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POLITICO New York Energy: DiNapoli audit faults gas safety oversight; energy issues in budget proposals

By David Giambusso and Scott Waldman

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DINAPOLI: STATE MUST IMPROVE GAS SAFETY OVERSIGHT — POLITICO New York’s Scott Waldman: The state Department of Public Service must tighten its oversight of gas safety, according to an audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The Cuomo administration is too reliant on gas-line operators to self-report mishaps or incidents and, as a result, the DPS was not properly notified of six gas-related pipeline incidents in 2015 alone, the audit found. What’s more, the state is not properly using all the available data to identify high-risk areas for accidents, and isn't adequately verifying the accuracy of contractor qualifications, according to the audit.

ENERGY ISSUES IN THE LEGISLATIVE BUDGET PROPOSALS — POLITICO New York’s Scott Waldman: State assistance for communities facing power plant closures would increase significantly under the Assembly one-house budget proposal, while the Senate's would support struggling nuclear facilities. The Assembly has proposed more than doubling a fund to support communities facing the loss of tax revenue after a power plant closes, from $19 million to $50 million. The Senate would boost funding for financially struggling nuclear facilities to $100 million. Under the Assembly proposal, the money would come from an unspecified funding source at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which receives funding from surcharges on utility bills.

FALCONE TO LEAD LIPA — Newsday’s Mark Harrington: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will announce Tuesday his formal endorsement of Tom Falcone to take over as LIPA’s chief executive officer. Falcone, who joined the Long Island Power Authority in January, 2014 from the financial industry, currently serves as chief financial officer and chief of staff. A vote by LIPA’s board to approve Falcone’s appointment is scheduled for next week. 'Tom’s leadership has played an integral role in building a more resilient, reliable electric grid on Long Island and he has proven himself to be a responsible steward for LIPA,' Cuomo said.”

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--The New York Times has publishedletters pushing back on Riverkeeper’s op-ed against Indian Point.

--The PFOA pollution spread is growing beyond Hoosick Falls and into Vermont.

--Here is the complete Q&A with reporters after Cuomo’s first trip to Hoosick Falls.

--The Watertown Daily Times on Cuomo’s press office: “Mr. Azzopardi would be wise to keep his snarkiness to himself.”

--The DEC is closing snowmobile trails for the year.

GOOD TUESDAY MORNING: Let us know anytime if you have tips, story ideas or life advice. We're always here at and And if you like this letter, please tell a friend and/or loved one. Here’s a handy sign-up link:

PENTAGON RAISES CONCERNS OVER OFFSHORE DRILLING — The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears: “The Obama administration is reworking its plan to open the southern Atlantic Coast to offshore oil exploration because of strong opposition from the Pentagon, which says the activity could hurt military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests the Navy relies on to protect the coast. Early this week, Interior Department officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management expect to release an update of its draft proposal to lease federal waters to oil and gas companies off the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. That update will reflect the military’s concerns, officials say..”

OIL TRAINS TO HAVE TWO CREW MEMBERS — Associated Press’ Joan Lowy: “Trains would have to have a minimum of two crew members under rules proposed Monday by federal regulators. The move is partly in response to a deadly 2013 crash in which an unattended oil train caught fire and destroyed much of a town in Canada. The Federal Railroad Administration is also considering allowing railroads that operate with only one engineer to apply for an exception to the proposed two-person crew rule, according to a notice published in the Federal Regulator.”

VW WHISTLEBLOWER FILES SUIT — The New York Times’ Jack Ewing: “A former Volkswagen employee has filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Michigan, asserting that co-workers illegally deleted electronic data shortly after the United States government accused the carmaker of cheating on emissions tests. The former employee, Daniel Donovan, who according to the lawsuit worked as an information manager in an Auburn Hills, Mich., office overseen by Volkswagen’s in-house lawyer, says he was fired in December because his superiors believed that he was about to report the company to the American authorities for obstruction of justice. In addition to wrongful dismissal, the lawsuit filed last week in Oakland County Circuit Court in Michigan accuses Volkswagen of violating the state’s whistle-blower protection law.”

WALL STREET DIGS TESLA — Bloomberg’s Tom Randall: “Wall Street analysts have been touring Tesla’s massive factory in Fremont, Calif., and they're returning with the same conclusion: Elon Musk's electric-vehicle company is getting ready for something big. In a sign of this enthusiasm, Robert W. Baird & Co. upgraded its Tesla rating on Monday morning following a factory tour. Tesla spent some $1.6 billion on major upgrades last year as it prepares to launch its first attempt at a mass-market car — the Model 3 — on March 31. The transformation is striking, according to auto analysts at Stifel Financial Corp., Credit Suisse Group AG, and Baird.”

