Overnight Energy: DOJ dropping antitrust probe into automakers | Energy chief unveils coal research initiative | House Dems seek to conserve 30 percent of US lands, oceans

Overnight Energy: DOJ dropping antitrust probe into automakers | Energy chief unveils coal research initiative | House Dems seek to conserve 30 percent of US lands, oceans
© Greg Nash

BREAKING: The Department of Justice (DOJ) is dropping its investigation into four major automakers that sided with California over the Trump administration on emissions standards, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill.

The probe, announced in September, focused on BMW, Ford, Volkswagen and Honda and examined whether the companies violated the law by agreeing to follow stricter emissions standards advocated by California rather than ones determined by the Trump administration.

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Christopher NewsomOvernight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment depleted, House panel says Newsom: California has contract for 200M masks per month MORE (D) celebrated the news on Twitter on Friday, calling it a "sham" probe and saying that the decision to close the investigation was a "'HUGE' win for anyone who cares about" the law and the air.

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The investigation examined whether the companies' agreement reached last summer with California unfairly stifled auto sale competition in the state.

The administration faced pushback over the probe from state officials and Democratic lawmakers, who viewed the probe as politically motivated.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Transportation Department sent a joint letter to California regulators in early September warning of "legal consequences" over the state's agreement with the four automakers.

However, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, head of the DOJ's antitrust division, pushed back on the criticism, maintaining that the probe was not politically motivated and that "the Department of Justice's sole consideration is the law."

Click here for more on this late-breaking story.

 

COAL GOALS: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Friday announced a $64 million dollar initiative to fund research and development for coal, giving an assist to an industry that appears to be on the decline.

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Brouillette announced the so-called Coal FIRST initiative at an Atlantic Council event, saying that it was "going to help us produce more coal-based power more efficiently and transform it into a near-zero emissions energy source."

He particularly emphasized the idea of making coal plants smaller and more efficient, saying this would make it easier to make them cleaner. 

"Coal as a percentage of U.S. electricity generation is declining," he added. "The efforts that we're undertaking is not to subsidize the industry and preserve their status ... as a larger electricity generator. It is simply to make the product cleaner and to look for alternative uses for this product."

Brouillette's announcement comes as coal-fired power generation becomes an increasingly smaller part of the U.S. energy sector. 

Figures announced last year from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that renewable energy production surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time in the U.S.

A University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature last month showed that from 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down. 

It also showed that reduced carbon emissions saved more than 26,000 lives in the U.S.

 

And there was some Yucca Mountain news from the energy chief as well...

On Friday, Brouillette also commented on President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE's announcement that he no longer supports funding for a controversial nuclear waste repository in Nevada, saying that the administration will look for other solutions. 

"We're going to be working with our interagency partners to look for innovative solutions that might involve interim storage, it might involve other types of storage," he said. 

 

And speaking of Nevada...

JUST THOUGHT I'D DROP BY: President Trump's recent announcement that he no longer supports funding for a controversial nuclear waste repository in Nevada was quickly followed by his campaign saying they would be holding an event in the state featuring the president's eldest son.

Within an hour of Trump's tweet on Thursday reversing his position on the Yucca Mountain repository, his campaign sent out a press release announcing that Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly GuilfoyleKimberly Ann GuilfoyleBrazilian president Bolsonaro tested for coronavirus days after meeting Trump Business as usual for Trump as coronavirus spreads Hope Hicks to return to White House MORE will appear in Las Vegas, about 85 miles from Yucca Mountain, later this month. 

The Feb. 18 event will "highlight the accomplishments of the administration and the commitments of the president," according to the Trump campaign.

The election-year reversal affects a state Trump narrowly lost in 2016. In the previous three years, Trump had requested funds to build the Yucca Mountain project despite objections from Nevada leaders.

Read Brouillette's story here and read more about the Trump campaign event here.  

 

HOORAY! IT'S FRIDAY! 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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FROM COZY WITH DEMS TO BEING LEFT OUT IN THE COLD: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fired regional administrator Michael Stoker, who alleges his dismissal was personal and based on his good working relationship with Democrats.

Stoker, who was fired Wednesday, has since penned an open letter to staff.

