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Overnight Energy: Appeals court tosses kids' climate suit | California sues Trump over fracking | Oversight finds EPA appointees slow-walked ethics obligations

Overnight Energy: Appeals court tosses kids' climate suit | California sues Trump over fracking | Oversight finds EPA appointees slow-walked ethics obligations
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THE KIDS AREN'T ALRIGHT: A federal appeals court on Friday tossed a climate change lawsuit brought by a group of children who sought a court order to force the U.S. government to phase out fossil fuel emissions.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that while the lawsuit raised critical issues concerning the government's promotion of fossil fuels, they were beyond the court's power to resolve.

"Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power," Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote for the majority. "Rather, the plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government."

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The 21 children and their allies who first brought the suit in 2015 alleged that U.S. policy encouraging and subsidizing the use of fossil fuels had inflicted climate change-related injuries and imperiled their constitutional right to a "climate system capable of sustaining human life." 

A federal district judge in Oregon decided in 2016 that the case could proceed to trial. Before that happened, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to halt proceedings, a request the justices denied in 2018.

While the 9th Circuit Court's majority ultimately ruled the kids lacked standing to sue, the panel did not dispute their central claim: that the government had a hand in the rising levels of carbon emissions, which has led to severe environmental damage.  

In her dissent, Staton said the climate change issues raised in the suit were within the court's authority to redress, and warned that "waiting is not an option."

"If plaintiffs' fears, backed by the government's own studies, prove true, history will not judge us kindly," Staton wrote. "When the seas envelop our coastal cities, fires and droughts haunt our interiors, and storms ravage everything between, those remaining will ask: Why did so many do so little?"

What's next? A lawyer for the children said the group intended to appeal the decision to a panel of the full circuit.

“The Juliana case is far from over. The Youth Plaintiffs will be asking the full court of the Ninth Circuit to review this decision and its catastrophic implications for our constitutional democracy," said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, in a statement.

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"The Court recognized that climate change is exponentially increasing and that the federal government has long known that its actions substantially contribute to the climate crisis," Olson added.

The full story is here

 

In other legal news… California is suing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over its plan to open up public lands in the state to to oil and gas drilling including fracking, California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraSecond court blocks Trump's order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census California Republicans agree not to use unofficial ballot drop boxes Schwarzenegger: California GOP has gone 'off the rails' with unofficial ballot boxes MORE (D) announced Friday. 

"BLM's decision to advance this half-baked proposal isn't just misguided, it's downright dangerous. The risks to both people and the environment associated with fracking are simply too high to ignore," Becerra said in a statement. 

Read more on that lawsuit here

 

TGIF! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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Programming note: There will not be an Overnight Energy newsletter on Monday because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We will return on Tuesday. 

 

THIS MAY SOUND FAMILIAR: A House Oversight and Reform Committee review found the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) let political appointees take months to sign required ethics pledges and compile recusal lists, allowing leaders to work on issues where they had substantial conflicts of interest, the panel argued.

An executive order signed during President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE's second week in office requires federal employees to avoid working with former clients for their first two years. 

"These documents indicate that EPA allowed senior agency officials to avoid or delay completing required ethics forms and that EPA was missing forms entirely for some officials," committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyTrump, House lawyers return to court in fight over subpoena for financial records Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chairman Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaUS Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog to weigh probe of Trump advancements on Pebble Mine | Interior finalizes public lands HQ move out West over congressional objections | EPA to issue methane rollback: report Watchdog to weigh probe of Trump administration advancements of Pebble Mine MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to the agency. 

"The Committee identified multiple instances in which EPA officials failed to complete required ethics documents or sign ethics pledges required by Executive Order 13770. EPA also allowed officials to delay the finalization of critical ethics agreements for significant periods of time after joining the agency."

The review found that at least five employees did not have signed ethics pledges as required by the executive order. Another eight took an average of 49 days to sign their ethics pledges.

It also found significant delays from appointees in preparing recusal statements, which require them to list off former clients they must avoid to skirt any conflicts of interest. 

The letter highlights lapses by one EPA employee in particular, Bill Wehrum, the former assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, who was dogged by ethics complaints during his tenure in the office before resigning in June. 

Calling it an "egregious case," the analysis found Wehrum took 300 days to finalize his recusal statement, in the interim leading on a number of air regulations beneficial to former clients from his days as a coal, oil and gas lobbyist. That includes an effort to change tailpipe emission and fuel economy standards for vehicles.

EPA's response: Reached for comment, the EPA argued its political appointees have been following ethics guidelines.

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"All EPA appointees and advisory board members take their ethics obligations seriously and endeavor to comply with ethics laws and guidelines, and the requirements under the Trump ethics pledge, to say otherwise is just flat out false. EPA has provided multiple responses to the Committee on this topic and the Committee has not once raised a single issue with EPA during our ongoing productions of responsive documents. It is strange that the Committee would wait months to raise this issue in the press and not during those discussions," an agency spokesperson said by email.  

But other reviews of the EPA's ethics practices likewise found the agency was not properly meeting obligations...

Read more on that here.

 

WHAT DID 2020 DEMS GET UP TO TODAY? 

Bloomberg: Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg wants all new cars to be electric by 2035, according to a plan released by the former New York City mayor's campaign on Friday. 

Bloomberg's campaign said he would put in place mileage and pollution standards and "an aggressive schedule to put the U.S. on pace to make 100% of new vehicles pollution-free by 2035."

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The candidate also pledged to expand tax credits and offer rebates to low-income families that trade in old vehicles and said he aims to place charging stations every 50 miles along highway systems.

Bloomberg's plan also calls for building metro-area public transit and intercity rail and bus systems and incentivizing local governments to prioritize "zero-emission" transit systems such as biking and walking. His campaign did not specifically outline how much the plan would be expected to cost.

Read more on the plan here

Warren: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFinal debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit Biden defends his health plan from Trump attacks Progressives blast Biden plan to form panel on Supreme Court reform MORE (D-Mass.) is calling on former Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryIs Social Security safe from the courts? Trump, Biden set for high-stakes showdown President Trump faces Herculean task in first debate MORE to resign from Energy Transfer, a pipeline company he rejoined this month shortly after his departure from the Trump administration. 

Warren wrote a letter to Perry dated Thursday calling the decision "unethical" and saying it would "discredit" his time in public office. 

"This is exactly the kind of unethical, revolving-door corruption that has made Americans cynical and distrustful of the federal government," the Democratic presidential hopeful wrote.

"You should rectify your mistake and immediately resign from your position on the Board of Directors," she added. "Doing so would send a strong and necessary message about government ethics and your own integrity."

Read more on her letter here.

Sanders: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Trump's debate performance was too little, too late Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit MORE (I-Vt.) released a video on Friday explaining his vote Thursday against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal (USMCA), saying that it included "not a single damn mention" of climate change. 

"There is not one reference to the words climate change," Sanders said in the video posted to Twitter. "Here you have a major trade agreement which in fact will make it easier for the large oil companies to destroy our planet."

Read more on his decision here

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

The House is out on recess while the Senate is in impeachment mode.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Health officials: U.S. Steel faces $743,625 in fines for pollution violations, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports

Rhode Island governor aims for 100 percent renewable power by 2030, Reuters reports. 

Washington Supreme Court limits Gov. Inslee's rule cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, The Seattle Times reports. 

 

ICYMI:

Stories from Friday...

Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change

California sues Trump administration over fracking

Appeals court tosses kids' climate change lawsuit

Bloomberg wants all new cars to be electric by 2035

Warren calls for Rick Perry's resignation from pipeline company

Oversight finds EPA political appointees slow-walked ethics obligations