Overnight Energy: Dem AGs sue Trump over bird protections | Costs for ex-EPA chief’s Italian trip higher than reported | Endangered Species Act critic hired to senior post

Overnight Energy: Dem AGs sue Trump over bird protections | Costs for ex-EPA chief’s Italian trip higher than reported | Endangered Species Act critic hired to senior post
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BLUE STATES SUE EPA OVER BIRD PROTECTIONS: Eight Democratic state attorneys general sued the Trump administration Wednesday to try to overturn a policy that repealed certain protections for migratory birds.

At issue is a December 2017 legal memo, in which Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department's principal deputy solicitor, said that the agency would no longer punish people or companies for harming or killing birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in "incidental" ways.

Jorjani's policy repealed a January 2017 memo by the Obama administration that said incidental harms would be prosecuted. It was opposed by numerous industries, including oil refineries and wind energy companies.

The attorneys general, led by New York, say the Trump policy also overturned years of precedent on enforcing the law, as well as the plain meaning of the law.

"In yet another giveaway to special interests at the expense of our states, the Trump administration has gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act -- eliminating longstanding prohibitions on injuring or killing over 300 species of migratory birds that provide critical ecological, scientific, and economic value to New York," New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

In other environmental news from New York...

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday that the state will be putting some of the funds it won through its 2016 Volkswagen emissions settlement towards clean vehicles. The state will invest more than $127 million in expanding electric and clean government vehicles, including buses, trucks, ferries, tug boats, locomotives and cargo handling equipment. Additionally the city plans to invest in more electric vehicle charging stations. The plan builds on Cuomo's climate initiative to advance New York as a national leader on clean energy.

"Combating climate change and air pollution and protecting our environment is critical to the very future of this great state," Cuomo said in a statement. "As Washington continues to roll back protections, New York is more committed than ever to supporting cleaner, greener transportation technologies. By strategically investing these settlement funds, we can take real action to improve community health and sustainability, while providing incentives to address one of the largest causes of harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Happy Wednesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

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PRUITT'S ITALY TRIP COST THOUSANDS MORE THAN REPORTED: Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas EPA inspector general to resign Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog says agency failed to properly monitor asbestos at schools| Watchdog won’t investigate former Superfund head’s qualifications| Florence causes toxic coal ash spill in North Carolina MORE's lavish 2017 taxpayer-funded trip to Italy cost thousands of dollars more than previously reported, internal agency documents show.

The trip to Rome and the Vatican -- which included first-class travel for Pruitt and his close aides, around-the-clock security and stays at a five-star hotel for all attending staff -- ended up costing taxpayers $164,200, roughly 37 percent more than previously reported.

The agency released the figure, which included $10,067 for a motorcade and $5,841 in hotel rooms for the drivers at the five-star Baglioni Hotel Regina in Rome, as part of a Freedom of Information Act request to the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental watchdog group.
Previous reports estimated Pruitt's travel costs for the trip to be at least $120,000, which included the administrator's $7,003 round-trip flight. That price tag didn't include the $36,068 military flight he took from Washington to New York City before getting on a commercial airline.
Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, compared the costs to the number of regulatory cuts undertaken by the EPA under the Trump administration.
"These new details about Scott Pruitt's mismanagement and runaway spending show that he was abusing taxpayers even as he damaged their health by rolling back environmental regulations," Schaeffer argued.

Read more here.

 

ZINKE HIRES ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT CRITIC FOR SENIOR JOB: Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Big-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site MORE has hired an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for a senior position as the Trump administration undertakes a historic effort to ease industry compliance with the law.

Robert Gordon -- who recently penned a report alleging that the ESA has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars -- recently started work at the Interior Department as deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort. He works under Susan Combs, who is the acting assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, a position akin to a chief financial officer for the 70,000-person agency.

"He has extensive experience working on natural resource issues in Congress and at national think tanks," Vander Voort said in a statement. "Interior is proud to welcome top-tier talent. Rob Gordon brings impressive and diverse experience to the department, and we are excited to have him on our team."

Gordon has fought for decades while in positions both in an out of government to change the ESA. He most recently worked as an adjunct fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. Days before leaving for the government, he published a major report arguing that official estimates have dramatically underestimated the cost to industry and states for complying with the ESA, and that some single species can cost billions of dollars to protect.

"Clearly, the bureaucratic paperwork, annual agency expenditures, and anticipated costs for recovery, while often poorly estimated and tracked, amount to tens of billions of dollars alone. Economic impacts are clearly far larger," Gordon wrote.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY:

An environment subcommittee of the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce will discuss the health risk of perfluorinated chemicals, also known as PFAS. The effects of the cancer-linked chemical, sometimes found in drinking water, are at the heart of an Environmental Protection Agency regulatory debate. While the agency has vowed to issue guidance on the chemical's effects, critics say the agency is slow rolling its finding. The agency has been holding a number of community engagement events across the country to listen to concerns over the chemical--which is found in fire retardants.

Also Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a number of federal lands bills. They include a measure to improve state and local government partnerships over national battlefield management and a bill to order the Interior Secretary to annually designate a city as the "American World War II Heritage City"

 

THE HILL EVENT:

Join us Thursday, Sept. 6, for "Partnerships & Progress: Driving Climate Solutions," featuring Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickCongress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms Preventing violence isn’t partisan: Time to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE (R-Pa.) and Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems call on Senate to postpone Kavanaugh vote Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (D-R.I.). Editor in Chief Bob Cusack will sit down with the headliners to discuss how the public and private sectors can balance environmental progress with healthy economic growth. RSVP Here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Lawsuit filed against Wisconsin based Husky Energy over explosion

French President Macron names new environment minister

Price of oil falls as threat of gulf storm weakens.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

-Dem state attorneys general sue Trump for repealing bird protection policy

-Poll: Death estimates tied to Trump coal rule make it less popular

-Former EPA chief's Italy trip cost thousands more than previously reported

-Zinke hires Endangered Species Act critic for senior post

-ACLU: Government plotted to surveil, disrupt Keystone XL protesters