Overnight Energy: Interior drops controversial proposed change from final FOIA rule | Schumer pushes for all-electric vehicle future by 2040 | Court tosses California case challenging Trump car emissions rule

Overnight Energy: Interior drops controversial proposed change from final FOIA rule | Schumer pushes for all-electric vehicle future by 2040 | Court tosses California case challenging Trump car emissions rule
© Getty

FLIP IT AND REVERSE IT: The Interior Department has removed heavily criticized language from the final version of its public records rule that some worried would give officials too much leniency in withholding documents.

The final iteration of the department's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulation issued Friday removes several proposed language changes that government watchdog groups argued would place an unlawful burden on public records seekers and offered the agency broader authority to reject requests that didn't fit the more narrow request format.

For instance, a section of the finalized rule no longer lists the additional specification to "reasonably describe" the records sought: "identify the discrete, identifiable agency activity, operation, or program in which you are interested."

Background: Interior first submitted the draft FOIA regulatory changes in January during the government shutdown.

ADVERTISEMENT

Government transparency groups argued such new specifications were not backed by the law. "The problem with this language is that neither FOIA nor the case law requires requesters 'to identify the discrete, identifiable agency activity, operation, or program in which [they] are interested.' Rather, a FOIA request satisfies the statute's 'reasonably describes' requirement so long as it 'enable[s] a professional employee of the agency who [i]s familiar with the subject area of the request to locate the record with a reasonable amount of effort,' " a group of seven government oversight groups wrote in a January complaint to the Interior Department.

Under scrutiny: The changes in the final rule come as the Interior Department has faced mounting questions over its public records policies, including an investigation by the Interior inspector general into its use of an "awareness review" policy that allows political appointees to view documents in which they are referenced prior to release. Neither the draft of Interior's FOIA policy nor the finalized rule mentions that policy, which was issued separately.

During the drafting of its FOIA rule, Interior took notes from both the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for ways to deal with a surge in public records requests. EPA's latest FOIA update has been the subject of its own heavy criticism.

Read more here.

 

TGIF! 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.

 

IT'S ELECTRIC: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) outlined his vision for boosting the number of electric vehicles on the road, hoping the U.S. will have an all-electric fleet by 2040.

In a Thursday op-ed in The New York Times, Schumer outlined his plan, offering steep discounts for buyers that trade in a gas-powered car for an electric one. The assistance would be even greater for low-income customers. 

"Isn't the transition to electric vehicles already happening?" Schumer wrote. "Yes, but it is progressing too slowly. Transportation still accounts for nearly one-third of America's carbon output. Even though many American automakers are preparing for an all-electric future, electric vehicles are still too expensive for too many Americans, and our country lacks sufficient battery-charging infrastructure."

His plan also calls for grants to help states build charging stations across the country, with a focus on low-income and rural areas. 

While Schumer doesn't spell out what form the assistance for electric vehicle purchases would take, the op-ed does say it would only apply to American-made cars. He estimates that assistance, along with the investment in charging stations and a program to help automakers shift their factories, would require $454 billion over 10 years.

Transportation is the largest sector of carbon pollution in the U.S., according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, surpassing greenhouse gas emissions from both power plants and industry. 

"If Democrats win control of the Senate in November 2020, I, as majority leader, will introduce bold and far-reaching climate legislation. This proposal for clean cars would be a key element of that bill," he wrote, saying the U.S. needs to act quickly before losing electric vehicle market share to China. 

Environmental groups have backed the proposal, as have some wings of the auto industry: Ford and General Motors and unions for autoworkers have expressed support.

Read more here.

 

PUTTING ON THE BRAKES: A federal appeals court on Friday dismissed challenges brought by the state of California against a Trump administration rule on tailpipe pollution standards, arguing the case has no merit because the rule has not yet been finalized.

In a unanimous ruling, all three Obama-appointed judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction "because EPA has not engaged in 'final action' under the Clean Air Act."

The ruling came after the Golden State sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February for deciding to make changes to the Obama-era rule, arguing it violated administrative procedure.

The group took issue with then-EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWhat has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE's decision to reconsider the regulations during a "midterm evaluation" of the rule. Pruitt deemed the standards set for model year cars from 2022-2025 were no longer appropriate. The state argued the EPA failed to adequately explain and provide detailed analyses backing up the decision to change the regulations.

The suit was one of a series of challenges the state and others have lobbed in the past year against the Trump administration over the car emissions rule.

Most recently, California in September sued the EPA for issuing part of a final rule that removes the state's ability to establish its own pollution standards.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK: 

On Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee will presumably be tearing into Trump's plan to roll back fuel economy standards in a hearing they're calling "Trump's Wrong Turn on Clean Cars." 

The same day, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard and Trump's backfiring efforts to win over Iowa corn farmers. 

Later on Tuesday, House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife will hold a hearing on plastic pollution. 

On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on sexual harassment within the Department of the Interior. 

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on using agriculture to battle climate change. This follows an IPCC report calling for a massive rethinking of how the globe manages its lands. 

In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on water security while the Environment and Public Works Committee will vet the inspector general nominee for EPA. 

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Ted Danson and Jane Fonda arrested while protesting climate change, The Independent reports

Offshore windfarms 'can provide more electricity than the world needs,' The Guardian reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Friday… 

-27 nations pledge nearly $10B to fight climate change, U.S. not among them

-Interior removes controversial proposed change from final FOIA rule

-Largest California utility reports broken power line near wildfire origin

-Schumer pushes for all-electric vehicle future by 2040

-Federal court dismisses California case challenging Trump car emissions rule