Overnight 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 PROBE INTO NEW SECRETARY: The top watchdog for the Department of Interior has opened up an investigation into newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt.

Deputy inspector general Mary L. Kendall wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the department's Office of Inspector General had received seven complaints alleging conflicts of interest or potential ethics violations by Bernhardt, who was at the time deputy secretary of the department.

"The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Interior has received seven complaints, including yours, from a wide assortment of complainants alleging various potential conflicts of interest and other violations," Kendall wrote in a letter to Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallNew Mexico senators request probe into militia group detaining migrants Latino group urges state lawmaker to make primary challenge to Democrat for Georgia House seat Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (D-N.M.) and 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.).

ADVERTISEMENT

"We are continuing to gather pertinent information about the complaints and have opened an investigation to address them. We will conduct our review as expeditiously and thoroughly as practicable," she added.

Other lawmakers: Kendall sent a similar letter on Monday to other lawmakers, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Warren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who had previously raised concerns with the department's IG office about potential conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Timing: The announcement of a probe comes less than a week after the Senate confirmed Bernhardt to be secretary of the Interior Department. 

The controversy: Democrats and environmentalists have taken issue with Bernhardt's lobbying ties as well as policies he's helped draft as Interior deputy secretary that appear to benefit some former clients.

Under ethics rules, Bernhardt has had to recuse himself from meeting with a number of former clients. But Democrats have repeatedly raised questions about decisions Bernhardt has made as deputy and acting director that benefit former clients.

The Hill's Jordain Carney has the story.

 

HAPPY CONGRESSIONAL RECESS MONDAY. Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com and Rebecca Beitsch, rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @rebeccabeitsch and @thehill.

 

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

WARREN UNVEILS PUBLIC LANDS PLAN: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 Democratic hopeful, unveiled an ambitious proposal Monday aimed at protecting public lands and rolling back many of 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 environmental policies.

In her proposal, published on Medium, Warren included plans to immediately halt drilling offshore and on publicly owned lands, as well as restoring the original boundary lines for two national monuments shrunk under Trump.

Warren championed the goals as a way to "preserve wild, natural places for future generations."

"We must not allow corporations to pillage our public lands and leave taxpayers to clean up the mess. All of us -- local communities and tribes, hunters and anglers, ranchers and weekend backpackers -- must work together to manage and protect our shared heritage," Warren wrote.

Focus on halting drilling: The first step of her plan would be to place a moratorium on any new fossil fuel extraction on public lands or offshore, as a way to show a commitment to fighting climate change.

A U.S. Geological Survey study released last fall found that public-land drilling contributes a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Under Trump, large tracts of public land have been auctioned off, often at low prices. The administration in December also released a plan for lease sales in Alaska's Arctic -- a plan mandated by law through Congress. The plan could open up drilling as early as this summer.

Looking offshore, the Trump administration is currently considering ways to expand offshore drilling on the Atlantic coast and is in the midst of working out ways to begin seismic testing for oil deposits.

"It is wrong to prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of our local communities. That's why on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling -- a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands," Warren pledged.

Instead of drilling, Warren's plan would expand renewable energy production on public lands, committing to provide the U.S. electric grid with 10 percent of its energy from wind, solar, and geothermal projects on public land. It's a goal that's nearly ten times the current production levels, Warren said.

"My administration will make it a priority to expedite leases and incentivize development in existing designated areas, and share royalties from renewable generation with states and local communities to help promote economic development and reduce local dependence on fossil fuel revenues," she wrote.

National monuments: Warren is also seeking to expand the boundaries of two national monuments in Utah previously shrunk by 2 million acres under Trump in 2017. While no drilling or mining has yet been auctioned on the now unprotected public land, the move did open up the former parcels in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments for fossil fuel extraction.

"These lands are part of our national fabric, sacred to tribes and beloved by American families. As president, I will use my authorities under the Antiquities Act to restore protections to both monuments and any other national monuments targeted by this Administration," Warren wrote.

More on Warren's plans here.

 

SUPREME COURT DENIES CASE CHALLENGE TO NUCLEAR SUBSIDIES: The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition from an electric trade association group that challenged nuclear plant subsidies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The case was seen as a potential roadblock to states that are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their reliance on polluting fuels.

The Electric Power Supply Association argued that nuclear subsidies in New York and Illinois give nuclear producers an unfair advantage.

"States are moving aggressively to increase the wholesale revenues of favored producers," lawyers for the association wrote in their brief, adding that rates should be set through competition.

New York in 2016 announced plans to get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the same period.

"Nuclear power is a crucial, emission-free bridge to that future," New York wrote in its brief, but said financial instability left many nuclear plants at risk of closing. "If they close before enough new renewable resources are built, the gap will be filled with fossil-fuel generation and emissions will spike."

The Electric Power Supply Association, which represents power producers and marketers, appealed to the Supreme Court after losing in the 2nd Circuit Court.

In keeping with practice, the Supreme Court did not give a reason for denying the case.

The power supply association said it will now turn to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in its challenge, particularly given efforts in other states to secure nuclear subsidies.

"Emboldened nuclear subsidy seekers [are] now pounding on the doors of state legislatures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and again in Illinois for a second helping," the group said in a statement.

More on the controversy here.

 

COURT ORDERS EPA TO RE-EVALUATE OBAMA-ERA POWER RULE: A federal appeals court is sending the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back to the drawing board over its wastewater regulations in a ruling that compares them to a Commodore 64 home computer. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on Friday that EPA's 2015 power plant wastewater pollution rule was not stringent enough, siding with environmentalists.

Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan ruled in favor of various environmental groups that portions of the wastewater rule regulating legacy wastewater and liquid from impoundments were "unlawful."

"The Clean Water Act empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate and enforce rules known as 'effluent limitation guidelines' or 'ELGs.' For quite some time, ELGs for steam-electric power plants have been, in EPA's words, 'out of date.' That is a charitable understatement," Duncan wrote in his ruling.

"The last time these guidelines were updated was during the second year of President Reagan's first term, the same year that saw the release of the first CD player, the Sony Watchman pocket television, and the Commodore 64 home computer. In other words, 1982."

The judge ruled that in setting the standards for the two types of wastewater, EPA failed to use the best available technology economically available (BAT), an integral part of the Clean Water Act. He said instead, the same method was used from 1982 to determine the standard, equating the decision to "as if Apple unveiled the new iMac, and it was a Commodore 64."

What's next: The decision vacates the two standards and will send EPA back to draft new regulations for the specific types of wastewater.

Reaction: Environmental groups cheered the ruling.

"This is a major victory for clean water," said Thom Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the Earthjustice Coal Program. "The court made clear that EPA needs to strengthen the rule to protect communities living downstream of power plants, calling into question the legality of the Trump Administration's plans to weaken these public health protections."

An EPA spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the decision.

More on the court ruling here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Louisiana wants some gator aid, Roll Call reports.

Lawmakers weigh push to restrict drilling near sacred sites, the Associated Press reports.

Protesters block some of London's busiest roads and bridges in the name of climate change, CNN reports.

Brazil to auction oil camps despite environmental warnings, the Associated Press reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Warren unveils 2020 plan to stop drilling on public lands

Supreme Court denies case challenging state nuclear subsidies

Washington Monument reopening delayed by possible soil contamination

Inslee: 'People are coming to realize the urgency' of climate change

Rare trio of eagles raising bald eaglets together in one nest