On the energy news front in Washington DC, Senate hearings for new heads of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Obama administration’s energy budget for fiscal year (FY) 2014, and the return visit of the premier of the Canadian province of Alberta to press for U.S. approval of the Keystone Pipeline XL, will dominate the upcoming week.

The week will kick off Tuesday with the confirmation hearing of DOE Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at 10 a.m. ((EDT). Moniz, a nuclear physicist, is backed by oil and gas producers, but environmentalists and groups representing the renewable energy industry are less enthusiastic about his nomination.

“We’re keeping an eye on the DOE and EPA nomination hearings this week,” said Jeff Eshelman, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which represents independent producers. “I know that Moniz is coming under attack from the environmental community; they think he’s too close to oil and gas.” Moniz will succeed Energy Secretary Steven Chu (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4).

In contrast environmental groups backed Obama’s choice of Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for McCarthy on Thursday at 10:30 EST.

McCarthy would replace Lisa Jackson, who resigned from the EPA in December (see Daily GPI, Dec. 28, 2012). McCarthy currently serves as assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where she played a key role in the agency’s efforts under Jackson to eliminate harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas production (see Daily GPI, April 19, 2012; July 29, 2011).

And in her second visit to Washington, DC, in two months, Premier Alison Redford of the Canadian province of Alberta, said she wants to assure decision-makers in Washington of Canada’s environmental record. The environmental policies of Canada and Alberta are under intense scrutiny in the United States as the Obama administration considers whether to approve TransCanada’s Keystone project — designed to ship Alberta oil sands production to the Gulf Coast — in the face of tremendous environmental opposition, the Calgary Herald reported.

On April 9 at the Brookings Institution (2:30 p.m. EST), Redford will discuss the Keystone XL pipeline, the State Department’s recent Supplement Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) examining the pipeline, and Alberta-United States relations. Two phases of Keystone in the U.S. are in operation; a third from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast is under construction; and a fourth phase that would cross the border from Canada is awaiting U.S. government approval.

In early March, the U.S. State Department released a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS) on the proposed northern portion of TransCanada Corp.’s controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, drawing strong reactions from supporters and opponents alike. Project sponsor TransCanada welcomed the impact statement and said it “remains strongly committed” to obtaining approval to safely build and operate the pipeline, and will continue to be engaged in the process as the State Department enters its final stages of review (see Daily GPI, March 4).

Proponents like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) called the impact statement a step in the right direction, “long overdue,” and urged an accelerated effort toward final approval.

Environmental organizations requested for the second time that the State Department extend the 45 day public comment period on the Keystone XL environmental assessment to answer specific questions about tar sands pipeline safety raised by the failure and spill of the Exxon Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, AR (see Daily GPI, April 3).

The smaller producers, who belong to the IPAA, will be more interested in what is and what is not in the Obama budget for FY 2014, which the administration is expected to release on Wednesday. Afterwards the individual agencies will come out with their budgets.

The Obama administration is expected to make another attempt at rolling back an estimated $40 billion in tax breaks over the next decade for producers, something that it has tried nearly every year since taking office. But the president has been met with opposition by Republicans in Congress at every turn (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2011, May 18, 2011).

“President Obama “has proposed this time and time again” and been defeated in Congress. However, it may be “a little bit different this time because Congress is under pressure to control the budget.” As a result the incentives for oil and gas may be in more jeopardy this year, Eshelman said.

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