OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups | Kudlow: ‘No sector worse hurt than energy’ during pandemic | Trump pledges ‘no politics’ in Pebble Mine review
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ASKING FOR AN INVESTIGATION: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has asked the Justice Department to investigate some of the country’s leading environmental groups, arguing that Russian and China are attempting to influence U.S. policies through the groups.
The third-ranking House Republican, in a letter to Attorney General William Barr this month, asserted that the interests of environmentalists align with those of foreign governments when it comes to energy policy.
Her letter rehashed some old claims from Republicans that foreign countries have influenced these organizations, a charge the groups have firmly denied.
“Environmental groups are major contributors to U.S. political campaigns and have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the Trump Administration in an effort to advance their agendas,” her letter said.
“This robust political and judicial activism—combined with the fact that these groups often espouse views that align with those of our adversaries—makes it all the more critical that the Department is aware of any potential foreign influence within or targeting these groups,” Cheney added.
“I urge the Department to investigate Chinese and Russian attempts to influence environmental and energy policy in the United States, including within or through such groups as the NRDC, Sea Change, the Sierra Club, and others,” she concluded.
A spokesperson for the Sierra Club declined to comment, while the NRDC and Sea Change did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. However, the groups have previously denied similar accusations.
In 2017, Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) and then-Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) claimed that “entities connected to the Russian government” were giving money to Sea Change, a philanthropic organization that donates to environmental causes, through a shell company called Klein Ltd.
They argued that donations from Sea Change to other environmental organizations would be “used to execute a political agenda driven by Russian entities.”
However, philanthropist Nat Simons, who has helped run the Sea Change foundation, told Inside Philanthropy in 2017 he is the sole director of Klein Ltd. and that it is funded by his family’s money only.
PANDEMIC PAIN: White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Thursday there was “no sector worse hurt than energy” during the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic’s been brutal. And no sector worse hurt than energy. No question. At one point, no one would take delivery and we had negative prices, crazy stuff,” Kudlow said in apparent reference to the oil industry at an Energy Department symposium on natural gas.
His remarks don’t take into account many industries that make up the bulk of the nation’s high 2020 unemployment claims.
In April, oil prices dropped into their lowest point ever, at one point trading at negative $37.63, the lowest level recorded since the New York Mercantile Exchange began trading oil futures in 1983. The price drop reflected the willingness of futures traders to pay someone to take physical possession of the oil.
Prices have since recovered to around $40, a break-even point for many oil companies, but still below the $50 range before the pandemic.
Though a historic moment that reflected the uncertainty of the markets, several different analyses of the economy suggest that oil and energy broadly are hardly the only industries reeling.
A March analysis from S&P Global Market Intelligence found airlines were the most likely to default, with the oil and gas industry taking the No. 2 spot after trailing the gaming and leisure industries for most of the month.
The energy industry accounts for a much smaller share of unemployment claims. A six-month outlook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found leisure and hospitality accounted for the largest share of unemployment claims filed over the last six months, at 24 percent, followed by education and health services and professional and business services. Each of those areas has accounted for more unemployment claims over the last six months than every part of the energy sector combined.
The event largely served as a way for administration officials and industry representatives to bash environmental groups and Democrats for not doing more to promote natural gas. The discussion largely mirrored rhetoric used by the Trump campaign, broadly casting Democratic environmental policies as dangerous for the economy.
FISHING FOR SALMON OR GOLD?: President Trump is pledging to keep politics out of decision making involving the controversial Pebble Mine that has been proposed at the site of a prominent salmon fishery.
“Don’t worry, wonderful & beautiful Alaska, there will be NO POLITICS in the Pebble Mine Review Process. I will do what is right for Alaska and our great Country!!!” he tweeted late Wednesday.
The language of his tweet was similar to that used in advertising by Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind the proposed mine, in favor of the project.
“President Trump, continue to stand tall and don’t let politics enter the Pebble Mine review process,” said an ad from the company.
The proposed gold and copper mine has become a lightning rod among conservatives in recent weeks after prominent figures such as Donald Trump Jr. and Tucker Carlson spoke out against it.
Following this, Trump said he would look at “both sides” of the issue. Weeks later, the federal government notified Pebble that it would have to take extra steps to mitigate “unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources.”
The notification, from the Army Corps of Engineers, came after the agency had already issued an environmental impacts assessment saying that the proposed project would not impact salmon harvests in the area, reversing an Obama-era determination that it would.
Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Hill at the time that he believed it was unusual for the government to require new mitigation measures this late in the process, saying that “these sorts of issues typically have been resolved by this stage.”
Environmentalists have argued that the initial assessment was flawed and part of an attempt to rush the mine through.
Asked about the president’s latest tweet, Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole said in an email: “We thank President Trump for keeping his word. All Pebble has asked for is a fair shake and we look forward to getting our Record of Decision this Fall.”
The Bristol Bay area where the mine would be located is the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon-producing region, and opponents of the mine fear its discharges could contaminate local waters.
PAUSE, BUT NOT REWIND: A court has temporarily halted an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that rescinded Obama-era standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, preventing the rollback from taking effect for the time being.
A panel of three federal judges issued a procedural pause on the rule called an administrative stay while the court decides whether to halt it for a longer period of time.
They wrote that the order “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits” of whether to grant the longer pause.
The EPA rule, issued last month, would eliminate requirements to regulate methane emissions from the production, processing, transmission and storage of oil and gas. They also rescind standards that regulate volatile organic compounds, a type of chemical, from oil and gas transmission and storage.
The change is expected to allow an additional 450,000 tons of methane and 120,000 tons of volatile organic compounds to be emitted into the air over a 10-year period.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
EPA bails on mining case after Minn. balks, E&E News reports
Some of Glacier National Park’s glaciers have lost as much as 80% of their size in the last 50 years, CNN reports
Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought ‘heat ray’ device before clearing Lafayette Square, whistleblower says, The Washington Post reports
Trump’s climate change rollbacks to drive up U.S. emissions, Politico reports
ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…
First death reported from Hurricane Sally in Alabama
Kudlow: ‘No sector worse hurt than energy’ during pandemic
Court temporarily pauses EPA methane emissions rollback
Trump pledges ‘no politics’ in Pebble Mine review
Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups