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 WhitehouseDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (D-RI.) told Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist whose clients include a major coal mining company.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support Booker seeks dialogue about race as he kicks off 2020 campaign Capitalism: The known ideal 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 BarrassoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Senators highlight threat from invasive species 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 CapitoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants GOP senator: Border deal is 'a very good compromise' Push to include contractor back pay in funding deal hits GOP roadblock MORE (R-W.Va.).

Wheeler would succeed Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards 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.

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

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 McCollumLawmakers stunned by national park shutdown funding reversal Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees Park Service backtracks, won’t use entrance fees to pay for shutdown operations MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalOvernight Energy: Court rules for Trump in environmental case over border wall | House bill would stop Alaska refuge drilling | Ads target Dems over Green New Deal Lawmakers introduce bill to ban drilling in Alaska wildlife refuge Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans 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 PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryThe Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE and Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans House Dems call on leadership to prioritize opioid epidemic Lawmakers shrug off shutdown drama 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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