Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees

Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees
© Greg Nash

REPUBLICANS RESIST DEMS’ CLIMATE PUSH: Democratic leaders asserted their newfound control of the House on Wednesday by convening two key committee hearings on climate change that each emphasized the need for swift action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions after years of inaction under former Republican leadership.

The two simultaneous hearings held by the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees Wednesday were the first in 9 and 6 years respectively to focus on fixing climate change.

They both came the day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE hailed oil and gas production as part of the United States's “energy revolution” at the State of the Union, throwing a spotlight on the current state of disconnect between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of climate policy.

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“Today we turn the page on this committee from climate change denial to climate action,” said House Natural Resources chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in his opening statement. “The Democratic majority is here to listen to people -- to work for people, to hear from Americans across the country, from all walks of life whose experiences emphasize the need to address this crisis.”

Grijalva, whose committee oversees the Interior Department, said he hopes to focus on the impacts of oil and gas drilling on public lands, explore the implications of climate change on heat waves, forest fires and flooding and bring science back to agency decision making.

“The Trump administration chooses to mock science and mislead the public on what our country will look like if we do nothing,” he said.

“Climate change is an urgent problem it demands urgent action and a sense of purpose from congress, this committee will offer both.”

Read more.

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US AGENCIES: 2018 WAS FOURTH HOTTEST YEAR ON RECORD: Last year was the fourth-hottest on record by average temperature, according to new reports from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Only 2015, 2016 and 2017 were hotter than 2018 in terms of average temperature, according to the NOAA, which added on Wednesday that nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reached the same results in its study.

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Gavin Schmidt said in a statement.

“The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt - in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” he added.

NASA said in a presentation that the results confirm the agency's belief that climate change is being driven by human emissions.

“The key message is that the planet is warming. The long-term trends are extremely robust,” Schmidt said. “And our understanding of why those trends are occurring is also very robust, it’s because of the increases in greenhouse gases that we put into the atmosphere over the last hundred years.”

Read more.

PARK SERVICE BACKTRACKS ON ENTRANCE FEES: The National Park Service (NPS) will retroactively pull from congressionally appropriated funds to pay for the park maintenance and other operations the Trump administration authorized during the partial government shutdown, according to an internal NPS memo obtained by The Hill Wednesday.

Dan Smith, NPS’s deputy director and its top official, told staff in an emailed memo that the agency will reverse its earlier, controversial decision to use park visitor entrance fees to pay for maintenance and staffing needs under the shutdown.

Instead, he said, the NPS will use money from the spending bill Congress approved to end the shutdown to pay for those costs.

“We have confirmed with the [White House] Office of Management and Budget that the NPS can move obligations made during the appropriations lapse from the FLREA fee account and apply those obligations to the National Park Service annual operating account," Smith said, making reference to “rec fees” collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).

That law lays out specific allowable uses for the collected fees, including improving visitor access and enhancing law enforcement.

“In short, Congress has enabled us to fully restore the FLREA account to pre-lapse levels,” Smith said.

During the five-week government shutdown, the Trump administration opted to leave national parks open despite the furloughing of a majority of park staff. The decision lead to a number of maintenance issues at parks, including clogged bathrooms, overflowing trash cans and at times the misuse of park sites. Joshua Tree National Park and other parks in the West felt the heaviest burden, as the shutdown occurred during the height of their visitation season.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in early January made the unprecedented move to let parks pull from their visitor entrance fees to allow staff to return to run the parks.

The decision generated immediate criticism from conservation groups and Democrats, who argued that it was both illegal and short-sighted, since parks use that money for major maintenance projects.

Read more.

Dem seeks GAO probe: Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumOvernight Energy: Interior watchdog opens investigation into new secretary | Warren unveils 2020 plan to stop drilling on public lands | Justices reject case challenging state nuclear subsidies | Court orders EPA to re-evaluate Obama pollution rule Interior watchdog launches ethics probe into new secretary EPA chief doubles down on Trump's commitment to fully fund Great Lakes program MORE (D-Minn.) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine whether the use of recreation fees during the shutdown was illegal.

McCollum, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the Interior Department’s budget, made the request after holding a hearing on the decision by the department.

“I’m more than convinced, sadly, that the administration has ignored the law and the policies that the agencies have had in place for years to protect our citizens and our public lands,” she said as she closed the hearing.

“I believe the decision was made to open up the parks to mitigate the impacts of the Trump shutdown, and I fear that the administration is willfully ignoring the counsel of dedicated men and women who work every day in the parks,” she continued.

McCollum said earlier in the hearing that it’s important for Congress to assert its power of the purse under the Constitution, which states that federal agencies cannot spend money unless Congress appropriates it.

“The law prohibits the executive branch from spending federal tax dollars unless those dollars have been expressly appropriated by Congress,” she said. “Money can only be used for specific purposes authorized by Congress.”

McCollum said using the fees could violate laws like the Antideficiency Act and the Purpose Statute of 1809, which put strict limitations on how agencies spend money.

Read more.

Back of his hand: In a previously unreported letter last month, Bernhardt assured McCollum that using the fees to operate parks was legal, in response to her questions about the policy.

The letter said, in part: “I assure you that my respect for and care of the laws Congress has provided to us to carry out our mission is deep. In some instances, I know the laws we administer as well as I know the back of my own hand.”

Speaking after the hearing Wednesday, McCollum disputed that. “I disagree with that,” she said.

TRUMP ADMIN SEEKS TO ROLL BACK LIGHT BULB STANDARD: The Trump administration wants to roll back energy efficiency standards for certain light bulbs.

In a proposal released Wednesday, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposed repealing an Obama administration regulation that expanded the number of light bulbs subject to stringent efficiency standards under existing regulations, effective next year.

Those standards have already greatly increased the market for high-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and reduced sales of traditional incandescent bulbs.

Trump officials say their predecessors improperly interpreted the 1975 law that allows for such standards.

“DOE has since determined that the legal basis underlying those revisions misconstrued existing law,” the agency wrote in the notice that is due to be published in the Federal Register in the coming days.

Groups that supported the more stringent rules slammed the rollback proposal.

“This is another senseless and illegal Trump administration rollback that will needlessly hike our energy bills and spew tons more pollution into the air, harming the health of our children and the environment,” Noah Horowitz, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a statement.

“Even with today’s highly efficient LED light bulbs on the market, Trump’s Department of Energy wants to keep 2.7 billion of our lighting sockets mired in a world of dinosaur, energy-guzzling lighting technology that basically hasn’t been updated for more than a hundred years.”

Read more.

ON TAP THURSDAY:

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the outlook for energy innovation. Witnesses will include the Department of Energy’s Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar and former Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey Moniz2020 is the Democrats' to lose — and they very well may What we learned from the first Green New Deal Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees MORE.

The Environmental Law Institute will start its annual environment law conference.

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

The Intercept explores South Carolina’s failed nuclear power plant project, which it characterizes as spending $9 billion “to dig a hole in the ground and fill it back up.”

Daimler AG had talked with Tesla Inc. last year about creating an electric van together, Bloomberg reports.

The first oil shipments from the United States to China in months are in transit, CNBC reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Wednesday:

- Republicans push back at first climate hearings

- Trump admin seeks to roll back light bulb efficiency rule

- Trump: We cannot continue to spend 'billions' on 'preventable' forest fires

- Native Americans protest border wall at site of Texas butterfly habitat

- Park Service backtracks, won’t use entrance fees to pay for shutdown operations

- Dem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations

- 2018 was fourth-hottest recorded year, NOAA and NASA say