Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule

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WATER RULE ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK: The Trump administration took formal action Tuesday toward repealing the Obama administration’s controversial regulation that extended the reach of the federal government over small waterways.

Under the proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers, federal officials would go back to enforcing a guidance document from 2008 when deciding whether a waterway is subject to federal oversight for pollution control purposes.

It’s the first formal step by the EPA to fulfilling President Trump’s campaign promise to repeal the 2015 “waters of the United States” regulation, which Republicans and numerous industry groups have long argued would have subject farmers, developers and others to costly and time-intensive federal permitting for everyday activities like moving soil.

{mosads}The Trump administration plans to separately write a new regulation to replace the water rule with a more industry-friendly definition of federal power over waterways.

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

Environmentalists quickly slammed the Trump administration’s action as a direct attack on water protection.

“It is appalling, though not surprising, that the Trump administration is rolling back these critical protections in order to help out corporate interests,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement.

Supporters of the president applauded the action.

“The final WOTUS rule issued by the last administration was unworkable, a fact acknowledged by courts around the country, and amounted to a massive grab of regulatory authority by an EPA that was overreaching,” said Bill Kovacs, vice president for environment and regulatory policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Read more here.


PERRY DEFENDS GRID STUDY: Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s Tuesday was a busy one — even by the standards of the White House’s self-styled “Energy Week.”

Tuesday morning, Perry addressed an Energy Information Administration conference in Washington and defended his agency’s upcoming study on the electric grid.

The study, he said, will aim to highlight the “political” goals of the Obama administration that he said prioritized renewable energy to such an extent that it put the electric grid at risk.

“I recognize markets have had a role in the evolution of our energy mix, but no reasonable person can deny the thumb, or even the whole hand, if you will, has been put on the scale in favor of certain political outcomes,” Perry said.  

“Our plan is to use America’s abundant resources to ensure grid reliability and economic stability.”

Perry said the last administration’s “politically-driven … hostility toward coal” has put the reliability of the grid at risk.

The Energy Department was due to release its grid study this week, but the agency has pushed that back to next month at least.

Read more here.


Hecklers take aim at Perry: Perry also had to defend himself against protesters at the EIA conference, who twice interrupted him with shouts about his claim that carbon dioxide is not a “primary control knob” of climate change.”

Perry at one point responded, saying, “you must be one of those 100 percenters,” echoing a back-and-forth he had with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) last week.

“I think it is OK for us to ask questions, for us to be skeptical of information,” Perry said.


Perry at White House: Next, Perry took to the podium in the White House briefing room to promote the Trump administration’s energy policies.

Perry fielded questions about his position on climate change, Trump’s vision for the coal industry, the agency’s focus on nuclear waste and the vulnerability of the electric grid in the face of cyber attacks.

His press conference broke little new ground, and filled a veritable bingo card of the administration’s top “Energy Week” topics, including clean coal, nuclear power, energy “dominance” and the fact that there’s no “binary choice” between growing the economy and helping the environment.

Perry appeared to enjoy the press conference, which stretched for more than half an hour before an especially contentious briefing with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.


Energy spending bill: Topping off the day was the release of the House Appropriations Committee’s proposed 2018 budget for Perry’s department and other federal energy and water programs.

The bill aims to spend $37.56 billion total in 2018, a $209 million cut from current funding levels but $3.65 billion more in 2018 than Trump requested for the agencies.

While the House bill would cut funding for several DOE programs — including renewable energy, fossil fuel research and support for nuclear power — few of the cuts are close to those proposed by the Trump administration.

Read more about the appropriations bill here.


COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL TO HELP COAL COUNTRY: The House Natural Resources Committee easily approved a bill Tuesday to help revitalize coal communities affected by the industry’s downturn.

Members approved the RECLAIM Act on a voice vote with limited opposition, sending the measure to the floor with bipartisan support.

The bill would pump $1 billion in mine cleanup funding into Appalachian communities over the next five years. It would fund abandoned mine cleanup efforts in the region, but also require funding go toward projects to help overhaul local economies that were once coal-dependent.

Members accepted an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) that expands the scope of the bill. Democrats had said that amendment was critical to winning their support for the underlying package.

Read more here.


ON TAP WEDNESDAY I: President Trump hosts a meeting with governors and Indian leaders as part of the White House’s “Energy Week” agenda.  


ON TAP WEDNESDAY II: Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation officials will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the departments’ budgets.


Rest of Wednesday’s agenda …

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up eight energy bills.

A House Natural Resources Committee panel will hold a hearing on litigation versus the Interior Department.

Two House Science Committee subpanels will hold a joint hearing on the future of material science.



A private security firm hired to protect Dakota Access Pipeline construction work in North Dakota was operating without a license, the Fargo Forum reports.

Dominion Energy is considering building pumped storage hydropower facilities in Virginia coalfields, the Associated Press reports.

China’s new environment minister wants to wage a “protracted battle” against pollution, Reuters reports.



Check out Tuesday’s stories …

-EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule

-EPA head faces skeptical senators on budget cuts

-House energy bill spends $3.6B more than Trump budget

-House committee approves coal country bill

-Russian oil company Rosneft hit by cyber attack

-Perry defends energy grid study

-Pediatricians’ group ‘deeply alarmed’ at EPA’s pesticide decision

-Perry: Trump wants to use energy for ‘global leadership’


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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