This Week in Texas Energy: Trump Nominates a New Environmental Leader
Also: Battle over ethanol moves into Mexico, Vistra Energy announces two more plant closures, and Rick Perry faces a tough crowd.
Another Disputed Nominee
On Thursday, President Trump announced a new nominee to join the Council on Environmental Quality. Kathleen Hartnett White currently works at Texas Public Policy, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank dedicated to promoting “free enterprise in Texas and the nation,” where she serves as a senior fellow, and the director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment. White has also served as chairman and commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where she was appointed by former Texas governor and current energy secretary, Rick Perry. White was also a member of Trump’s economic advisory council during his election campaign. The New York Times describes Trump’s announcement as the latest in a line of “disputed environmental nominations” that environmentalists claim are filling agencies with people who dispute the scientific claims of the human influence of climate change:
“Now you have a full house for the fossil fuel industry,” said Christy Goldfuss, who served as managing director of the White House environmental council under former President Obama. She called Mrs. White’s appointment particularly troubling, citing a piece she wrote entitled, “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case.” In it, Mrs. White argued that labeling carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant is “absurd” and asserted that it should be considered the “gas of life.”
Mrs. White also has called renewable energy “unreliable and parasitic,” described global warming as “a creed, a faith, a dogma that has little to do with science,” and asserted that science does not dictate policy in democracies.
The Council on Environmental Quality, which White will lead as the chair after her confirmation, works with government agencies and the White House to uphold the National Environmental Policy Act.
Fuel Competition Travels to Mexico
The battle between ethanol and methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, is moving into Mexico.
In June, Mexico’s Energy Regulatory Commission announced that they would be increasing the allowed concentration of ethanol in gasoline from 5.8 percent to 10 percent. That change, while a win for the ethanol producers, could hurt the MTBE industry. Octane, an additive in gasoline that helps cars run smoother, comes from the chemical MTBE or from ethanol, which is typically made using corn. While there are concerns about the environmental impact of the use of ethanol, there are also concerns about groundwater contamination from MTBE. The U.S. currently allows a concentration of 15 percent ethanol in gasoline; MTBE is banned in 25 states. MTBE is still used largely in countries outside the United States—countries like Mexico. An increase in the ethanol concentration allowed in gasoline in Mexico could be a threat to Houston-based companies such as LyondellBasell, which produces the chemical additive. Mexico’s new ethanol limit currently awaits implementation due to an injunction brought on by a lawsuit from environmental organizations concerned about the effect of the increase on the country’s air pollution. While environmental groups battle things out with the Mexican government in court, lobbyists from LyondellBasell and Archer Daniels Midland, an agricultural company that produces ethanol, are meeting with officials in the hopes of influencing changes to Mexico’s fuel supply in their industry’s favor.
Vistra Energy, a Texas-based energy company, announced this week that the company plans to close two coal plants. Last week, Vistra announced the 2018 closure of Monticello Power Plant in Titus County, Texas, which is one of the largest coal-powered plants in the state. This week, they announced the closure of Sandow Power Plant in Milam County and Big Brown Power Plant in Freestone County, also in 2018. The company estimates that the closure of the two plants will result in the loss of 650 jobs. As the Houston Chronicle noted, the Environmental Protection Agency has vowed to repeal the Clean Power Plan; Trump has called its regulations as a “war on coal.” However, Allan Koenig, a spokesperson for Vistra, told the Chronicle that the closures were due to competition from cheaper energy sources, not regulations. “These closures are because these two sites are economically challenged,” he told the Chronicle, “and have been for some time given low wholesale market prices due to low natural gas prices and an oversupply of generation, including subsidized renewables.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry had a tough time in a Thursday hearing with the energy subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reports The Hill. The group of Democrats (and one Republican) stated that Perry’s proposal to require higher payments for electricity from coal and nuclear plants was harmful to the energy market. “You are distorting the market, damaging the environment and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries,” Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey) said. The subcommittee said the proposal gave preferential treatment to plants that weren’t competitive enough, which Representative Pete Olson (R-Texas) said contradicted Perry’s own stance on free market policies. Perry defended his proposal, saying it was an attempt to push the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission into action. According to The Hill, Perry also asserted that electricity had no free market:
“I think the idea that there is a free market in electrical generation is a fallacy,” he said.
“We subsidize a lot of different energy sources. We subsidized wind energy, we subsidize ethanol, we subsidize solar, we subsidize oil and gas,” he continued. “The question is: How do you make it as fair as you can?”