Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Trump temporarily lifts shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico relief

10-DAY WAIVER FOR JONES ACT: The Trump administration Thursday implemented a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act for shipments going to storm-damaged Puerto Rico.

The waiver from the shipping law, which requires American-made and -operated vessels to transport cargo between U.S. ports, goes into effect immediately.

"At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote on Twitter, referring to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Lawmakers in Congress since Monday have been pushing for a one-year waiver from the rules in order to help speed up deliveries of food, fuel and other critical supplies to Puerto Rico, which has been battered by two hurricanes in the last month. Officials estimate that the island could be without power for six months.

The administration faced fierce backlash for not immediately lifting the law for Puerto Rico after it issued a two-week waiver for Texas and Florida in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said on Twitter early Thursday that the Puerto Rico waiver was granted "immediately" after Rosselló had petitioned Trump for the exemption Wednesday night.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz praised the administration's decision on Thursday, which she said could help bring down the cost of supplies and construction materials by nearly 33 percent.

"Our cries for justice were heard," she said on CNN. "The president did the right thing, and stood on the right side of history."

Read more here.


Is 10 days enough?: While lawmakers pushing for the waiver were pleased at Trump's decision, they contended that a longer suspension is necessary to help the island territory recover from Hurricane Maria.

"10 days is nothing," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters Thursday. "The ships have to get in there from the closest port, in the least expensive [way.]"

"Shit doesn't come from China to Puerto Rico. ... Just about everything has been brought in from a port in the United States," he added.

Lawmakers argue that the law has been hamstringing relief efforts on the island. They say the waiver would help bring down the costs of supplies and construction materials and could speed up cargo shipments to the island if foreign vessels are allowed to dock at San Juan.

"A 10-day waiver ... is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy," said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in a statement. "Moreover, as Puerto Rico begins the long road of rebuilding, it will be difficult to do so if building supplies cost double what they are priced on the mainland. To that end, I repeat my previous call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act."

Read more here.


McCain seeks indefinite Puerto Rico carve-out: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a long-time foe of the Jones Act, introduced legislation Thursday along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would indefinitely exempt Puerto Rico shipments from the law.

"While I welcome the Trump administration's Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, this short-term, 10-day exemption is insufficient to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria," McCain said in a statement. "Our legislation would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up costs and crippled Puerto Rico's economy."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put the bill on the Senate calendar Thursday, allowing expedited consideration if the Senate so chooses.

Read more here.


FLY ME TO THE MOON: Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is demanding information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about Administrator Scott Pruitt's chartered and military flights and his nearly $25,000 soundproof booth.

Udall, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the EPA's budget, asked in a letter to the agency Thursday for a full accounting of expenses by the Office of the Administrator since January and the purpose of Pruitt's soundproof booth among other information.

"I am hearing from constituents who are deeply concerned by this potentially excessive spending, especially in light of your proposals to make deep cuts to EPA's budget overall," he wrote.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he wants Pruitt to answer for the chartered and military flights he has taken, which have cost taxpayers around $58,000.

"This is one of those situations where the best disinfectant is sunshine," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, two groups of House Democrats introduced separate bills Thursday meant to crack down on charter flight use and other travel expenses by executive branch employees, including cabinet secretaries.

Read more here.


SAGE GROUSE CHANGES COMING: The Trump administration plans to formally reconsider a landmark set of Obama administration policies meant to protect the greater sage grouse in the West, The New York Times reported.

Sometime this week, the Interior Department plans to publish a formal notice of its intent to reconsider 98 sage grouse management plans across the chicken-sized bird's 10-state habitat, the Times said, citing agency and state officials familiar with the notice.

Reopening the consideration process could lead to a relaxation of restrictions on grazing, oil and gas drilling, mining or other development within the sage grouse's habitat.

The bird, which has a unique mating dance, became a lightning rod in the debate over endangered species. Conservationists argued that protecting it would conserve important ecosystems and landscapes in the West, while businesses that use a lot of land, like energy and developers, argued that protections could be detrimental to the economy.

The plans were written in 2015 with an intent to protect the bird while avoiding more extreme measures that would be required if it were named an endangered species.

Read more here.


ON TAP FRIDAY: Zinke will give a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Interior's plans for "American Energy Dominance."



Oil driller Hess Corp. said the world needs more investment in offshore drilling to head off a potential supply squeeze around 2020, Reuters reports.

Tropical forests now emit as much carbon dioxide as the United States's transportation sector each year, Quartz reports.

Two lawyers and one company executive were indicted Thursday for their alleged roles in a Superfund bribery scandal in Alabama, Al.com reports.



Check out Thursday's stories ...

-GOP chairman seeks review of Obama mining ba

-Puerto Rico aid supplies trapped at San Juan port: report

-Democrats unveil bills to ban Cabinet members' private jet travel

-Interior to seek changes to sage grouse protectio

-Calif. AG: Trump backs down on greenhouse gas rule

-EPA picks state lawmaker to lead New York office

-Poll: Majority says climate change responsible for severity of hurricane

-Industry gains clout within Pruitt's EPA


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

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