Overnight Energy: Trump officials backing off plans to freeze fuel economy | EPA blames advisory board for FOIA changes | Keystone pipeline spills more than 350K gallons of oil

Overnight Energy: Trump officials backing off plans to freeze fuel economy | EPA blames advisory board for FOIA changes | Keystone pipeline spills more than 350K gallons of oil
© Greg Nash

AN EPIC REVERSAL: The Trump administration is backing away from its proposal to roll back Obama-era rules that push automakers to make vehicles more fuel efficient, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The administration is now considering requiring a 1.5 percent increase in fuel efficiency, compared with the 5 percent annual called for under the Obama rules, according to the Journal, which cited people familiar with the process.


A key component of former President Obama's environmental legacy was focused on strengthening fuel emissions standards for cars to 54.5 mpg by 2026. But the rollback first proposed by the Trump administration in 2018, which an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysis said would increase petroleum consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, would freeze the average fuel economy at the current 37 mpg level.

That proposal ignited a battle with California and created a rift in the auto industry. In July, California signed a deal with several automakers that favor keeping the certainty of the Obama-era regulations.

But earlier this week, other major automakers announced they would side with the Trump administration in a related suit challenging changes to federal fuel economy standards.

What EPA is saying: When reached for comment, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud did not provide details about the fuel efficiency plans but instead said the administration “is focusing on finalizing" a separate tailpipe rule that "will deliver one national standard to the American auto market.”

Trump tweeted in September that he was revoking the waiver California relies on to set tougher emissions standards for vehicles — something his administration has argued creates confusion for automakers who must make cars to meet two different standards.

Reads more on the developing story here.


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MAJOR ADMISSION: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is blaming a component of its controversial new public records policy on recommendations made by an advisory board, according to an email shared with The Hill.

In June the agency made a change to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policy requiring that all record requests must first go through EPA's Washington, D.C., office instead of its smaller bureaus. The key change was done at the behest of advisory committee recommendations and was not mandated under the law as previously argued, agency officials said.

"The only discretionary change not mandated by Congressional amendments in the updated regulations was adopted consistent with the recommendations from the FOIA Federal Advisory Committee," Joseph Brazauskas, EPA acting associate administrator, wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

"In 2018, the FOIA Federal Advisory Committee recommended that federal departments and agencies 'centralize FOIA processing where appropriate.' Therefore, at the specific direction of the FOIA Federal Advisory Committee, the Agency's recent updates provided for the centralization of the submission and receipt of all requests," the letter continued.

However, when the EPA first announced the finalized changes to its FOIA policy this summer, it argued that it did not have to be subjected to a public comment period because the policy update was mandated by Congress.

"The changes in today's rule bring EPA's regulations into compliance with non-discretionary provisions of the amended statute and reflect changes in the agency's organization, procedure, or practice," a senior career EPA official said to The Hill in June. "It is routine for agencies to update their FOIA regulations to reflect self-executing statutory provisions."

The EPA's latest letter says otherwise, underscoring new concerns about the FOIA policy change that critics argued might give political appointees more control over which public records are released.

Read more on the controversy here.


PIPELINE DOWN: The Keystone pipeline has spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into North Dakota this week, The New York Times reports.

The pipeline has leaked roughly 383,000 gallons of crude oil, impacting an estimated half-acre of wetland, according to state environmental regulators.

The leak has been contained, according to Karl Rockeman, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality's division of water quality. 

"It is one of the larger spills in the state," he told the Times.

He added that there are no homes near the site of the spill and the wetland that was impacted is not a source of drinking water. Pipeline owner TC Energy shut down the pipeline after the leak was detected.

Rockeman did not indicate whether cleanup of the spill had begun yet.

In a statement to the Times, TC Energy said it did not know the cause of the leak and that an internal investigation is underway.

"We are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response," the statement reads.

The Hill has reached out to TC Energy for comment.

An addition to the pipeline, which carries crude oil from Canada through seven states, was at the center of prolonged environmental protests.

The incident occurred along a part of the existing Keystone pipeline system, not the 1,179-mile addition known as the Keystone XL pipeline, Rockeman noted.

Read more on the incident here.


PROTECTIONS GALORE: House passes bill to protect public lands in Colorado

The House on Thursday passed a bill that protects more than 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE) would also prohibit future oil and gas development on some 200,000 acres of the designated land. 

The bill also designates the first-ever National Historical Landscape, commemorating Camp Hale where the Army's 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II.

The CORE Act passed with a 227 to 182 vote. Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry MORE (D-Colo.) has pushed for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take up the bill in the Senate. 

The bill follows others passed yesterday that permanently prohibit mining near the Grand Canyon and another that protects land near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

"At a time when the Trump administration is carving up our public lands and auctioning them off to corporate interests who'd destroy them for profit, this legislation is critical," the Natural Resource Defense Council said in a statement about the three bills.



First-of-a-kind U.S. grid cyberattack hit wind, solar, E&E News reports

New York City passes bill banning sale of foie gras in stores, restaurants, NBC reports

Anger grows as utility struggles to get its blackouts right, the Associated Press reports

The dead can't escape climate change, E&E News reports


ICYMI: Stories from Thursday...

-Keystone pipeline spills more than 350,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota

-EPA blames advisory board for controversial changes to FOIA policy

-Environmental groups sue Trump administration over drilling plan

-PETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals