Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans

Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans
© Stefani Reynolds

WHEELER SAYS NO CLIMATE 'CRISIS': Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler faced harsh criticisms from Senate Democrats Wednesday over what they see as inaction on a climate change "crisis."

Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee faulted Wheeler for the EPA's roll-back of Obama-era policies on greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and other issues, arguing Wheeler's continued leadership at the EPA would harm the nation's environment.

"Substantively I continue to believe that you have your thumb, wrist, forearm and elbow on the scales in virtually every determination that you can in favor of the fossil fuel industry, and that's very unfortunate," Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks MORE (D-RI.) told Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist whose clients include a major coal mining company.

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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) slammed Wheeler for not meeting the challenge of a climate change "crisis."

"The scientific community has said that climate change is one of the great crises facing our planet. And if there is not unprecedented action to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, to sustainable energy and energy efficiency, there will be irreparable damage in the United States and virtually every country on earth," he said.

Wheeler, meanwhile, recognized that climate change is a problem, but downplayed the extent of the issue.

"I believe climate change is a global issue that must be addressed globally," he said. "I would not call it the greatest crisis."

Democrats can't block Wheeler's confirmation on their own in a Senate led by a majority of 53 Republicans. And GOP lawmakers appear to be standing united behind Wheeler.

"I believe Acting Administrator Wheeler has done an outstanding job leading the EPA these past six months," said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (R-Wyo.), the Environment Committee's chairman.

"Under Acting Administrator Wheeler's leadership, the agency has taken a number of significant actions to protect our nation's environment, while also supporting economic growth," he said.

"I know that you have been a great acting administrator at the EPA and would certainly fill that role in a permanent capacity," said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Former VA staffer charged with giving seven patients fatal insulin doses Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick MORE (R-W.Va.).

Wheeler would succeed Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic MORE, who resigned in a cloud of controversy.

We got you coverd on the hearing. Read more herehere and here.

 

Protesters: 'Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA!': Environmental protesters disrupted the hearing, objecting to the GOP's decision to hold it and Wheeler's decision to participate during the shutdown.

"I really must object to this hearing happening during a government shutdown!" a protester yelled in the committee room, standing up just as Wheeler began giving his opening remarks. Wheeler stopped talking while protesters chanted.

The protester and another person held signs with photos of Wheeler that read "Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA."

Capitol Police officers quickly removed both protesters from the Capitol Hill hearing room. But other protesters continued chanting "shut down Wheeler, not the EPA" in the hallway outside the room.

The activists were part of Friends of the Earth Action. Erin Jensen, a spokeswoman for the activist environmental group, said eight protesters were arrested for the disruptions.

Read more on the protests here.

 

Happy Wednesday! The government shutdown clock is at 26 days.

Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

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DEMS TELL INTERIOR TO STOP OFFSHORE DRILLING WORK DURING SHUTDOWN: Top House Democrats are asking the Trump administration to reverse its decision to bring dozens of furloughed employees back to open more areas for offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) joined House Appropriations Committee subpanel on Interior Chairwoman Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumDemocrats target Confederate monuments in spending bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalAct now to protect our nation's birds Overnight Energy: EPA declines to regulate chemical tied to developmental damage | Democrats unveil .5T infrastructure plan | Land management bureau eases requirements for oil, gas royalty cut requests Land management bureau lessens requirements for oil and gas royalty cut requests MORE (D-Calif.) in slamming the decision by the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

"This is an outrageous step, and the justifications provided in the BOEM contingency plan -- that the employees are needed 'to comply with the Administration's America First energy strategy,' and that 'failure to hold these [offshore] sales would have a great negative impact on the Treasury and negatively impact investment in the U.S. Offshore Gulf of Mexico' -- are farcical and make it clear that the administration cares only about the impacts on its favorite industry and not about workers, their families, and ordinary Americans," the Democrats wrote Wednesday to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

They asked Bernhardt to "reverse the actions immediately," or give them a detailed briefing on how it complies with the law.

Read more on the controversy here.

 

OCEANS SAW RECORD WARM YEAR: Ocean temperatures in 2018 were the highest ever recorded, according to figures released Wednesday by a group of international scientists.

Last year's levels surpassed the previous record, set in 2017. Record-keeping began in 1958.

According to the new figures, published in the scientific journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, the 2018 temperatures mean the last five years were the warmest on record.

The authors said the findings confirm "the perspective that ocean warming continues and has been accelerating since the 1990s."

"Increases in ocean heat are incontrovertible proof that the Earth is warming," the authors wrote in the report. "The long-term trend of ocean heat is a major concern both in the scientific community and for the public at large."

More on the report's findings here.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY:

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch MORE and Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturEye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending Overnight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing MORE (D-Ohio) will give remarks at a Bipartisan Policy Center event on energy innovation.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Brian "Booda" Cavalier, the last defendant to be sentenced in the Bundy ranch standoff, was sentenced to the 20 months he already served in federal custody, the Associated Press reports.

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Major chemical and plastics companies are forming an alliance to fight plastic ocean waste, MLine.com reports.

A Pennsylvania pipeline worker is under fire for an "offensive" Instagram comment targeted toward a woman, CBS Philadelphia reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

- More than half of world's wild coffee species at risk of extinction: report

- Dems ask Interior to stop offshore drilling work during shutdown

- Key West takes step toward banning sunscreens harmful to coral reefs

- Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing

- Connecticut state lawmaker proposes bill requiring schools to teach climate change

- Bernie Sanders presses Wheeler to confront climate 'crisis'

- Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion'

- Protesters disrupt Wheeler confirmation hearing

- 2018 was hottest year on record for oceans

- Trump EPA pick boasts of deregulatory actions at Senate hearing