Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm

TODAY IS TUESDAY!  Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day’s energy and environment news.Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@digital-stage.thehill.com . Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin . Reach Zack Budryk at zbudryk@digital-stage.thehill.com or follow him at @BudrykZack.

Today we’re looking at the end of infrastructure talks, some tense Senate hearings for the Colonial Pipeline CEO and President Biden’s lands agency pick respectively and the signing of weatherization bills in Texas following this year’s winter storms. 

THE ART OF NO DEAL: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican

President Biden on Tuesday cut off prolonged infrastructure negotiations with a GOP group led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and will instead move forward on discussions with a bipartisan group of senators.

The White House announced Biden’s move after the president and Capito spoke Tuesday afternoon. The two remained far apart on a deal during that discussion despite weeks of talks. The White House as a result is shifting to talks with a bipartisan group that is crafting its own proposal, an administration official confirmed.

Members of the bipartisan group include Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and other Senate moderates, such as Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The senators are aiming to release a proposal by the end of the week. 

The president began speaking with members of the bipartisan coalition on Tuesday, and he will engage with those lawmakers while in Europe for the next week. Cabinet officials such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will also take a leading role, an administration official said.

Read more about the talks here. 

PIPING UP: Colonial Pipeline CEO provides new details on cyberattack

Colonial Pipeline President and CEO Joseph Blount was grilled by lawmakers Tuesday on his decision to pay hackers in a ransomware attack that forced a temporary shutdown of operations — and led to gas outages in parts of the country.

During a sometimes-tense Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Blount indicated that the company did not consult with the FBI and other agencies before it paid the equivalent of $4.4 million in bitcoin to regain control of its systems. 

“It was our understanding that the decision was solely ours as a private company to make the decision about whether to pay or not to pay,” Blount said in response to a question from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the panel’s chairman.

“Considering the consequences of potentially not bringing the pipeline back on as quickly as I possibly could, I chose the option to make the ransom payment,” he said.

Yes, and: Blount also testified that multifactor authentication was not used to secure the account suspected to have been exploited by hackers to gain access to company systems and that there was no plan in place to respond specifically to a ransomware attack. 

“My concern is how unprepared Colonial Pipeline was,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) told reporters following the hearing. “I have small school districts in New Hampshire that are more prepared than Colonial Pipeline appeared to be, and that’s really concerning.”

“When critical infrastructure is run by a private entity there need to be some rules and some frameworks to make sure that the interests of the American people are served,” she added.

Read more about the hearing here.  

TURN UP THE HEAT: Republicans grill Biden public lands agency pick over finances, advocacy

Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday grilled Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management, questioning her on partisanship and her personal finances.

While Democrats praised Stone-Manning for her record on issues of importance to the western U.S., ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) expressed concerns that she “does not fit the bill” to direct the bureau.

The GOP senator pressed Stone-Manning about political ads run by the group Montana Conservation Voters last year targeting Sen. Steve Daines’s (R-Mont.) conservation record. Stone-Manning served as treasurer and was on the group’s board of directors at the time.

“I have led nonprofit organizations and I have been on the board of nonprofit organizations, and I take very seriously the difference between those two roles,” Stone-Manning responded, adding that she had a policy of “never micromanaging staff” over the course of her nonprofit work.

Read more about the hearing here. 

EVERYTHING IS WEATHERIZED IN TEXAS? Texas governor signs bills to improve power grid after deadly winter storm

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed two bills into law Tuesday aimed at improving the operation and oversight of the state’s power grid after broad criticism over the handling of a deadly winter storm.

One of the bills Abbott signed would require the weatherization of power generation facilities, natural gas facilities and transmission facilities to be better prepared for severe weather and will also mandate that the Texas Railroad Commission and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) inspect the facilities, with fines of up to $1 million for failure to properly weatherize them.

The new laws also establish the Texas Energy Reliability Council to boost harmonization between state agencies and industry during long power outages and bouts of extreme weather.

The laws do not include requirements regarding consumer infrastructure such as homes and pipes and do not mandate that weatherization occur until 2022.

Read more about the bill here. 

GOING, GOING GOM: Biden administration eyes potential offshore wind sites in Gulf of Mexico

The Biden administration is looking to potentially open the Gulf of Mexico to offshore wind and other renewable energy development, it announced on Tuesday.

The Interior Department said it will examine potential opportunities for development at the Gulf’s outer continental shelf and will allow for public comment to assess interest and gain information.

A spokesman for Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, John Filostrat, said in an email that this is the first time the agency is gauging interest for renewable energy in the Gulf.

Later this week, the administration will publish a request for information for potential development off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.

Read more about what they’re looking to do here. 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

  • Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount will testify at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on cybersecurity and infrastructure  
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will hold hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Reclamation’s fiscal 2022 budget requests. EPA Administrator Michael Regan is slated to appear at his agency’s hearing
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on PFAS’ effects on citizens and states
  • The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a hearing to examine the nomination of Bryan Todd Newland to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior

WHAT WE’RE READING:

As Biden’s BLM pick awaits confirmation, its Grand Junction headquarters sit empty, Colorado Newsline reports

Pollster’s private message to GOP: Win on climate, E&E News reports

Southwest utilities bet on solar, storage for resilience against wildfires, Energy News Network reports

‘Energy Justice’ Nominee Brings Activist Voice To Biden’s Climate Plans, NPR reports

Hawaii bill seeks to gut funding aimed at protecting environment from tourism, The Guardian reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday (and Monday night)…

Texas governor signs bills to improve power grid after deadly winter storm

Biden administration eyes potential offshore wind sites in Gulf of Mexico

Dozens arrested during protest of oil pipeline in Minnesota

Jane Fonda: Biden hasn’t done ‘enough’ on oil pipelines

Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack

Conservation deal puts additional hurdle in front of embattled mine proposal

Republicans grill Biden public lands agency pick over finances, advocacy

Colonial CEO apologizes for pipeline attack’s impact

Energy Department announces new steps on US battery production

GAO to examine border wall environmental impacts

OFFBEAT AND OFF-BEAT: The cicadas are dangerous!!!

Tags Bill Cassidy Gary Peters Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Jon Tester Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Maggie Hassan Michael Regan Pete Buttigieg Rob Portman Shelley Moore Capito Steve Daines

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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