OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden expected to issue swift reversals on climate | Senate proposes spending increase at environmental agencies | Court halts permits for contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden expected to issue swift reversals on climate | Senate proposes spending increase at environmental agencies | Court halts permits for contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline
© Getty Images

HAPPY TUESDAY! 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.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

CLIME HIGHER: Early action on climate change from President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE is likely to start with a series of executive orders reversing President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE’s environmental policies, laying the groundwork for an administration that has vowed to sharply curb emissions.


Environmentalists are optimistic about Biden’s climate agenda, particularly given his remarks on the topic both before and after the election. On Saturday, after he surged across the 270 electoral vote threshold, Biden cited “the battle to save the climate” among his top five priorities, calling for the nation to “marshal the forces of science” along with decency, hope and fairness.

“The fact that climate has made it into every speech — it’s one of top issues on the transition website — I think that really bodes well for taking the federal agencies and shaking them by their shoulders and turning them into the light,” said Nada Culver, an attorney with the Audubon Society.

Biden certainly faces a monumental task: The Trump administration has rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations and encouraged deregulation of polluting industries.

But his pledge to undo Trump administration rollbacks will likely require lengthy rulemaking of his own, while implementing his ambitious plan for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 could run up against GOP senators, who appear poised to keep their majority in the Senate.

Biden has long said he will join the Paris climate accord on Day One of his presidency, and halting new leases for drilling oil on public land is another item atop his list. From there, he could target a number of Trump orders, including those that greenlit controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and scaled down national monuments.

Environmental advocates say reversing Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are some of the quickest actions Biden can take.

“That can be very quickly reversed. It’s essentially the exercise of presidential authority,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, adding it’s his group’s “expectation and hope” that Biden will take swift action.


Caputo also said that Biden may have a quick route to one of his most significant regulatory goals — halting new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

“The new administration would have wide discretion to ... put in place a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing while they did a full analysis of the program,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign has already pledged he will revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

Another early first move discussed by his campaign would involve naming a climate czar to shepherd all the long-term plans and organize efforts across a number of departments.

Additional measures could get the ball rolling on eroding Trump’s energy legacy.

Biden could sign orders to reverse agency policies or force agencies to stop defending certain policies in court — a tactic commonly practiced by the Trump administration.

To that end, Biden could instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department to begin the process of reversing all of Trump’s climate rollbacks, an effort that would require months if not years of rulemaking.

Meanwhile agencies could reverse their position on a number of Trump administration rollbacks, ranging from weakening fuel economy standards to narrowing the scope of which bodies of water receive federal protections. 

Read more about the climate and environmental actions Biden could take here. 

APPROPS TO YOU: The Republican-led Senate is proposing modest spending increases for environmental agencies compared to last year’s budget, diverging from proposed cuts that the Trump White House put forward earlier this year.

In its $38 billion Interior-environment spending bill for fiscal 2021, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed giving about $13.6 billion to the Interior Department and about $9.09 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That’s up from the $13.5 billion given to Interior last year and the about $9.06 billion appropriated for the EPA in the last fiscal year. The Senate has also proposed increasing the Energy Department’s budget to about $42 billion, an approximately $3.45 billion increase over last year.

The Democrat-led House has also proposed increases for these agencies. 

The push by Congress to increase funding for the agencies comes after the White House in February called for cutting the EPA’s budget by 26 percent, the Interior budget by 16 percent and the Energy Department budget by 8 percent. 


The Senate legislation included increases for major agencies at Interior such as the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

However, the top Democrat in charge of Interior-environment appropriations in the Senate expressed disappointment at some aspects of the bill. 

“We simply need more resources to fund programs that address existential threats such as climate change, imperiled species, and crumbling infrastructure, improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and support the nation’s arts and cultural institutions,” Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes We can achieve our democratic ideals now by passing the For the People Act Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities MORE (D-N.M.) said in a statement. 

“I am also troubled that the draft continues a number of anti-environmental policy riders from previous years that would bind the incoming Biden-Harris administration before they are even in office and need to be removed, including language to block protections for the sage grouse,” Udall added. 

