Overnight Energy: Judge rules Dakota Pipeline needs further environmental review | Interior to delay methane pollution rule

Overnight Energy: Judge rules Dakota Pipeline needs further environmental review | Interior to delay methane pollution rule
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NOT SO FAST... A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the environmental review for the Dakota Access pipeline was, in part, inadequate and must be reconsidered, handing tribal opponents of the 1,170-mile pipeline project a key legal victory.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg did not order pipeline operators to stop the oil that is already flowing through the project, saying he would need to consider that request in light of Wednesday's judgement. 

Boasberg ruled that the federal government "substantially complied" with the federal environmental permitting law that governs projects such as Dakota Access, a 1,170-mile $3.8 billion pipeline that can carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day.

But, Boasberg wrote in a 91-page opinion, the Army Corps of Engineers "did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline's effects are likely to be highly controversial."

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He ruled that the Army Corps, which permitted the project, would need to conduct a new review of Dakota Access that considers those factors.

But Boasberg did not order Dakota Access to cease operations, which have been underway since June 1. He said that is a "separate question" that he will consider in the future.

Two tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, have tried for months to halt the Dakota Access project. They argue the pipeline, which crosses the Missouri River upstream from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, threatens water quality there. 

Courts have rejected two previous arguments against the pipeline: that it violates the tribes' religious liberty by flowing under sacred water in North Dakota and that its construction threatened cultural heritage sites on the Great Plains. 

Read more here.

 

METHANE RULES KEEP FALLING: The Interior Department is set to delay implementation of a methane waste rule, the second agency in two days to pause methane reduction efforts.

In a Federal Register notice set for publication Thursday, Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it would look to postpone the compliance dates for several parts of the Obama-era rule. The rule aims to reduce leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, at drilling sites on federal land.

Drillers are scheduled to come into compliance with the Obama administration's rule by January 2018. But several states and industry groups have sued over the rule and Trump has ordered its review -- and potential repeal. Interior also says it's not fair to force compliance with a rule that could come off the books.

"Given this legal uncertainty, operators should not be required to expend substantial time and resources to comply with regulatory requirements that may prove short-lived as a result of pending litigation or the administrative review that is already under way," the agency wrote in its notice.

Interior's Register notice comes days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would pause implementation of its own methane regulation that is also facing likely repeal.

Read more here.  

 

MICHIGAN OFFICIAL FACES FLINT CHARGES: Michigan's director of health and human services was charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter over the Flint water crisis.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) charged Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, both felonies, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Eden Wells, Michigan's chief medical executive, was also charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer.

Both men's charges come from an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Flint that stemmed from the city's state-mandated switch to using water from the Flint River in 2014 and 2015.

Lyon is the highest-ranking official charged yet in connection with the water crisis. With Wednesday's allegations, 15 current or former state or city officials have been charged.

A failure to treat the water properly also caused lead contamination in the water supply for the city of 100,000. The lead contamination, and failures by the state and federal governments to respond strongly to it, has received most of the attention from the Flint crisis.

State officials estimated that 87 people were infected in the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia that is usually found in fresh water. Twelve people died in the outbreak.

Lyon's charge is linked to the death of Robert Skidmore in December 2015, the Free Press said. Prosecutors say Lyon should have notified the public about the outbreak to prevent the death, and he faces up to 15 years in prison.

In addition, four city and state officials previously charged in the Flint crisis -- former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) drinking water head Liane Shekter-Smith, DEQ drinking water official Stephen Busch and former City of Flint Water Department manager Howard Croft -- had involuntary manslaughter added to their charges.

Read more here.

 

WIND GROUP APPEALS TO TRUMP: The wind industry is out with a major new advertising campaign aimed at appealing to President Trump and congressional Republicans.

American Wind Action (AWA), launched last year to advocate for pro-wind policies, said it is spending millions of dollars on what it's calling an education campaign.

The campaign is part of an effort by the wind industry to appeal to what it believes to be the values that Trump and Republicans in Congress hold dear, like jobs and rural America, above more Democratic values like mitigating climate change.

The first two ads, which AWA calls "True American Power," focus on employees in the wind industry, particularly in the Midwest.

"It's American made and very important for the people in this community and the people in this nation," Luke Coady, an employee at a wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa, says in one of the ads.

"We are proud to tell our American-success story of providing reliable power for the country and helping rebuild our nation," Sam Enfield and Jeff Clark, two of AWA's board members, said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

PRUITT TO CAPITOL HILL: EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is set to face a skeptical House panel on Thursday to defend President Trump's proposal to slash the agency's budget.

Members on a House Appropriations Committee panel are expected to probe Trump's plan to cut EPA funding by 31 percent and push Pruitt on plans to end several of the agency's offices and missions.

The hearing will be Pruitt's first Capitol Hill testimony since becoming the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Democrats are certain to raise complaints about the direction he and Trump had taken the agency in so far this year.

Trump last month proposed cutting the EPA's budget by $2.6 billion, or 31.4 percent, from current levels, the largest cut for any cabinet-level agency.

Appropriators generally ignore presidential budgets, and even some Republicans have said Trump's EPA cuts go too far.

The Budget Committee has yet to release spending targets for appropriators, so members haven't drafted a bill for the EPA. But Thursday's hearing will be the first time lawmakers have gone head-to-head on the agency's future.

Follow The Hill tomorrow for more on the hearing.

 

Rest of Thursday's agenda ...

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Forest Service's 2018 budget request.

The House Natural Resources Committee will meet to discuss forest legislation.

The Senate Agriculture Committee will consider agricultural research provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

An outage at a southern California fuel refinery last month, and the associated 14 days of flaring, released more than 74,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, KQED reports.

Ever wonder where all the recalled Volkswagen vehicles went? More than 5,000 of them are at an industrial center in Brainerd, Minn., Minnesota Public Radio reports.

Tests found that some Fiat Chrysler diesel-powered vehicles emitted up to 25 times more nitrogen-oxide than allowed under federal law, USA Today reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-Wind, solar produce 10 percent of US electricity for first time
-Wind power group's new ad campaign aims to win over Trump
-Interior set to delay methane pollution rule
-Michigan health director charged with involuntary manslaughter
-California governor named special adviser to UN climate conference

 

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