Rain cuts corn crop to 4-year low

The corn crop on farms in Walker County, Ga., has been stunted by extreme drought conditions spanning the tri-state area around Chattanooga.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has lowered its estimate of this year's corn crop to the lowest in four years, saying wet weather has delayed planting and reduced acres planted and the expected per-acre yield.

The expected production was cut in a monthly report released Tuesday by 1.4 billion bushels to 13.7 billion bushels, the lowest since 2015.

While weather problems also have slowed soybean planting, the USDA didn't change estimates since farmers have several more weeks to plant.

The USDA report also says disputes with China and other nations have reduced corn exports for the current-year crop by 100 million bushels and soybean exports by 75 million bushels.

Offshore drilling faces court challenge

Ten environmental groups are suing to challenge what they view as the Trump administration's decision to weaken critical safety rules created after the nation's worst offshore drilling disaster.

The rule changes announced in March will make oil and gas exploration and development off the Pacific, Atlantic, Alaska, and Gulf coasts "significantly more dangerous," according to the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by national groups including the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, and groups on the Gulf and Carolina coasts.

"Rolling back safety standards while trying to aggressively expand offshore drilling just boggles the mind. So we're asking the court to step in to protect workers, wildlife, coastal communities and our climate," Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff, said in a news release.

Tiffany Gray, spokeswoman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said the agency cannot comment about pending litigation.

The rules were imposed six years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers as BP PLC executives celebrated the project's safety record at the rig on April 20, 2010. Over the next 87 days, the well nearly a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico spewed out an estimated 130 million gallons of oil. BP says its costs have topped $60 billion.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in March that the changes would eliminate unnecessary regulation while keeping safety and environmental protection.

Facebook to build Texas solar farm

Facebook is building a massive solar farm in West Texas that's believed to be one of the largest solar projects in the nation and the social media giant's first direct investment in renewable energy.

Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy recently announced it was partnering with Facebook on the $416 million project, just as Facebook is finishing construction of a data center near Albuquerque.

The Prospero Solar project just north of Odessa, Texas, will have a capacity of 379 megawatts, which is enough to power around 72,000 homes based on the national average, the Solar Energy Industries Association said.

Prospero Solar is expected to be completed next year and will take up around 7 square miles - more than five times the size of Central Park in New York City. Facebook will be the sole tax equity investor.

Dakota Access pipeline planned

Two companies are proposing a $1.6 billion pipeline to move North Dakota crude oil, making it the biggest such project in the state since the Dakota Access pipeline that sparked violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement in 2016 and 2017.

Houston-based Phillips 66 and Casper, Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline announced the joint venture called Liberty Pipeline on Monday. It's designed to move 350,000 barrels of oil daily from western North Dakota's oil patch to the nation's biggest storage terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma. From there, the companies said shippers can access multiple Gulf Coast destinations.

The route of the 24-inch (60-centimeter) pipeline has not been disclosed, though the companies said in a statement the project "will utilize existing pipeline and utility corridors and advanced construction techniques to limit environmental and community impact."

Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss gave little detail about the pipeline other than saying it would not "originate in North Dakota."

"The project hasn't been finalized - there are still some things being worked on," he said. "We will leverage existing pipelines and infrastructure facilities where possible."

North Dakota's Public Service Commission must approve the pipeline's route in the state. Spokeswoman Stacy Eberl said the agency has not seen any plans from the companies, which said in their statement they hope to have the pipeline operational in the first quarter of 2021.