Overnight Regulation: GOP takes aim at Endangered Species Act | DOJ expands asset seizures | FCC chief denies Trump interfered on Time Warner merger | Panel votes to ease driverless car regs

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Wednesday night, and we're still not sure if the Senate's ObamaCare repeal and replace bill is alive or dead or somewhere in between.

 

THE BIG STORY

Congressional Republicans on Wednesday took aim at the Endangered Species Act in an attempt make it more friendly for states, landowners, industry and others.

The debates in the House and Senate were on bills with specific, limited purposes, rather than the full-scale comprehensive reforms that Republicans and some industries have been craving. Still, the GOP made it clear that they want to make significant changes to the law that they see as outdated, ineffective and unnecessarily costly for states and land users.

Democrats, meanwhile, see the proposals as significant threats to a bedrock environmental law and a handout to industries, including oil and natural gas.

In the House: The House Natural Resources Committee discussed five bills whose effects would include allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to use economic costs to deny listing a species as endangered or threatened, require the agency to prioritize input in listing decisions from states, remove the gray wolf from the endangered list and limit payouts of attorneys' fees in Endangered Species Act (ESA) litigation.

In the Senate: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, meanwhile, debated legislation meant to boost hunting and fishing that has a provision attached to undo the gray wolf listing.

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The Obama administration tried to delist the gray wolf, but a federal court reversed the decision. Provisions in both the House and the Senate would instruct the FWS to reinstate the delisting and declare that it is not subject to review by the courts.

Read Timothy Cama's story here.

 

ON TAP FOR THURSDAY

A House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on "Seeking Innovative Solutions for the Future of Hardrock Mining" at 9:00 a.m.

The House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine bipartisan bills to strengthen Medicare at 10:00 a.m.

The Senate's Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing "to examine housing finance reform, focusing on maintaining access for small lenders" at 10:00 a.m.

 

REGULATORY ROUNDUP

Technology: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers on Wednesday that President Trump has not tried to influence his agency's consideration of the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

Democrats have expressed outrage over a New York Times story that reported the White House was considering using the merger as leverage over CNN, which is a Time Warner subsidiary.

The White House has a long-running feud with CNN over its coverage.

In his reconfirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Pai was repeatedly grilled about Trump's attitude toward the press and whether it has affected the FCC.

Harper Neidig has the rest of the story here.

 

Finance: The Department of Justice will re-establish a criminal asset seizure program that had been curbed under pressure from lawmakers and civil liberties groups worried that the policy is ripe for abuse.

The Justice Department, with President Trump's support, will give new authority to law enforcement agencies to seize money, contraband and property when they can prove those assets are the ill-gotten gains of criminal activity.

The proceeds, the Justice Department says, will infuse law enforcement agencies with financial resources, equipment and training in the fight against violent crime.

DOJ's stance: The acting chief of the DOJ's Criminal Division, Deborah Connor, characterized the program as an essential tool in starving gang members, drug traffickers and terrorists of their means and tools.

But even some Republicans are opposed: Critics, like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), worry that the policy will be abused by rogue government agents to steal from the innocent, who don't have the means to challenge the seizures in court.

Jonathan Easley has the story here.

 

Technology: A House panel advanced a bill that would ease restrictions on self-driving cars, allowing automakers to manufacture up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles a year.

If signed into law, the legislation would be the first to address the budding autonomous vehicle industry. The bill would exempt that yearly allotment from safety standards and would also pre-empt state laws concerning driverless cars.

Harper Neidig has the story here.

 

Environment: EPA chief Scott Pruitt said he supports a House proposal to continue funding a popular cleanup program for the Great Lakes.

Pruitt told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he agrees with the House Appropriations Committee, which Tuesday approved a bill to put $300 million into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in fiscal 2018, the same as its current funding level.

President Trump's budget proposal, which Pruitt defended to lawmakers, sought to eliminate funding for the Great Lakes program, leading to bipartisan backlash among lawmakers, state leaders and others. Trump's budget eliminated funding for all regional environmental programs, including cleanups for the Chesapeake Bay and the Puget Sound.

