Overnight Energy: House sends water rule repeal to Obama’s desk

HOUSE VOTES TO PUT WATER RULE ON ICE: The House voted Wednesday to send a GOP measure blocking President Obama's controversial water jurisdiction rule to his desk.

Obama has pledged to veto the resolution, which would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the United States.

Nonetheless, lawmakers felt it was important to pass the resolution under the Congressional Review Act to show that the legislative branch doesn't approve of the regulation.

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The rule, made final last year, asserts federal authority over small waterways like wetlands and streams, something the Obama administration says is essential to protecting downstream water.

But Republicans and their allies in agriculture, construction and other businesses say the EPA is trying to assert power over far more water than it has the authority to.

"The federal government shouldn't be regulating every drop of water," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

"Just about every wet area in the country is open to federal regulation under this rule," he added. "The rights of landowners and local governments will be trampled."

Democrats and the Obama administration said the resolution puts water pollution protections at risk.

"The question is what, where and how do we protect the waters of the United States?" said Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the top Democrat on the transportation panel.

Read more here.

WATCHDOG MOSTLY CLEARS EPA IN MINE CONTROVERSY: The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mostly cleared the agency of wrongdoing in its handling of permitting for a major mine in Alaska.

The Office of Inspector General found "no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted the assessment" for the proposed Pebble Mine, nor "that the EPA predetermined the outcome" of the biological assessment for the project, the agency announced Wednesday.

The report is a big win for the EPA in its years-long fight over Pebble, a proposed gold and copper mine. The agency has proposed to severely restrict the mine, saying the effect on nearby Bristol Bay and its ecology from pollutants would be unacceptable.

Republicans have said the Obama administration overstepped its authority in 2014 when it proposed to block the mine. They said the EPA decided long ago on that path, before conducting any research into it.

EPA officials welcomed the report Wednesday, but the company looking to build the mine dismissed the findings.

The report "is an embarrassing failure on its part to understand what several congressional committees, an independent federal judge in Alaska, and an independent review by a former senator and cabinet secretary have already found -- that EPA acted improperly with regard to Pebble and was biased in its actions," Tom Collier, president of the Pebble Partnership, said in a statement.

Read more here.

CUOMO SAYS 'OH, NO' TO COAL: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged Wednesday to phase out the state's last remaining coal plants as officials move toward boosting the state's share of renewable energy.

"We will help the few remaining coal plants transition but we must clean our air and protect our health and that must be our first priority," Cuomo said in his state of the state address Wednesday.

New York only gets about 1.3 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.  

But Cuomo's coal phase-out goal is part of a broader push to green the state's energy mix. He has mandated that the state get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and in his speech he pledged to add 150,000 solar panels and 300 wind turbines around the state.

"Protecting our environment is a top priority," Cuomo said. "The Native American proverb is true: 'We don't inherit the land from our parents. We are borrowing it from our children.'"

Read more here.

PROBE BLAMES REFINERY BLAST ON SAFETY DEFICIENCIES: Investigators with the Chemical Safety Board concluded Wednesday that last year's ExxonMobil Corp. refinery explosion in California was caused by some key safety deficiencies.

Specifically, the safety equipment was old and a spark-generating piece of equipment should have been shut down before other repairs were made, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said Wednesday.

The faulty equipment leaked hydrocarbons and caused a blast that hurt four workers, destroyed much of the refinery structure and sent ash out in a large radius.

Still, it could have been worse, board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland told the Associated Press.

"What we definitely believe is that this was a serious near-miss incident," Sutherland said Wednesday, according to AP. "That amount of [hydrofluoric acid] -- or even a portion of the [hydrofluoric acid] -- had the potential to vaporize and cause some injury."

Read more here, via AP. 

ON TAP THURSDAY I: Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohue presents the Chamber's State of American Business 2016 address. The Chamber has been particularly critical of Obama administration regulations, including those on energy and environment policy, something Donohue is likely to address.  

ON TAP THURSDAY II: Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers will speak at a Wilson Center event on the response to climate change-related disasters.  

AROUND THE WEB:

Some experts say climate change is to blame for a mass die-off of birds on Alaska's Prince William Sound, the Washington Post reports.

New research suggests humanity's burning of fossil fuels has delayed the next ice age by up to 100,000 years, the Guardian reports.

Citing federal regulations, two major Kentucky utilities are closing the ponds they use to store coal ash, the Associated Press reports.   

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-NY gov aims to phase out coal by 2020
-EPA knew about Michigan water problem in April
-California regulators reject Volkswagen emissions fix
-Dems seek feds' help in California methane leak
-House votes to overturn Obama water rule
-Watchdog finds 'no evidence of bias' in EPA's handling of Alaska mine
-Ryan slams Obama water rule as 'power grab'
-Fossil fuel leases should charge for climate change, says president
-Climate science deniers 'will be pretty lonely,' president says

 Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill