Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe

CHILL BABY, CHILL: The House on Wednesday approved two bills that offer sweeping protections for the nation's coastlines, permanently blocking offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Another vote on legislation to block drilling in the Atlantic is set for Thursday as House Democrats seek to advance their pro-environment agenda. 

"We're striking back this week against the Trump administration and their agenda to drill everywhere, every time, with no exception," House Energy and Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said ahead of Wednesday's votes.

There is minimal drilling taking place in the areas protected by the bills, but Democrats want to block off areas the Trump administration is eager to tap as part of its energy dominance strategy. That plan has been put on hold as the administration fights to drill in parts of the Arctic previously protected by President Obama.

The White House on Monday announced that President Trump would veto the bills.

"These bills would undermine the Administration's commitment to a prosperous American economy supported by the responsible use of the Nation's abundant natural resources," the White House wrote in a statement.

H.R. 1941, the bill to block drilling along the East and West coasts, passed with 238 votes. H.R. 205, the bill that would block drilling along Florida's coast in the Gulf of Mexico, passed with 248 votes.

"When you have offshore structures, rigs or otherwise exposed to a marine and corrosive environment, something is going to break down and something is going to spill," said Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), a freshman who campaigned on opposition to offshore drilling and sponsored the bill to ban drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

"If we have if we're learning anything from the past, it's that when you drill, you spill. No one should be comfortable exposing our shorelines to that risk," he said.

The bills enjoy broad support among Democrats but each also secured Republican co-sponsors. Florida Republicans were particularly eager to sign on to the bill to protect their coastline, an effort led by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), alongside nine other Sunshine State conservatives.

Offshore drilling is deeply unpopular in Florida, where nearly 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban such drilling 

Rooney repeatedly thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for helping to bring the bill to the floor and said he hoped it would garner votes from other Republicans.

"I think this is an important opportunity for the Republican Party to show young people, soccer moms like George Bush's old coalition, university people that the Republican Party can do other things than just scream about guns," Rooney told reporters. 

Read more about the bills here.

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REPUBLICANS HAVE OTHER PLANS: House Republicans on Wednesday rolled out an energy bill that's a direct counter to a push by Democrats to ban offshore drilling.

The American Energy First Act, introduced by six GOP lawmakers, is labeled as an "all-of-the-above" energy approach that doubles down on the country's need for onshore and offshore leasing of public lands for drilling royalties. 

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.) along with GOP Reps. Rob Bishop (Utah), Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.) and Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) introduced the bill.

"Federal regulations have burdened energy development on federal lands and waters for far too long, and this legislation aims to put American Energy First and ensure economic growth and domestic energy security for decades to come," a description of the bill reads.

The legislation, largely a compilation of separate energy bills introduced by House lawmakers in previous sessions of Congress, is being pitched as an "alternative" energy bill to the three offshore drilling ban packages being voted on by the House this week, which GOP lawmakers have labeled as a "Green New Deal light."

A GOP committee aide for the House Natural Resources Committee said Republican lawmakers involved in the energy bill saw the plans currently pushed by Democrats as "Fundamentals of the Green New Deal going as piecemeal."

"What we see is a choice to go with less domestic energy development, locking up our federal land and waters, without evaluating what our possibilities are," the aide said of the offshore drilling bills on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Lawmakers voted Wednesday on two bills that would block exploration drilling in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and off the east and west coasts. Another vote on an oil and gas drilling moratorium in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is scheduled for Thursday.

The Republican House aide called the three bills, which have some bipartisan support, "dead on arrival" in the Senate. The White House on Monday promised a veto of the bills if any were to land on Trump's desk.

The American Energy First Act instead opts to make it easier for the country to produce energy, with measures to limit the executive's ability to place unilateral moratoriums on drilling on public lands and waters, extending oil and gas drilling to the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico that is currently off-limits due to a ban placed in 2006, and streamlining permits for fossil fuel leasers.

While the plan is not an alternative climate change package, committee aides made the point that emissions are lower when energy is produced under the United States' stringent pollution standards. The aides argued that a ban on drilling in the U.S. would not stop oil and gas needs, but instead push the onus for powering the country onto energy exports from foreign, sometimes "unfriendly," countries with lesser standards. Also, they say that shipping those fuels overseas for U.S. use would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about the plan here


NOAA investigation requests mount... Inquiries and investigation requests are mounting into the circumstances that led leadership at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to reprimand its own scientists for contradicting Trump's tweet on Hurricane Dorian.

Four Democratic lawmakers are calling for investigations and additional materials related to growing reports that White House officials played a hand in reprimanding NOAA staff at the agency's Birmingham, Ala., office--actions that would be seen as a politicization of science.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology launched a congressional inquiry Wednesday into the circumstances that led to NOAA sending an unsigned statement last Friday that appeared to rebuke its own scientists who contradicted Trump's claims that Dorian might hit Alabama.

Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Wednesday asking for details surrounding the statement's publication and requesting a briefing from the Secretary.

The Commerce Department oversees NOAA.

"It appears that in an attempt to support President Donald Trump's incorrect tweet asserting that Alabama would be 'hit (much) harder than anticipated' by Hurricane Dorian, Commerce officials may have taken a number of steps to pressure NOAA into supporting the President's assertions," the lawmakers wrote.

Trump on Sept. 1 said Dorian had the potential of hitting Alabama, contradicting official weather data. Officials at the National Weather Service based in Birmingham that same day tweeted that residents were not in fact at risk to the storm. On Sept. 6, NOAA sent out an unsigned statement calling the tweet "inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time." Hurricane Dorian did not hit Alabama.

Mick Mulvaney pushed NOAA to disavow forecasters who contradicted Trump on Alabama... Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to have NOAA support Trump's comments on the threat of Hurricane Dorian to Alabama and contradict the National Weather Service, according to The New York Times.

The Times, citing three unidentified sources, reported that after the directive came down from Mulvaney, Ross called acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs to tell him to ensure the agency backed Trump.

When Jacobs objected, he was told the NOAA's political appointees would be fired if it was not carried out, according to the newspaper.

Ross's spokesman has denied earlier reporting that the Cabinet official threatened firings at the NOAA if the administration did not back the president.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he "never" told Mulvaney to have NOAA disavow the NWS.


-The House will take up a bill that would block drilling along the shoreline of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


-We're Barely Listening to the U.S.'s Most Dangerous Volcanoes, The New York Times reports.

-US seeks dismissal of tribes' lawsuit over Keystone pipeline, the Associated Press reports.

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

-West Coast marine life endangered by 'blob' heatwave

-House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban

-Climate skeptic on National Security Council leaving Trump administration

-House approves two bills to block Trump drilling