Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans

Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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TO DRILL OR NOT TO DRILL: A new report indicates that the Trump administration may pursue oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida after the presidential election this November, though officials are pushing back on the story.

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Four sources told Politico about the reported plans, mentioning that the administration is waiting because of how unpopular offshore drilling is in the state.

Two of the sources cited by the newspaper are people who work in the energy industry and two were sources who had recently spoken with department officials.

“Whatever is decided is expected to come out within two to three weeks of the election,” one of the people who spoke with Interior officials told Politico.

Interior Department spokesman Ben Goldey told The Hill that the department is not planning to issue a drilling report “right after the election.”

Goldey said in an email that the issue had not changed since Secretary David Bernhardt said last year that the department’s offshore drilling proposal was on pause while courts determined whether the administration could drill off the coast of Alaska. 

The department later said on Twitter that "[c]urrent offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.”

Drilling off the Florida coast would represent a remarkable turnaround for an administration that has made repeated assurances to the Florida delegation that it would not pursue offshore drilling near the state. 

“Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE said in 2018 after a meeting with then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is now serving in the Senate. Zinke said at the time that he was "removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."

 

Offshore drilling is nearly universally opposed by leaders in both political parties in the crucial swing state, after tourism was heavily impacted following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. A 2018 state amendment to block offshore drilling was also approved by nearly 70 percent of Florida voters.

There is an offshore drilling moratorium protecting the state’s gulf waters from offshore drilling until mid-2022. The state’s House delegation has tried to extend that, pushing through legislation that would permanently block drilling near the state, though it has yet to be considered by the Senate. 

"Senator Rubio and the entire Florida delegation is committed to extending the moratorium on offshore drilling off the coast of Florida. We're actively working to get it signed into law and the bottom line is there is no appetite to drill or open up Florida's coasts for offshore drilling," a spokesperson for the senator told The Hill. 

Read more here.

 

PIPE DOWN: Federal energy regulators will now delay the start of construction on energy infrastructure projects like pipelines until it makes determinations on requests to appeal their approvals.

The instant final rule issued Tuesday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) follows criticism from lawmakers over its procedures and treatment of landowners. 

Landowners can challenge the body’s approvals of infrastructure projects by asking for a rehearing. Previously, companies could move forward with construction during that period. But they now will have to wait until either the period during which rehearing requests can be filed expires or until the commission makes a decision on the rehearing request. 

FERC Chairman Neil ChatterjeeNeil ChatterjeeOvernight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program Biden nominates DC regulator to federal energy commission Former GOP energy regulator regrets partisan past MORE said in a statement that the rule is a “step forward” in improving landowner access to the process. 

“These are complex issues, with a diverse array of stakeholder input, but I remain firmly committed to doing what we can to make the FERC process as fair, open, and transparent as possible for all those affected while the Commission thoroughly considers all issues,” he said. 

The rule follows a House probe that found during the last 12 years, appeals were ultimately rejected every time landowners sought to challenge the decisions to give companies eminent domain. 

Oversight Committee Democrat Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinTrump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims Oversight panel eyes excessive bail, jail overcrowding in New York City Jan. 6 panel may see leverage from Bannon prosecution MORE (Md.) said in a statement earlier this year that “by the time [landowners] have the chance to speak up, their land has already been invaded and in some cases destroyed.”

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The latest move also comes amid a court case in which several groups objected to the length of time the rehearing process can take. 

In an opinion on Tuesday, the commission’s one Democrat, Richard Glick, called the action a “step in the right direction,” but said that it did not go far enough. 

Read more about the new rule here.

 

OPENING UP: A union for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees is asking the agency to halt its plans for reopening its offices, arguing the coronavirus spread is too unpredictable.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has asked the EPA “to place an immediate moratorium on reopening any regional office until the impacts of the COVID-I9 pandemic are more predictable.”

EPA employees are currently going into the office on a voluntary basis, but the agency is currently evaluating how to transition to having employees back in the office.

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Some offices could be reopening as early as this month, a move that comes too soon, AFGE wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — American Clean Power — Supreme Court to review power plant rule case EPA to consider tighter air quality standards for smog Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels MORE.

“This plan does nothing to help reopen the economy, but instead simply requires employees to crowd onto public transit and self-screen as they enter office buildings to essentially telework remotely at their desk,” the letter states. 

“Without a national testing strategy and widespread testing, a key piece is missing for our understanding of how and where the virus is spreading,” it continued, noting different states' reopening plans as well as how protests against the killing of George Floyd may spur an uptick in cases.

The EPA said employees will retain maximum telework flexibility and will not be forced to return to the office.

“We are encouraging employees to continue to telework, even in the first phases of reopening. The Administrator talks directly to the employees and does not need to speak through the unions,” the agency said in a statement.

But the union fears there is no way the EPA can meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on maintaining a healthy workspace in the time of coronavirus.

“Taking one step forward, two steps back, is playing a callous game with people's lives — it simply isn't prudent to rush to reopen offices when the stakes are so high,” the letter said. 

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Read more here.

 

HUNTING DOCUMENTS: Donald Trump Jr.’s hunting trip to Mongolia last August cost more than $75,000 in taxpayer dollars for Secret Service protection, according to new documents obtained by a government watchdog group.

The documents obtained by the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) showed the receipt for Secret Service protection for President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE’s eldest son totaled $76,859.36.

Trump Jr. was in Mongolia in part to hunt the argali sheep, which is known for its large horns and is considered a near-threatened species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

An official working for Trump Jr. told CNN that with the exception of Secret Service, the trip to Mongolia was paid for by Trump Jr.

Read more about the trip here.

 

SHELLING OUT CASH: The Energy Department has started purchasing oil to be stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, announcing a small purchase on Wednesday.

The department announced that it bought about 126,000 barrels of crude oil from Shell Trading Company, which acts as the “single market interface” in the U.S. for Royal Dutch Shell, according to the Shell website.

The Energy Department said the trading company is sourcing the oil from small to midsize producers.

The department previously announced that it would purchase 1 million barrels to be stored in the reserve after Congress declined to provide funding for the 77 million barrels the Trump administration initially wanted to purchase.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Why 'I can't breathe' is resonating with environmental justice activists, NBC News examines

Environmentalists Targeted Exxon Mobil. Then Hackers Targeted Them, The New York Times reports

Russia detains managers of plant that spilled fuel in Arctic, The Associated Press reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

EPA faces third lawsuit after suspending enforcement of pollution monitoring

Democrat introduces bill to prevent presidents from nuking hurricanes

EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on plans to reopen offices

Energy commission rule will delay pipeline construction during appeals process

Trump administration could pursue drilling near Florida coast post-election: report

Trump Jr.'s Mongolia hunting trip cost $75K in Secret Service protection