Overnight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides

Overnight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides
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IT WAS A BUSY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

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OH, WE'RE STARTING WITH WOTUS FO SHOTUS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a major rollback to protections for streams and other smaller bodies of water on Thursday, saying it would institute a new rule advocated by farmers and other industry groups.

The new rule would replace the already-repealed Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), crafted under President Obama, which expanded the types of waterways protected by federal law.

The Obama administration argued smaller bodies of water, even some seasonal ones caused by snowmelt, must be protected in order to stop pollution from reaching larger sources, including those used for drinking water. 

Critics argue the changes will eviscerate the protections guaranteed by the Clean Water Act, not just reversing Obama-era protections but setting the U.S even further back.

"This is not just undoing the clean water rule promulgated by the Obama administration. This is going back to the lowest level of protection we've seen in the last 50 years," Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a call with reporters. "This is a staggering rollback."

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE touted his plans to roll back the law when speaking over the weekend to a conference of farmers‚ one of the chief adversaries of the previous administration's policy and a key part of Trump's base.

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Farmers and other groups have argued that law was too far-reaching, requiring grand efforts to protect relatively small bodies of water that run through their property, ultimately subjecting large swaths of land to federal oversight.

Trump's latest rule, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, will be implemented in the coming weeks and is likely to increase the amount of pesticides and other industrial chemicals that leach into streams, wetlands and underground water sources, leaving much environmental regulation to state and local authorities.

Repealing WOTUS was a campaign promise of Trump's, who called it "one of the most ridiculous regulations of all" when speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.

"As long as I'm president, government will never micromanage America's farmers," he told the crowd.

But the changes announced by the EPA Thursday would dramatically scale back protections, especially for smaller bodies of water that serve as the sources for larger ones.

"It's like saying you want to keep the bloodstream pure, but you're not going to protect the capillaries. If you're not going to protect upstream waters, you won't protect downstream ones," said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. 

Read more about the new rule here

 

As you can imagine, the rule wasn't a huge winner with Democrats... Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO MORE (D-Calif.) blasted the Trump administration over its Thursday rollback to protections for streams and other smaller bodies of water, saying that the new rule is an "outrageous assault" on clean water regulations. 

"The Trump Administration's new Dirty Water Rule is an outrageous assault on the clean water that millions of Californians and Americans across the country rely on to grow our food, preserve our diverse ecosystems and protect the health of our children and families," Pelosi said in a statement.

"This shameful policy will give polluters free rein to dump pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals directly into waters, threatening the drinking water of 117 million Americans and setting us back decades in our work to clean and protect our nation's vital water systems," she added. 

Read more on her comments here

 

But the picture is more complicated, as the rule exposes not just a partisan divide, but a rural-urban one, as well as tension between the agricultural industry and environmental groups...

Democrats and environmental groups on Thursday admonished the Trump administration for issuing a rule they say sets protections for waterways back decades; however, it's shaping up to be a huge win in GOP-leaning rural America as the Trump campaign eagerly courts farm country ahead of the 2020 election.

Trump's new rule, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, would strip federal protections for small bodies of water, something critics say will increase the amount of pollution that flows into larger bodies often relied on for drinking water.

"President Trump is engaging in an all-out assault on our clean water safeguards," said Madeleine Foote with the League of Conservation Voters. "This gutting of vital Clean Water Act protections takes us backwards on the progress we've made in cleaning up our waterways and puts the health of our families at risk for the sole benefit of Trump's corporate friends."

She also argued that the rule "will turn our streams into dumping grounds for big polluters and destroy millions of acres of wetlands." 

But it was a different story in circles that have long said Obama-era water policies -- which protected smaller bodies of water, even some seasonal ones caused by snowmelt -- put farmers and businesses in a tough spot by causing confusion and leaving huge swaths of land subject to federal oversight. 

"We are thrilled at the announcement of a new water rule to provide our farming community with certainty and a clear view of how water will be regulated on their land," said Barbara P. Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. "We have been functioning under a tangled patchwork of water regulation for far too long."

Read more on the diverse reactions here

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NO BACKING FOR THE FUTURE: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request did not provide any scientific evidence to back Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations | Oil lobby says low prices still hurting industry | Conservative group wants Trump to go further in rolling back key environmental law States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE's claims that the consequences of climate change were still "50 to 75 years out."

