Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt $50K for legal defense

SENATE CONFIRMS CONTROVERSIAL NOMINEE: The Senate confirmed President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE's pick for a key energy agency Thursday over Democrats' objections that he is too biased for the job.

The 50-49 vote along party lines means Bernard McNamee, a Republican and former high-ranking political official at the Energy Department under Trump, can take his spot on the five-person Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

GOP Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense MORE (N.C.) was absent from the floor vote.

Why Democrats opposed McNamee: McNamee's history in the Trump administration and working for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation have raised significant objections from Democrats that he can't live up to the expectation that FERC commissioners should be independent and neutral when it comes to energy fuel sources.

He has been an outspoken advocate of fossil fuels, harshly criticized renewable energy and cast doubt on the science of climate change, including in a video of a speech that surfaced in recent weeks. McNamee also served a key role in pushing the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to bail out coal and nuclear power plants.

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"He has lied about how the renewable energies impact the electric grid. He has called support for clean energy 'organized propaganda,' and pitched the debate between fossil fuels and renewables in his words as a clash between liberty and tyranny," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPush to pay congressional interns an hour gains traction with progressives House approves two-week spending measure to avert shutdown Manchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives MORE (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday before the vote. "My Republican friends, these words sound absurd."

"At a time when average Americans are feeling the devastating effects of climate change right now, we should not elevate someone so biased in favor of fossil fuels that caused these problems in the first place," he added.

The GOP view: To Republicans, McNamee is a highly qualified candidate who knows how to keep his personal opinions in check.

"His obvious qualifications and his commitment to fairness and impartiality earned him a bipartisan vote out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last month with a favorable recommendation," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey Senate Republican: Criminal justice reform needs more GOP support GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference MORE (R-Ky.).

A notable vote flip: That bipartisan committee vote was due to Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense Senate confirms Trump’s controversial energy pick MORE (D-W.Va.), who told McNamee in his confirmation hearing that he supports his past statements on fossil fuels and coal.

But Manchin voted against his confirmation due to the video, first published by Utility Dive, and McNamee's apparent doubt of climate change science.

"After viewing video footage, which I had not previously seen, where Bernard McNamee outright denies the impact that humans are having on our climate, I can no longer support his nomination to be a FERC commissioner," Manchin said in a statement Wednesday, after voting against a procedural motion to move forward on the confirmation.

"Climate change is real, humans have made a significant impact, and we have the responsibility and capability to address it urgently," Manchin said.

Read more here.

 

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EPA TARGETS OBAMA-ERA GREENHOUSE GAS RULE: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday plans to roll back a 2015 rule that put strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions coming from coal plants -- a tweak the agency is labeling closer to "reality."

The change will significantly weaken the Obama-era rule in part as an effort to help jump-start new coal plant construction in the U.S.

The proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) would no longer mandate that plants meet the strict emissions goals of achieving emissions equal to or less than what plants would have achieved with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The Obama administration at the time saw CCS as a feasible future technology that was important to pulling carbon out of coal plant emissions at their source. Today the technology is not generally used commercially and is pricey.

EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the Obama administration's focus on CCS "disingenuous."

"Their determination was disingenuous. They knew the tech was not adequately demonstrated, which is what was required under the law. This rule sets high yet achievable standards rooted in reality," Wheeler said at a press conference at EPA headquarters.

EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum called the old rule "wishful thinking."

"Today's actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking," he said in a statement. "U.S. coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve."

What will change: The new changes would limit coal plant emissions to 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour produced, a level they say can be met with modern technology including efficient boilers.

The original rule had set the limit at 1,400 pounds.

Despite the higher level of carbon being allowed into the air under EPA's latest change, Wheeler told reporters that their study found it would "not result in significant [carbon dioxide] changes or costs."

Climate fight: When asked whether the new rule means the EPA is ignoring the Trump administration's latest report that declared that effects from climate change would result in unavoidable economic harm to the U.S, Wheeler pushed back.

"We're not ignoring the government report. We're still looking at the government report ourselves. We just got a briefing on it this morning from some of our career scientists," he said.

The report was released two weeks ago.

Read more here.

 

EPA THOUGH ISN'T EXPECTING ANY NEW COAL PLANTS: The agency itself said in the report that no new coal plants were likely to be built despite relaxed rule.

"Power sector modeling does not predict the construction of any new coal-fired EGUs," a footnote in the proposal reads, using the abbreviation for electric generating unit.

"Therefore, based on modeled impacts, any [greenhouse gas] requirements for new coal-fired EGUs would have no significant costs or benefits," the agency goes onto say, explaining its rationale for not doing a substantial cost-benefit analysis for the proposal.

"The modeling of the electricity sector EPA performed for this rule using the Integrated Planning Model (IPM) projects that, even under the emissions limits included in this proposal, new fossil fuel-fired capacity constructed through 2026 and the years following is expected to be natural gas capacity," the agency adds in an economic impact analysis released with the proposed rule.

Greenhouse gas regulation has just been one of many threats against coal in recent years. Its main enemy has been competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy, as well as other environmental regulations that are still in place.

Nonetheless, the EPA is framing its proposal as one to undo an Obama administration attempt to snuff out new coal plants.

Read more here.

PRUITT GETS $50K FOR LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Schumer demands climate measures in infrastructure bill | OPEC, Russia to cut oil output | EPA looks to ease Obama water rule EPA to propose easing Obama water rule Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense MORE, who left the agency in July following numerous ethics controversies got one huge cash donation for his legal defense.

Pruitt received a $50,000 donation towards his legal defense fund -- a fund he set up for public donations to be used toward any lawyer fees he incurs stemming from investigations into his actions as EPA head.

Diane Hendricks, an American businesswoman and film producer from Wisconsin, donated the large sum in cash to Pruitt, according to his final financial disclosure form released Thursday. Hendricks has strong ties to the Trump administration and served as economics advisor to the Trump campaign. Hendricks was the only donor Pruitt disclosed.

A note from EPA's ethics office said that Pruitt did not seek advice from the office before accepting the donation from Hendricks. Ethics officials were also not aware of the donation until they received Pruitt's final termination report. They believe it was given to him in cash.

More on the fund here.

 

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-GOP donor gave Pruitt $50,000 for legal defense

-EPA: No new coal plants likely to be built despite relaxed rule

-Eiffel Tower to close Saturday ahead of Paris protests

-EPA announces new plan to weaken Obama-era greenhouse gas rule

-Target to pay $7.4M after probe found it illegally dumped hazardous waste in California

-GOP senator: Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in summer within 20 years

-Senate confirms Trump's controversial energy pick

-Trump administration floats reduced protections for imperiled sage grouse

-California officials give final approval to requiring solar panels on new homes

-Poll: Two-thirds of voters concerned about Trump administration climate change report

-Manchin's likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives