Overnight Energy: 17 states sue Trump over weakening of Endangered Species Act | Federal land agency chief releases 17-page recusal list | UN climate report warns of warming oceans, sea level rise

Overnight Energy: 17 states sue Trump over weakening of Endangered Species Act | Federal land agency chief releases 17-page recusal list | UN climate report warns of warming oceans, sea level rise
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NEW LAWSUIT OVER ENDANGERED SPECIES ROLLBACK: A coalition of state attorneys general, led by California, Maryland and Massachusetts, are suing the Trump administration over recent changes made to the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraProgressive group releases Supreme Court shortlist for 2020 Democrats Trump administration ends five-year oil and gas drilling moratorium in California  Feds won't pursue charges against Sacramento officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark MORE (D) challenged the Trump administration's changes to the way it will protect species under the ESA as a choice "to prioritize endangering endangered species rather than protecting them."

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The lawsuit follows the administration's announcement in August that it would weaken protections on various plants and animals, opting to no longer regulate threatened species at the same degree as endangered species. The procedural changes finalized by the Fish and Wildlife Service, also changed protections of species habitat and allowed economic factors to be weighed before adding an animal to the list.

"Whether or not an animal should be protected should not be a question of whether or not it will help or impede corporate profits," said Becerra at a press conference Wednesday. "The law is clear."

Environmental groups also filed suit over the ESA rollback in August.

Interior's side: A spokesperson for the Interior Department defended the ESA changes.

"These are long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law. We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Becerra said the future health of the planet depends on the success of those creatures. He pointed to the bald eagle and the California condor as protected species that have relied on the ESA to bring back their populations.

"The animals that we are talking about ... are not just a symbol of this country, they are key parts of our ecosystem. These ecosystems are facing increasing threats in the face of our climate crisis," said Becerra.

Read more about the lawsuit here

 

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IT'S A 17-PAGE RECUSAL BONANZA: William Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has released a 17-page recusal list highlighting a number of people, companies and advocacy groups he must avoid while working at the agency.

The disclosure shows Pendley's ties to a number of industries that BLM regulates as it works to balance energy, grazing and recreational interests along with conservation. The recusal document was first reported by E&E News.

Pendley, who has drawn controversy over his past advocacy for selling off the nation's public lands, shared the recusal list with BLM leadership.

"I understand that preserving a culture of ethical compliance within the BLM begins with me, and I must set the example for the Bureau," Pendley wrote in an email sharing the recusal list.

"To do so, I am following the DEO's guidance and sharing my recusal agreement with you," Pendley wrote, referring to the Department of Interior's Departmental Ethics Office.

Pendley, who was appointed acting director over the summer, added he has "established a rigorous screening process to ensure that I will remain in full compliance" with ethics laws.

Who is on the list? The 60 entities outlined by Pendley include at least seven energy companies he is recused from dealing with, including the National Mining Association and various oil companies. The list also outlines a number of other companies that stand to benefit from the use of public lands.

Pendley has recused himself from dealing with a number of state-based farm bureaus as well as the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association. Those groups sometimes advocate for greater access to public lands for farmers and ranchers.

Pendley also recused himself from dealing with four different helicopter tour companies and the United States Air Tour Association. Websites for the companies advertise tours over the Grand Canyon.

Ethics groups worried: "This is a long list of recusals," said Delaney Marsco, legal counsel for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. "If these matters relate to his job in some way, and they likely do if has to recuse himself from them, it's troubling that there's so much of a person's job that they can't do."

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of Western Priorities, a conservation watchdog group, also questioned whether the bureau chief's recusal list would interfere with his ability to lead the agency.

"A BLM director has to balance multiple uses and that means balancing conservation and recreation and energy development and ranching, and if in any given decisions the BLM director is conflicted in one way or another with any of those interests, there's no way for them to make good decisions," Weiss said.

"Looking at the breadth of Pendley's conflicts, it's hard to see how he can do the job because he has worked for so many clients across the West."

The recusal list additionally bars Pendley from dealing with some of the entities for just one year, despite the Trump Ethics Pledge requiring a two-year recusal period.

Read more about the BLM chief's recusal list here

 

THE LATEST UN CLIMATE REPORT IS IN: The latest United Nations' climate report released Wednesday paints a dire picture of the world's oceans, warning that some ice melt may be irreversible as the globe faces rising sea levels that threaten coastal areas.

Even if countries significantly curbed their emissions, the planet is marching toward sea level rise of a meter, and most of the East and West coasts in the U.S. will experience flooding that would normally take place once a century every year, scientists warn.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviewed the state of the world's oceans and ice, ranging from ice sheets in the Arctic to mountaintop glaciers, and found many effects of climate change can no longer be avoided.

The report stressed the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to address the effects that can still be managed.

"This report highlights the urgency of timely, ambitious, coordinated, and enduring action. What's at stake is the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and importantly the world we leave our children," said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the IPCC and deputy assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

"It's the complete picture that's surprising and frankly concerning about changes we're already seeing from highest mountains to the bottom of the ocean and how these are kind of consistently being affected by human-caused warming," she said. 

The damage to the interconnected systems could lead to a future of serious sea level rise, as warming temperatures melt ice and promote more frequent and intense storms. On land, decreasing snowfall threatens to diminish the freshwater supply to the American West, drying the landscape and limiting the capacity of hydroelectric power -- an important source of renewable energy in the region. 

"Snow is good, yet we've got less snow. Snow arrives later, melts earlier and covers less ground," said Heidi Steltzer, one of the lead authors of the report and a professor at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

The report also warned about the repercussions of warming ocean temperatures. The world's oceans have largely served as a buffer against global warming, absorbing carbon emissions and excess heat -- but that capacity may be diminishing.  

Since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled, destabilizing massive ice sheets near Greenland and in the Antarctic. 

"For decades the ocean has been acting like a sponge, absorbing carbon dioxide and heat to regulate the global temperature, but it can't keep up," Barrett said.

Read more about the report here

 

ON TAP THURSDAY:

On Thursday, a House Agriculture subcommittee will hold a hearing on forest restoration

The House Science, Space and Technology Commiteee will hold a hearing on weather forecasting under climate change

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Interior Department's "failure to cooperate with Congressional oversight requests." 

The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on reducing industrial emissions.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

-Major cruise line to abandon plastic water bottles, The New York Times reports.

-Volunteers conserve endangered sea turtles in remote Panama, the Associated Press reports.

-Zimbabwe's water woes worsen as capital shuts down treatment plant, CNN reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

Watchdog: Energy Department not doing enough to protect grid against cyber attacks

Officials warn Mont Blanc glacier could collapse

17 states sue Trump administration over weakening of Endangered Species Act

UN climate report warns of warming oceans, sea level rise

Federal land agency chief releases 17-page recusal list