OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge rejects Trump challenge to California cap-and-trade program | Trump rewrite of longstanding environmental law pushes climate change aside | Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR 

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge rejects Trump challenge to California cap-and-trade program | Trump rewrite of longstanding environmental law pushes climate change aside | Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR 
© Greg Nash

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CAPPING THE LAWSUIT: A federal judge on Friday upheld a California program that caps carbon emissions from the transportation sector after the Trump administration sued the state over it.

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The Justice Department last year challenged the cap-and-trade program, which aims to improve air quality and allows companies in the state to trade emissions credits with others in Quebec.

The federal government argued that California exceeded the role of the states and intruded on the federal government’s foreign policy authority, particularly its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. 

However, judge William Shubb disagreed, ruling that “the United States has failed to show that California’s program impermissibly intrudes on the federal government’s foreign affairs power.”

Asked for comment on the George H.W. Bush appointee’s decision, Justice Department spokesperson Danielle Nichols told The Hill in an email that the department is “considering our next steps.”

A spokesperson for California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCampaigns accuse California AG of slanted descriptions of ballot initiatives California sues Trump administration to mandate undocumented immigrants are counted for apportionment OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money MORE referred The Hill to a past statement in which the lawyer said “California’s Cap-and-Trade Program has existed since 2012 and was only strengthened from our collaboration with Quebec.”

“California has long been a leader in fighting climate change for the sake of protecting public health, our natural resources, our economy, and indeed our planet.”

Shubb had previously nixed another argument by the Trump administration, claiming the program was akin to a treaty. 

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Nationally, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions as of 2018. 

Read more about the decision here

NEPA: A deep dive into President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE’s rollback of a bedrock environmental law shows the extent to which the administration is dramatically narrowing the scope of government reviews for major projects by setting aside consideration of climate change and other impacts.

Trump on Wednesday announced a rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for 50 years has required careful consideration of environmental and community impacts before approving new pipelines, highways, factories or drilling permits on federal lands.

The new rule no longer factors in the cumulative, indirect or direct impacts a project might have on the environment, sidestepping both an evaluation of the project’s effects on climate change and the numerous ways the surrounding environment or nearby communities — many of which are communities of color — could be disrupted.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality wrote in the new rule that “effects should generally not be considered if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain.”

The “remote in time” language could further prohibit consideration of climate change during environmental reviews.

That’s not sitting well with environmentalists.

Sally Hardin, interim director of the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress, explained the new rule this way: “When you’re evaluating a pipeline, you look just at the pipeline. But the oil transmitted through the pipeline that will get transported and burnt and elsewhere — you don't have to consider the emissions from that.”

“That’s really bad for climate change planning and for communities that are already overburdened by pollution. Not considering what you’re adding to an environmental justice community that already has three polluting facilities is terrible,” she added, referring to communities facing environmental inequalities.

In a statement to The Hill, the White House council argued that climate change might be factored in during certain evaluations.

“Trends associated with a changing climate would, in appropriate cases, be characterized in the baseline analysis of the affected environment,” the council said in a statement.

But critics say the new rule will allow the administration, which has a history of sidelining climate science, to ignore a host of environmental implications from their decisions.

“When you think of a highway, there are a lot of impacts beyond just pouring concrete itself,” said Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has helped numerous towns challenge polluting projects.

The Trump administration argues that federal agencies spend too much time trying to evaluate and categorize different kinds of project impacts and should instead evaluate them holistically.

Under the previous rule, the government would have to consider how runoff from the road might impact a nearby wetland, how emissions from the cars that would drive on that road would contribute not just to climate change but the air quality in the immediate area, as well as how the shift in traffic patterns could impact the town the road cuts through.

“Agencies may argue that elimination of these categories means they don't have to look at them,” Hunter said.

The revised rule would also make it harder for communities to challenge new development and may require people to pay a bond before filing a lawsuit, a provision experts say would likely be illegal if enforced.

Poor neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately chosen as the project sites for polluting industries. Eliminating broad consideration of the impacts of a project is expected to prove particularly damaging for them.

Read more on the rewrite here

ANWR: Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against Department of the Interior plans to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR,) arguing the agency wasn’t thorough before concluding that drilling activity wouldn’t harm local polar bears.

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A review of the environmental impacts of drilling in the area “makes the unsupportable conclusion that industrializing the entire Coastal Plain—including the most important terrestrial denning habitat for among the most imperiled polar bear population on the planet—will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of the species,” Democratic lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote to Interior in a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill MORE (D-Calif.).

“This fundamentally flawed analysis ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that identifies devastating impacts to polar bears from oil and gas activities," they added.

The so-called biological opinion produced on the topic came after the department in February made the unusual decision to open its research to public comment. The already peer-reviewed research looked at how seismic activity from the oil and gas industry affects polar bear “denning” as they raise their young cubs.

Environmentalists and scientists raised the alarm, calling it an attempt by the Trump administration to discredit its own government scientists.

“What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The 2017 tax bill opened the door to drilling in the arctic, something Interior noted in its response.

“Representative Huffman and the other Democrat members who signed this erroneous letter apparently don’t understand that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017 requires an oil and gas leasing program in the Coastal Plain. It would serve them well to have a better, basic understanding of the laws under the jurisdiction of the Committee,” the department said in an email.

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A number of major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have already pledged not to finance any drilling in ANWR.

Read more on the letter here.

ON TAP NEXT WEEK: 

On Tuesday:

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a series of bills that aim to remove certain Confederate monuments

On Wednesday:

  • The House is expected to vote on the Great American Outdoors Act, which would fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address a national park maintenance backlog
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on “the increased risk of zoonotic disease from illegal wildlife trafficking.”
  • The 

On Thursday:

The Senate Energy and Environment Committee will hold a hearing on how the coronavirus has impacted parks. 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

ComEd to pay $200 million fine in alleged bribery scheme as feds say Madigan allies got jobs, contracts, The Chicago Tribune reports

These 34 oil and gas companies owe millions of dollars to North Dakota's school fund, The Fargo Forum reports

Procter & Gamble’s Climate Commitment Leaves Most Emissions Untouched, Bloomberg reports

ICYMI: Stories from Friday…

Trump rewrite of longstanding environmental law pushes climate change aside

Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

Democrats chide Facebook over climate disinformation

Judge rejects Trump administration challenge to California cap-and-trade program