Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Forest Service moves to ease oil, gas extraction on its lands | Pruitt in talks to be coal industry consultant | 3 million could lose power from Hurricane Florence

RULE WOULD EASE OIL AND GAS EXTRACTION IN NATIONAL FORESTS: The Forest Service plans to submit a rule that would make it easier to explore oil and gas drilling, as well as mineral mining, in national forests.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the Forest Service, is planning to revise the contents of the agency's oil and gas resources regulations, according to one advance notice of proposed rulemaking submitted to the Federal Register on Wednesday.


What would the rule do? The new rule would aim to "streamline" procedural requirements for oil and gas leasing and extraction from the 154 national forests and 20 grasslands managed by the Forest Service. Oil and gas is currently being developed on 44 national forests and grasslands.

"It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation's vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation," the rule notice reads.

The rule follows an earlier Trump executive order labeled: "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth." Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke similarly referenced the executive order in a previous announcement that the agency is looking to expand offshore drilling lease sales.

The USDA rule says that by eliminating the regulatory burdens, fossil fuel extraction could be done more quickly.

"The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production. These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly," the notice reads.


Don't forget about mining: Also Wednesday, USDA submitted another advance rule notice on mineral extraction in Forest Service land that aims to make it easier to process requests to mine key minerals including gold, zinc and uranium.


What environmentalists are saying: "These appalling Trump administration proposals would ramp up fracking and mining damage to public lands and wildlife," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "Our national forests matter more than private industry profits. But the Forest Service is abdicating its mission to protect these wild places to ram through whatever industries want. Both rules will meet fierce fights."

Read the story here.


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PRUITT DENIES GETTING IMPROPER GIFTS: Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt is denying that he received any "reportable gifts" last year, despite multiple allegations that he received improper contributions or aid from staff and others.

The statement came in Pruitt's personal financial disclosure for 2017, which he recently filed with the EPA's ethics office as required, and which the agency released Wednesday.

The filing also amounts to a denial of allegations that he had staff carry out personal tasks for him, help find a job for his wife, which could have been a gift, or that coal executive Joseph Craft's help getting tickets for Pruitt to a basketball game was a gift.

"I am aware there is correspondence to the EPA Office of General Counsel's Ethics Officer and/or the Office of Government Ethics asserting that certain actions or activities during 2017 may constitute 'gifts' to me that require inclusion on this report," Pruitt wrote in the document laying out his income and other financial information during the year.

"To the extent I am aware of specific allegations, I dispute the facts asserted and, accordingly, am not aware of reportable gifts," he said. "In the event there are any future findings to the contrary, I will address the issue at that time and amend this report as directed and/or necessary."

Kevin Minoli, the EPA's top ethics official, noted on the form that his office had advised Pruitt on "the need to report gifts, including gifts from subordinates."

Read more here.


And in other Pruitt news...


PRUITT IN TALKS TO WORK FOR COAL LOBBY: Pruitt is reportedly in talks to work as a coal industry consultant, two industry executives familiar with the discussions told The New York Times Wednesday.

Pruitt is reportedly discussing working as a consultant to Kentucky coal mining tycoon Joseph W. Craft III. Craft is the chief executive for Alliance Resource Partners and a major GOP donor.

According to the Times, Craft had a close relationship with the EPA during Pruitt's tenure at its helm.

Two industry officials told the paper that Pruitt met with several executives to discuss plans for beginning a new consulting company during a Kentucky Coal Association meeting last week.

According to the executives, Pruitt would not be employed by Alliance. He would also broaden his clientele base, the paper noted.

Read more here.


DEM INTRODUCES BILL CALLING OUT PRUITT: A House Democrat wants to "honor" the legacy of former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt by increasing penalties for personal use of public resources.

Rep. Ted Lieu's bill, the E. Scott Pruitt Accountability for Government Officials Act of 2018, would subject senior government officials to up to five years in prison if they use their public office for private gain, as Pruitt was accused of doing before his resigned in July.

"A proclivity for corruption feels like a prerequisite for a cabinet position in the Trump administration," Lieu said in a Wednesday statement.

"The Executive Branch isn't some get rich quick scheme, but many Trump cabinet officials sure act like it. The drip, drip, drip of grifting from Trump's appointees is corroding our Democracy by undermining faith in our institutions."

Lieu's bill would "help ensure that cabinet officials and other senior public servants can't use their public office for personal gain," he said.

Read more here.


LATEST ON HURRICANE FLORENCE: Between 1 million and 3 million people will likely lose power when Hurricane Florence makes landfall later this week, according to a Wednesday report from Duke Energy.

Duke Energy has around 4 million customers in North and South Carolina, and says it could take several weeks to restore the electricity.

Read more here.


More on Florence...


Trump says he's getting 'tremendous accolades' on hurricane prep

Trump: Hurricane Florence looking 'bigger than anticipated'

Pence heading to Georgia ahead of hurricane

Poll: Majority of Puerto Ricans give Trump negative rating on Hurricane Maria response

Trump attacks San Juan mayor over Puerto Rico hurricane relief



The House Rules Committee is expected to start consideration of the government spending "minibus" package that House and Senate negotiators released Monday. The Senate took up the bill late Wednesday with an expectation of overwhelming bipartisan support.

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

Read more about the bill here.


The House Energy and Commerce Committee's environment subcommittee will dive into this year's aggressive wildfires with a hearing Thursday on the impact to air quality from the fires and what could be done to mitigate it.


The House Science Committee will convene its own Thursday hearing on the EPA's regulation of glider trucks, trucks with new bodies and old engines.

The Science Committee has been investigating research that EPA staff conducted last year showing much higher pollution levels from glider trucks are than from completely new ones. The EPA's OIG agreed this week to examine the research as well.


Also on Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee will take up a bipartisan proposal to pay for the multi-billion maintenance backlog at national parks and within the Bureau of Land Management.

Here's a deep dive on the bill.


On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will discuss liquefied natural gas exports and European gas demand.



Fear of gas shortages grow as Florence gets closer to the coast

The U.S. has "likely" become the world's top oil producer

Interior's oil and gas leasing in Utah sells over 60 percent of plots but generates low bids



Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-Analysis: 3 million could lose power when Hurricane Florence hits

-Administration announces plan to streamline oil and gas extraction in national forests

-Pruitt denies receiving improper gifts as EPA chief

-US to fall short of Paris climate targets by one-third: report

-Dem's bill would 'honor' Pruitt by increasing penalties for corruption

-Calif. governor blasts methane rule change as most 'dangerous action' by Trump

-UN chief: World has less than 2 years to avoid 'runaway climate change'

-Interior law enforcement officers seize 17 pounds of heroin on reservation

-House panel to vote on parks funding bill

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