Overnight Energy: Critics pile on Trump plan to roll back major environmental law | Pick for Interior No. 2 official confirmed | JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic

Overnight Energy: Critics pile on Trump plan to roll back major environmental law | Pick for Interior No. 2 official confirmed | JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic
© Greg Nash

SAYING NOPE-A TO CHANGING NEPA: The White House heard an outpouring of opposition to its plans to roll back a landmark environmental law that requires the government to weigh the environmental impacts of pipelines, highways, oil development and a host of other projects.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in January proposed a massive rewriting of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) eliminating the requirement that the government consider climate change when evaluating projects and in some cases even allowing companies to assess the impacts of their own projects. 

At a hearing Tuesday, the second of just two that accepted public comment, speakers accused the Trump administration of gutting the law to fast-tracking polluting projects for industry at the expense of human health.

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"When the NEPA process is cut short or weakened, ill-conceived projects advance that can have devastating public health and environmental consequences for all Americans," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) at the hearings. Grijalva highlighted a consequence of the rollback that will be worse for low income communities, areas where polluting industries often house their projects.

The hearing was held in a boisterous auditorium at the Department of the Interior, with people traveling from as far away as California, Texas and Florida to oppose the rule, including a number of people from towns that are already home to polluting industries. 

"I am the citizen that is here not as anti-mining, anti-drilling, anti-livestock, or anti-infrastructure, but I care about what they are trying to do," said Liz Cramp, a Virginia resident. "And I am also the citizen that is not really concerned that these and other profit-hungry industries are having to spend time and money to insure that America's environment and Americans' health are protected."

The environmental review required under NEPA is a broad one, a precaution that looks at how oil and gas drilling, construction projects and other infrastructure impact not just the air, water and soil but the people and wildlife that live nearby.

However, supporters of the proposal have pegged the rollback as a modernization of the law, arguing projects have been unnecessarily slowed by environmental assessments that take years and might number 1,000 pages.

"Since the NEPA statute was enacted over 50 years ago, the environmental review and permitting process has become much more complex and time consuming, and can result in delays of critical infrastructure projects for communities," said CEQ Chair Mary Neumayr, saying the law has spurred extensive litigation that has made implementation costly and unpredictable.

But critics have stressed the benefits to the oil and gas industry and other polluting industries, and Grijalva last week asked CEQ to turn over communications with a number of oil companies, citing "concerns with the development of CEQ's proposed rule."

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Environmentalists and others opposed to the changes are particularly averse to cutting consideration of the "cumulative" effects of new projects, an aspect of the law widely believed to be used to determine how a project might contribute to climate change.

"We simply cannot afford to have ill-informed decision making, which is exactly what this would do. Instead of looking before you leap, this is like leaping before you look," said Collin O'Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.) told reporters after his testimony that he was opposed to measures in the proposal that would allow businesses to conduct their own environmental assessments of their projects.

"It's a little bit like a take home, self-graded exam," he said. "If he had that option in school, I would have done a lot better. I would have passed every time. I would have made the Dean's list every time."

Read more about the hearing here

 

IT'S TUESDAY! 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. 

 

CONFIRMED: The Senate confirmed Katharine MacGregor as number two at the Interior Department. 

The upper chamber voted 58-38 on Tuesday to confirm MacGregor, who was nominated by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE, as the department's deputy chief and second-in-command to Secretary David Bernhardt. 

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (R-Alaska) spoke in favor of MacGregor's confirmation on the Senate Floor earlier on Tuesday. 

"She's well-qualified. She's got the right experience to succeed in this role. I think she will be a fine asset for Secretary Bernhardt and the rest of the Interior team," Murkowski said.

MacGregor, a former staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee, has faced some scrutiny after Reveal reported that oil and gas executives boasted about relying on her when running into issues with the Interior Department. 

Reveal reported in November that the Independent Petroleum Association of America's political director said during a 2017 meeting "We'll call Kate," which was seen as the default solution to regulatory issues. 

Reveal also reported that she helped fast-track a drilling permit that had been rejected as "incomplete" and "deficient."

An Interior Department spokeswoman told Reveal that it has followed "all laws, rules and regulations regarding permits" since President Trump took office and that "since day one, the Department has prioritized improving the overall permitting process to tackle longstanding backlogs and delays."

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioJennifer Aniston urges fans to 'wear a damn mask:' 'It really shouldn't be a debate' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House approves .5T green infrastructure plan | Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole | DC-area lawmakers push for analysis before federal agencies can be relocated The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus MORE (R-Fla.) had separately placed a hold on MacGregor's nomination amid concerns over her support for expanded offshore oil drilling.

Rubio lifted his hold after a conversation in December with Bernhardt where Rubio expressed his concern regarding offshore drilling, a Rubio spokesperson told The Hill in an email on Tuesday. 

The spokesperson added that the office has been in touch with the White House regarding an offshore drilling moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and that Rubio is confident the administration will not oppose his efforts to extend the moratorium. 

