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Overnight Energy: Senate seeks massive boost in conservation funding | White House raises objections over plan to reduce heat-trapping chemicals | Interior chief defends budget amid heated criticism

Overnight Energy: Senate seeks massive boost in conservation funding | White House raises objections over plan to reduce heat-trapping chemicals | Interior chief defends budget amid heated criticism
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MAKE IT PERMANENT: Conservation funding would get a dramatic boost under a coming bill from a bipartisan group of senators following a major policy reversal from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE

The legislation would permanently direct $900 million in oil and gas revenue to fully fund the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), ensuring resources for a program Trump previously proposed gutting.

"There are very few things that we as legislators do that we can rightly say are permanent. This is one of those things where we're doing something for the people of America and for generations yet unborn that's going to make a real difference," said Sen. Angus KingAngus KingCoordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (I-Maine).

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"It was said that this is the most important piece of conservation legislation in 50 years. I think it may even go beyond that," he added.

LWCF funds a variety of conservation efforts, such as securing land for parks. The legislation would be paired with a revived bill offering up $6.5 billion to address a more than $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks. The bills could come to the floor as early as next week.

Why now? After years of similar efforts, an election-year reversal from Trump is giving lawmakers new momentum. 

Despite suggesting cutting LWCF funds by as much as 97 percent year after year, including in his most recent budget proposal, Trump on Tuesday called for a bill to fully fund the program.

His Tuesday tweet specifically thanked Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerCunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Democratic super PAC pulls remaining ads from Colorado Senate race MORE (R-Colo.), whose Senate seat is considered one of the most vulnerable of the 2020 election cycle. Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesClimate change — Trump's golden opportunity Steve Bullock raises .8 million in third quarter for Montana Senate bid Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides MORE (R-Mont.) could also face a tough reelection campaign if former Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPandemic politics dominate competitive governor's races Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (D) enters the race, as reported by The New York Times. 

"While some may want to dwell on politics, I'm going to dwell on the good [that] the great outdoors does for the American people," Gardner said at a press conference, flanked by 11 other lawmakers. 

With each lawmaker stressing the bipartisan backing behind the two pieces of legislation -- 68 senators have signed on to the previous versions of one or both bills -- Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears MORE (D-W.Va.) defended Garner's long-held interest.

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"When we drafted the bill, Cory was the first one to take the lead," Manchin said. "We're in a situation where we're in a crossroads right now. In our lifetime this has never happened. So we got to take advantage of this."

"So, politics be damned. Let's get it done," he said.

Read more on the legislation here

 

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! 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. 

 

HEAT-TRAPPING CHEMICALS: The White House is raising objections to a bipartisan Senate measure that would aim to phase down the use of heat-trapping chemicals in air conditioners and refrigerators. 

Sens. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities | Montana asks court to throw out major public lands decisions after ousting BLM director | It's unknown if fee reductions given to oil producers prevented shutdowns Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress MORE (D-Del.) are proposing an amendment to a major energy bill by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate to vote Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court Senate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court This week: Clock ticks on chance for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). 

The amendment could become a major sticking point.

Kennedy told reporters he would hold up the entire bill in order to include the proposal. At the same time a White House communication to bill managers that was obtained by The Hill says the administration "strongly objects to the Kennedy/Carper amendment."

"The transition from hydrofluorocarbon use in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration industry is a matter that should be applied consistently across the country," it continues. "Therefore, this amendment must include a strong state preemption clause. We also have concerns with a policy that mandates significant changes for the private sector and mandates consumers buy new products without any consideration of cost."

Kennedy acknowledged to reporters that he had heard the White House wanted a state preemption clause, which would prevent states from enacting stricter rules than those that apply across the country.

"We were negotiating toward that and making what I thought was great progress," he said, but added that he felt the requests being made were more like "excuses" than reasons. 

He also said some of his Republican colleagues have said they want to see a preemption measure. 

"I'm all for a tough preemption provision and my co-pilot Senator Carper worked out what I thought was a very fair preemption provision," Kennedy said, but added that it was not "sufficient" for some of his colleagues. 

A spokesperson for Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference GOP senators call on Trump to oppose nationalizing 5G Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress MORE (R-Wyo.) told The Hill in an email that the lawmaker is among those hoping for preemption language. 

"Before any merits associated with the amendment's other provisions can be discussed, consumers and businesses need to be assured of clear rules and regulatory certainty," the spokesperson said. "The Chairman has concerns with any legislative effort that will layer new federal rules on a patchwork of current or future state rules.

Read more on the HFC fight here

 

ON THE HILL:

Bernhardt faces a tough crowd... Interior Secretary David Bernhardt faced a contentious hearing Wednesday with the Senate Appropriations Committee filled with accusations he is working on behalf of the oil industry and ignoring climate science.

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"When I look across the landscape, here's what I see," panel ranking member Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role | Trump says he could out-raise Biden with calls to Wall Street, oil execs | Supreme Court to review Trump border wall funding, asylum policies OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Pendley says court decision ousting him from BLM has had 'no impact' | Court strikes down Obama-era rule targeting methane leaks from public lands drilling | Feds sued over no longer allowing polluters to pay for environmental projects  Pendley says court decision ousting him from BLM has had 'no impact' MORE (D-N.M.) said. 

"In three years, this administration has actively worked to dismantle 50 years worth of protections from bedrock environmental laws, decimated Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, ignoring the voices of native communities, weakened protections for endangered species and dismantled migratory bird protections, put an anti-public lands zealot in charge of managing public lands, adopted a drill-at-all-costs approach for managing or public lands and abandon any and all efforts to fight climate change."

One of those policies, Interior's efforts to roll back protections for birds, including penalties on industries that kill them during activities like oil drilling, sparked a particularly tense moment. 

The rollback has been opposed by conservation groups who say Interior is eliminating any incentive to take action to avoid killing birds.

"At the end of the day we are doing this regulation," Bernhardt said, digging in and arguing that court rulings have backed the department's stance.  

But Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van Hollen Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers Senators push for Turkey sanctions after reports Ankara used Russian system to detect US-made jets MORE (D-Md.) said the proposal would remove the legal basis for getting companies to pay up for the damage they do, referring to a massive court settlement from oil giant BP.  

"How many companies settle when there's no legal basis for the argument?" Van Hollen asked.

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"Sometimes you are acting like BP's lawyer, and that is the problem here. Because the reality is that BP was fined, and other folks, $100 million under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because of the massive loss of bird life," he said. 

Bernhardt was also criticized over his choice to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), William Perry Pendley, and efforts to vastly reduce the bureau's employees in Washington, relocating them out West.  

Pendley, prior to joining Interior, spent his career advocating for selling off public lands and worked for groups that often sued the federal government over land policy.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterHouse Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role | Trump says he could out-raise Biden with calls to Wall Street, oil execs | Supreme Court to review Trump border wall funding, asylum policies Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big MORE (D-Mont.) said Pendley is "not just bad, but horrible on public lands. I think you know it, I know it." 

"Do not deny -- do not deny -- the fact that he has been front and center on selling our public lands," Tester said.

Read more on the hearing here.

 

Wheeler faced a tough hearing too... Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds EPA allows use of radioactive material in some road construction MORE was questioned Wednesday on his decision to not seek reimbursement from his predecessor Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCrystal clean water? Not if Trump can help it OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate' | Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries | Conservation groups to sue Trump administration, seeking giraffe protections Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries MORE for nearly $124,000 in expenses an internal watchdog deemed "excessive." 

Wheeler said he did not know whether the EPA had the authority to recover the money from Pruitt during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in response to questions from Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyWomack to replace Graves on Financial Services subcommittee Preventing next pandemic requires new bill's global solutions Democrats introduce legislation to revise FDA requirements for LGBT blood donors MORE (D-Ill.). 

"They didn't specify what authority we would have to recoup that money," Wheeler said of the watchdog report. 

A 2018 inspector general report found that Pruitt and his staff spent $123,942 on "excessive" first class travel in 2017 and recommended that the EPA demand reimbursement from Pruitt for his share of the expenses. 

Wheeler also claimed on Wednesday that the report had a "number of errors" and argued that the expense figure should be halved because Pruitt's security detail was required to travel with him. 

Read more on that hearing here.  

 

NEPA DRAMA: 

--The White House rejected a request from Democrats to extend the deadline for comments on a major rollback to a landmark environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

Trump's changes would limit the breadth of the law, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, like those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects. It does not require the federal government to look at how projects would impact climate change.

The White House's Council on Environmental Quality said it has already "engaged in extensive public outreach," for the public comment period that ends March 10.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), had argued a 60 day comment period was not sufficient for changes of this magnitude that would be so broadly felt.

--Meanwhile, House Republicans penned their own letter in support of the changes, an effort led by the Western Caucus and signed by 130 Republicans. 

"In our districts across the country, we constantly hear about the opportunities lost when projects are stalled by NEPA's increasingly time consuming and unnecessary red tape," the letter reads.

 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from the International Energy Agency.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Hotter climate raised risk of Australia's record fires by 30 percent, the Associated Press reports.

Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon, study finds, The Guardian reports.

Wetlands prevent hurricane damage. Economists now know how much, Bloomberg reports.

Trump administration moving to allow railroads to haul liquefied natural gas. Opponents say it's a risk, The Washington Post reports. 

As US coal plants shutter, one town tests an off-ramp, Stateline reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

White House raises objections to bipartisan proposal to reduce use of heat-trapping chemicals

Senate seeks massive permanent boost in conservation funding

Interior secretary defends budget amid heated criticism of Trump policies

Wheeler faces questions over Pruitt spending

 

FROM THE OPINION PAGES

Will coronavirus slow action on climate? asks Kelly Sims Gallagher, the director of the Climate Policy Lab at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.