With help from Anthony Adragna and Tim Starks
Editor’s Note: This edition of Morning Energy is published weekdays at 10 a.m. POLITICO Pro Energy subscribers hold exclusive early access to the newsletter each morning at 6 a.m. Learn more about POLITICO Pro’s comprehensive policy intelligence coverage, policy tools and services at politicopro.com.
— The first batch of documents related to Ukraine and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry are expected to be released today.
— The top Democrat on the House select climate panel pressed Google to do more to combat the spread of climate misinformation on YouTube.
— House Energy and Commerce subcommittees will hold a joint hearing today on wildfires and the power sector.
GOOD TUESDAY MORNING! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. 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 politico.com/energy-podcast.
The American Petroleum Institute’s Carrie Domnitch is back with the win for knowing five former presidents served in Cabinet positions immediately before becoming president. For today: How many elevators are there throughout the entire U.S. Capitol campus? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to [email protected].
PERRY DOCS COMING: As the Senate impeachment trial continues, the Energy Department today will release documents and communications from Perry and Brian McCormack, Perry’s former chief of staff, concerning the activities in Ukraine at issue in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. It’ll be the first direct records from the agency, as both Perry and McCormack defied subpoenas during the House’s probe.
The disclosure comes thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from watchdog group American Oversight. Perry, who left the administration in December, has steadfastly maintained he never heard Trump nor any administration official mention Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden during their conversations with Ukraine. But Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, said in an interview that Perry told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky its aid was contingent on the announcement of investigations into Biden and his son Hunter.
It’s not clear when the records will be released. A spokesman for American Oversight noted five previous document dumps from other agencies have “all come after business hours, and mostly between 8:30 p.m. and midnight.”
Yet to come: There will be additional document releases from the Energy Department on Feb. 4 and March 16. The court filing outlining the schedule is available here.
SWORN IN: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler officially swore in Sean O’Donnell as the agency’s inspector general on Monday. O’Donnell was confirmed by the Senate in December, filling a role that had been vacant for more than a year. He joins the agency following tensions between the IG’s office and agency leadership.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: EPA is planning to send the draft final version of its rewrite of the carbon dioxide rule for new coal and natural gas power plants to the White House for review in March, Pro’s Alex Guillén reports. That timeline would put the rule, known as the New Source Performance Standard or the 111(b) rule, on track to be finalized “in the spring of 2020,” the agency said in a court filing on Monday. The regulation was a companion to the Obama administration’s now-repealed Clean Power Plan and set emissions limits for any newly built power plants.
CONSERVATION GROUP PREPARES TO SUE EPA: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said Monday it is preparing to sue EPA over its inaction imposing consequences for Pennsylvania over the state’s lagging progress on a plan to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. In a statement Monday, CBF Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller said the foundation is preparing a notice of intent to sue EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act. “We are currently in discussion with a range of potential partners concerning the legal strategies we can use to force EPA to comply with the law,” Mueller added. “For CBF, litigation is a last resort.”
Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan directed his attorney general to sue EPA and Pennsylvania over the long-running interstate battle to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.
GOOGLE IT: Rep. Kathy Castor, the chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, wrote a letter Monday calling on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to stop the spread of climate misinformation on YouTube, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. The letter follows a recent report from activist group Avaaz that detailed how climate misinformation videos on YouTube — a subsidiary of Google — have garnered tens of millions of views.
The letter from Castor calls on Google to take steps to make sure it is not incentivizing the spread of misinformation by removing videos that spread the misinformation and adding “climate misinformation” to its list of borderline content. Castor also calls on Google to stop monetizing disinformation videos and to “take steps to correct the record” for users that have viewed videos with misinformation on climate change.
WILDFIRES FOCUS OF E&C HEARING: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CEO Bill Johnson will be among the names who will testify this morning during a House E&C subcommittee hearing on the environmental impacts of wildfires and the power sector. Notably, Johnson will testify that “Congress should enact a market-based, economy-wide carbon reduction policy that is effective, durable, affordable, and encourages innovation in both carbon mitigation and adaptation technologies,” according to his testimony. Also at the witness table: Central Electric Cooperative President and CEO David Markham, who will warn that “while all parties are committed to protecting the nation’s electrical infrastructure and preventing wildfires, the pathway forward is still fraught with unnecessarily time-consuming regulatory processes.”