 

But, she was criticized by environmentalists:  "Her conflicted ties to industry are clear. She has been a willing accomplice to Bernhardt by doing the leg work for his former clients and special interest allies," said Jayson O'Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project, in a statement ahead of the vote.  

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Read more about her confirmation here.

 

In other nominee news...

President Trump on Tuesday sent Douglas Benevento's nomination for the number two position at the EPA to the Senate. Trump announced the nomination earlier this month

 

CHASE-ING CHANGE: JPMorgan Chase has announced that it is planning to stop approving loans to companies pursuing new fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic Circle.

The announcement follows a similar step taken by Goldman Sachs amid pressure from Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups.

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The bank also said it will complete its 2017 commitments to facilitate $200 billion in clean energy financing and source renewable energy for all of its needs by the end of this year.

It also plans to phase out all existing and future loans to companies that get the majority of their revenue from coal mining by 2024.

 

But what do environmentalists think?

An analysis from the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network knocked the plan for only covering companies that get a majority of their revenue from coal mining and for not restricting oil and gas financing outside the Arctic.

"Three of the top ten coal miners in the world, by annual production, could still be financed under this policy," the analysis said.

Sierra Club campaign representative Ben Cushing said in a statement that the announcement on Arctic Refuge drilling puts the spotlight on other banks.

"The fact that even the world's worst fossil fuel banker wants nothing to do with Arctic Refuge drilling shows just how toxic an investment it would be," Cushing said. "Now that Chase and Goldman Sachs have drawn a line in the sand, all eyes are on Wells Fargo, Citi, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America."

The company's Investor Day announcement follows recent letters from dozens of Democratic lawmakers urging several banks, including JPMorgan, to not fund drilling in the Arctic.

Read more here.

 

LIGHTS, CAMERA, (LEGAL) ACTION: Environmentalists and consumer protection groups sued the Department of Energy (DOE) on Tuesday over its move to block a measure designed to require more efficient lightbulbs. 

The administration announced the rollback, which applies to widely-used, pear-shaped incandescent lightbulbs, late last year. It argued that the efficiency measure would be too expensive for consumers.

Tuesday's lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Consumer Federation of America, Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, Environment America and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 

"The Department of Energy seems dead-set on keeping energy-wasting incandescent and halogen bulbs on the market despite the fact that many countries around the world have already decided to phase them out," Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC's Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said in a statement. 

"The United States could soon become the world's dumping ground for these incredibly inefficient bulbs, which increase Americans' energy bills and lead to millions of tons of additional carbon pollution every year," Horowitz added. 

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to comment, saying in an email that the department does not comment on pending litigation. 

But DOE has previously argued that market forces are already pushing Americans to buy more energy efficient LED lightbulbs without any prodding from the government. 

"Innovation and technology are already driving progress, increasing the efficiency and affordability of light bulbs, without federal government intervention. The American people will continue to have a choice on how they light their homes," Energy Sec. Daniel Brouillette said when the rule was finalized, arguing the administration was protecting consumer choice.

The legal action follows a suit by the same groups over a different administration lightbulb rollback, which removed Obama-era efficiency standards for recessed lighting, chandeliers and other shapes of bulbs.

Horowitz, in the Tuesday statement, described both changes as a "one-two punch." 

"First, the agency cut the scope of the standards in half without any technical justification, and then declared that they weren't going to update the standards for the remaining ones, even though they were required to do so by law," he said. 

The story is here.

 

TRUMP IN INDIA: It was announced Tuesday that India has signed a letter of cooperation with Exxon Mobil to improve the country's natural gas distribution network.

"Yesterday, ExxonMobil signed a deal to improve India's natural gas distribution network so that the U.S. can export even more [liquified natural gas] to India," Trump said during a joint press statement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on one portion of the Republican climate plan, a bill that would commit the U.S. to the UN's One Trillion Trees Initiative. 

The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on innovative wood products and promoting healthy forests. 

The House Committee on Education and Labor will review mismanagement of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. 

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerWatchdog: EPA hasn't provided 'sufficient justification' for decision not to recover Pruitt travel spending OVERNIGHT ENERGY: White House threatens veto on Democrats' .5 trillion infrastructure plan | Supreme Court won't hear border wall challenge | Witnesses describe 'excessive force' used by law enforcement in Lafayette Square Stronger pollution standards could save 143k lives: study MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE will speak at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Oregon Senate Republicans walk out over climate cap-and-trade bill, The Oregonian reports

Michigan's Consumers Energy commits to offsetting all its carbon emissions by 2040, MLive reports

Higher fee for coal ash storage clears Georgia State Senate, The Marietta Daily Journal reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday...

JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic

Energy Department sued over lightbulb efficiency rollback

White House effort to roll back bedrock environmental law spurs strong opposition

MacGregor confirmed as Interior deputy chief

Svalbard seed vault welcomes its millionth seed variety