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 WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Senators press drug industry 'middlemen' over high prices MORE (D-RI.) told Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist whose clients include a major coal mining company.

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Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' On The Money: House Dem says marijuana banking bill will get vote in spring | Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers | US home construction slips in March | Uber gets B investment for self-driving cars Buttigieg joins striking Stop & Shop workers 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 BarrassoOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi 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 Capito20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill MORE (R-W.Va.).

Wheeler would succeed Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana 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 McCollumOvernight Energy: Interior watchdog opens investigation into new secretary | Warren unveils 2020 plan to stop drilling on public lands | Justices reject case challenging state nuclear subsidies | Court orders EPA to re-evaluate Obama pollution rule Interior watchdog launches ethics probe into new secretary EPA chief doubles down on Trump's commitment to fully fund Great Lakes program MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalPelosi, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez place transgender pride flags outside Capitol Hill offices Overnight 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 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 PerryOvernight Energy: Mueller report reveals Russian efforts to sow division over coal jobs | NYC passes sweeping climate bill likened to 'Green New Deal' | EPA official says agency may ban asbestos | Energy Dept. denies Perry planning exit The Hill's 12:30 Report: Inside the Mueller report The very early, boring Democratic primary: Biden v. Bernie MORE and Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturTrump, DeVos bungle Special Olympics budget Trump contradicts his own budget proposal, tells rally crowd he'll give more money for Great Lakes restoration 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-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