Energy regulator may "cast a lifeline" to coal and nuclear - Axios
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Energy regulator may "cast a lifeline" to coal and nuclear

Signal Peak Energy's Bull Mountain coal mine near Roundup, Mont. Photo: Matthew Brown / AP

A top federal energy regulator said Wednesday the federal government may "cast a lifeline" to coal and nuclear power plants while the government conducts a longterm review of America's electricity grid.

"I just think it's prudent to potentially cast a lifeline to certain assets so they can stay afloat while we do this longer term analysis," said Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, during a luncheon with dozens of energy industry executives. "I truly think there is a way to achieve that in a legally defensible manner that does not distort markets."

Chatterjee said he was worried that short-term market pressures would shut down coal and nuclear plants and then later on the U.S. would realize it needed that electricity. "That's an outcome that concerns me," Chatterjee said. "I want to have no regrets at the end of this process."

Why it matters: Chatterjee's remarks offer some of the most concrete evidence that FERC, at the request of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, may end up taking a specific action soon to help numerous financially struggling coal and nuclear power plants. Helping revive the coal and nuclear industries is a top energy priority for President Trump.

Backstory: Energy Secretary Rick Perry took the unusual step in September of asking FERC to issue a rule that would favor nuclear and coal plants, with the stated aim of ensuring the electric grid remains resilient. Perry's request has been widely criticized by most parts of the energy industry, including oil and natural gas and renewable companies.

Inside the lunch: The event was hosted by the National Energy Resources Organization, a nonpartisan group that brings together nearly all facets of the energy sector for regular events in Washington, D.C. While the crowd dined over chicken and mashed sweet potatoes in a basement ballroom of a hotel a few blocks from the Capitol, Chatterjee cracked jokes about his height and the number of people there. It was a familiar crowd for Chatterjee, a Capitol Hill and Washington veteran of energy issues.

"Can everyone see me OK?" Chatterjee said from the podium. "Just trying to keep myself humble. Biggest crowd ever at a NERO lunch."

He waited until toward the end of his approximately 20-minute remarks to bring up what was top of mind for the crowd: Perry's request. He sought to assure the divided industry that taking steps to help coal and nuclear wouldn't be at the detriment to other resources if FERC did its job right.

Reality check: Most independent analysts say that given America's stagnant electricity demand, such a rule would necessarily come at the detriment of other fuel sources.

Here's one extended passage from Chatterjee's remarks worth reading:

"I don't think there is going to be winners and losers at the end of this process if we at the commission do it correctly. To value resilience and reliability and security is not a zero sum game. To say that certain resources have attributes that need to be compensated does not mean that another resource needs to lose. I don't think that this is a fuel war. I don't think this is the commission trying to put their thumb on the scale and favor one generating source over another. I think this is all of us collectively looking what we can ensure long-term energy infrastructure and making sure we look at this right."

The audience included executives on all sides of the fight. Here's a snapshot of what people and companies were present:

  • FirstEnergy, Southern Company, NRG Energy, Murray Energy, Nuclear Energy Institute, Exelon and the American Petroleum Institute, whose senior director of government relations, Khary Cauthen, introduced Chatterjee. API was one of several trade groups to issue joint comments opposing Perry's electricity rule.
  • Andrew Wheeler, Trump's nominee to be deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, was also there. He is currently a principal with Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, where he represents coal producers, among others.

What's next: FERC, which has the ultimate say in whether to follow through with Perry's request or do something else or nothing at all, is required to respond to the department's request by Dec. 11. That response likely doesn't mean a final rule, but instead the next step in what could end up being one of the most consequential energy regulatory moves in decades.

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Basting with the best: Thanksgiving tips from 5 top chefs

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

It's our first Thanksgiving here at Axios, a fine occasion in its own right to raise a glass and polish off a few plates of food. The big meal seemed like a good time to invite helping hands into the kitchen, so we asked a group of chefs and food writers for their favorite holiday tips.

The culinary experts:

  • Alison Roman, food writer and recipe developer: A host's guide to staying sane
  • Molly Lopez, baker: Thanksgiving with a global twist
  • David Lebovitz, cook and pastry chef: A secret sauce in seconds
  • Bill Yosses, former White House pastry chef: A prep essential for every dish
  • Aaron Silverman, chef and restaurateur: How the French do mashed potatoes
Featured

Sessions orders review of firearm background check database

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to review the U.S. database used for background checks on firearm buyers, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: Sessions used the Sutherland Springs shooting as evidence of a need to review the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), as the shooter was able to buy a gun despite having been convicted of domestic assault. The Air Force said it failed to enter his information into the federal database.

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Lyft is raising another $500 million

Josh Edelson / AP

Ride-hail company Lyft is raising up to $500 million in additional funding, according to a share authorization document filed yesterday in Delaware. This comes one month after Lyft announced a $1 billion infusion led by CapitalG, an investment arm of Google parent Alphabet. A company spokesman stresses that the $500 million is not yet closed, but adds: "Increasing the potential for this round will allow us to further accelerate our commitment to serving passengers and drivers."

Details: The new investment would be an extension of the CapitalG-led round, at the same share price of $39.75. That means the $10 billion pre-money valuation remains static, but the post-money could now value Lyft at $11.5 billion.

Below is the Delaware document, which was provided to Axios by Lagniappe Labs (creator of the Prime Unicorn Index)


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Two more women say Franken groped them

Sen. Al Franken. Photo: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Two women told the Huffington Post that Sen. Al Franken "touched their butts" in unrelated incidents. Four women have now accused Franken of unwanted contact.

Why it matters: Senate leadership have called for an Ethics Committee investigation into the Minnesota senator, which Franken himself has said he will cooperate with.

  • One woman said Franken groped her during a photo at an event hosted by the Minnesota Women's Political Caucus in 2007: "People are saying that this is a right-wing conspiracy...It's not. I'm a liberal person...I voted for him after this happened."
  • The second woman said Franken "cupped her butt" in 2008 at a Democratic fundraiser: "My immediate reaction was disgust...but my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have this happen really deflated me."
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ICE is seeking a program to monitor the social media of visa-holders

ICE agents at a home in Atlanta, during a targeted enforcement operation. Photo: ICE via AP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said at a tech industry conference last week they are seeking algorithms that can "conduct ongoing social media surveillance" of visa holders that are considered high risk, according to ProPublica.

Why it matters: The announcement of the program, later named "Visa Lifecycle Vetting," spurred backlash from civil liberty groups and immigrants. ProPublica notes that, taken in conjunction with Trump's calls for "extreme vetting" and his campaign proposal for a Muslim ban, there is concern it could be discriminatory toward Muslim visa holders. Acting deputy association director for information management at ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Alysa Erichs, said the goal is to have "automated notifications about any visa holders' social media activity that could 'ping us as a potential alert.'"

  • But, but, but: According to Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, ICE is "building a dangerously broad tool that could be used to justify excluding, or deporting, almost anyone."
  • A group of engineers, computer scientists, and other academics wrote to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke of their "grave concerns" about the program, saying it would likely be "inaccurate and biased."
  • Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokeswoman, told ProPublica the "request for information...was simply that - an opportunity to gather information...to determine the best way forward."
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Peter Thiel might try to buy Gawker.com

Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire investor who funded ex-wrestler Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, is seeking to pause the sales process of the now-defunct website, arguing that he was unfairly excluded from making a bid, according to a bankruptcy court filing obtained by BuzzFeed.

Why it matters: The buyer of Gawker.com (the rest of Gawker Media's properties were acquired by Univision last year) will be able to do with its contents as they please, including deleting specific articles. There are still ongoing legal actions over a few articles in the archive. Though Thiel never admitted as much, it was long rumored that his decision to help Hogan was fueled by unflattering coverage of him and his business activities over the years, including a 2007 story about the fact that he is gay.