The senator was referring to a provision in the bill that seeks to prevent the sage grouse bird from receiving endangered species protections. The sage grouse is found in the Western U.S. and has caused legal wrinkles for oil and gas producers seeking to lease federal lands. 

Read more about the appropriations bill here. 

THE MVP: A federal court on Monday froze construction permits for a contentious interstate gas pipeline project at the request of conservation groups challenging the pipeline. 


The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request  to temporarily stay the permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile project expected to cross wetlands and streams in Virginia and West Virginia.  

The order did not lay out the court’s reasoning. 

The pipeline has been challenged by environmentalists who argue that a permit allowing for its construction violates environmental laws. 

Its opponents also argued that the pause on the permits was necessary to prevent damage from being done to the environment while the case was being argued, citing an earnings call from this year in which executives said they would carry out certain activities “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

Those challengers celebrated Monday’s decision. 

“This decision will help ensure the pipeline doesn’t keep posing catastrophic threats to waterways that people and imperiled species depend on to survive,” said Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.  “Despite the project’s clear failure to comply with the law, Mountain Valley keeps pushing this climate-killing menace.”

ObamaCare faces Supreme Court test with new conservative majority


Key conservative justices express openness to preserving ObamaCare's...

However, the court’s new decision does not necessarily mean it will ultimately rule against the pipeline. 

“While we are disappointed with the outcome of today’s decision, we are hopeful and expect that once the case is reviewed on the merits of the arguments there will be a different conclusion,” said Natalie Cox, a spokesperson for the project, in an email. 

Read more about the decision here. 

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesFriends and colleagues mourn loss of Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow dies of COVID-19 House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-La.), who opposed the Great American Outdoors Act, argued that the administration’s handling of a list of project funded by the bill showed that it’s not a real priority. 

“If this truly were urgent, if this were a priority, then you would’ve had this list years ago. If you had this...huge priority of acquisitions, you could’ve produced this list at the drop of a hat,” he said in an interview Monday. 

“This is ridiculous that you’ve diverted money from one area for a purpose to land acquisition...that they don’t even have projects identified for,” he added. “You’re going to have greater federal spending picking up the pieces after than if we had directed the dollars toward proactive protection and just reaffirming the stupidity behind what was done here.”

After this conversation, we reported that the administration did turn in a list of projects to be funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Program — a week after the deadline. 

IN TRANSITION: The Biden transition team announced the members of their agency review teams, which try to gain understanding of government agency operations for a smooth transfer of power.  The teams looking at the Environmental Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Interior Department and Energy Department include many Obama administration and some Clinton administration alumni.

  • Leading the team reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  is Patrice Simms, now at Earthjustice, who has served as a Justice Department lawyer under the Obama administration and has also worked as an attorney in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel.
  • Leading the team reviewing the Interior Department is Kevin Washburn, the Obama administration’s assistant secretary of Indian affairs. 
  • Leading the team reviewing the Energy Department is Arun Majumdar, who was the founding director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy from 2009 to 2012 and also served as an Obama administration acting under secretary of energy. 
  • Leading the team reviewing the White House Council on Environmental Quality is Cecilia Martinez, the co-founder and Executive Director at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. 

ON YOUR WAY OUT: The chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s Environment Subcommittee Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaCalifornia was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D-Calif.) has officially lost his House seat to Republican Michelle Steel. 


Climate Change Will Make Parts of the U.S. Uninhabitable. Americans Are Still Moving There, ProPublica reports

Report links Maine’s post-pandemic economic recovery to clean energy efforts, The Portland Press Herald reports

Report sounds an alarm on ongoing decline of US coral reefs, The Associated Press reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday (and Monday night)…

Tropical Storm Theta pushes 2020 to busiest season on record

Senate proposes spending increase at environmental agencies

Biden expected to issue swift reversals on climate

Court halts permits for contentious Mountain Valley Pipeline

Trump administration submits list of conservation projects after the deadline