctions bill without explicitly threatening to veto it.
What really might be happening: The LNG push from Trump (and before him, Obama) may reflect not so much a tack to keep Russia in check as it does an effort to sell off the glut of natural gas in the United States produced by the shale gas boom.
"The fact that we're sending LNG to Lithuania and Poland, and more generally, to the European market, is something that reflects the commercial realities of the oversupply of gas in the North American market," said David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. "It was inevitable that we were going to change our export laws as a result of that."
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-- What Zinke's been up to: On Wednesday the Interior Department posted the schedule of its secretary, Ryan Zinke, for May online. Continuing a pattern that defined his first two months in office, Zinke held several more meetings with oil and gas representatives than with conservation groups, while increasing his overall number of tribal consultations.
The industry groups he chose to meet or video-conference with include the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. lobbying group for the oil and natural gas industry; the U.S. Oil & Gas Association Board, another trade association; Newfield Exploration Company, natural gas company based in Houston; and White Stallion Energy, another Houston-based oil and gas firm.
Zinke also video-conferenced with representatives from two longtime GOP allies, the National Rifle Association and the National Association of Home Builders.
Two conservation groups he met with in May were the Land Trust Alliance and the Partnership of Rangeland Trust.
-- Trump vs. California (and New Mexico): The attorneys general of the two Western states filed a complaint Wednesday calling the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision to postpone parts of the methane waste prevention rule “illegal.”
The complaint notes that California and New Mexico “are the two highest producing states in terms of oil and gas extraction on public lands” and explains potential monetary losses.
The complaint reads: “Since 2008, California has received an annual average of $82.5 million in royalties from federal mineral extraction within the State. Royalties from federal oil and gas development in California are deposited into the State School Fund, which supports public education. New Mexico has received an annual average of $470 million in federal mineral extraction royalties during this same time period. One study estimates that New Mexico lost between $39.16 million and $46.62 million in royalties from venting and flaring between 2010 and 2015. This figure does not include lost royalties from leaks. New Mexico, whose per-pupil education spending is below the national average, uses its federal mineral leasing royalty payments for educational purposes. Thus, maximizing royalty recovery in California and New Mexico serves vital societal interests."
The context: The Obama-era methane rule forced oil and gas companies operating on federal lands to capture methane that had previously been flared off. To its defenders, the regulation had two positive effects: It reduced greenhouse gas emissions and put more money in local coffers through royalty payments companies made to states.
The Senate narrowly decided against repealing the waste prevention rule in a 49-51 vote after three Republican senators defected from the rest of the GOP caucus. In response, the Interior Department announced that it would delay implementing the rule.
-- Leader of the Free Welt: According to a new Pew survey, residents of most of the G-20 member nations prefer German Chancellor Angela Merkel to President Trump to lead on world affairs.
The survey looked at views from 37 nations, including 17 of the 19 members of the G-20. Only three countries — South Africa, India and Russia — responded as having more confidence in Trump than Merkel. (The margin was only 1 percent in favor of Trump in South Africa.)
The surveyed nations included the United States, which responded that it had more confidence in Merkel, 56 percent to 46 percent.
The Post's Ana Swanson and Damian Paletta have an extensive preview of what Trump can expect at the meeting in Hamburg, Germany. They reported that Merkel and Trump spoke on Monday ahead of the meeting to talk “global steel overcapacity,” ahead of larger discussions about trade at the summit.
-- An Oregon-based judge has finally set a trial date for a landmark lawsuit brought forth by a group of young people claiming the federal government has violated their constitutional right to a healthy climate, reports Chelsea Harvey for The Post.
Harvey previews the case, which is set to begin trial in February 2018.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin also ordered that three fossil fuel industry trade associations — the National Manufacturers Association, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute — can withdraw from the case, after they filed to get out of the case in May.
The suit was first filed against the Obama administration in 2015.
Harvey notes that there’s one final “Hail Mary” petition the federal government can file.
