The Week Ahead: Senate to Hold Hearings on Nominees to Head EPA, DOE


President Obama's nominees to head the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will testify April 9 and April 11, respectively, during Senate confirmation hearings.

Ernest J. Moniz, a nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is slated to replace DOE Secretary Steven Chu.

Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, was nominated to take over for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Both are expected to be confirmed.

A March 4 Energy and Climate Reportarticle provides background information on Moniz, who served under the Clinton Administration as DOE undersecretary. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to "reengage" Moniz over the years-long troubled cleanup effort at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state.

Wyden also said he would raise two other issues with Moniz, including "finding creative ways to promote new technologies and harness the ingenuity of Americans' energy innovators," and "examining the diverse opportunities to attack climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy."

Meanwhile, The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold McCarthy's hearing.

As detailed in a March 4 article, her nomination to head EPA is seen by environmental advocates as a signal from the Obama administration that it will continue to make climate change a priority in the coming years. Republicans are expected to air grievances during the hearing on issues ranging from a recent proposal by EPA under McCarthy's leadership to tighten limits on sulfur in gasoline to concerns about the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants.  

A Feb. 27 articlecovers remarks by McCarthy over proposed greenhouse gas emission limits for new power plants. Under the Clean Air Act, the agency faces an April 12 deadline to finalize the regulation and is required to proceed with emission guidelines for states to follow to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

Budget to Be Sent to Congress

On April 10, the White House is expected to send its budget request to Congress. A March 15 article provides advance details of the request, which would increase funding for energy programs within the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management by approximately 20 percent and includes a call for millions of dollars in funding for natural gas production and carbon capture and sequestration.

The budget also would expand applied research and development of "innovative manufacturing processes and advanced industrial materials," as part of a call for increased investment in technologies that promote energy efficiency," according to a White House fact sheet.

House Hearings on the Agenda

On April 11, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy will hold a hearing on a draft bill, The Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2013.

The bill would establish a state permitting program for handling the residue from coal-fired power plants under a section of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. States would be able to decline to establish their own permitting programs and instead grant authority to EPA.

The agency issued a proposed rule to regulate coal ash in 2010, but it has yet to become final, prompting states to initiate their own rulemaking.

On April 10, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade will hold a hearing on "Our Nation of Builders: Powering U.S. Automobile Manufacturing Forward."

D.C. Circuit to Hear Arguments in Biomass Lawsuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral argumentsApril 8 in a lawsuit challenging EPA's decision to postpone until 2014 greenhouse gas emissions permitting for sources that burn biomass.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups are challenging a 2011 rule that exempts until July 21, 2014, new and modified facilities that burn wood waste, or landfills with emissions from decomposing biomass, from Clean Air Act permit requirements.

The agency said the deferral is needed while it determines whether the biomass sources should be regulated.

Other Energy, Climate Events

The Geothermal Energy Association will hold a telephone press conferenceApril 10 to preview an international finance forum on geothermal energy that will be held April 11 in New York. Geothermal experts from GEA, DOE, the World Bank, MidAmerican Holdings Company, Marathon Capital, and Hydro Resources will discuss issues, including the current state of the U.S. geothermal industry, how policy can support continued growth of geothermal technology, the international marketplace, and the World Bank's creation of a $500 million fund to support geothermal energy expansion.

The George Washington University Law School will host a conference April 10-11 in Washington, D.C., on "Laying the Foundation for a Sustainable Energy Future: Legal and Policy Challenges."

The Brazil Institute will hold an event April 10 in Washington, D.C., on "Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Impacts on Public Health and Agriculture." Scheduled speakers include William Hohenstein, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Climate Change Program Office; Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center; Catherine Thomasson, executive director at Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Paul Schopf, professor of Oceanography at George Mason University.

The non-profit group Transportation Energy Partners is hosting a conference April 7-10 in the Washington, D.C. area, focusing on alternative fuels and vehicles policy. Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change, will speak at the conference on April 8.