Recall: Johnson last month appeared before the Senate Energy Committee and warned that PG&E is expected to impose intentional blackouts for the next half a decade, as California deals with wildfires fueled by climate change. He also warned the nation’s electric grids needed to improve their resiliency and reliability.
WEIGHING IN: California’s top air regulator on Monday touted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s energy credentials. In commentary in CalMatters, Mary Nichols wrote that she would not endorse a candidate in the presidential primary while she’s chair of the California Air Resources Board. But she wrote: “Whatever you may think of his candidacy or his positions on issues across the full range of concerns a president needs to address, the reality is that Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who has developed, advocated and implemented a successful program to cut greenhouse gases.”
California Dem backs Bloomberg: California Rep. Scott Peters endorsed Bloomberg on Monday, the campaign announced, citing his call-to-action on climate. “Mike understands the power of activating cities, businesses and people, and he has a record of delivering real solutions,” Peters said in a statement. “His unwavering commitment to climate and infrastructure policy gives me hope for the next generation.” Peters will also serve as the national chair for climate, energy and environment council for the Bloomberg campaign.
HITS ON OIL AND GAS: Ryuk ransomware recently hit at least five oil and gas companies in what appeared to be targeted attacks, forcing them to switch to manual operations, according to research from cybersecurity firm ThreatGEN. The firm’s CEO told Morning Cybersecurity on Monday that while he believed the hackers were “big game hunting” — thinking that the oil industry was a good place to chase payouts given its riches — it could have been worse. “If they had the intent of causing damage rather than seeking ransom, they were already in the system where if they wanted to they could’ve taken full control” of vital systems, said ThreatGEN leader Clint Bodungen. “That’s the scary part.”
Bodungen revealed his research at a security conference last week in response to a Coast Guard alert that he considered inaccurate. The findings went largely unreported, and Bodungen said that in his conversations with other companies at the conference, they had not yet found similar cases. Bodungen said the attacks affected two of his company’s customers, and he knew of three other incidents. The similarities in those attacks led him to conclude they were from the same group, but he didn’t focus much on further attribution; some of the computers were loaded up with other kinds of digital crud that pinged to a variety of geographical regions.
“This is the first evidence I’ve seen of a directly- or at least industry-targeted attack of multiple sector facilities in such a small time frame,” he said. Attacks forcing energy companies to switch to manual operations “happens more often than you’d think,” he added.
OIL WATCH: Crude oil prices slumped Monday amid fears of a demand shortage in China following the spread of the deadly coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reports. Brent crude futures fell 2.3 percent to close at $59.32 a barrel on Monday, marking a three-month low, and West Texas Intermediate dropped 1.9 percent to $53.14 a barrel. “That is down more than $10, or about 16 percent, over the last three weeks as concerns over the deadly virus negated earlier gains propelled by worries about geopolitical tensions and supply disruptions in the Middle East,” the Journal reports.
IN THE AIR: One-third of Americans lived in areas in 2018 with at least 100 days of poor air quality from air pollution, according to a report released today from Environment America Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report looked at EPA U.S. air pollution records, focusing on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution.
According to the report, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area of California had 227 days in 2018 when half or more monitoring locations reported elevated ozone or fine particulate pollution. Also high on the list: the San Diego-Carlsbad area, which had 160 days in 2018; the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim areas that had 156 days; and the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz., area that had 153 days.
— “Oops! DOJ enviro head fesses up after license lapse,” via Law360.
— “In crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats worry a fracking ban could sink them,” via The New York Times.
— “Grid congestion costs billions, stymies renewables,” via E&E News.
— “Oil traders made billions in 2019 as conflict shook the market,” via Bloomberg.
— “Sanders scores highest on green group’s voter guide,” via The Hill.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!