In this issue:

 

 

NRC TAKES ACTION ON JAPAN NEAR-TERM TASK FORCE SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has directed the agency’s staff to begin immediately implementing seven safety recommendations from the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force on lessons learned from the reactor accident at Fukushima. The seven recommendations are among 12 comprehensive safety recommendations presented by the Task Force to the Commission in July.

The NRC staff reviewed the Task Force’s July 12 report, and provided a proposal to the Commission that selected the seven recommendations as most appropriate for immediate action. (For more information, please see the August 29, 2011 Edition of Capitol Update).  The recommendations covered many issues, such as the loss of all A/C electrical power at a reactor (also called “station blackout”), and reviews of seismic and flooding hazards, emergency equipment and plant staff training. For the recommendation calling for a new station blackout rule, the Commission set a goal of completing the rulemaking process by April 2014. 

In keeping with the agency’s regulatory actions over the past few years, such as the mitigation strategy requirements, the Commission called on the staff to utilize performance-based standards in any new or revised regulations wherever possible. Performance-based requirements specify the objective or result to be attained, rather than prescribing to licensees how the objective or result is to be attained.

In its reports to the Commission in September, and earlier this month, the staff endorsed nearly all of the Task Force’s recommendations. The October staff review also proposed additional steps beyond the Task Force recommendations, which touch on safety issues such as spent fuel storage and emergency planning. The remaining Task Force recommendations, along with the additional recommendations, are currently pending with the Commission for adoption or revision.

To review the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force’s July 12 report, please visit: http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1118/ML111861807.pdf

To view the NRC staff proposal, please visit:  http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/secys/2011/2011-0124scy.pdf

The Commission’s memo to the staff is also available at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/srm/2011/2011-0124srm.pdf

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

SS&T SUBCOMMITTEES HOLD HEARING TO REVIEW THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON AMERICA'S NUCLEAR FUTURE DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS

The Investigations and Oversight (I&O) and Energy and Environment (E&E) Subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee held a joint hearing on October 27th to consider the recommendations of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) released in July. Additionally, the Subcommittees considered a number of science and technology issues associated with spent nuclear fuel management.  I&O Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) lead the hearing. 

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee warmly welcomed a new Ranking Member, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) for the hearing.  E&E Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) also took the unusual step of swearing in the witness panel by asking them to recite an oath of truthful testimony.  While a series of votes interrupted the witnesses’ opening statements, the members soon reconvened. 

Among the recommendations in the report is a call to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to authorize a consent-based process for selecting and evaluating sites and licensing consolidate storage and disposal facilities in the future.  During the hearing, there was also much discussion about the Yucca Mountain repository.  Committee members on the Democratic side, including Ranking Member Tonko, stressed the unpopularity, and the political headwinds that contributed to the Yucca Mountain repository selection.  Meanwhile, members of the Republican Party sought to stress the local support for Yucca Mountain, by providing a witness from nearby, as well as pointing out the financial obligation already undertaken to prepare the location.  Republican Committee members also sought to point out the dearth of trust among stakeholders for the government to expeditiously resolve this spent fuel issue, and were critical of the BRC’s underlying point to look beyond Yucca Mountain for a solution. 

The BRC is required to submit its final recommendations to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu by January 29, 2012.

The hearing charter may be viewed at: http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings/102711_charter.pdf

The written statements of the witnesses, as well as an archived webcast of the hearing, may be viewed at: http://science.house.gov/hearing/investigations-and-oversight-subcommittee-and-energy-and-environment-subcommittee-%E2%80%93-joint

The BRC’s July report is also available at:   http://brc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/brc_draft_report_29jul2011_0.pdf.

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

U OF MD RESEARCHERS RELEASE STUDY COMPARING THE GHG FOOTPRINTS OF CONVENTIONAL NATURAL GAS, SHALE GAS FROM FRACKING, AND COAL

Researchers from the University of Maryland have published a study in “Environmental Research Letters” on October 26th comparing the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints of conventional natural gas, unconventional natural gas (i.e. shale gas that has been produced using the process of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’), and coal in a transparent and consistent way, focusing primarily on the electricity generation sector. The study indicated that for electricity generation, the GHG impacts of shale gas are 11 percent higher than those of conventional gas, but only 56 percent that of coal for standard assumptions.

