Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA moves to roll back methane rule | FEMA preps for 'dangerous' Hurricane Florence | Trump calls Puerto Rico hurricane response a 'success' | Zinke wants to defer to states on wildlife rules

TRUMP TARGETS OBAMA METHANE RULE: The Trump administration announced a plan Tuesday to roll back a major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that restricts emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The EPA said its rollback of former President Obama's 2015 methane regulation for oil and natural gas drillers would give the industry $484 million over six years, while reducing unnecessary and duplicative burdens.

The plan is the latest blow to Obama's aggressive climate change policies, and at least the third major step the EPA has made this year to change the way air pollutants are regulated.

"These common-sense reforms will alleviate unnecessary and duplicative red tape and give the energy sector the regulatory certainty it needs to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to the American people," acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

"Removing these excessive regulatory burdens will generate roughly $484 million in cost savings and support increased domestic energy production -- a top priority of President Trump," he added.

 

Why the move is so controversial: Methane is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide for global warming, and the rollback would increase emissions by about 380,000 short tons by 2025. It would also increase public exposure to ozone pollution and hazardous air pollutants, the agency said.

 

Industry on board: The American Petroleum Institute called the rule change a welcomed effort Tuesday, noting that the industry itself has already taken its own strides to cap air pollution.

"Significantly, methane emissions  from the oil and natural gas industry  are already down  14 percent since 1990 while production has increased by 50 percent. Clean natural gas produced through advanced technologies like hydraulic fracturing has helped reduce carbon emissions to 25-year lows," the group said in a statement. "U.S. air quality continues to improve as the natural gas and oil industry remains committed to reaching our shared goals of protecting public health and the environment while meeting the nation's energy needs."

 

But greens opposed: Some experts anticipate that the new rule would allow for far more air pollution and leaks of the gas stemming from practices known as flaring or fuel burning. That in turn would allow for a dangerous increase in emissions, environmentalists say.

"With this methane safeguard rollback, President Trump's EPA just sacrificed public health and climate for oil and gas industry profits. And he did so despite some of the world's largest oil and gas companies endorsing the need for methane rules" Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks, said in a statement.

 

The nitty-gritty: Here are some of the big provisions in the rollback, compared with the 2015 rule:

It would reduce the frequency of monitoring methane emissions from gas and oil wells from every year to every two years, and compressor stations that are used to help transport natural gas would be monitored just once a year. It would lessen the qualifications for engineers who must certify the emissions-capturing equipment used, open the door to more "alternative" technologies to limit pollution, reduce emissions reporting requirements and exempt many natural gas processing plants from monitoring.

The EPA also left the door open to changing more provisions in future proceedings.

 

What's next: In the coming days, the EPA will publish the proposal in the Federal Register. That will kick off a 60-day comment period.

The EPA will then have to analyze those comments, make any necessary changes and then make the rule final.

At that point, opponents such as environmentalists and Democratic state attorneys general are likely to sue in federal court to stop the changes.

 

And Interior?: The New York Times reported Monday that the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management will formally propose rolling back its methane standards for federal land drilling in the coming days as well.

Read more.

 

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FEMA PREPARING FOR 'DANGEROUS STORM' FLORENCE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is warning residents on the eastern seaboard ahead of Hurricane Florence, calling it a "dangerous" storm.

Those in states where the Category 4 hurricane is expected to make direct landfall may have to wait weeks before power is restored, FEMA Associate Administrator Jeff Byard said in a call Tuesday with reporters.

"If you are currently under an evacuation order, we strongly urge you to be cognizant, heed the warning and evacuate," Byard said. "The storm will definitely knock out power, days into weeks. It will destroy infrastructure, homes."

Approximately 1.7 million people are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, the three states that will be most affected, according to the latest numbers Tuesday afternoon from Byard.  

Read more.

 

Trump applauds government's Maria response: Trump said Tuesday that one of his administration's "best jobs" was the response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico last year, storms that officials estimate led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

Trump was asked what lessons the government could take from 2017 as the federal government prepares for Hurricane Florence to barrel into the mid-Atlantic coast later this week.

"I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature, and I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about," Trump told reporters during an Oval Office briefing on the projected path of Florence.

"The job that FEMA, and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous," Trump added. "I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success."

He went on to tout that the government received "A pluses" for its work in Texas and Florida following hurricanes last year.

Read more.

 

Trump predicts Florence will be 'tremendously big and tremendously wet': "They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever. It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amounts of water," Trump said at the Oval Office briefing, warning people in its path to get out.

"The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared, we're ready, we're as ready as anybody's ever been," he said.

Read more.

 

ZINKE: DEFER TO STATES ON WILDLIFE RULES: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants federal fish and wildlife managers to better align their policies with state rules.

In a memo Monday to officials in the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other agencies involved in wildlife management, Zinke asked staff to find instances where policies for wildlife on federal land are more restrictive than rules for the states they're in, and to construct plans to ease those policies and better align them.

"The effective stewardship of fish and wildlife requires the cooperation of the various states and the federal government," Zinke wrote in the memo, which the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released.

"The states' fundamental responsibility for fish and wildlife management includes responsibility for appropriate regulation of public use and enjoyment of fish and wildlife species," he said.

"The department recognizes states as the first-line authorities for fish and wildlife management and hereby expresses its commitment to defer to the states in this regard except as otherwise required by federal law."

Read more.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

The House Rules Committee could start consideration of the government spending "minibus" package that House and Senate negotiators released Monday.

The bill would fund the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers among other agencies.

Read more about the bill here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Idaho state officials say a federal judge was wrong in ruling that a state law forcing some landowners to sell their natural gas was unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports.

Oil prices surged more than 2 percent Tuesday, settling at $69.25, Reuters reports.

Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is promising both to clean up the country's environment and to build a massive new oil refinery, The Washington Post reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

- FEMA prepares for 'dangerous storm' Florence

- Trump: Hurricane will be 'tremendously big and tremendously wet'

- Trump calls hurricane response in Puerto Rico 'incredible, unsung success'

- Trump declares state of emergency in Virginia ahead of Hurricane Florence

FEMA official: Hurricane Florence will cause 'massive damage,' including potential loss of life

- DC mayor declares state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence

- New Trump rule would weaken Obama methane pollution standards

- Zinke looks to ease some wildlife rules

- Trump cancels Missouri rally as Hurricane Florence approaches

- More than 1.5 million ordered to evacuate as Florence barrels down on Carolina coast

- Japan proposes end to ban on commercial whaling

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