Wheeler's comments came in an interview with CBS in March, when he told the network's Major Garrett that he would be focused on pressing issues like access to clean water since "most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out."

The controversial comments spurred a FOIA request from the environmental group Sierra Club and then in October a lawsuit, forcing the EPA to turn over records Wheeler relied on in making that statement, as well as any research from the EPA that supported his claim. 

Wheeler's interview preparation, obtained by the Sierra Club and shared with The Hill, never mentions the words climate change nor does it offer any insight into what scientific evidence might back his claim.

"Trump's EPA just admitted what everyone already knew: Andrew Wheeler invented these false claims out of thin air as part of his ongoing work to protect the fossil fuel industry from accountability for driving and exacerbating the climate crisis," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. 

"Wheeler and Trump have a responsibility to protect our nation from the climate crisis, but instead they are doing everything they can to try and stop our progress by giving corporations free rein to pollute, and they are lying about it all the while."

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A wide range of climate science research suggests the effects of climate change are already being felt through extreme weather and natural disasters. Several recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have stressed the need for urgent and ambitious action in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 50 percent by 2030. 

In the interview, Wheeler called climate change "an important change we have to be addressing and we are addressing" but said its most drastic effects are decades away compared to unsafe drinking water, which is killing people now.

"We have 1,000 children die everyday worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water," Wheeler told Garrett. "That's a crisis that I think we can solve. We know what goes into solving a crisis like that. It takes resources, it takes infrastructure, and the United States is working on that."

Wheeler's interview prep shows the administrator was ready to talk about a number of clean water initiatives, primarily overseas, focusing both on drinking water quality as well as removing debris from oceans.

"EPA responded to a narrow request for agency records under the FOIA, not to a request to prove or disprove a scientific statement," the EPA said when asked for comment.

"It is misleading to portray the agency's response to a narrow portion of a document request as the full extent of the Agency's or the Administrator's scientific knowledge on a subject. In fact, it is inaccurate to state that the documents do not demonstrate any backing for the statement."

The Sierra Club's FOIA request not only asked for all records Wheeler relied on in making his claim but also "all records produced, commissioned, or otherwise obtained by EPA that support the conclusion that 'most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.'" 

Read more on the interview here

 

OTHER TIDBITS

Green groups go after automakers... A coalition of environmental groups are publicly calling on automakers to drop their support for the Trump administration's move to prevent California from setting its own fuel efficiency standards.

The five organizations took out an advertisement in The Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press and The Sacramento Bee that reads: "Why are some automakers suing for more carbon pollution?"

It was followed by an open letter asking automakers General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi to "immediately withdraw from litigation against existing clean car standards."

Read more here

 

I hope this clock doesn't spring forward... The famed Doomsday Clock has been set at 100 seconds to midnight this year, the closest it's ever been to the metaphorical point of the Earth's destruction.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created the clock in 1947 to represent how close the planet was to annihilation by nuclear weapons. In more recent years, the journal has also weighed the effects of climate change in setting the clock.

"If the Earth warms by what we tend to think of as just a few degrees ... we have no reason to be confident that such a world will remain hospitable to human civilization," said Sivan Kartha, another member of the Science and Security Board.

Read more here

 

That's a lot of signatures... More than 140 lawmakers signed on to a letter from Reps. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteAdministration rolls back pollution standards amid a global pandemic Colorado Democrat: Shipment of ventilators to her state seems like favor to Gardner House Democrats call on Trump administration to lift restrictions on fetal tissue for coronavirus research MORE (D-Colo.) and Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyHouse holds first-ever proxy votes during pandemic Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House House members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes MORE (R-Fla.) calling on the Trump administration today to abandon its effort to gut the National Environmental Policy Act.

Read it here

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court preserves 'rule of capture' for fracking, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Celebrities, including Jeff Goldblum, back California bill to cut single-use plastics, the Associated Press reports. 

 

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday...

Trump's latest water policy exposes sharp divides

Pelosi slams Trump administration's new water rule: 'An outrageous assault'

Greta Thunberg hits back at Mnuchin: Doesn't take a degree to know world missing climate targets

Trump issues new rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections

Green groups criticize automakers over support for 'more carbon pollution'

EPA fails to provide scientific evidence backing claim climate change damage was '50 to 75 years out'

Mnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us