Overnight Energy: House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon| Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate contract | Climate protesters occupy Pelosi's office over California fires

Overnight Energy: House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon| Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate contract | Climate protesters occupy Pelosi's office over California fires

A GRAND EFFORT: The House passed legislation Wednesday that would ban mining near the Grand Canyon, a move designed to counter any efforts by the Trump administration to bolster the uranium industry by mining on federal lands.

The bill, which passed 236-185, would make permanent a mining moratorium on more than 1 million acres in northern Arizona surrounding the iconic national park.

Democrats see the bill as a vital step toward protecting sensitive habitat near the Grand Canyon from the "imminent threat" of mining. But Republicans argued the bill would stifle economic opportunities for the rural areas of the state.

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Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and author of the legislation, said plans to jumpstart mining in the area are "not theoretical and not trivial."

"These critical protections are under threat from the Trump administration under the guise of energy dominance and fabricated arguments of national security they've continued to push for these lands to be opened to exploitation on behalf of a few wealthy mining interests," he said Tuesday during House floor debate.

What's next? Grijalva's bill does not have companion legislation in the Senate, and the White House issued a veto threat, saying the administration opposes "such a large, permanent withdrawal, which would prohibit environmentally responsible development."

The vote on the bill, the Grand Canyon Centennial Act, comes as a White House working group organized to examine uranium supplies is considering recommending invoking a Cold War-era law that mandates the federal government buy uranium for enrichment for national security purposes.

Their recommendations, expected next month, could prompt the White House to lift a 20-year mining moratorium from 2012 that protected nearly 1,562 square miles outside the boundaries of the Grand Canyon.

Democrats have argued the U.S. does not need to tap into U.S. uranium reserves since many imports of the mineral come from allies like Canada and Australia.

"National security experts said this fear mongering about supplies is based on fantasy," Grijalva said Tuesday. "We shouldn't be mining for uranium around the Grand Canyon. Period."

Republicans argued that Democrats have been exaggerating the risks to the Grand Canyon.

Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanOvernight Energy: House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon| Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate contract | Climate protesters occupy Pelosi's office over California fires House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE (R-Ark.) said much of the land that would be protected isn't close to the park.

Read more on the vote here

 

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EPA UNION CONTRACT UPDATE: Union leaders say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is refusing to go back to the bargaining table with employees after a federal union regulator said the agency may have violated the law by imposing its latest contract on workers.

In June, the EPA rolled back the union protections offered to its employees, informing them in an email that it would implement a new contract that remains unsigned by the union itself -- a move the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has been fighting all summer.

AFGE argued it was illegal to "impose" a contract.

This week the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) sided with the union, which had filed an unfair labor practices charge arguing the EPA violated the law, a claim FLRA said had merit.

"We now have a third party backing up what we're saying, that their conduct violated the law," said Cathie McQuiston, deputy general counsel for AFGE, which represents 8,000 EPA employees.

The authority proposed a settlement agreement that would require the EPA abide by a 2007 union contract while agreeing to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a new deal.

But AFGE representatives said the EPA informed them they do not plan to sign the agreement proposed by FLRA. 

A spokesperson for the EPA said it "will not comment on matters related to ongoing litigation."

A refusal to go back to the bargaining table would likely anger EPA employees, some of whom have made public protests of the latest contract, including one who was receiving an award from EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact Top EPA official under investigation in document destruction EPA watchdog hits back at agency's legal reasoning in dodging investigations MORE.

Read more about the negotiations here

 

A SUNRISE SIT-IN: Youth protesters occupied House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE's (D-Calif.) office Wednesday afternoon, demanding climate action as a number of wildfires rage in California.

During the sit-in, the group of 50 activists from the Sunrise Movement demanded the California Democrat move forward with the Green New Deal. The protesters argued that the legislation is desperately needed as the country begins to feel the effects of climate change, citing intensifying wildfires in the senator's state.

The group also momentarily occupied the office of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHarris shares video addressing staffers the night Trump was elected: 'This is some s---' Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Senate talks on stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization unravel MORE (D-Calif.).

"We're focusing on the California wildfires because it is one of the predominant examples of how the climate crisis is taking shape and taking immediate form and impacting everyday Americans," said Gabbi Pierce, 22, of the Sunrise Movement.

"And we think it's really crucial that we don't just talk about these wildfires as a natural disaster but a manifestation of the climate crisis and that these are coming as a result of years of negligent to address the climate crisis."

The protests come nearly a year after activists for the group first occupied Pelosi's office in November last year along with then-Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats Sanders: Potential Bloomberg run shows 'arrogance of billionaires' Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez see 'class solidarity' in report Bezos asked Bloomberg to run MORE (D-N.Y.).

Read more here

 

165 LAWMAKERS STRONG: More than 100 lawmakers have signed a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for tax incentives for battery storage, zero-emission vehicles, offshore wind, and energy efficiency.

"Tax incentives have been an important and powerful policy tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing use of clean energy technology," lawmakers wrote, arguing doing so could help the U.S. surpass their Paris Climate Accord commitments.  

The letter was signed by 165 lawmakers, all Democrats. 

 

ON TAP TOMORROW: 

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on various bills.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Cities, tribes try a new environmental approach: give nature rights, Stateline reports.

Governor orders New Jersey to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy, NorthJersey.com reports.

Brazil fears oil spill could reach coral reef, readies ships, The Washington Post reports.

Australian wildfire: Hundreds of koalas feared dead, BBC News reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

Greta Thunberg turns down top environmental honor: 'The climate doesn't need awards'

Climate protesters occupy Pelosi's office over California fires 

Warsaw cutting back on car access, coal heating to fight smog

Union says EPA refuses to renegotiate 'imposed' contract, despite push from federal regulators

House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon