Overnight Energy: McConnell plans Green New Deal vote before August recess | EPA official grilled over enforcement numbers | Green group challenges Trump over Utah pipelines

Overnight Energy: McConnell plans Green New Deal vote before August recess | EPA official grilled over enforcement numbers | Green group challenges Trump over Utah pipelines
© Stefani Reynolds

GREEN NEW DEAL VOTE IS GOING TO TAKE A WHILE:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he will force a vote on the progressive Green New Deal sometime before the August recess, arguing he thinks Democrats are trying to dodge the fight.

McConnell said he had read with "some amusement" that some Democrats were discussing voting "present" on the anti-climate change plan, a move that would allow them to avoid taking a stance on the liberal resolution.

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"The only thing I would ask is if this is such a popular thing to do and so necessary, why would one to dodge the vote. This is an opportunity to go on record. ... It's a debate we'll have in all likelihood sometime before the August break," McConnell said.

The Senate is scheduled to go on recess Aug. 5.

Why it matters: McConnell first announced earlier this month that he would force a vote on the resolution, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections MORE (D-Mass.). Republicans have seized on the Green New Deal as a wedge issue as they hunt for fodder for the 2020 election. Many lawmakers and others at the time expected the fast-tracked vote could come as early as this week.

What Republicans are saying: Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, pointed to it as one example of how Democrats have shifted to the left.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIf Democrats want gun control, they must first concede defeat Conway: Republican concerns about gun reform 'all reconcilable' Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings MORE (Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, argued that the proposal "drives a stake into the heart" of the U.S. economy and would result in a "gift" to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The solution to climate change is not government regulation, it's innovation, and that's the way we ought to be heading," Barrasso added.

More on McConnell's plans here.

 

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

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DEMOCRATS GRILL EPA ENFORCEMENT HEAD: House lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing sharply questioned a dramatic drop in environmental law enforcement under the Trump administration, hammering the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) head of regulations over the trend.

"What I see when I look at this report is an agency that is simply sitting on its hands, an agency that is giving polluters a free pass, and it's putting our communities at risk," said Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Crucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — White House withdraws controversial rule to eliminate drug rebates | Grassley says deal on drug prices moving 'very soon' | Appeals court declines to halt Trump abortion referral ban MORE (D-Colo.) at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation hearing on EPA enforcement.

EPA's head of compliance, Susan Bodine, defended the agency's historically low enforcement numbers under Trump, focusing her comments on highlighting polluter compliance over legal charges brought against polluters.

"This narrative which appeared in the press since the beginning of the administration discredits the tremendous work of the compliance and assurance staff," Bodine told lawmakers. "Enforcement is a critical tool but it's not an end to itself."

Since Trump took office, the EPA has witnessed dramatic policy changes, ranging from its use of science advisory boards to rollbacks of a number of Obama-era environmental regulations.

But the enforcement numbers released annually by the agency, which show how many cases were referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution against polluters, how much money was settled for with polluters and how often inspections were made at facilities, have shown some of the most clear reductions under the current administration.

EPA's most recent annual report, released in early February, found that in 2018, the penalties handed down to corporate polluters by the Trump administration's EPA were the lowest in over a decade. By two key measures, the agency assessed lower penalties for breaking pollution laws on an inflation-adjusted basis than any year in at least 15 years, according to the official figures.

The dipped fines include a significant drop in injunctive relief -- the monetary commitments polluters pledge to spend in order to remediate their pollution and keep it from recurring -- and the civil penalties the EPA charged to companies. Civil penalties in 2018 were the lowest amount on record since the EPA's enforcement office was established in its current form in 1994.

Last year's numbers were also significantly down from the previous year's number under Trump. Injunctive relief in 2018 showed an 80 percent decrease from the EPA's 2017 numbers ($20 billion). Civil penalties in 2018 dropped nearly 96 percent from the agency's 2017 number, $1.6 billion.

Read more here.

 

GREEN GROUPS TO CHALLENGE TRUMP APPROVAL OF UTAH PIPELINES:

Conservationists are planning a legal challenge to the Trump administration's decision to allow a company to build transmission lines and pipelines on federal lands in Utah.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and five other environmental groups on Tuesday filed an intent to sue, challenging the Bureau of Land Management's September decision to allow an Estonia based company to start construction of the pipelines in Utah's Uintah Basin.

The Trump administration's green-lit plan would let Enefit American Oil construct the U.S.'s first commercial-scale oil shale development if it were to become operational.

Part of the operations would include constructing three pipelines and two transmission lines across federal public lands to move processed oil from the shale facility to various utilities.

The environmental groups argue that the plan near the Colorado border would drain billions of gallons of water from the Green River and could threaten endangered wildlife as well as contribute a large amount to greenhouse gas emissions.

The groups argue in their filing that the decision would violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and that BLM did not "adequately analyze how BLM's approval of the rights-of-way -- including indirect effects, the effects of interrelated or interdependent actions, and cumulative effects -- would affect four endangered fish species, two rare plant species, and their critical habitat."

The filing argues that the water pipeline approved by BLM would also "enable removal of up to 10,867 acre-feet per year of water from the Green River" for use at the oil shale facility.

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"This massive new diversion from the Green River would severely harm four endangered Upper Colorado River fish species and their critical habitat," read the filing.

The group told the Interior Department it must undertake a new consultation to determine "whether BLM's action is likely to jeopardize the four endangered Upper Colorado River fish species and the two penstemon species or destroy or adversely modify their habitat."

Read more here.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

Wednesday is a climate heavy day on Capitol Hill. The Senate Environment and Public Works committee will hold a hearing to examine new technologies and the science behind carbon capture. The technology has become one of the rare places where Republicans and Democrats have found agreement as an important investment to reversing the effects of climate change.

The House Science committee will also Wednesday morning hold a hearing to look into climate change's impacts on oceans.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Oil Prices Stabilize After Trump Tweet Turmoil, The Wall Street Journal reports

Storm drops as much as 8 inches on Napa County, The Napa Valley Register reports

183 Amtrak Passengers On The Move After 36 Hours Stranded In Oregon Amid Heavy Snow, NPR reports

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Tuesday...

-Environmental groups to challenge Trump administration approval of Utah pipelines

-McConnell plans vote on Green New Deal before August recess

-Democrats drill EPA official over decrease in polluter settlements under Trump

-Schumer: Dems will try to defund Trump panel reassessing climate change

-Kasich to push Republicans for policies to address climate change