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The blowback from Uber's data breach

A man exits the Uber offices in Austin, Texas. Photo: Eric Gay / AP

Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut are planning investigations into Uber's recently announced 2016 breach that left 57 million customers' and drivers' data vulnerable to criminals, and the FTC might launch a probe as well, according to Recode.

Why it matters: Most states (48) have some form of a law requiring companies to reveal data breaches to consumers, but Uber did not immediately disclose the details to consumers and reportedly tried to cover up the hack.

The FTC may also launch a probe into Uber, Recode reports, citing two sources who say Uber has already briefed the agency. The FTC said it was looking into the matter.

  • The FTC just penalized Uber in August for other privacy and security practices and had asked Uber to maintain all records related to privacy and security for investigators. This apparent cover-up could throw a wrench in those conclusions issued in August.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged the FTC to take "swift enforcement action and impose significant penalties" on Uber, and Rep. Frank Pallone is calling for a Congressional hearing on the matter.

Global blowback: Authorities in Australia and the Philippines said they would also be investigating, and the UK's data protection regulator brought up potential penalties for Uber, per Reuters.

Bottom line: The news is not good for Uber on a global scale. It could face penalties and fines in addition to paying the steep legal price associated with suits after a year filled with other headaches related to security, privacy, and its culture.

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Men behaving badly

The bombshell report from The New York Times last month on decades of sexual harassment and assault by producer Harvey Weinstein started a domino effect as other women spoke out about mistreatment by men in positions of power.

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Trump Org. walking away from SoHo hotel

The Trump Soho hotel. Photo: Seth Wenig / AP

The Trump Organization has made a deal allowing it to walk away from the Trump SoHo hotel by the end of the month, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: Per the Times, the hotel has "struggled to attract guests" and had to close its main restaurant in April due to what the restaurant's lawyer called a "decline in business since the election." The Trump Org. faced several lawsuits over building the hotel, per the Times, one of which alleged it "was backed by felons and financing from Russia." Russian-born businessman Felix Sater, who has been in the news following the election for having pushed for a Trump Tower in Moscow, was involved in the deal.

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Video released of North Korean defector crossing DMZ

Photo: United Nations Command via AP.

A video just released by the United Nations shows the North Korean soldier who defected to the South on November 13th making his getaway in a green jeep, running towards the border separating Panmunjom, North Korea from the South, and then collapsing on the South Korean side.

Why it matters: The event amounts to a violation of the armistice, since he was shot five times in his successful effort to defect from the North Korean regime, South Korea says. He was ultimately rescued by South Korean soldiers. Pyongyang has yet to say anything about the defection but the UN Command says it has requested a meeting to discuss the apparent armistice violations.

The scene, per the AP's Foster Klug: "It's 3:11 p.m. on a cold, gray day on the North Korean side of the most heavily armed border in the world, and a lone soldier is racing toward freedom."

  • "His dark olive-green jeep speeds down a straight, tree-lined road, past drab, barren fields and, headlights shining, across the replacement for the Bridge of No Return..."
  • "The shock of soldiers watching the jeep rush by is palpable from the video released Wednesday and no wonder: They're beginning to realize that one of their comrades is defecting to the South."
  • The defector crashes his jeep into a ditch.
  • The South says North Koreans fired about 40 rounds from AK-47s and rifles at the defector. No fire was exchanged between North and South Koreans.
  • The defector makes it over the border, and then turns around and runs back towards the North before collapsing by the wall. South Koreans crawl to pull him to safety.
  • "The entire sequence, from the first appearance of the jeep to the soldier's frenzied crossing, lasts four minutes."

A clue to life in North Korea: The defector had two surgeries to repair internal organ damage and is conscious. Surgeons "removed dozens of parasites from the soldier's ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 27 centimeters (10.6 inches), which may reflect poor nutrition and health in North Korea's military."

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