“The last possible hurdle the case could face before moving to trial is a final petition filed by the Trump administration this month seeking a rare legal procedure known as a writ of mandamus, which calls for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to independently step in and review Aiken’s original decision to deny the federal government’s motion to dismiss the case. The writ of mandamus is widely considered a kind of hail-Mary petition, one that is rarely invoked and even more rarely granted.”
-- Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s personal security detail budget is now near double that of his Obama-administration predecessor, E&E News has found.
The agency has spent more than $617,000 on security detail and more than $215,000 for travel for the protection detail during his first few months in office, E&E News found in documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
That’s nearly double what was spent on past EPA administrators Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy during similar time periods.
The report noted that the agency head’s protective detail increased after the EPA looked into a boost in security. Emails reportedly reveal that the EPA asked for "round-the-clock” detail for Pruitt.
-- President Trump's donation of his first-quarter salary to the National Park Service will go toward projects that preserve Civil War battlefields in Maryland, The Hill reported.
-- We're about to test a theory: Will a bill with rock-solid bipartisan support — one that somehow managed to pass the Senate by a 98-2 vote in this suffocating political environment — withstand pressure of the U.S. oil lobby?
That's the question that will be soon answered if and when the House of Representatives votes on legislation that would toughen economic sanctions against Russia.
Lobbyists for ExxonMobil, while saying the oil major does not have an official position on the bill, are telling lawmakers the codified sanctions could disadvantage U.S. companies, according to The Wall Street Journal's Bradley Olson and Peter Nicholas.
At stake for Exxon: A massive deal with Rosneft, a state-owned oil company, to drill in the Russian Arctic. Chevron, which also operates in Russia, is mounting pushback as well, the paper reported.
President Trump, who is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in the inquiry into Russia's role in the 2016 election, is one of only a few elected Republicans to publicly express doubts about the bill. But his opposition is actually not out of step with that of previous presidents, who usually preferred not having Congress tie their hands when trying to conduct diplomacy.
-- Volvo blows up its internal combustion engine: The Chinese-owned automaker announced Wednesday it will phase out manufacturing cars with traditional internal combustion engines in favor of hybrids and purely electric vehicles, The Post's Hamza Shaban reports.
The reason: "All major auto makers are preparing for a shift to electric vehicles, but the challenge for the industry is to get the timing right because of the industry's typically long product cycles that involve years of research and development before a vehicle rolls off the assembly line," The Wall Street Journal reported.
-- More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging retail giants H&M and Zara to stop sourcing from factories that have been linked to pollution and damaging waterways.
BuzzFeed News reported that the Changing Markets Foundation launched the petition after it published a report on the manufacturing sites — H&M is reportedly buying from eight factories and Zara from four whose production of viscose clothing material was polluting “local waterways and air, killing aquatic life and making water undrinkable in some instances,” according to the report.
H&M told BuzzFeed it was “deeply concerned” by the report and is working to create a system of evaluating the chemical use and wastewater treatment at its factories. Zara's parent company, Inditex, told BuzzFeed it works “continuously with its suppliers to improve conditions and ensure that they adhere to sustainable practices".
-- Just three miles of a massive impending iceberg remain connected to the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. Scientists have been awaiting the imminent break of the Delaware-sized iceberg for months, and The Post's Chris Mooney has the latest update.
-- The Capital Weather Gang is monitoring a tropical disturbance that could strengthen to become the season’s fourth tropical storm, and would be about seven weeks ahead of the average timing for the season’s fourth storm.
The storm’s name would be... Don.
Here’s Brian McNoldy for The Post on how groups are changing hurricane outlooks as a result.
- The U.S.-China Green Energy Council will hold a Clean Energy and Smart Grid Forum in Palo Alto, Calif.
- The Inter-American Dialogue will hold an event on Clean Power in Latin America.
- The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will host its International Solar Fuels Conference begins. It will continue through Monday.
- President Trump will attend the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 and 8.
- The Sustainable Energy Coalition is hosting the 20th Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO and forum on July 11.
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