The study is the latest in a series of papers analyzing the climate influence of shale gas, a debate in response to a Cornell University study released earlier this year that found that emissions resulting from hydraulic fracturing was comparable to or worse for the climate than those from coal.

In summary, the study found that when “evaluated solely on the criterion of GHG emissions from electricity generation, shale gas is not likely to be substantially more polluting than conventional gas. Additional technologies to ensure reasonable capture of fugitive emissions may be able to reduce the disparity between the two resources further. Any regulatory standard that classifies conventional gas as a source of ‘clean energy’ should therefore consider shale gas in this context; arguments that shale gas is more polluting than coal are largely unjustified.”

“On the other hand, despite the promises of inexpensive, abundant, and relatively low GHG fossil fuel, unconventional gas technology poses other challenges if it is to become a truly ‘clean’ bridge fuel. As a new technology, its deployment has arguably outpaced the ability of the policy and scientific communities to understand and regulate the possible environmental and health consequences of the fracking process. These issues require serious attention but, should they be solvable, the new generation from unconventional gas could deliver benefits similar to those of conventional gas.”

Fracking has drawn particularly heavy scrutiny at both the federal and state level, leading to both the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to commence studies on the impact of the technology on the environment.  In June, Texas passed a law which will require the disclosure of the chemical cocktails being used in the hydraulic fracturing process beginning in 2012.  Several other states are considering or have advanced measures banning or restricting the practice, including New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. 

To review the EPA’s draft hydraulic fracturing plan, please visit: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/index.cfm

To read the DOE Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board report, please visit: http://energy.gov/articles/secretary-energy-advisory-board-subcommittee-releases-shale-gas-recommendations

The ten-page study, “The Greenhouse Impact of Unconventional Gas for Electricity Generation,” may be read at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/4/044008/pdf/1748-9326_6_4_044008.pdf

The referenced Cornell University study on gas drilling is also available at::  http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April11/GasDrillingDirtier.html

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

 

HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NASA COMMERCIAL SPACE PROGRAMS

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held an oversight hearing last week focusing on NASA’s Commercial Crew program.  The hearing, entitled, “NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program: Accomplishments and Challenges,” featured several leading companies competing for contracts under the program, including Boeing, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, ATK, and United Launch Alliance. 

NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo programs are designed to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop space transportation capabilities to replace NASA’s now retired Space Shuttle.  The effort includes the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) partnership agreements, which now total $800M for commercial cargo transportation demonstrations, and a $50M investment in commercial crew transport development.  Earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee recommended $312 million for NASA’s Commercial Crew programs for fiscal year 2012, a level which House Science Committee Republicans recently supported.  Funds for Commercial Cargo in FY 2012 would be carried over from previous years. 

Witnesses faced a committee skeptically supportive of exploring commercial crew transport options.  Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) explained, “I am not opposed to this new approach, but in the time remaining I want to focus my remarks on the business case, as that is an area that I would like to see discussed at greater length. If indeed industry can perform safely and profitably, and at substantially less cost, then I will be the first to congratulate them and NASA. My hesitance though, is based on the very thin evidence provided to date by NASA that this new business model is well understood and that it can succeed. I have yet to be convinced that there is a sufficient commercial market that will sustain multiple private, for-profit commercial crew companies through the duration of America’s commitment to the International Space Station.” 

Several members of the committee also expressed reservations over the potential costs, delays, and liabilities associated with standing up a new program with the commercial sector, particularly given the risks associated with human spaceflight.  Commercial sector witnesses made a compelling case that commercial crew and cargo programs would save NASA money in the long-term, but that the commercial sector would need to be assured of program and funding support from Congress if they were to be successful.

An archived webcast of the hearing, along with full witness testimony, is available at:  http://science.house.gov/hearing/full-committee-%E2%80%93-hearing

Paul Fakes handles NASA related R&D issues for ASME.  He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org.

 

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE APPROVES "REINS ACT"

On October 25th, the House Judiciary Committee approved the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act” (REINS Act), H.R. 10, along a party-line vote. The measure, introduced by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), would require an up-or-down, standalone vote in Congress and the President’s signature on all new major rules having an economic impact of $100 million or more before they could be implemented.

