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POLITICO New York Energy: Lengthy official email chain on water threat; SolarCity's rough year

By David Giambusso and Scott Waldman

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OFFICIAL EMAILS SHOW LONG RESPONSE TO POTENTIAL WATER CRISIS — POLITICO New York’s Scott Waldman: Officials in the state Department of Health were aware of concerns that the water in the upstate village of sburgh could be tainted with a toxic chemical in late 2014, but did not take action to protect residents until a few days ago, according to emails obtained by POLITICO New York. And even as multiple wells in nearby Hoosick Falls tested positive for elevated and potentially dangerous levels of the same toxic chemical more than a year ago, state health department employees suggested a delay in reporting results and did not initially recommend a wider outreach to the public, according to emails between state, county and federal officials, some of which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The news comes as the Cuomo administration tries to contain political fallout from the slow official response to a water crisis in nearby Hoosick Falls.

--Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse has joined the call for legislative hearings on water quality issues in light of the pollution in Hoosick Falls. DeFrancisco told POLITICO New York he would participate in the hearings. “What I think everybody wants to know is how it happened, what allowed it to make it happen, whether it was an active mistake by somebody or an act of omission, whether they did something they shouldn’t have done, and who was responsible and to make certain, not to go after anybody necessarily, but to find out what caused it so that it can be avoided in the future,” he said.

--The water in Bennington, Vermont, just over the border from Hoosick Falls has elevated levels of PFOA as well.

SOLARCITY’S ROUGH YEAR — GreenTech Media’s Julia Pyper: “So far, 2016 hasn’t been too kind to SolarCity’s stock. The leading rooftop solar installer’s share price is down more than 60 percent since the start of the year, after more than doubling at the end of 2015. This week, JPMorgan downgraded SolarCity’s stock to neutral and lowered the company’s target price from $44 to $29, which still puts the target 53 percent higher than SolarCity’s closing price on Wednesday. ‘We still believe the stock is undervalued; however, risk is currently elevated and business model uncertainty will weigh on the stock in 2016,’ JPMorgan analyst Paul Coster wrote in an investor note.”


--Cortlandt cleans up from Spectra deal: The Westchester County town will make $2.8 million off the pipeline it has fought so long, the Journal News reports.

--Storms battered Long Island: Newsday reports that as of Thursday evening, close to 8,000 people were still without power from a storm that brought thunder and high winds to the area. At one point, 98,000 customers had lost power.

--Video: Here’s LIPA trustee Matthew Cordaro once again weighing in on energy issues from the floor of the NYSE. Today’s subject: cybersecurity.

--The New York Farm Bureau outlined its priorities to the congressional delegation, WAMC reports.

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WHAT’S REALLY CAUSING DECLINE IN COAL — Vox’s David Roberts: “Coal companies have every incentive to publicize a ‘war on coal’ as the source of their woes. It diverts anger toward Barack Obama and perpetuates the illusion that a Republican president might revive coal's fortunes. But US coal faces pressures no president can ease. Most significantly, structural shifts underway in China are almost certain to continue, leading to suppressed export markets for met coal. There's not much anyone in the US can do about it. Meanwhile, the executives who made big, risky bets on met coal are getting bonuses, while workers who have given their lives to the mines are losing pensions and benefits. And a bipartisan plan in Congress to restore those pensions is being blocked by the senator from Kentucky out of spite for Obama. Coal miners truly have no friends in the ruling class.”

LA GAS LEAK THE WORST GREENHOUSE GAS DISCHARGE IN HISTORY — The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick: “The massive leak that vented millions of pounds of natural gas from a Los Angeles storage facility now appears to have been the worst accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in U.S. history, scientists concluded in an analysis released Thursday. The 112-day leak at the Aliso Canyon facility released about 5 billion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere, making it by far the biggest single emitter of the gas anywhere in the country, according to detailed assessment published in the peer-reviewed journal Science. From a climate perspective, the accident was historic: A single leak produced a heat-trapping effect equivalent to the annual exhaust emissions from nearly 600,000 cars.”

EXXON RESISTS CLIMATE RESOLUTION — InsideClimate News’ David Hasemyer: “ExxonMobil has challenged a shareholder resolution that calls for the company to show how its business will be affected by the global commitment to dramatically slow global warming. The resolution — filed by the New York State comptroller's office and four co-filers — also seeks an explanation of how Exxon will address those impacts. Exxon notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that it wants to block a vote on the proposal at its annual meeting in May. The fossil fuel giant argued that it's unlikely that strict emissions restrictions will be imposed to meet the goal of holding global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius that world governments agreed to in last year's Paris climate accord.”

CRUZ HOLDING UP FLINT AID — The Washington Post’s Kelsey Snell: “The Senate is ready to move forward with a bipartisan-backed aid package to help communities like Flint, Mich., replace aging lead pipes that have contaminated their water supplies, but presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz is standing in the way. Cruz aides confirmed Thursday that the Texas Republican is holding up the legislation because he isn’t ready to vote on the package for the time being. 'Our staff is reviewing the bill,' said Cruz spokesman Phil Novack. Aides would not say what specific issues Cruz has with the legislation.”

