Overnight Energy: Trump EPA to defend Obama smog rule | Wheeler gets warmer welcome before Senate | Animal rights groups sue Interior over pro-hunting council
TRUMP EPA TO KEEP OBAMA SMOG RULE: The Trump administration has decided to keep the Obama administration’s controversial 2015 smog regulation and defend it in court.
Justice Department attorneys representing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told a federal court Wednesday that, after considering it for more than a year, the agency decided against pursuing revisions or a repeal to the 2015 rule that set a new standard for ground-level ozone, a component of smog.
In the brief, the attorneys said the Trump administration may have written the 2015 rule differently, considering factors like background levels of ozone that are outside of the control of states that are expected to comply with the standard.
“While EPA officials in the current administration may have supported making different judgments about the significance of background concentrations of ozone and how to judge what standards are requisite to protect public health and welfare, the agency at this time does not intend to revisit the 2015 rule,” the attorneys wrote.
The rule set the allowable ozone level in ambient air at 70 parts per billion, down from 75.
Why it matters: The ozone rule was one of the most consequential and controversial regulations to come out of the Obama EPA.
The agency estimated it would prevent thousands of premature deaths and save billions of dollars of healthcare costs. But opponents in fossil fuels and other industries said the benefits were doubtful, and estimated a cost of more than $3 trillion.
Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s administrator until last month, was a leading litigant trying to overturn the rule when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Under Pruitt, the EPA tried to delay implementing the ozone rule, but backtracked.
What happens now: The lawsuit, brought by numerous states and business interests, was just revived by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month. Judges asked the parties to suggest schedules for what happens next.
Environmentalists have also sued to try to get a stronger rule, and that lawsuit was combined into the case.
On a separate track, the EPA has kicked off the process of considering whether to revise the ozone standard in 2020. Pruitt directed the agency to consider factors like background ozone levels and whether the costs of compliance could undo the health benefits.
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WHEELER SURVIVES THE SENATE: Senators of both parties gave Wheeler a notably warmer welcome Wednesday compared with how they treated his predecessor.
While they pushed him on their policy differences with the Trump administration, senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee made it clear to Wheeler they were glad to have former administrator Scott Pruitt gone.
“I’m encouraged that there will be a number of differences between Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Pruitt and the way they approach this important leadership role,” Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat, said at the hearing.
“I don’t expect to hear as much as a peep from Mr. Wheeler today about used mattress shopping, Chick-fil-A franchises or fancy moisturizers,” Carper continued, eliciting laughs about the scandals that pushed Pruitt out less than a month ago.
“But what we do need to hear from Mr. Wheeler today is how he plans to differentiate himself from Mr. Pruitt across a range of environmental policies that are far more consequential.”
Carper offered Wheeler a gift: a bottle of Diet Coke from the Senate cafeteria with the name “Wheeler” on it. Wheeler collects Coca-Cola memorabilia.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s chairman, was so happy with Wheeler that he called on Trump to nominate him for confirmation to the post.
“I would encourage President Trump to nominate Mr. Wheeler to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Wheeler is very qualified for that position,” Barrasso said.
Protesters bring ‘Pruitt Puppet’ signs: A group of protestors attending the hearing likened the newly appointed acting administrator to his predecessor.
During Wheeler’s opening statement at the hearing, a group of protestors silently held up signs calling him a “Pruitt puppet.” They were promptly asked to leave without incident.
The design of the signs mirrors ones that protesters similarly brought to hearings with Pruitt earlier this year, declaring him “Mr. Corruption” and pushing Trump to “Fire Him.”
Wheeler says car rule rollback will yield $500B in savings: Wheeler was mostly tight-lipped about the forthcoming proposal from the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to roll back fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for model-years 2020 through 2026.
But he did give some hints about it, including that the Trump administration estimates the rollback will save $500 billion.
The revelation came in questioning from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who asked him to confirm that the change would increase oil consumption.
“I believe the analysis shows that more oil would be consumed,” Wheeler said. “But it also will save 12,000 lives and $500 billion.”
Supporters of the Obama rule disagree and say that any easing of it would increase fuel costs.
ANIMAL RIGHTS GROUPS SUE TRUMP OVER CONTROVERSIAL PRO-HUNTING GROUP: A group of conservationists and animal rights activists sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its establishment of a pro-hunting international council.
The Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) were among the organizations that filed the lawsuit, saying the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) is illegal.
The groups said federal law requires all government advisory panels have a balanced mix of contributors, whereas the IWCC council consists primarily of pro-hunting industry representatives and recreational hunters. Other individuals on the 16-person council include Steven Chancellor, a top donor to President Trump.
“This case concerns Defendants’ decision to reward a small band of trophy hunting enthusiasts and politically-connected donors by granting those individuals an outsized opportunity to craft federal wildlife policy,” the group wrote in its suit.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created the council in November. That same week, the administration announced it would be rolling back an Obama-era policy banning the importation of elephant and lion trophies from key countries in Africa.
That announcement was largely criticized and was later walked back by the administration. In March, the Interior Department said it would consider trophy imports on a case-by-case basis.
Read more here.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
The United Kingdom’s government will let farmers take more water from rivers to alleviate drought impacts, The Guardian reports.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is being pressed to explain why a group funded by mining companies got a massive government donation related to the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian reports.
July was the worst month for oil prices in two years, CNBC reports.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Check out Wednesday’s stories …
-Trump EPA to keep and defend Obama smog rule
-Conservationists, animal rights groups sue administration over pro-hunting council
-Senate clears $154B ‘minibus’ spending measure
-EPA chief: Obama car rule rollback would save consumers $500B
-EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing
-White House nominating new science adviser with extreme-weather background
-Climate change could increase heat wave deaths 2,000 percent by 2080: study
-Protestors at Wheeler’s first hearing call him a ‘Pruitt puppet’
-Death Valley breaks own record for hottest month ever recorded on Earth: report
-New EPA chief faces first test on Capitol Hill
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