Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Fight over miners’ benefits risks shutdown | Flint aid crosses finish line in House

HOUSE PASSES FLINT AID, WATERWAYS BILL: In one of the last acts of the year for the House, the chamber easily passed a major water bill on Thursday that includes emergency aid for Flint, Mich., and boosts U.S. ports, dams and waterways.

The House voted 360-61 to approve a waterways package on Thursday, clearing the way for a $170 million package for Flint that lawmakers approved in a short-term spending bill.

That spending bill provides $170 million in aid for the drinking water crisis in Flint, where water from the Flint River corroded the pipes and contaminated the city’s water supply with lead.

“The water flowing through the pipes has poisoned the city,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint. “This bill is far from perfect. But I’ve been fighting for my hometown, and told to wait and wait and wait, and the people of my community should wait no longer.”

The underlying waterways bill also deepens nationally significant ports, addresses flood risk management, helps disadvantaged communities provide safe drinking water and authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve state permitting programs for coal ash.

The bill includes controversial GOP-backed provisions to address the California drought, which has slowed down work on the measure in the Senate.

Read more about the waterways bill, from The Hill’s Melanie Zanona, here

MINERS PROVISION COMPLICATES SENATE SPENDING PACKAGE: The drought provision isn’t the only hurdle senators face as they wind down the legislative year.

A trio of Democratic senators from the heart of coal country are threatening to hold up a short-term, stopgap bill until miners receive a “permanent” fix for both healthcare and benefits.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) warned they could keep Congress in town until Christmas if they don’t get a benefits fix before then.

The stopgap bill, released Tuesday night, extends healthcare benefits for miners and their families. But that bill, which lasts until funding expires at the end of April, doesn’t include retirement benefits.

Manchin, Brown and Donnelly blocked a slate of bills late Wednesday evening, including a resolution in remembrance of the Pearl Harbor attack on its 75th anniversary.

As Brown left a Democratic caucus meeting Thursday, he said Democrats are “united” behind demanding one year of healthcare benefits.

Senate GOP leaders, however, have stood firm behind the current language.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters Thursday that the Democrats’ resistance “can’t change the outcome” on miners. He hinted that the Senate could still finish its work by Monday, over the objections of the Democrats, without causing a government shutdown.

Read more, from The Hill’s Sarah Ferris, here.

DEM SAYS EPA PICK SHOWS ‘CORRUPTION’: Critics piled on President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the EPA on Thursday.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to lead the agency “satisfies virtually every definition of corruption of government” because of Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.

“I think that we should be prepared to talk about this not just as a matter of bad climate policy but as a matter of corruption of government, when you take a government agency whose primary responsibility is to deal with the climate crisis and you turn it over to someone who has spent his entire life in service to the regulated industry,” Whitehouse said.

Pruitt has been an ally of fossil fuel companies in his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, helping the industry argue against agency rules and securing large sums of campaign contributions from the oil and gas sector.

“This runs absolutely contrary to the strategy that Trump talked about during the campaign of ‘draining the swamp,’ ” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said.

TRUMP, CONSERVATIVES HAPPY WITH PRUITT: Trump’s campaign — which officially announced Pruitt on Thursday — defended the upcoming nomination, with adviser Kellyanne Conway saying, “We’re very accustomed to the naysayers and the critics.”

And conservatives on Thursday officially released their energy and environment wishlist for the incoming GOP government.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute outlined the group’s 2017 agenda in a memo, saying lawmakers should repeal EPA rules and regulatory power, end the use of the “social cost of carbon,” a metric federal departments employ to assess impacts on the climate, halt the federal renewable fuels mandate and oppose any proposal to tax carbon emissions.

The group has Trump and Pruitt’s ear: Myron Ebell, the director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, is the head of Trump’s transition team for the EPA.

Read more about Democrats’ opposition to Pruitt here, and CEI’s agenda here.

ON TAP FRIDAY: Senators pick up their debate on the spending bill and waterways package. The Senate could reach a deal on the matter on Friday, or a final vote could come over the weekend.

AROUND THE WEB:

Hawaii was briefly under a tsunami warning Thursday following an earthquake off the Solomon Islands, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

The World Bank has cancelled a $100 million loan for a natural gas project in Pakistan, the Times of India reports.

North Dakota officials are monitoring for potential natural gas shortages amid severe winter weather there, the Bismarck Tribune reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday’s stories …

-Conservative group pushes GOP to roll back Obama climate work

-House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief

-House approves funding bill, but fate in Senate unclear

-Dem senator: Trump’s EPA pick is ‘corruption’

-Liberal mega-donor may run for Calif. governor: report

-Trump announces selection of EPA antagonist to lead agency

 

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Merkley Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John Cornyn Sheldon Whitehouse Sherrod Brown
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