Overnight Energy: Trump administration ponders deeper EPA cuts

Overnight Energy: Trump administration ponders deeper EPA cuts
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BIG CUTS COMING FOR EPA: The Trump administration is aiming to expand its budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, according to reports Tuesday.

The EPA -- led by Scott Pruitt, who previously opposed the agency in several court cases -- did not fight the 24 percent cut Trump officials proposed for it, according to reports in Axios and others on Tuesday. That has encouraged the administration to aim for deeper spending cuts.

The White House is expected to roll out its budget proposal this week, setting up a fight with Congress. The depth of proposed EPA cuts has turned off some lawmakers, including key Republicans.

The EPA's $8.1 billion budget is 20 percent smaller than it was when the GOP took control of the House in 2011. Members have raised concerns about cutting much further, and Trump is proposing deeply slashing department programs popular with many members.

Read more here.

Deregulation push picks up: Pruitt acted late Monday to delay a chemical plant safety rule from the Obama administration while he considers whether to repeal or change it.

The rule, which was made final in December under the Obama administration, overhauls the standards that apply to chemical plants and similar facilities to prevent and mitigate accidental chemical release emergencies.

The decision comes just two weeks after a coalition of industry groups affected by the rule wrote to Pruitt asking for such action.

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"As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding regulations so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them," Pruitt said in a statement announcing the reconsideration.

His action delayed the effective date to June 19. It had been planned to take effect March 14.

Rolling back the rule was a key wish from the industries it affects.

"EPA's data shows that the pre-existing [Risk Management Program] regulation promoted safety, with a significant decline in the rate of accidental releases and incidents in the last twenty years," a coalition of chemical and manufacturing groups wrote in a petition to Pruitt two weeks ago.

"Unfortunately, the final rule undermines safety, creates significant security risks, and does nothing to further prevent criminal acts that threaten facilities."

Read more here.

REPUBLICAN PUSHES TO KEEP U.S. IN PARIS AGREEMENT: Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) joined three Democratic colleagues in pushing the State Department to keep the United States in the Paris climate agreement.

Curbelo released a letter Tuesday that he sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Don Beyer (Va.) and Ted Deutch (Fla.). All four are co-chairmen of the Safe Climate Caucus.

"We agree that our country should not lose its seat at the table," the lawmakers told Tillerson, arguing that the pact helps the market move toward a low-carbon economy.

"Stepping away from the agreement would mean stepping away from the immense opportunities that these international investments afford American businesses and research institutions."

Curbelo has been one of the most outspoken climate activists among Republicans in Congress, bucking the party both in his belief that humans are the main contributor to global warming and his desire to enact policies to fight it.

Trump promised on the campaign trail to "cancel" the Paris agreement. But many of his closest staffers, including Tillerson, are pushing him to stay in the accord.

POWER PLANTS' METHANE RELEASES UNDERESTIMATED: A study published Tuesday says that the methane emissions from natural gas-powered fire plants are much higher than previously estimated.

Researchers from Purdue University concluded in a study published Tuesday that gas plants emit between two and 120 times the amount of methane that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has most recently estimated.

Methane is the main component of natural gas. It is also a greenhouse gas at least 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"There is much more methane being released into the atmosphere by leaky compressors, valves, and industrial hardware," Paul Shepson, an atmospheric chemistry professor at Purdue, said in a statement.

"The good news from our study is that while emissions are greater than anticipated, natural gas-burning power plants are still cleaner, relative to burning coal."

Read more here.

ENERGY GROUPS URGE TRANSMISSION INFRASTRUCTURE OVERHAUL: Renewable energy groups and manufacturers are urging Congress to support electric transmission upgrades as part of any infrastructure improvement package considered this Congress.

In a letter to House and Senate leadership, the groups said the country's electric grid is in need of an upgrade, and an infrastructure package -- a goal for both Trump and Democrats -- could be the perfect time to do that.

"Unlike that of many other forms of infrastructure, the obstacles to expanding and modernizing our grid are mainly related to policies and regulatory practices, not a shortage of taxpayer dollars," the groups wrote.

"We believe that there can be a new consensus on how to make progress in bringing our nation's energy grid up to its potential without harming key stakeholders' interests. We look forward to working with you on infrastructure legislation

Dozens of stakeholders -- including the American Wind Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Association, National Electrical Manufacturers Association and others -- signed the letter.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: Trump travels to Michigan to address automakers. During the trip, he is expected to sign an order calling for a review of auto emissions standards from the Obama administration.

ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on invasive species. Jim Kurth, the acting director of the Fish & Wildlife Service, will testify.

Rest of Wednesday's agenda ...

A House Natural Resources Committee panel will review the marine monument designation process, used a handful of times during the Obama administration.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on hydropower infrastructure.  

Catherine McKenna, Canada's Environment Minister, will speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

AROUND THE WEB:

About 1,600 gallons of ethanol went into an Iowa creek Monday as derailed train cars were removed, the Associated Press reports.

Sacramento-area tomato tycoon Chris Rufer won his battle against a $1.5 million California state fine for alleged water pollution, the Sacramento Bee reports.

The Kentucky legislature is preparing to lift a moratorium on nuclear power in the state, the Associated Press reports.  

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

-Trump's Defense Secretary calls climate change a national security risk
-Trump dropping climate change impact from government reviews: report
-Power plants' methane emissions much higher than thought, study says
-White House eyeing even deeper EPA cuts: report
-EPA to reconsider chemical plant safety 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