THE LIGHTBULB

Energy Secretary Rick Perry praised “regulatory restraint” as an agent for “changing this country forever in a powerful and positive way” at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

The U.S. energy industry, however, spent much of last year fighting against a regulation pursued for months by Perry that would have restrained the wholesale electricity market. His department last year took on a regulatory proposal that spooked much of the energy industry to such an extent that fossil-fuel and renewable energy businesses joined forces in an attempt to defeat it. 

Like Perry, other members of Trump’s Cabinet charged with shaping energy and environmental policy hailed the rollback of regulations as a liberating force for the energy sector at this year’s conservative confab. Speaking alongside Perry during a panel discussion, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lamented that “when the regulatory framework is put in punitively, that is adversarial.” Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt called President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord his proudest moment.

The message was clear: Trump’s deputies expect the retraction of Obama administration policy to be a liberating force for industry.

Yet Perry perhaps hit that note the hardest. While saying “conservatives believe government’s got a role,” mainly in maintaining the military and “in balancing the regulations,” Perry emphasized that what President Trump “has done on the regulatory side is nothing less than world-changing.”

He praised “this administration being able to remove the regulations [while] still protecting our environment, still protecting the things that need to be protected, but freeing up and giving stability and predictability to those wanting to risk capital.”

But just last year, Perry’s department asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue new rules meant to prop up coal and nuclear power plants struggling to compete with cheaper forms of electricity production like natural gas, solar and wind.

Perry proposed favorable rates for power plants able to maintain a 90-day fuel supply on site, a requirement that most natural gas and renewable generators cannot currently meet and that, according to many outside observers, flew in the face of FERC’s efforts since the 1980s to make electricity markets more competitive. Perry’s plan to make the electric grid more resilient when facing hurricanes and cold snaps united at least 11 oil, gas, wind and solar lobbying groups against him. 

Ultimately in January, those businesses were spared. All five independent FERC commissioners — four of whom were appointed by Trump — rejected Perry’s plan as unworkable.

Elsewhere during his interview on stage at CPAC, Perry was asked if coal can “really be competitive" against cheaper alternatives. Perry didn’t quite address the question, saying the Trump administration was for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

POWER PLAYS

— Here are some other highlights from CPAC:

  • Perry repeated a line he pushed last month during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We just don’t export American [liquefied natural gas] around the world, we export freedom,” Perry said Friday, adding countries buying LNG from the United States “are free from countries that would place those countries’ values in jeopardy.”
  • Zinke spoke about an “all of the above” energy strategy within the administration, insisting that it does not prioritize any particular industry. “If you’re going to have energy on public lands, produce it — wind, solar — and I’m all of the above,” Zinke said, per HuffPost. “To me it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s made in America, I’m good with it.”
  • Trump, however, made no mention of renewable sources. “We’ve ended the war on American energy… And we’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal, one of our great natural resources.”

— Zinke’s Sunshine State burn: Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is convening members of the fishing, tourism, environmental and academic industries for a discussion on the Trump administration’s proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in coastal waters, per the Associated Press. Markey, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is opposed to the plan.

— Overhaul adjusted: Zinke has altered plans for a proposed major overhaul to Interior following backlash from governors of both parties. Zinke told the Associated Press the plan to divide the department into 13 regions will now closely follow the same boundaries as state lines rather than the boundaries proposed initially in the plan.

— USGS division faces extinction: Until now, the Trump administration has been largely prevented from cutting programs because the government has been operating under a series of continuing budget resolutions. Now with a new budget deal passed, lawmakers can finally craft appropriations bills allowing them to reprioritize agencies. One example, per The Post's Juliet Eilperin: Trump bureaucrats are preparing to mothball the Biological Survey Unit, a more-than-century-old scientific program that maintains collections of plants and animals from across the United States.

— Pruitt cites Bible for policies: In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network published late last week, the EPA chief said his decision to prioritize fossil fuels is based on the Bible. “The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we've been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” he told CBN’s David Brody. He also criticized “the environmental left” for “tell[ing] us that, though we have natural resources like natural gas and oil and coal, and though we can feed the world, we should keep those things in the ground, put up fences and be about prohibition.”