Timothy Cama has the rest of the story here.

 

Energy: The House voted Wednesday to streamline the federal permitting process for a variety of oil and natural gas pipelines.

Lawmakers voted 248-179 on the Promoting Interagency Coordination for Review of Natural Gas Pipelines Act, a bill by Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresGOP could punt funding fight to January Trump calls for welfare reform as he rallies GOP for tax vote Mark Kelly personally lobbied Rep. Steve Scalise on guns MORE (R-Texas) to designate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as the lead agency for interstate gas pipeline permitting and require other agencies to coordinate with FERC and conduct simultaneous reviews.

The chamber also voted 254-175 to pass the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, a bill by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) to give FERC responsibility for permitting oil and gas pipelines and electric transmission lines that cross the Canadian or Mexican borders, such as the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

That bill would remove the requirement that such projects obtain permits from the president and would end the State Department's leading role in those decisions.

The Hill's Timothy Cama explains here.

 

Finance: The acting chief of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) on Wednesday defended his agency's plan to issue national banking charters to financial technology companies that offer banking services.

Acting Comptroller Keith Noreika said in a Wednesday speech that the OCC should be able to charter so-called "fintech" companies that offer banking services, such as loan underwriting and money transfers, and bring them under federal regulation. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors and New York Department of Financial Services are suing the OCC over the plan.

"Companies that offer banking products and services should be allowed to apply for national bank charters so that they can pursue their businesses on a national scale if they choose, and if they meet the criteria and standards for doing so," Noreika said.

The Hill's Sylvan Lane has more here.

 

Courts: The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments in the closely watched legal fight over President Trump's travel ban for the second week of the court's new term starting in October, The Hill's Lydia Wheeler reports.

Arguments will be held on Oct. 10, according to a copy of the court's calendar released Wednesday. The court has consolidated the challenges the International Refugee Assistance Project and the state of Hawaii brought against Trump's March 6 order for one hour of arguments.

Read Lydia's story here.

 

Labor: A Senate panel advanced the nominations of two lawyers picked by President Trump to fill the open seats on the National Labor Relations Board.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 12-11 along party lines to send the nominations of Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel to the floor for a full vote.

With their nominations to the five-member board, Trump has the opportunity to shift the balance of power on the NLRB from Democrats to Republicans. Business groups have long argued the board -- responsible for enforcing workers' collective bargaining rights and fair labor practices -- unfairly favors unions or employers.

Lydia Wheeler has the full story here.

 

Environment: Lawmakers voted late Tuesday to delay an Obama administration rule on ozone pollution and limit future regulations that crackdown on the pollutant.

The bill from Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) would delay implementation of the Obama administration's 2015 rule lowering the acceptable level of ozone and would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider the ozone rule every 10 years, rather than on the current timetable of every five years.

The House passed it by a vote of 229-119. Most Democrats opposed the bill on public health grounds.

Devin Henry has the story here.

 

Environment: A House panel late Tuesday approved a bill to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) funding by $528 million but rejected several deep cuts sought by President Trump.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 on Tuesday to send to the House floor its $31.4 billion funding bill for the EPA, the Interior Department and other programs.

Republicans supported the bill and hailed it as a measure that "prioritizes critical programs that protect our air land and water within a tight budget while also reining in burdensome regulations," said committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenConservative lawmakers met to discuss GOP chairman’s ouster Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-N.J.).

Democrats broadly opposed the bill, saying it cuts the EPA's budget too much, especially in light of past funding reductions, and contains too many policy riders.

Devin Henry has more here.

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE NEWS

Daimler plans emissions modifications on more than three million vehicles (The Wall Street Journal)

Airbnb is on track to rack up more than 100 million stays this year -- and that's only the beginning of its threat to the hotel industry (Recode)

Senators grill FCC nominees on broadband expansion (Morning Consult)

Sen. Cotton: Republicans aim to block CFPB arbitration rule before August recess (Morning Consult)

 

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