Overnight Regulation: Interior to delay methane pollution rule | Trump nominates Dem to FCC | DeVos to redo Obama rules on for-profit schools

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's been a somber Wednesday in Congress, as House votes were postponed after a gunman opened fire on lawmakers practicing for the congressional baseball game.

 

THE BIG STORY

The Interior Department is preparing to delay implementation of a rule limiting methane waste at oil and natural gas drilling sites, The Hill's Devin Henry reports.

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.

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Drillers are required to come into compliance with the rule beginning on Jan. 17, 2018. But several industry groups have sued over the regulation, and President Trump has ordered Interior to reconsider the measure.

BLM's explanation: The agency said in its Register notice that it would postpone the compliance dates "in light of the regulatory uncertainty created by the pending litigation and the ongoing administrative review."

Provisions that will be delayed: The notice says the agency will look to suspend the rule's provisions that set limits on venting and flaring at drilling sites, require drillers to establish "waste minimization plans," and define pollution that comes from oil and gas operations.

Industry react: The oil and gas sector cheered the move. They have opposed efforts to restrict methane emissions, arguing that federal rules are duplicative in light of state standards, and that the industry is good at self-regulating methane leaks.

Greens react: "The plans to delay these much-needed methane pollution standards demonstrates that the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer working for the people, it's working for polluters," said Lauren Pagel, the policy director at Earthworks, which sued the EPA. 

Environmental groups warn that efforts to undercut methane standards will lead to public health problems.   

Click here for the full story.

 

ON TAP FOR THURSDAY

Agency heads are making the rounds on Capitol Hill to discuss their fiscal 2018 budget requests.

The Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee will hear from HHS Secretary Tom Price about the agency's budget request at 10:00 a.m.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the U.S. Forest Service's FY 2018 budget request at 10:00 a.m.

The House Appropriations interior and environment subcommittee will hold a hearing on the EPA's budget beginning at 11:00 a.m. 

The Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs regulatory affairs subcommittee will examine the Office of Management and Budget's memorandum on the federal workforce starting at 9:30 a.m.

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works will meet to consider the nomination of Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

 

REG ROUNDUP

Education: The Trump administration is planning to redo two Obama-era rules aimed at ensuring students at for-profit colleges get the education they pay for.

As The Hill's Lydia Wheeler reports, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Wednesday the department is establishing rulemaking committees to rework the gainful employment and the borrow defense to repayment rules.  

The gainful employment rule requires schools to ensure their career training programs actually prepare students for good-paying jobs that allow them to pay for their student loans.

The borrower defense to repayment rule aims to better protect student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices by trying to make the claims process more transparent.

Read Lydia's story here.

 

Technology: President Trump has nominated Jessica Rosenworcel to return to the Federal Communications Commission to fill an open seat for a Democrat.

Rosenworcel is a former commissioner who served from 2012 to January 2017. She has been a strong supporter of the FCC's Obama-era net neutrality rules, which new Republican Chairman Ajit Pai is moving to roll back.

The nomination is a change of heart from Trump, who withdrew her nomination in February. The FCC currently has two GOP commissioners and one Democrat. Trump still needs to nominate another Republican. His latest move may signal that the president intends to put forth a Republican name soon in order to avoid throwing the FCC into a 2-2 partisan deadlock in the midst of its proceedings to undo net neutrality.

The Hill's tech reporter Harper Neidig has the full report.

 

Technology: Uber is reportedly facing a new probe from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its privacy practices.

The agency has launched an inquiry into Uber, sources tell Recode, focused on the company's handling of customer data.

The company has faced a number of questions and controversies about its use of customer data, including "God view," a tool that allowed Uber to reveal the locations of prominent users such as politicians and celebrities.

Some sources cautioned that the probe might not lead to further action. They said the FTC regularly questions companies over user privacy practices and in many cases closes the investigations without imposing fines or other penalties.

But the possibility of another full-blown probe would add to what has been a difficult stretch for Uber.

The Hill's tech reporter Ali Breland has the full story here.

 

Transportation: A Senate panel is eyeing legislative steps to make it easier for driverless cars to be exempt from brake and pedal requirements, The Hill's Melanie Zanona reports.

During a hearing on Wednesday, stakeholders pleaded with lawmakers to ease current industry safety regulations that are meant for traditional automobiles, which they say may hinder the testing, innovation and deployment of self-driving cars.

Under current standards, all cars are required to have a steering wheel and floor pedals. Autonomous vehicle makers thus need to apply for an exemption if they wish to design and test cars without those features, but federal officials can only grant 2,500 per year, which could eventually become a problem as more companies seek to develop the technology.

Melanie explains how lawmakers hope to improve the situation here.

 

Technology: Democratic senators are calling on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai not to allow telemarketers to leave "ringless voicemails" on potential customers' phones, Ali Breland reports.

Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyNet neutrality supporters predict tough court battle over FCC's repeal plan Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Driverless car bill hits Senate speed bump MORERichard Blumenthal (Conn.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Your tax dollars fund Afghan child rape MORE (Vt.) and other Democrats penned a letter to Pai, asking that he not allow companies to leave messages soliciting business on consumer's phones that go straight to their voicemail.

The FCC is currently considering a petition from firms that would like the commission to revise its position on such calls, which are currently barred under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991.

Read more here.

 

Environment: California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) was named a special adviser to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, later this year.

The appointment by Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama came less than two weeks after President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the 195-nation Paris climate accord.

Brown has become a high-profile advocate for climate action on the world stage in recent weeks. The California governor traveled to China last week, where he spoke with President Xi Jinping about climate change and signed bilateral climate deals.

The story by The Hill's Max Greenwood is here.

 

Courts: President Trump made changes to his revised travel ban in an effort to prevent the Supreme Court from declaring it moot because it was set to expire.

The Supreme Court is considering whether to allow the ban to take effect. Trump in a memo revised the order to make it clear that despite what activists say, it wouldn't expire Wednesday.

Trump directed federal agencies to begin the 90-day ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority nations, and a 120-day ban on refugees, 72 hours after lower court orders blocking it are lifted. The policies were set to take effect on March 16, meaning they would expire this week. But defenders of the ban said that because the courts placed it on hold, the clock never started.

Groups challenging the ban told the Supreme Court this week that the wording meant the travel ban would expire June 14.

The Hill's Jordan Fabian has the story here.

 

Environment: Michigan's top health official was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday in connection with the drinking water contamination crisis in Flint, which has now entered its third year.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) charged Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office, both felonies. Much of the attention on Flint has focused on the lead-tainted water, but the charges for Lyon are a result of 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.

The Legionnaires' outbreak has also resulted in charges of obstruction of justice for the state's chief medical executive, Eden Wells. Wells is accused of lying to a police officer, but isn't charged with manslaughter. 

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. 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.

Timothy Cama has the rest of the story here

 

ALSO IN THE NEWS

Walden calls for EPA to focus on basics, downplays climate - Morning Consult

IBM launches Watson for financial regulation – The Wall Street Journal

 

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