In summary, the REINS Act would:

  • Rewrite provisions regarding congressional review of agency rulemaking to require congressional approval of major rules of the executive branch before they may take effect (currently, major rules take effect unless Congress passes and the President signs a joint resolution disapproving them).
  • Define "major rule" as any rule, including an interim final rule, that has resulted in or is likely to result in: an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more; a major increase in costs or prices; or, significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or U.S. competitiveness.
  • Provide that if a joint resolution of approval of a major rule is not enacted by the end of 70 session days or legislative days after the agency proposing the rule submits its report on such rule to Congress, the rule shall be deemed not to be approved and shall not take effect.
  • Permit a major rule to take effect for 90 calendar days without such approval if the President determines such rule is necessary because of an imminent threat to health or safety or other emergency, for the enforcement of criminal laws, for national security, or to implement an international trade agreement.
  • Set forth House and Senate procedures for joint resolutions approving major rules and disapproving non-major rules.

Additional information on the REINS Act is available at: http://geoffdavis.house.gov/REINS/

A list of frequently asked questions concerning the legislation may be viewed at: http://geoffdavis.house.gov/REINS/faqs.htm

H.R. 10 currently has 191 bipartisan co-sponsors.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate as S. 299, which currently has the bipartisan support of 28 co-sponsors (http://geoffdavis.house.gov/REINS/senate.htm), including a single Democratic co-sponsor, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Paul Fakes handles innovation and competitiveness issues for ASME.  He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org.

 

 

JOHN BRYSON SWORN IN AS 37TH SECRETARY OF COMMERCE

John Bryson was sworn in on October 21st as the nation’s 37th Commerce Secretary. Bryson will oversee an agency charged with helping make American businesses more innovative and successful at home and more competitive abroad. His primary focus will be on:

  • Achieving the President’s National Export Initiative goals of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014;
  • Implementing historic reform of the U.S. patent system;
  • Overseeing the President’s SelectUSA initiative (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/06/15/executive-order-selectusa-initiative) to encourage more companies– American and foreign– to establish or expand U.S. operations to create more jobs for the American people; and,
  • Strengthening America’s manufacturing sector including the small- and medium-sized manufacturers that are the lifeblood of communities across the country.

John Bryson was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as Secretary of Commerce on June 16, 2011. He has nearly three decades of business experience, serving as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison and Edison Mission Group from 1990 to 2008. At Edison, he led the utility through the California energy crisis. As CEO, he created a competitive power subsidiary, the Mission Group, which expanded across the U.S and was a global leader in the privatization of power plants and electric systems in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and several European countries.

President Obama’s statement on Mr. Bryson’s confirmation is available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/20/statement-president-senate-confirmation-john-bryson-secretary-commerce

To view a listing of organizations which supported Mr. .Bryson’s confirmation, please visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/10/19/business-and-civic-leaders-support-john-bryson-commerce-secretary

Paul Fakes handles innovation and competitiveness issues for ASME.  He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org.

 

EPA DELAYS MACT RULE BY ONE MONTH

Answering a call from industry for additional time for compliance, the EPA announced this week that they were going to push back the close of a comment period for proposed emissions standards for oil and gas wells, storage tanks and pipelines.  The announcement pegs the deadline for the EPA’s final release from February until April 3, 2012.

Under the Clean Air Act, the toxic emissions standards for the oil and gas sector are supposed to be reviewed every eight years to reflect the latest technology, or best available control technology (BACT). Wildearth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, two environmental groups that seek to cut pollution from drilling in the Rocky Mountain West recently sued to force EPA to move forward with the current review, pointing out that some of the standards date back to 1985.  The groups have agreed to the new deadline, and the new standards are part of this settlement, eventually calling for maximum achievable control technology (MACT) to be enforced. 

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has been a frequent guest of Congress this year, particularly the House of Representatives, as the agency has come under heavy scrutiny for proposed regulations.  Earlier this year the EPA also delayed implementation of new boiler MACT rules (Please see the May 25, 2011 Edition of Capitol Update). 

For more information on the EPA Air Toxics Standards for Utilities please click here http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/utility/utilitypg.html

Robert Rains handles public policy-related environmental issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org

 

THE ARTICLES CONTAINED IN CAPITOL UPDATE ARE NOT POSITIONS OF ASME OR ANY OF ITS SUB-ENTITIES, UNLESS SPECIFICALLY NOTED AS SUCH. THIS PUBLICATION IS DESIGNED TO INFORM ASME MEMBERS ABOUT ISSUES OF CONCERN BEING DEBATED AND DISCUSSED IN THE HALLS OF CONGRESS, IN THE STATES, AND IN THE FEDERAL AGENCIES.

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