Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas

INTERIOR FINALIZES METHANE RULE ROLLBACK: The Trump administration on Tuesday finalized its plans to weaken regulations on methane gas releases from drilling on public land.

The action from the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rolls back key provisions of an Obama-era rule that limited releases of the greenhouse gas during oil and gas production on publicly owned lands leased to fossil fuel companies.

The new rule is expected to allow for more leaks of the gas through a practice known as venting or flaring, adding to air pollution.

The new rule is being described by the Trump administration as a way to reduce burdens on the private sector.

The rule would limit regulations that "unnecessarily encumber energy production, constraining growth and preventing job creation," David Bernhardt, Interior's deputy secretary, told reporters Tuesday on a press call.

The announcement from the Trump administration comes a week after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to roll back a separate methane regulation that sought to limit release of the gas from drilling nationwide.

"Sadly, the flawed 2016 rule was a radical assertion of legal authority that stood in stark contrast to the longstanding understanding of Interior's own lawyers," Bernhardt said in a statement Tuesday. "The Trump administration is committed to innovative regulatory improvement and environmental stewardship, while appropriately respecting the clear and distinct authorities of the states, tribes, as well as the direction we receive from Congress."


Some numbers: On net, Interior estimates the rollback will save more than $1 billion, largely due to lower compliance costs on industry.

Officials estimated the total savings at $2.08 billion over 10 years. But there will also be societal costs of as much as $1.09 billion over a decade from the new rule due to wasted gas and the impacts of climate change.


What's next: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) plans to file suit Tuesday to stop the rollback, according to his spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim.

He'll almost certainly be joined by other Democratic attorneys general and environmental groups in suing.


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EPA WATCHDOG TO RESIGN: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) top internal watchdog is resigning after eight years in the position.

Arthur Elkins announced Tuesday that his last day will be Oct. 12, after which he'll take a job outside the federal government. He did not specify the name of his next employer or the type of work he'll be doing.

Elkins has been in his post since 2010. He took on a higher profile in recent months as his office launched numerous investigations into alleged ethics and spending violations by former Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July.

"It has been my great honor and privilege to serve the American people in this role for more than eight years," Elkins said in a statement. "I am grateful for the outstanding team of auditors, investigators and other professionals who comprise the Office of Inspector General, and for the opportunity to have earned the trust of a wide array of stakeholders relying on the integrity of the OIG's independence."

Elkins has overseen 252-person office, with its $50 million budget, through several major probes, including the investigation into former EPA adviser John C. Beale, who defrauded the government out of almost $900,000 by pretending to be a CIA agent; the EPA's involvement in the Flint, Mich., drinking water crisis; and the Gold King Mine mine waste spill in Colorado, which was caused by the EPA.

His office also took on probes into Pruitt's $43,000 soundproof booth, his cut-rate rental of an apartment from the wife of an energy lobbyist and allegations that he improperly had staff members handle personal tasks for him like buying a mattress.

Read more.


MURKOWSKI WELCOMES HOUSE 'PROGRESS' ON CONSERVATION FUND: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) lauded the House Natural Resources Committee for moving forward on reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), but was noncommittal as to whether she'd support the exact bill that the panel passed last week.

"I do think it represents important progress. You had agreement ... [with] Congressman Grijalva and Congressman Bishop. That's headway. That's good progress," Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters Tuesday, referring to the chairman and ranking member of the House panel.

She said it's a good sign for what's to come.

"So yeah, I think that we can advance something. What it's going to look like and how it's going to come together is uncertain at this point in time," she continued.

The House committee voted last week to indefinitely reauthorize the LWCF, with some reforms: at least 40 percent of the money has to go to states, 40 percent to federal projects and 3 percent to opening land for hunting and other recreation, among other requirements.

The program's current authorization ends Sept. 30.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), one of the Senate's most outspoken LWCF advocates, said Tuesday that he's waiting to see what the House passes.


CHINA TARIFFS TARGET GAS IMPORTS: Liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States are one of the chief targets of $60 billion worth of tariffs that China announced Tuesday, to be implemented later this month.

Gas imports would get a 10 percent tariff, less than the 25 percent originally proposed.

It is expected to put a dent in the rapidly growing LNG market. The United States is one of the top sellers of LNG worldwide.

The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas said the tariffs hurt Americans, and leaders in both countries need to quickly resolve their disputes so the tariffs can be removed.

"Pricing U.S. LNG out of a key market undermines its competitiveness and ability to reduce the U.S. trade deficit while providing good jobs at home and growing the economy," Charlie Riedl, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

Read more about the tariffs here.



A Wyoming grizzly bear and her cub were killed Sunday after a rare fatal attack on a hunting guide, USA Today reports.

An international group ranks Australia among the worst rich countries for environmental policies, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The United Kingdom's wind power capacity has topped 20 gigawatts, S&P Global Platts reports.



Check out Tuesday's stories ...

- Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands

- SEC fines SeaWorld, ex-CEO $5 million over 'Blackfish' response

- EPA inspector general to resign

- IRS warns of scams in aftermath of Hurricane Florence

- Trump: Dems will 'lie' and say Hurricane Florence response was bad

- Environmentalists to sue Trump admin to protect giraffes

- Over 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: report