Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Trump moves to kill Obama water rule

TRUMP KICKS OFF WATER RULE REPEAL: President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday kicking off the process of repealing former President Obama’s Clean Water Rule.

The order itself doesn’t repeal the regulation, but it instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider the rule, also known as Waters of the United States.

It’s the first action Trump has taken against the EPA, following years of complaints from Republicans and industry about the agency, and multiple campaign promises to rein it in.

“It’s a horrible, horrible rule. Has sort of a nice name, but everything else is bad,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony, surrounded by Vice President Pence, first lady Melania Trump and top opponents of the regulation, including newly installed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio.).

{mosads}Farmers, homebuilders and county commissioners were also present.


“The Clean Water Act says that the EPA can regulate navigable waters, meaning waters that truly affect interstate commerce. But a few years ago, the EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land, or any place else that they decide,” Trump said before signing the order.

“It was a massive power grab. The EPA’s regulators are putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.”

The rule is already on hold following a court order, so Trump’s move has little immediate effect. Furthermore, it’s likely to take years for the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to go through the extensive rulemaking process to repeal and potentially replace the rule.

Read more here.

EPA head pledges to help farmers: Mere minutes after attending the signing ceremony, Pruitt headed to National Harbor, Md., to assure the agriculture sector that he’s got their back.

“If you think about the issues that are particularly important to you, from the Farm Bureau perspective, ‘the future ain’t what it used to be,'” Pruitt said at the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra.

Pruitt told attendees that under Obama, federal regulators took a “we know best” approach on issues like the environment. Pruitt contrasted that with his own intention to put more regulatory powers under state control.

“That is changing under our leadership at the EPA and President Trump’s leadership from the White House,” Pruitt said to applause. “Help is on the way.”

“I’m looking forward to the regulatory rollback to provide certainty to you,” he continued.

Read more here.

LAWMAKERS TACKLE PROPOSED EPA SPENDING CUT: Lawmakers on Tuesday confronted a potential 24 percent cut to the EPA’s budget.

Trump is reportedly planning to propose a one-quarter cut to the EPA’s $8.1 billion annual budget, a measure that would drive agency spending next year to levels not seen since the George H.W. Bush administration.

Key Democrats indicated they will oppose any such spending plan, leaving it to Republicans to muster the votes necessary to advance it.

That prospect revealed a GOP divide between members willing to dramatically slash the EPA’s budget and those who doubt such a cut can move forward.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a former Appropriations Committee chairman and frequent critic of the EPA, said the reported cuts are “in the neighborhood” of what he would like to see at the EPA.

“I think they’ve overreached by a zillion points,” he said. “They’ve overreached their authority, as the courts have held, and the regulations they’ve imposed on American business have killed thousands of jobs, and they need to be reined back in severely.”

Others appropriators, though, were less zealous about taking a hatchet to the agency.

“I’d like to look and seen what actually gets out of committee,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

“EPA has been cut by over 20 percent in the last few years. The discretionary budget has been lowered pretty dramatically compared to how it was in 2009, and it’s under what Paul Ryan thought it would be in his budget.”

Read more here.

Tomorrow in The Hill: Between the executive order and the spending plan, the White House has ratcheted up its assault on the EPA this week.

Democrats and environmentalists say they’re ready to fight back against Trump’s strategy while raising questions about its political viability on Capitol Hill. Read more, tomorrow in The Hill.

KEYSTONE BUILDER PUTS $15B CHALLENGE ON HOLD: TransCanada Corp. is putting on hold its $15 billion claim against the United States government over Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The company made a filing dated Monday at the World Bank, just more than a month after Trump wrote a memo to restart federal consideration of the project, a decision that could make the arbitration moot.

TransCanada had argued that Obama’s violated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by rejecting the project, in part because a domestic company would have received better treatment.

NAFTA allows companies to recover their losses in such cases, through a length arbitration process.

Trump asked TransCanada in January to apply again for a presidential permit for the controversial pipeline to cross the Canadian border, and told the State Department to decide within 60 days whether to issue the permit.

The pipeline developer sent in its new application days later.

Read more here.

JUDGE HEARS RELIGIOUS OBJECTION TO DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE: A federal judge says he will rule on a tribe’s religious objections to the Dakota Access pipeline within a week.

The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe of South Dakota has sued against the embattled project, saying the presence of an oil pipeline under Lake Oahe threatens its religious freedom because the lake’s water is used for religious ceremonies.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg was skeptical of the claim during oral arguments on Tuesday, E&E News reports, asking the tribe’s attorney, “Where do we draw the line?”

The tribe’s attorney said tribal water rights and legal precedent support the claim, but Dakota Access lawyers also cast doubt on the validity of the argument.  

Boasberg said he will rule on the dispute by next week.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: The Senate is scheduled to vote at 10:30 a.m. ET on Ryan Zinke’s nomination to lead the Interior Department. Zinke, who received bipartisan support in a January committee vote, is likely to be confirmed relatively easily.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on flood infrastructure.

Rest of Wednesday’s agenda …

A House Natural Resources Committee panel will hold a hearing on water and power infrastructure in the West.  


Most of the water customers of California’s Central Valley Project will get their full allotment amount this year, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has signed a bill allowing a natural gas plant to replace a downsizing coal-fired power station in the state, the St. Cloud Times reports.

A state Senate committee in Idaho has advanced a science curriculum that leaves out humans’ influence on climate change, setting up a battle over the education standards next year, the Idaho Statesman reports.


Check out Tuesday’s stories …

-EPA head to farmers: ‘Help is on the way
-Trump directs EPA to reconsider Obama water rule
-Keystone builder suspends $15B challenge against US
-Proposed Trump EPA cuts divide GOP appropriators
-Trump moves toward repealing Obama EPA water rule

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  


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