Overnight Energy: Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017 | Dems request more funds for Interior FOIA office | Europe turning to Russia for oil amid US sanctions

GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTIONS SLOWING UNDER TRUMP: Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are slowing down under the Trump Administration, with the harmful gasses falling just half a percent in 2017, according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Thursday.

Emissions have fallen by nearly 15 percent since hitting a recent high in 2007, but this year's figures significantly trail last year's and show progress may be dwindling.

Emissions fell 2.7 percent in 2016, for example.

EPA's take: In Thursday's announcement, Wheeler stressed innovation as the driver of the reductions, repeating a buzzword quickly becoming a favorite among Republican lawmakers.

"Through industry innovation, we've seen substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release. "This is proof that American ingenuity can support continued emissions reductions in the years ahead without the need for regulatory overreach."

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Power sector emissions fell 4.2 percent in 2017 while emissions from the transportation sector increased by 1.2 percent.

When emissions fell in 2016 -- the year after Trump took office -- the EPA stressed that regulations would not be necessary to drive greenhouse gas reductions.

"Thanks to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE's regulatory reform agenda, the economy is booming, energy production is surging, and we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial sources," Wheeler said in a statement from last year releasing the 2016 numbers.

The big picture: Trump has since worked to unwind regulations put in place by the Obama administration that were intended to address climate change by reducing emissions.

Experts have largely attributed the drop in emissions to the cheaper price of natural gas, which emits less carbon than coal, a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally. Trump campaigned on a promise to revive America's coal industry.

Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., but electricity production remains a close second.

Wheeler recently downplayed the risk of climate change in U.S., saying the most problematic threats are still "50 to 75 years out," compared to more immediate issues like access to clean drinking water.

Read more here.

 

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DEMS REQUEST FUNDS TO BEEF UP INTERIOR FOIA OFFICE: Democratic lawmakers are asking appropriators to provide more funding so the Interior Department can hire more staff to handle public information requests.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Trump, businesses sue Oversight chairman to block subpoena for financial records The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? MORE (D-Md.) and Reps. TJ Cox (D-Calif.) and Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaOvernight Energy: Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017 | Dems request more funds for Interior FOIA office | Europe turning to Russia for oil amid US sanctions Dems request more funds to beef up Interior FOIA office Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US MORE (D-Calif.) are requesting that the House Appropriations Committee allocate enough funds to hire "at least" 10 new full-time staff for the Interior Department's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office.

Why it's an issue: Response times for FOIA requests are increasing, sparking an outcry from journalists, environmental organizations and lawmakers. Under FOIA law, government agencies must respond to requests within 20 days or could face a lawsuit, a route some organizations have chosen to take under the Trump administration.

According to the Interior Department, the agency has experienced a 30 percent increase in FOIA requests since Trump took office. More than 100 cases are currently being litigated, the agency said.

"Because of the large increase in FOIA requests and litigation, the growing backlog and overwhelming public interest in ensuring transparency during this Administration, we recommend that the funding increase be used to hire at least 10 [full-time employees] FTEs dedicated solely to responding to FOIA requests," the lawmakers wrote in their letter Thursday night.

Connecting the dots: In a letter last week, the two lawmakers requested an additional $2.5 million in funds for the office, citing a drop in the number of investigations opened by the office.

In their request, the lawmakers noted that the OIG received only a 2 percent increase in funding between fiscal 2015 and 2018, while during that time period, complaints filed against Interior increased 48 percent.

More about the request here.

 

EUROPE TURNING TO RUSSIA FOR OIL: U.S. sanctions on oil from Venezuela and Iran have played into Russia's hands on energy policy, according to a new analysis that found that refiners have turned to Russian exports to fill the gaps.

Reuters reported Friday that U.S. sanctions on oil from the two countries has led to a global shortage of sour crude oils. The shortage comes even as the U.S. experiences record oil production of variants described as lighter and sweeter than Russian, Venezuelan or Iranian counterparts.

The decline in availability of Iranian or Venezuelan exports -- which are largely untouchable due to pressure on foreign companies from the State Department -- has led to a scramble among buyers for Russian-manufactured Urals oil.

"Urals is anchored in a positive zone versus dated Brent [a classification of lighter, sweeter oil] and there is no indication it will fall to a discount any time soon," one European analyst told Reuters.

The surge in buyers searching for Urals oil has led to Russian companies reportedly making $140 million more last month than they did in October. A large new refinery in Turkey, built to run on sour oil, is likely to exacerbate the situation, analysts said.

Read more here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Pesticides and antibiotics are polluting streams across Europe, The Guardian reports.

More than 350,000 Californians live in towns that could have the next big wildfire, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Connecticut's rapid loss of urban trees could have long-term consequences, the Hartford Courant reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

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Dems request more funds to beef up Interior FOIA office

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Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017