The Weekly Brief: US Global Impact

May 15, 2017 edition— Utility-scale solar shot up; US oil and natural gas prices up; and the White House postpones Paris pact pronouncement.




Last Week in a Minute or Less


Renewables & Electricity. The Senate protected Obama’s climate change rule; utility-scale solar grew at a 72% rate; and the US and Canadian Northeast is ready for the summer.


Natural Gas & Liquid Fuels. US natural gas prices will rise; specialists regulated underground gas storage; and the Senate backed the rule to control methane emissions.


Oil & Gas Upstream. Oil prices up thanks to US inventories; environmental groups sue Trump over offshore drilling.


Money & Power. Mnuchin will present Trump tax reform before his G7 counterparts; the White House postponed its Paris climate pact decision; and the US Chamber of Commerce believes in NAFTA.


Déjà vu all over again. Last week’s readers were particularly interested in Trump’s pick for DOE’s office (English).



Keeping Track of Trump


The White House put off its Paris climate agreement decision. Due to scheduling conflicts, the Trump administration postponed the decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement (English). Cabinet officials and advisers to the president were going to resolve the debate over fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise.


Powelson and Chatterjee nominated to FERC. President Donald Trump will nominate Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who must be confirmed by the Senate (English). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee pressed the Trump administration to make its nominations to achieve a quorum at the FERC (English).


Environmental groups and states sue Trump. Environmental groups led by Earthjustice sued President Donald Trump over his order to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling, arguing it surpassed his constitutional authority (English). Four states sued Trump’s decision to continue selling coal leases on federal lands (English).


Trump fired Comey, unleashing a political war. President Trump fired the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation days after James Comey asked for more resources to investigate possible links between Russia and Trump’s campaign associates (English) (German) (French). Democrats are demanding a special counsel to manage and continue developing the case (English).


The Senate backed Obama’s climate change rule. Senators voted 51 to 49 to block consideration of a resolution to repeal the rule to control methane emissions (English). Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Susan Collins broke party lines to join Democrats in defeating the resolution.



Energy Policy


The head of the EPA recused himself from Obama’s administration rules. The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, removed himself from challenges to the Clean Power Plan and a controversial rule related to the Clean Water Act (English). Before being EPA’s head, Pruitt brought lawsuits challenging the environmental rules.


Utility-scale solar skyrocketed. Solar installations at utility-scale grew at a 72% annual rate between 2010 and 2016, the fastest of all generating technologies (English). By December 2016, more than 21.5GW of solar capacity operated in the US thanks to the 30% investment tax credit provided since 2005 that expires by 2022.


State regulators dive deep on underground gas storage. State oil and gas regulators published a 130-page report about underground natural gas storage (English) (English). The goal of the report, written by the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council, is to address risk management, state permits, and well construction and drilling.


The White House guides states on energy regulations. The White House issued a guidance for federal agencies and departments to revise energy regulations to promote energy independence (English) (English). Following the order, the head of the departments and agencies will have to determine if a regulation posed a burden on US energy development.



Boundary Issues


US Chamber of Commerce backed NAFTA… Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said a withdrawal from NAFTA would devastate “the workers, business, and economies of our countries” (English) (Spanish). Donohue believes the leaders of the three member nations understand the damage that could be caused by undoing NAFTA.


…and Mexico urged Trump to stick with it. Mexico urged President Donald Trump to maintain the NAFTA deal to avoid damaging US exports and consumers. Mexico argued that the trade surplus with the US was misunderstood and pointed to China as the real danger to US manufacturing jobs (English).


The US and Canadian Northeast is all set for the summer. The US and Canadian Northeast have adequate generation supply to respond to summer power needs (English). Nonetheless, the largest coal and oil powered plants in New England will retire, raising the price for electricity imports for the region.


US natural gas prices are looking up. The Energy Information Administration forecasts an increase in natural gas prices due to a move in the average domestic gas consumption and a rise in US gas exports (English). The agency increased the forecast for 2017 to US$3.17/MMBtu, 7 cents above the previous estimate.



International Affairs


The Flynn-Russia plot thickens. Members of President Donald Trump’s transition team warned Michael Flynn about the risks of contacts with the Russian ambassador (English). In January, former US Attorney General Sally Yates warned that Michael Flynn was compromised and vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia (English).


The US and Peru worry about Venezuela. President Trump spoke with Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski about the political and economic crisis in Venezuela (English) (Spanish). National security advisor H. R. McMaster met with Venezuela’s National Assembly President Julio Borges to discuss the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution (English) (Spanish).


Trump asks Russia to “rein in” Syria. President Donald Trump told Russia to control Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister (English). The Trump administration hopes to work with Russia to put an end to the Syrian conflict.



Macro Trends


Oil prices up thanks to US inventories. Oil prices passed US$50 per barrel after US inventories fell and Saudi exports to Asia were cut more than expected (English). After five months of promised reduced production, there is little indication that supply is actually falling.


The US government hit a US$182bn budget surplus in April. According to Treasury Department data, in April the US government reached a US$182bn budget surplus, well above the US$106bn budget surplus in the same period in 2016 (English). The fiscal 2017 deficit was US$344bn, below the US$353bn in the same period of the previous year.


Mnuchin will present Trump’s tax reform to the G7. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will inform his G7 counterparts on the Trump administration’s plan to reform the US tax code (English). The meeting at Bari, Italy will aim to improve the chances of global and US growth.


Fed official declares trade barriers a dead end. William Dudley, head of the New York Fed, considered trade protectionism a “dead end” that could affect the US economy (English). Without naming President Donald Trump, Dudley noted that protectionism may score political points, but hurts growth and living standards in the US and globally.



Lateral Thinking


Using the CERN to cure cancer. A new particle accelerator will produce portable accelerators to help doctors treat cancer patients and analyze artwork (English). The CERN’s hardware is being upgraded to probe questions about the universe smashing protons together at almost light speed.



Quote of the Week


“Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.”


-David Hume (1711-1776), Scottish economist, historian and philosopher


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