Overnight Energy: New EPA policy would allow oil, gas polluters to avoid hefty fines | Agency challenges climate skepticism after Trump tweet | Zinke restored permits for ranchers whose case led to Oregon standoff

Overnight Energy: New EPA policy would allow oil, gas polluters to avoid hefty fines | Agency challenges climate skepticism after Trump tweet | Zinke restored permits for ranchers whose case led to Oregon standoff
© Greg Nash

EPA TO OFFER ALTERNATIVE PENALTIES FOR SOME OIL AND GAS POLLUTERS: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) office of enforcement will soon unveil a new finalized audit policy that will offer significant penalty reductions for some oil and gas industry polluters, according to two internal memos obtained by The Hill.

The New Owner Clean Air Act Audit Program, tailored specifically for oil and natural gas producers, will focus on offering more flexibility to new company owners who choose to self-audit their emissions and report any failures to meet EPA's regulations, according to the December draft memos for the policy.

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The policy originally was slated to be rolled out in late December but was delayed due to the partial government shutdown, according to an EPA source.

"Policy finalization has been delayed; we can provide more details when we have a final policy to announce," an EPA spokesperson said of the rule.

The changes include giving new owners of oil and gas companies nine months since the company is acquired to come forward to the EPA and announce any emissions issues they believe may exist. That's an increase from the six months the agency first proposed in its original draft template of the rule.

Companies would also be given 180 days from the date of discovery to correct the emissions issue. The previous draft gave companies 60 days.

The policy proposal was first reported by The Hill and unveiled last April.

The changes come after EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) received feedback from oil and gas industry players who thought the previous timeline was too burdensome.

"People in industry were concerned that the corrections were too onerous for them and asked, 'Why would we sign up for this? You are asking for us to do more than the law requires,' " said the EPA source, referring to the Clean Air Act. "And the answer is, you get more generous protection, you get more time, because we recognize some of these facilities need it."

The new policy will also allow for 100-percent penalty mitigation for any company that opts into the audit. That could mean millions of dollars in savings for non-compliant companies that, if caught not meeting EPA standards outside an audit, could face steep fines.

The idea of the program is to increase polluter compliance on the front end. The expectation is that companies will choose to self-audit and fix their problems rather than wait for EPA to conduct its own investigation, which could lead to a costly and lengthy legal battle.

In one draft memo addressing "implementation considerations," EPA's enforcement office promised that oil and gas companies who choose to enter in the program will be offered "penalty reductions beyond those provided" in EPA's general audit policy for all categories of polluters.

Read more here.

 

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

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DID NOAA TROLL TRUMP?: A federal agency tweeted Tuesday that winter storms don't disprove climate change, hours after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE seemed to imply the opposite in a tweet.

"Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tweeted from its main climate change-related account, which is associated with its Climate.gov website.

The tweet had a cartoon-like drawing and linked to a 2015 post on NOAA's website explaining that even with climate change, certain locations will continue to experience "winters that are unusually cold and snowy."

Monday night, Trump tweeted about the extreme, historic cold blast coming into the Midwest and other parts of the nation.

"What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!" the president joked.

Trump has often mocked global warming when temperatures turn frigid, including in a tweet earlier this month, writing of another storm, "Wouldn't be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!"

An NOAA spokeswoman denied that the agency's tweet was a response to Trump.

"With the blast of severe winter weather affecting the US, we often get asked about the relationship between cold weather and climate change. We routinely put this story out at these times," spokeswoman Monica Allen said. "Our scientists weren't responding to a tweet."

NOAA, a component of the Commerce Department that was furloughed until Monday due to the partial government shutdown, is one of the government's leading agencies on climate change, conducting and funding research, tracking temperatures and other responsibilities.

As of Tuesday morning, NOAA's tweet had more than 1,200 retweets and more than 2,000 likes, far higher than most recent tweets from the account, which had retweets and likes in the double digits.

More on the tweet controversy here.

 

ZINKE ORDERED PARDONED RANCHERS' PERMITS REINSTATED: On his way out the door this month, former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal investigation Acting Interior chief moves to protect access to public lands Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power MORE ordered grazing permits for a pair of convicted and pardoned ranchers to be reinstated.

In an order made public Tuesday, Zinke told the Bureau of Land Management to renew permits for Dwight and Steven Hammond's ranch in Oregon.

The Hammonds were convicted in 2015 for setting a fire that spread to federal land. They were sent to prison, an action that inspired the 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, and made them martyrs in the movement against federal land ownership and management.

But President Trump gave the Hammonds a full pardon in July 2018, which Zinke said is enough to overturn the BLM's previous revocation of their grazing permits, which had been done because of various fires they were blamed form.

"In light of the Grants of Executive Clemency, the years of imprisonment, and civil damages paid by the Hammonds, I find that it is consistent with the intent of the pardons -- and in particular their reflection of the Presidents judgment as to the seriousness of the Hammonds' offenses -- to renew the Hammonds' permit for the duration of the term that would have commenced in 2014," he wrote.

Zinke signed his decision Jan. 2, his last day in office. He noted that he took control of the case away from an administrative law judge days earlier, on Dec. 26.

Tri-State Livestock News first reported Zinke's action.

More on the decision here.

 

EPA DENIES REPORTS ON DRINKING WATER RULE: The EPA Tuesday denied recent reports that it has finalized a plan that will not include regulating toxic substance polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) in drinking water. The agency argued that the plan has not been finalized.

"Despite what is being reported, EPA has not finalized or publicly issued its PFAS management plan, and any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature," the agency wrote in its press release.

"The agency is committed to following the Safe Drinking Water Act process for evaluating new drinking water standards, which is just one of the many components of the draft plan that is currently undergoing interagency review."

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The statement follows a Politico article Monday that said the agency had ditched plans to regulate the chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act by setting a legal limit.

PFAS is used in fire extinguishing agents and cookware products and often seeps into drinking water. It's especially a concern on military bases.

However, EPA did not deny that it was considering an option that could keep PFAS from being regulated under the law.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-Saudis not rushing to respond to Venezuela oil ban, The Wall Street Journal reports

-Russia secretly offered North Korea a nuclear power plant, The Washington Post reports

-Business buyers double their renewable energy purchases, Forbes reports

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Tuesday...

-New EPA policy would offer alternative to penalties for some oil, gas polluters

-Climate change likely to hit red states hardest

-Federal agency after Trump tweet: Winter storms don't disprove climate change

-Utility giant PG&E files for bankruptcy after wildfires

-Chicago will be colder than Antarctica, Mount Everest and Siberia this week

-Wildfire season preparations delayed by shutdown

- Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary Trump on 2020 Dems skipping AIPAC: 'I think they're anti-Jewish' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE endorses Ocasio-Cortez's 'Green New Deal'