Your daily briefing for all the top news in Energy, Technology, Finance, and Politics. 


U.S. grid safe from large-scale attack, experts say
David Perera
The specter of a large-scale, destructive attack on the U.S. power grid is at the center of much strategic thinking about cybersecurity. For years, Americans have been warned by a bevy of would-be Cassandras in Congress, the administration and the press that hackers are poised to shut it down. But in fact, the half-dozen security experts interviewed for this article agreed it’s virtually impossible for an online-only attack to cause a widespread or prolonged outage of the North American power grid.


DOE clears natural gas exports at two sites
Timothy Cama
The Department of Energy Wednesday granted approval for two facilities in Louisiana and Florida to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to nearly any country. Sempra Energy’s existing Cameron LNG project in southwestern Louisiana will be allowed to export 1.7 billion cubic feet of gas per day once the company installs the necessary equipment. The Carib Energy plant in Martin County, Fla., has been granted a license to export 40 million cubic feet a day.


Good news: The hole in the ozone layer is finally starting to heal
Brad Plumer
Fortunately, that apocalyptic scenario never came to pass. Scientists discovered the problem in time. And, under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, world leaders agreed to phase out CFCs (despite industry warnings that abolishing the chemicals would impose steep costs). The hole in the ozone layer stopped growing. The global economy thrived. Now comes further good news. The latest UN assessment, by some 300 scientists, has found that the ozone layer is just now starting to heal — and should be back to relatively healthy 1980 levels by 2050, although there will be ups and downs along the way.




A New Threat Grows Amid Shades of 9/11
Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton
In recent months, we have heard time and again from leading experts that the cyber threat is serious—and that the government is not doing enough. One lesson of the 9/11 story is that, as a nation, we didn’t awaken to the gravity of the terrorist threat until it was too late. We must not repeat that mistake in the cyber realm.


Sorry, Ms. Jackson: FCC hits new record
Brooks Boliek
The net neutrality debate has generated a record 1,477,301 public comments to the Federal Communications Commission, the agency said Wednesday, surpassing the 1.4 million complaints sparked by Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl.


Google’s studied silence on net neutrality has finally broken
Brian Fung
“If Internet access providers can block some services and cut special deals that prioritize some companies’ content over others, that would threaten the innovation that makes the Internet awesome,” wrote Google in a message to Internet activists Wednesday. “No Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others.”


Discovery CEO tells FCC he’s concerned about Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable
Cecilia Kang
Discovery Communications’ chief executive said Wednesday that the cable television programmer has expressed concerns to federal regulators about Comcast’s $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable. If the merger is approved, Comcast would control 17 of the top 20 markets for advertisers, said Discovery CEO David Zaslav at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference.


How ‘A La Carte’ TV Legislation Died in the Senate
Brendan Sasso
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and John Thune had planned a committee vote for next week on their “Local Choice” proposal, but they were forced to pull the legislation due to opposition from other committee members. “It probably would’ve been a tough vote, only because a lot of our guys had not had a lot of time to digest and process it,” Thune, the top Republican on the committee, admitted to reporters Wednesday. … But broadcasters launched a lobbying blitz against the proposal, warning it would limit access to local news during emergencies. They also argued that it would be unfair to impose an “a la carte” system on local broadcast stations but not little-watched cable channels like TruTV.


The Digital Wallet Revolution
Edward Castronova and Joshua A.T. Fairfield
Apple’s digital wallet, if widely adopted, could usher in a new era of ease and convenience. But the really exciting part is the fast-emerging future that it points toward, in which virtual assets of all sorts — traditional currencies, but also Bitcoin, airline miles, cellphone minutes — are interchangeable, opening up enormous purchasing power for consumers and creating tough challenges for governments around the world.


With Apple Pay and Smartwatch, a Privacy Challenge
Brian X. Chen and Steve Lohr
The key, privacy advocates say, is the practices that govern how personal data is handled and analyzed by the device makers and software developers. “The Achilles’ heel for privacy and consumer protection are apps connected to marketing, where the information can be gathered and used,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “I do not believe safeguards are in place to protect consumer health information that will be gathered for profiling and targeting.”




Lawmakers Seek to Smooth Banks’ Path Through Bankruptcy
Victoria McGrane
A bipartisan bill approved by a congressional committee Wednesday to amend the U.S. bankruptcy code underscores a postcrisis conundrum: Big banks must demonstrate they can be dismantled in bankruptcy, but experts and some lawmakers say the current code is inadequate to handle the failure of a major financial firm.


SEC Targets Timing of Insiders’ Trade Notices
Jean Eaglesham and Susan Pulliam
The Securities and Exchange Commission is stepping up its scrutiny of corporate executives who sell shares in their own companies, announcing a raft of cases Wednesday against insiders for allegedly breaking rules on disclosing stockholdings and trades. The action, on an unprecedented scale for such offenses, is part of the “broken windows” strategy SEC Chairman Mary Jo White announced almost a year ago. She said the strategy—named for policing tactics used in New York that sought to reduce serious crime by not tolerating minor violations—will mean “even the smallest infractions” are pursued.