"Frankly I have a gut feeling it is and was 100% personal," Stoker wrote in the correspondence reported on by E&E News. 

EPA said Friday that regional administrators are encouraged to work in a bipartisan manner, and that Stoker was let go due to excessive travel and other issues on the job.

Stoker, who oversaw a region that included much of the West Coast, outlined the positive feedback he got from Democratic lawmakers from the area.

"Just three weeks ago I was told by someone in [headquarters] whose identity will remain anonymous that it wasn't going unnoticed how many Democrat members in Congress were commending me for the job I was doing," Stoker wrote, referencing House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrip that led to acting Navy secretary's resignation cost 3K: reports Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans MORE (D-Calif.) along with numerous other West Coast lawmakers. 

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In his letter, Stoker said he remains a Trump loyalist, but doesn't see the EPA's work as partisan.

"Bottom line I am proud of the work I've done and I am especially proud that both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have applauded my efforts," he wrote. "After all, last time I checked, the EPA's mission to protect the public health and environment is not a partisan issue... at least it never has been for me."

EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said Stoker's "excuses and stories are simply all made up."

Read more on Stoker's dismissal here

 

30X30: House Democrats introduced legislation Friday that would commit the U.S. to conserve 30 percent of the nation's land and oceans by 2030, the latest push after the effort was introduced in the Senate in October.

"Globally, the loss of nature – accelerated by climate change – is putting up to one million species on the path to extinction. Conserving our lands and waters is essential to protecting humans and wildlife and stabilizing our climate," Rep. Deb HaalandDebra HaalandPressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus We must demand our government decrease emissions from federal public lands Asian Pacific American Caucus vice chair 'shocked and dismayed' GOP leader referred to 'Chinese coronavirus' MORE (D-N.M.), who is spearheading the effort in the House, said in a release. 

The resolution cites recent reports that show how species are being affected by a changing climate, including research showing that the U.S. and Canada have lost 3 billion birds over the last 50 years and that 1 million species face extinction. 

The effort was initially introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats propose ,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories MORE (D-N.M.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetMichael Bennet endorses Biden for president Zoom facing class-action suit over privacy, security shortfalls Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus tracking sparks surveillance concerns | Target delivery workers plan Tuesday walkout | Federal agency expedites mail-in voting funds to states | YouTube cracks down on 5G conspiracy videos MORE (D-Colo.), helping to spell out the details of Bennet's climate plan for the 2020 race.

"We're in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. This one human caused. Combine this massive loss of nature with the devastating effect of CC and what does it add up to? An existential threat to our planet and the survival of humanity itself. So we must write a new playbook," Udall said at an event Friday.

Also Friday, a coalition of 74 environmental groups sent letters to lawmakers seeking to raise support for the resolution.

"To confront the rapid loss of America's natural places and wildlife, the U.S. needs to accelerate land and ocean protection and restoration efforts at all levels of government and across the country," the coalition wrote. The letter was signed by groups including Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters. 

Read it here

 

LEGAL LOOKOUT: Earthjustice announced Friday that it will sue the Environmental Protection Agency to force in-person hearings on the agency's proposed coal ash regulations.

The EPA announced in November it would roll back Obama-era regulations on how coal-fired power plants dispose of the waste, which is laden with arsenic, lead and mercury.

Environmentalists have argued the proposal, if enacted, would expose waterways to even more pollution from coal plants.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK: 

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on EPA's lead and copper rule. 

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from Interior deputy secretary nominee Katharine MacGregor for the second time. 

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the budget for Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs

On Wednesday, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on numerous bills dealing with energy storage and grid issues. 

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Thousands protest Oregon cap-and-trade bill with rally in Salem, The Oregonian reports. 

Antarctica hits warmest temperature ever recorded, we report.

BLM staff 'charade' fills empty offices in new HQ, E&E News reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Friday...

Energy secretary announces coal research initiative

Antarctica hits warmest temperature ever recorded

House Democrats seek to conserve 30 percent of US lands, oceans by 2030

EPA regional chief alleges he was fired for being cozy with Dems

Trump reversal on Yucca Mountain followed by new campaign event