HALLIBURTON ANNOUNCES MORE CUTS — Nasdaq: “Halliburton Co. is cutting another 5,000 jobs in a sign that the industry is hunkering down for more pain as the energy sector continues to cope with a commodities rout. The latest cut — about 8% of Halliburton's workforce around the world — is on top of the 22,000 workers that the company has already laid off since the 2014 peak. Firms that help drill and complete wells have absorbed much of the pain inflicted by oil prices that have fallen about 70% since their 2014 peak and stayed low longer than many had anticipated. Their customers have slashed capital budgets and halted drilling in many areas, and have pushed oil-field services providers to bring costs down to the bare minimum.”

DESPITE DROUGHT, CALIFORNIA MISSING WATER MARKS — The Associated Press: “Californians are starting to fall behind the state’s mandatory 25-percent water conservation target even though the state remains in drought, state officials said Thursday. As of January, water users in California’s cities and towns have managed to use 24.8 percent less water since mandatory conservation began last year, the State Water Resources Control Board said. That just misses the level Gov. Jerry Brown had ordered in what is now the state’s fifth year of drought.”

LAWMAKERS PAN COMMODITIES COMMISSION REPORT — The New York Times’ DealBook: “Lawmakers heaped criticism on an advisory committee report to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission recommending that the agency scrap its proposed rule on position limits in derivatives trading. The report and a dissenting opinion were presented at a meeting of the commission on Thursday. The report, which was approved 8 to 1 by the Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee, says that federally mandated position limits are not necessary and that the C.F.T.C. should not enact the rule it has been working on. It adds that if the agency goes ahead with the rule, it needs substantial changes.”

EPA: MARYLAND HAS HIGH LEVELS OF SULFUR DIOXIDE — Capital Gazette’s Christina Jedra: “Large parts of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties may be exposed to sulfur dioxide emissions that violate national air quality standards, the Environmental Protection Agency said this week. The agency said areas within 35.5 kilometers of the Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station in Pasadena could be designated as ‘nonattainment,’ or not meeting national standards.”

GE’S SMART GRID — NewTech Magazine: “Showcasing GE’s transformation into the world’s leading digital industrial company, GE Power highlighted the latest steps it is taking to deploy its portfolio of digital solutions to help utility and industrial customers boost their productivity while reducing their environmental impacts and operating costs throughout the entire energy value chain ... GE’s Digital Power Plant will enable its utility and industrial customers to harness information technologies to improve the underlying infrastructure that generates electricity in a manner that will transform the way electricity is generated and managed worldwide, helping reduce the impact of power production and consumption to the climate.”

WIND IN ONE HAND, SUIT IN THE OTHER: The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney reports on the incongruous phenomenon of states that are breaking renewable energy records while suing the Obama administration over its Clean Power Plan, designed to encourage states to use more renewable energy. Texas is chief among them. “Texas, it turns out, is the currently the nation’s leader in total wind energy generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And in 2014, according to EIA data analyzed by AWEA, it generated just over 9 percent of its total electricity from this source that would be strongly favored by the Clean Power Plan. The state has also received more investment in wind — $32 billion — than any other, according to AWEA.”

BUFFETT’S OIL PROBLEM — The Wall Street Journal’s Anupreeta Das: “Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual results Saturday will give investors a closer look at how Warren Buffett is coping with what could be the market’s biggest problem: oil. Cheaper oil is a bright spot for many of Berkshire’s manufacturing and industrial businesses. But it is a growing problem for key holdings including BNSF Railway Co., which makes a lot of money hauling oil and other commodities and accounted for about a fifth of Berkshire’s profit in 2014. A less obvious casualty has been auto insurer Geico, another high-profile Berkshire business. Cheap gasoline and improved employment prospects are putting more drivers on the road, leading to more traffic accidents. For Geico and its rivals, that has meant paying out more claims.”

FUKUSHIMA OPERATOR MISLED PUBLIC — The Associated Press: “The operator of Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant acknowledged Thursday it failed for two months to announce that meltdowns had occurred in the cores of three of the reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its officials were unaware of a company emergency manual that defined a meltdown as damage exceeding 5 percent of a reactor's fuel. Instead, TEPCO described the condition of the reactors as less serious ‘core damage’ for two months after the plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, despite early damage estimates ranging from 25 to 55 percent.”


--Oil surges on hopes of production cuts, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The benchmark U.S. oil contract, which had fallen as low as 3.4% below Wednesday’s settlement, surged to a 2.9% gain on the day, settling at $33.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The global Brent contract ended the day up 2.6% at $35.29 a barrel. It was the highest settlement for the Nymex market since Jan. 29, and the highest settlement for Brent since Jan. 5.”

--Natural gas plummets on continued oversupply and weak demand, the Journal reports.

“Natural-gas prices, already down in the start of the morning trading session, fell sharply after the data release. Natural-gas futures for the front-month March delivery contract ended the day down 3.8% at $1.7110 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, touching its lowest intra-day level since late summer of 1998.”

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