The SEC’s New ‘Thought Crime’
As if catching real crooks isn’t hard enough, the Securities and Exchange Commission will now seek to punish credit raters who harbor impure thoughts of financial gain. This really is as bizarre as it sounds.


Campaign to deny Obama trade authority grows
Shawn Donnan
Environmental groups and labour unions are stepping up pressure on Congress to deny US President Barack Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals, in a sign of the increasingly awkward politics facing a key component of his economic agenda.


The GOP’s Ex-Im Punt
The problem with all of this fine-tuned political calculation is that Ex-Im’s big-business-big-government canoodling will live to fight another day. Republicans will face another lobbying onslaught next year to extend Ex-Im, and the leadership may find new reasons not to take the heat. One of these years House Republicans will have to stand for something other than their own re-election.


The Latest Twist in a Regulatory Sham
Peter J. Wallison
The sham of the FSOC’s designation process became clear recently when, in a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was unable to explain how the FSOC could conduct a fair and objective investigation of MetLife when he himself—as a member of the Financial Stability Board and chairman of the FSOC—had already approved the Financial Stability Board’s designation of MetLife as a global SIFI.




New Military Campaign Extends a Legacy of War
Peter Baker
In ordering a sustained military campaign against Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, President Obama on Wednesday night effectively set a new course for the remainder of his presidency and may have ensured that he would pass his successor a volatile and incomplete war, much as his predecessor left one for him.


Hill mixed on Obama speech


Lauren French

House and Senate leaders will reconvene Thursday to chart a path forward for legislation giving Obama authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force. House Republicans are weighing attaching the measure to a continuing resolution to fund the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is waiting for the House to move before deciding on the Senate’s path forward.


The President’s War Plan
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Mr. Obama’s success will be his own ambivalence about American military force. His entire political history and belief system have stressed the limits and damage from U.S. military action. He admires Lincoln, but it is the Lincoln of the Gettysburg Address not Sherman’s March to the Sea. Let’s hope Mr. Obama is a better war President than he has been an antiwar President.


Mr. Obama lays out his strategy for combatting the Islamic State
President Obama’s reformulation of U.S. policy to accommodate that stubborn reality, articulated in his somber address to the nation Wednesday night, comes late — but not, we hope and trust, too late. There is still time to beat the Islamic State, to restore a unified (if federated) Iraqi state and to bring a measure of peace and humane governance to Syria. As the president convincingly emphasized, none of this can happen without a sustained, long-term engagement by the United States, to include both military force and a major investment of diplomatic capital. As the president also said, for the first time, U.S. strikes on the Islamic State cannot be limited to one side of the porous Iraq-Syria border; American drones and warplanes must pursue the Islamic State wherever it can be found, and that includes its havens in Syria.


The Attack on ISIS Expands to Syria
As President Obama moves the nation back onto a war footing, it is also vital to have a cleareyed debate about how expensive that course could be. The Pentagon had a blank check to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The price tag — now more than $1 trillion — has been a severe burden for the country. The formation of an international coalition that includes Arab states, Western allies and the United States Congress is crucial to give the American-led operation legitimacy. Beyond that, the partners will need to shut down financing for ISIS, close the Turkish border to militant recruits and weapons and help arm the Iraqis. Sunni Arab states must persuade Sunnis attracted by ISIS that it represents a perversion of Islam that must be rejected.


The Conservative Case for Common Core
William J. Bennett
Conservatives have reason to be upset by this federal overreach. The Obama administration has run roughshod over individual rights and state sovereignty, on issues ranging from health care to climate change. But the federal intrusion into Common Core, however unwelcome and unhelpful, does not change a basic truth: Common, voluntary standards are a good, conservative policy.


Senate Democrats’ extremism on display
George Will
Forty-eight members of the Democratic caucus attempted to do something never previously done: Amend the Bill of Rights. They tried to radically shrink First Amendment protection of political speech. They evidently think extremism in defense of the political class’s convenience is no vice.


Curb your enthusiasm about those Medicare savings
Robert J. Samuelson
Assuming that the quality of health care hasn’t been compromised (another big unknown), the Medicare savings are good news. But they’re no panacea. The sensible response is to cheer — and then to curb your enthusiasm.


Stop the insanity: Federal regulations cost US businesses $2 trillion
Chad Moutray
While regulations are often well-intentioned, manufacturers and small businesses face higher compliance costs from many of these actions. With that in mind, we ask that policymakers look at the larger regulatory landscape before imposing new burdens that will stifle growth and dissuade new investments.