Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog sounds alarm over budget | NJ to rejoin cap-and-trade pact | GOP senator puts hold on Trump energy nominee


EPA’S IG WARNS OF ‘SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE’ FROM BUDGET: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog office complained that the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would create a “significant challenge” to its work.

Inspector General Arthur Elkins sent a letter last year to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), outlining his concerns regarding the budget proposal for fiscal 2019, which the administration is still developing and is planning to release next month.

“The proposed fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget creates a significant challenge for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and its ability to accomplish its agency oversight mission,” he wrote in the September letter, which the office released recently in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.


Elkins had asked for $62 million for his office’s 2019 operations. But EPA officials instead asked the White House for $41 million, citing OMB’s request the budget not go too far above Trump’s request for fiscal 2018, which was $37 million, according to the letter and a report Elkins sent to Congress in November.

“Such a proposal would substantially inhibit the OIG from performing the duties of the office, including mandatory OIG responsibilities explicitly required by federal law,” he said.

He also argued that restricting the OIG’s request based on Trump’s 2018 budget is illogical, since the House rejected the dramatic cuts in its funding bill for the EPA last year. The Senate has not passed its version of the bill.

Elkins’s office has opened numerous high-profile investigations into EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, including probing his travel spending and his decision to spend about $25,000 on a soundproof booth for his office.

Read more here.


NJ GOV REINSTATES CAP AND TRADE: New Jersey will soon rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) following a decision by the state’s new governor to overturn the policy of his predecessor, Chris Christie.

Just two weeks into office, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed an executive order to put the state back into a multi state cap and trade agreement that the former governor pulled out of in 2011.

Under the program, power plants have to buy carbon credits at a quarterly auction in order to offset their emissions. The proceeds from the auctions are then used by member states to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Christie had labeled the agreement as “gimmicky,” at one time telling reporters the pact has not been “effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future.”

During a news conference Monday, Murphy said that initially pulling out of the pact “lacked common sense.”

Read more here.


REPUBLICAN PUTS HOLD ON TRUMP ENERGY NOMINEE: Republican Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) is placing a hold on President Trump’s nominee to oversee the Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup programs.

Barrasso said he was placing a hold on Anne White’s nomination until the Energy Department committed to stop reselling excess government-owned uranium on the market. Barrasso said the process hurts his state’s uranium mining industry.

The Energy Department frequently sells excess uranium it owns in order to finance cleanup operations and decommission nuclear sites.

“You were unable to give me a firm commitment to immediately halt these barters, something that [Energy Secretary Rick] Perry has told me he wants to do. So for this reason, I am unable to support a confirmation at this time and withhold the confirmation until the department ends its practice of bartering excess uranium,” Barrasso told White during a hearing last week.

“I think it’s preserving good-paying uranium jobs and uranium security in America.”

The hold could keep the nomination from proceeding to a vote. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is slated to vote on White’s nomination Tuesday.

Read more here.


WASHINGTON GOVERNOR REJECTS OIL-BY-RAIL STATION: The governor of Washington on Monday rejected a permit that would allow North America’s largest oil-by-rail terminal to be built in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said that he was in agreement with state regulators who unanimously recommended last month that he reject oil companies Tesoro and Savage’s application to build a terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted last November to deny the permit and submitted its recommendations to Inslee in December.

“The Council has thoroughly examined these and other issues and determined that it is not possible to adequately mitigate the risks, or eliminate the adverse impacts of the facility, to an acceptable level,” Inslee said in a letter to the council.

“When weighing all of the factors considered against the need for and potential benefits of the facility at this location, I believe the record reflects substantial evidence that the project does not meet the broad public interest standard necessary for the Council to recommend site certification.”

Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of Tesoro and Savage, had proposed building an energy terminal that would accept crude oil delivered by rail from mid-North America and the Bakken oil fields. It would ship over 131 million barrels of oil per year down the Columbia River.

Read more here.


SIERRA CLUB OFFERS SOTU BINGO CARDS: The Sierra Club is offering printable bingo cards featuring things Trump might say in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The card’s boxes focus mostly on environmental and climate change policies, with options including “pretends coal isn’t declining” and “plundering public land.”

But there are some other liberal causes there, like “Make America Great Again” and “believe me.”

The green group has five different cards on its website that you can print out to play.


DOE CREATES WORLD’S SMALLEST FIDGET SPINNER: The Department of Energy (DOE) has created new technology that hones in on the energy created by your fingertips. The DOE announced Monday the creation of the worlds smallest fidget spinners, the size of human hair. The toys, which typically twist around on your finger thanks to a mix of gravity and momentum, were created at one of DOE’s national labs at Oak Ridge. They were created in part to get kids interested in science.

“We were looking for an idea that could inspire young people who are interested in science and also provide a means to reach college and graduate school students who are the next generation of scientists,” said the lab’s senior staff scientist Adam Rondinone in a statement.


ON TAP TUESDAY I: Pruitt will head to the Senate for a hearing with the Environment and Public Works Committee. It’s his first non-budget hearing in the upper chamber since taking charge at the agency last year, so expect everybody’s happiness or frustrations from the last year or so to take center stage.


ON TAP TUESDAY II: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on four nominees for the Interior and Energy departments: Melissa Burnison for Energy’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, Susan Combs for Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, Ryan Nelson for Interior’s solicitor and Anne White for Energy’s assistant secretary for environmental management.


Rest of Tuesday’s agenda …

After the confirmation votes, the Energy Committee will hold a hearing on natural hazards and the U.S. Geological Survey and Forest Service’s roles in preparing for and dealing with them.

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. John Curtis’s (R-Utah) bill to ratify Trump’s decision rolling back the Bears Ears National Monument. It would codify the two new monuments, provide for a form of tribal co-management for one of them and withdraw the entire former monument area from mineral leasing.

The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the management and priorities of the Department of Energy.



The Colorado Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case regarding whether state regulators should have to prioritize public health and the environment in decisions regarding oil and natural gas drilling, the Longmont Times-Call reports.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. recorded numerous transmission equipment problems shortly before the recent northern California wildfires started, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said he didn’t remember promising to join the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but he did, StateImpact Pennsylvania reports.



-Jordan McGillis, a policy analyst at the Institute for Energy Research, argues that cold winters are putting the US energy grid to its limit.

-Former U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. from 2006-2007, C. Boyden Gray, says that the “deep pocketed” environmentalists’ assault on the US energy sector is pleasing Vladimir Putin.



Check out stories from Monday and the weekend …

-New NJ gov overturns Christie’s decision on cap and trade

-Washington gov rejects proposed oil-by-rail train station

-EPA watchdog: Trump budget cuts would be a ‘significant challenge’

-GOP senator puts hold on Trump energy nominee

-Records show EPA chief’s role in removing climate web pages


Tags Donald Trump John Barrasso Scott Pruitt

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