Overnight Energy: 18 states ask Trump to withdraw major environmental rollback | Senators grill deputy EPA pick at confirmation hearing | Senators look to recess to calm energy bill fight

Overnight Energy: 18 states ask Trump to withdraw major environmental rollback | Senators grill deputy EPA pick at confirmation hearing | Senators look to recess to calm energy bill fight
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A LAWSUIT WAITING TO HAPPEN: Attorneys general for 18 states are asking the Trump administration to withdraw a rule that would roll back a bedrock environmental law, arguing the proposal is "unlawful, unreasonable, and unjustified."

The White House in January announced sweeping changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that an environmental review accompany any major infrastructure project such as building highways or pipelines.   

Trump's changes would limit the breadth of the law, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, such as those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects and removes the "cumulative" effects language that courts have largely interpreted as requiring the government to weigh how a project would impact global warming. 


Critics view those changes as dismantling one of the major environmental laws of the last half century. 

"These changes grant extraordinary discretion to federal agencies and project proponents while limiting consideration of environmental and public health impacts from federal actions," the attorneys general wrote in a comment on the rule, arguing the changes "undermine NEPA's plain language."

The Trump administration argues the changes are necessary to speed environmental reviews, which can last years and produce a report numbering in the hundreds of 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," Mary Neumayr, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which crafted the policy, said at one of the two public hearings on the changes. 

But the attorneys general argue the rule, if finalized after the end of the comment period this month, "would trade reasoned and informed decision making for unjustified expedience."

Read more on the comments 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.


A GRILLING: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pressed President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE's pick for the No. 2 position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a range of issues during an at times contentious Senate hearing Wednesday.

Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states MORE (R-Iowa) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthBiden unveils disability rights plan: 'Your voices must be heard' Warren calls for investigation into OSHA inspections during pandemic Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-Ill.) pressed Douglas Benevento about ethanol requirement exemptions for small refineries after a federal court ruled that the EPA would have to reconsider certain waivers.

The EPA has the option to appeal the court's decision. 

"Can you commit to me that the EPA will not grant any of these pending small refinery exemptions of 2019 until the legal action is settled?" Ernst asked during the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

Benevento said he would get back to her with a response.

"Our farmers and producers are tired of being yanked around by the EPA and again these illegal [exemptions]," Ernst replied. "A number of these 'small refineries' are actually owned by much larger companies, oil companies like Exxon and Chevron."

After the nominee similarly told Duckworth that he'd get back to her on whether the agency would temporarily stop issuing the waivers until the litigation is resolved, the senator said, "It's an easy thing to say. Don't grant any more waivers, since you're going to be appealing this ruling, or if you're not going to appeal the ruling, then you don't need to grant any more waivers."

"I just don't think it would be prudent to be making a regulatory decision right here," Benevento responded. 

"This is not a regulatory decision, this is just suspending any future actions on granting any more small refinery waivers," Duckworth said. 

Read more on the hearing here


HOLDING PATTERN: Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperMail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting MORE (D-Del.) said Wednesday that negotiations on sweeping and bipartisan energy legislation will cool down over next week's recess amid disputes over a potential amendment to the legislation. 

A proposal introduced by Carper and Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) has held up negotiations on the energy package put forth by Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE (D-W.Va.).

"Sen. Kennedy's advice was 'Why don't we just all go home to our home states and let people calm down and come back,'" Carper told The Hill. "And I think there's actually some wisdom in that." 

Opponents of the measure to reduce the use of the heat-trapping chemical have pushed for the addition of language that would prevent states from adding more regulations on top of the federal rule. 

A Senate aide told reporters that Carper and Kennedy have offered a compromise that would preempt states from putting their own laws in place for two years. 

A spokesman for Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (R-Wyo.), one of the most vocal opponents of the HFC measure, told The Hill in a statement that this compromise isn't "real preemption."

"The minority office offered a two-year pause on state regulation," said spokesman Mike Danylak. "That will only delay the issue two years."

He added that Barrasso "has concerns with any legislative effort that will layer new federal rules on a patchwork of current or future state rules -- including state rules in two years. Chairman Barrasso still awaits a counter offer from the minority that includes real preemption language."


A Carper spokesperson, however, pushed back, saying that Barrasso wants "permanent removal -- from both states and EPA -- of the authority to regulate the uses of HFCs."

"Senator Carper does not support a policy approach that permanently leaves no one with the authority to regulate HFC usage," his spokesperson told The Hill in an email. 

This just in: On Wednesday evening, Barrasso's Environment and Public Works Committee announced that it would hold a legislative hearing on a bill by Kennedy and Carper that aims to reduce the use of HFCs over 15 years. The hearing would take place on March 25.

"The right place to vet ideas is in committee," Barrasso said in a statement. "That's why the Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a legislative hearing on Senator Kennedy and Ranking Member Carper's bill to phase-out HFC chemicals. These chemicals are in everything from our kitchens to our cars -- it's important we get this right."

A spokesperson for Kennedy told The Hill in an email that the Louisiana Republican will still work for a floor vote. 

Read more on the negotiations here



ROADLESS RULE: The internal watchdog at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to lawmakers' request to investigate whether grants from the agency funded efforts to lobby for reduced protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest. 

Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the investigation in November after reports in Alaska media that a $2 million federal grant to help prepare for potential changes in forest protections was, in part, funneled to the Alaska Forest Association, a timber industry group.

That group received $200,000 of the grant, according to a report from Alaska Public Media, contributing to state efforts to lobby for changes to the "roadless rule" that blocks logging development in forests by limiting access to vehicles.

"The Tongass is America's largest national forest, and protecting it is a critical part of addressing the climate crisis," Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee ranking member Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Democrats warn of 'captured' GOP court ahead of November election Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply MORE (D-Mich.) said in a statement.

"This impartial review will help us discover whether taxpayer dollars were misused to threaten one of our most important natural resources."

Read more about the review here


EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: "I oppose any effort by @realDonaldTrump to include an oil industry bailout as part of #COVID19 aid. Working families and vulnerable populations deserve our undivided attention and resources right now," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) tweeted Wednesday. "Any attempt to use this pandemic to justify helping the @WhiteHouse's oil industry allies is unconscionable."

Read more on the White House's plans and the debate in Congress here



The House Oversight and Reform Committee will look at the "future impacts of continued federal inaction" on climate change.

The House Natural Resources panel will look at the environmental and cultural impacts of a proposed mining operation



Oregon climate change: Governor signs executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, The Oregonian reports

Landmark legal settlement as Australian government pays $212m to victims of toxic contamination, The Sydney Morning Herald reports

Houston Is Not Prepared for the Oil Bust, Texas Monthly reports.

Republicans push through Indiana's coal extension bill, which now heads to governor's desk, the Indianapolis Star reports


ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

Greta Thunberg urges '#DigitalStrike' rather than big crowds amid coronavirus outbreak

USDA watchdog to review forestry grant that went to logging group

Senators press Trump deputy EPA pick at confirmation hearing

18 states ask Trump administration to withdraw major environmental rollback

Senate energy bill negotiations could be delayed until after recess