Freedom of Information Act litigation is pouring in as the agency refuses to divulge details about the administrator's activities and travels.
Politico
THERMOMETER

— How pollution affects different populations: A recent EPA study found minority populations and poorer communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution. The report, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found African American communities have a 54 percent higher health burden compared to the overall population, The Hill reports, and people living under the poverty line had a 35 percent higher burden.

— Lawsuit between climate scientists dropped: A Stanford professor who has argued the country can be powered entirely on renewable energy sources said he will be withdrawing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against an academic critic, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. Mark Jacobsen last year filed a suit against Christopher Clack, a lead author of a paper criticizing Jacobsen’s work, claiming Clack wrongly accused him of “modeling errors.” But Jacobsen said he realized “it is possible there could be no end to this case for years, and both the time and cost would be enormous.”

— Forecasting hurricanes sooner: The National Hurricane Center is working on extended forecasts that would potentially produce hurricane path predictions a full week in advance, compared with current five-day predictions. The new forecasts will be tested by officials for two years, Florida Today reports, before the hurricane center decides if they will be kept long term. The experimental predictions will add a 6th and 7th day to forecasts, including maximum wind predictions.

— A city protected but still in peril:  In the years following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was fortified with flood protection, flood walls, gates, levees, and pumps costing more than $20 million, the New York Times and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans report. But experts warn the system, designed to protect against a “100-year” flood, “is simply insufficient for an urban area certain to face more powerful storms.”

The story is one of three published over the weekend in a reporting partnership between the two newspapers as they examine environmental crises facing Louisiana. In the second piece, reporters highlight the tiny coastal town of Jean Lafitte, “a harbinger of an uncertain future" that raises the question of "to what degree scarce public resources should be invested in artificially extending its life." In the third piece, the reporters explore a plague of insects eating away at "reeds that bind the state’s coast together," contributing to Louisiana’s disappearing coastline.

Going Out Guide
From mint sprays to Trash Gimlets, D.C. bars are being creative about substituting garnishes and finding ways to reuse them.
Fritz Hahn
OIL CHECK

— John Oliver vs. Bob Murray: A Circuit Court judge in West Virginia dismissed a defamation lawsuit coal magnate Bob Murray brought against HBO host John Oliver. Murray and his company Murray Energy had sued Oliver as well as the network over a segment of "Last Week Tonight" during which Oliver criticized Murray as a “geriatric Dr. Evil.” Judge Jeffrey Cramer ruled Murray failed to state a claim for defamation, he wrote in a letter to the attorneys last week, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

— Lawsuit settled: Volkswagen has settled a lawsuit over a claim from a North Carolina man that it deceived customers by rigging vehicle emissions. The suit was resolved Friday, just days before the Monday start of the first trial over the scandal, per Reuters.

The Americas
The country was once the Saudi Arabia of South America, but its oil output is drying up.
Rachelle Krygier and Anthony Faiola
World
The response to the water shortage shows the vast inequality in South Africa.
Andrew Braford, Charlie Shoemaker and Kevin Sieff
The need to recharge its economy gives the kingdom new reasons to make common cause with China and Russia — overtures Washington is willing to accept.
New York Times
DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event on “Improving the Efficiency of U.S. Export Controls or Nuclear Energy Technologies.”
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on the BP Energy Outlook 2018.
  • The 2nd International Conference on Gas, Oil and Petroleum Engineering will begin in Houston.
  • The Connected Plant Conference begins in Charlotte, N.C.

Coming Up

  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the state of the nation’s energy infrastructure on Tuesday.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on short-term outlook for U.S. tight oil production on Tuesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on restoring Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure on Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on “The Administration’s Framework for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” on Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee holds a hearing on examining cybersecurity and energy infrastructure on Thursday.
  • Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy holds an event on Energy, Economics and Geopolitics in the Gulf Arab States on Thursday.
  • The MIT 2018 Energy Conference begins on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Hot (sun) dog: Capital Weather Gang’s picture of the week last week was this "sun dog," an atmospheric optical phenomenon similar to halos. Other names for the event: ice halos, snow bows, mock suns, phantom suns and parhelia (the scientific name).