MCCLENDON TRAVELING AT HIGH SPEEDS AT TIME OF CRASH — The Wall Street Journal’s Erin Ailworth: “U.S. shale pioneer Aubrey McClendon hit speeds of 89 miles an hour just before his Chevy Tahoe slammed into a concrete bridge earlier this month in a fatal crash, according to a report issued Monday afternoon by the Oklahoma City Police Dept. Mr. McClendon’s SUV, which was fitted to run on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline, crossed the centerline more than 60 yards before the crash. He wasn't wearing a seat belt, the Oklahoma City Police said. The medical examiner’s office earlier said thatMr. McClendon died of multiple blunt force trauma. Data recovered from the vehicle’s black box showed that Mr. McClendon tapped his brakes several times before the crash, but didn't truly brake, said Bill Citty, chief of police.”

SOLAR SECURITIZATION PICKS UP — Bloomberg’s Brian Eckhouse: “SolarCity Corp., the biggest U.S. rooftop solar company, has raised more in the asset-backed securities market this year than the industry completed in all of 2015, and developers are poised to exceed the record set in 2014. SolarCity sold $235 million of solar-power bonds in two deals this year, according to a report Monday by Marathon Capital LLC. That’s more than the $234 million total for last year, when the company was joined by Sunrun Inc. SolarCity raised in 2014 about $272 million in debt backed by long-term receivables from rooftop leases and installment financing. The numbers show growing interest from developers in tapping the ABS market, and increasing appetite from investors, said Ted Brandt, chief executive officer of Marathon, a Bannockburn, Illinois-based energy and infrastructure adviser.”

CLINTON COAL COMMENTS IRK KENTUCKY — The Courier-Journal: “Hillary Clinton's comment Sunday about killing coal jobs was quickly attacked by the industry and Kentucky's two U.S. senators. Sen. Rand Paul said the Democratic presidential front-runner may have doomed the Democratic Party to more troubles in Kentucky when she appeared to say her administration would put coal miners out of work and shut down coal mining.”

A NEW KIND OF WIND ENERGY — CleanTechnica’s Tina Casey: “The Accio wind energy technology is based on the electrohydrodynamic (EHD) effect, in which wind energy is deployed to separate positively charged water droplets from an ultra-fine mist. The result is a high voltage DC source that can be scaled up to utility size. By constantly adjusting the number of droplets and the charge on the droplets relative to wind speed, the Accio wind energy harvester can operate consistently at peak efficiency. In other words, if you’re looking for something that looks like a wind turbine, look elsewhere. Accio’s EHD wind energy harvester consists of arrays of tubes enclosed within flat, wind-permeable panels. According to Accio, once the technology is commercialized it will deliver offshore wind energy on a cost-competitive basis with natural gas, even without subsidies.”

EXXON SAYS IT’S FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE: Suzanne McCarron, a spokesperson for Exxon, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times saying the oil giant was playing a part in fighting climate change, despite news reports in recent months that Exxon knew about the effects of burning fossil fuels and attempted to cover up that knowledge. The L.A. Times and InsideClimate News have reported extensively about the alleged coverup. Here's an excerpt from the op-ed: "ExxonMobil recognizes the risks posed by climate change. We believe that everyone — including oil and gas companies — should be engaged in meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Based on recent media coverage of our company however, you could be forgiven if you found this surprising. A coordinated public relations campaign is under way against ExxonMobil, which is misleading the public by accusing us of hiding what we knew about climate change and working against climate science."

DIPPING OIL PRICES CAUSES ALASKAN SCHOOLS CRISIS — The New York Times’ Kirk Johnson: “School systems and universities around the country — like in Milwaukee and Baton Rouge, La. — are also struggling with new budget cuts, or with old ones lingering from the recession. The problem up here, though, is oil, and the taxes on it that Alaska collects to pay for most state expenditures. Drillers are pumping less, and at around $40 a barrel, the state is collecting less in taxes on the oil that is pumped, making for a state budget crater of crisis proportions. The Republican-controlled Legislature has so far been loath to consider new taxes in an election year, and education, along with health and welfare, accounts for about two-thirds of the state budget. The deeper story, educators and state officials said, is that a long-delayed day of reckoning over education policies and promises made in a different era, under different circumstances, has arrived.”


--Oil falls sharply on supply concerns: It appears that the rumor production of oil was slowing and supply was leveling off was just a rumor. The Wall Street Journal reports oil futures erased a week of gains on Monday.

“The U.S. contract ended down 3.4% at $37.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while the Brent contract settled down 2.1% at $39.53 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange.”

--Natural gas dwindles on weak demand: It seems the cold weather investors were hoping for won’t be cold enough to rally natural gas prices. Futures dropped again after a weak winter, the Journal reports.

“The market wavered between gains and losses for much of the day before ending down 0.2% at $1.8190 a million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas futures have slumped more than 20% this year amid surging production and weak demand amid a mild winter and little need for gas-fired heating.”

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