Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Coal industry seeks fee rollbacks amid coronavirus | Ex-lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump agency | EPA sued over reapproval of Roundup chemical

Greg Nash

COAL GOALS: Coal companies are looking to the White House and Congress to roll back a number of fees paid by mining companies, arguing the coronavirus will exacerbate difficult financial times for the struggling industry.

In a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders first reported by Reuters on Thursday, the National Mining Association asked lawmakers to decrease payments to a trust fund for those with black lung disease and “suspend or reduce” the fees paid to the government for mining on federal land.

“Even before the recent crisis, the coal industry was struggling to recover from a series of disabling public policies,” Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, wrote in the letter dated Wednesday, according to Reuters. “The fuel security provided by coal reserves at power plants offers resiliency to a system that is bracing for uncertainty, and it is imperative to keep these plants online.”

The coal industry is just one of the fossil fuel industries angling for assistance due to the virus. The Trump administration recently said the U.S. would buy 30 million gallons of domestically produced oil as the industry tanks amid financial fallout from both the coronavirus and a trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two major oil producing nations.

Coal companies have been under financial pressure in recent years, struggling to stay afloat as utilities turn to cleaner forms of energy and financial institutions increasingly vow not to fund fossil fuel projects.

Democrats have repeatedly argued the Trump administration should not prop up the industry, and renewed that call after the National Mining Association letter surfaced.

“The coal industry is taking advantage of the country’s current circumstances to advocate for policies that are completely unrelated to the current crisis,” Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“It is disappointing that the coal industry is advocating for policies that would not help the tens of thousands of sick, retired, and out-of-work miners that need immediate help and the communities that are still recovering from the legacy of environmental damage caused by the coal industry,” they added.

While other industries have asked for direct financial assistance, the coal industry’s proposal would scale back regulatory actions that they argue pose a financial burden.

The details: The industry asked to pause or limit the royalty payments it turns over to the federal government for mining on federal lands — fees that put nearly $527 million in the Treasury last year.

The letter also asked to reduce payments the industry must make to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to 2019 levels after Congress increased that tax by $220 million for this year. The fund provides monthly payments and medical benefits to former coal workers who have contracted the disease.

Additionally, the mining association asked lawmakers to temporarily cut in half the coal industry’s payments to the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, which helps clean up mines that may be structurally unsound and risk polluting groundwater. The association argued that with $2.2 billion in the bank, the fund can withstand a drop in revenue.

Read more on their asks here


And in other financial news, a group of lawmakers is seeking help for the offshore oil industry…

A group of 13 Republicans and one Democrat sent a letter on Friday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to reduce or waive royalties for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“We urge you to examine the viability of a temporary reduction in royalties as domestic energy producers weather this combination of an [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries]-driven price war and an epidemic that is driving millions of people around the world into quarantines of one kind or another,” they added. “Such an action in the short term will help mitigate a price war that is sinking prices and decreasing production.”

Read more about their letter here. 


TGIF, I GUESS. 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.


HER JOB HUNT IS OVER: A former lawyer for a trophy hunting organization with ties to the Trump administration has joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Anna Seidman, formerly of Safari Club International (SCI), was hired as assistant director of international affairs for FWS, HuffPost reported Friday.

An FWS spokesperson confirmed Seidman’s hiring to the news outlet, saying she is “an effective, innovative leader with 20 years of legal and policy experience, including expertise in international environment and natural resource management.”

The agency did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Seidman was with SCI for about 20 years, from 1999 until 2019.

She served as its director of legal advocacy and international affairs, a role that involved lawsuits against FWS.

SCI has had ties to both the Trump family and the administration. Last month, the group auctioned off a hunting trip with Donald Trump Jr., which sold for $150,000.

Read more on the hire here


ROUNDING UP RESISTANCE: Multiple groups on Friday sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision to re-approve a chemical used in Bayer’s Roundup weed killer.

The agency re-approved the chemical, known as glyphosate, in January, claiming that it doesn’t pose a danger to humans. Thousands of lawsuits, however, have attributed cancer to Roundup.

One lawsuit against the EPA was filed Friday on behalf of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Beyond Pesticides, the Rural Coalition, Organización en California de Lideres Campesinas, and the Farmworker Association of Florida.

“EPA’s half-completed, biased, and unlawful approval sacrifices the health of farmworkers and endangered species at the altar of Monsanto profits,” said CFS legal director George Kimbrell in a statement. “The reckoning for Roundup is coming.”

Another suit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America. 

The NRDC, in a statement on its lawsuit, called the glyphosate approval “unsafe, unhealthy, and unlawful.”

“EPA ignored warnings from scientists, environmentalists, and medical experts who cautioned about the serious health and environmental harms of continued use of glyphosate,” it said. 

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment, saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

In re-approving the chemical earlier this year, the agency said “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that glyphosate plays a role in any human diseases.”

It did find that glyphosate presented “low or limited potential risks” in birds and mammals. 

Read more about the lawsuits here


EXPEDITED: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) and others in the consumer packaged goods industry on Friday announced new steps for expediting reviews of products related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move aims to ensure accurate information for the public about which products can help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The EPA’s review process will now take as little as two weeks, instead of the typical 90 days, the CBA said following a call with the EPA on Friday. While no erroneous claims about products were specified on the call, the goal is to process legitimate claims quickly.

Read more here


NOT JUST A WALK IN THE PARK: “While I understand the appeal of outdoor recreation during a difficult time, Interior Secretary Bernhardt needs to prioritize the health and safety of visitors to national parks and public lands during this crisis,” House Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva said following Interior’s decision to waive park fees during the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Trump administration must establish clear safety protocols for employees and visitors to prevent the spread of coronavirus on public lands. There is no reason for Americans to ignore clear directives from public health professionals recommending limited public engagement and exposure in public places… He should revise his recommendations to better reflect the advice of public health experts.”



Maine broadens restrictions to curb spread of forest pests, the Associated Press reports. 

Texas regulator considers oil output cuts for first time in decades, Bloomberg reports.


ICYMI: News from Friday…

Power industry may ask staff to live on site as coronavirus outbreak worsens

Former lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump administration

Coal industry asks for financially beneficial rollbacks amid coronavirus

EPA to expedite reviews of products claiming to fight coronavirus

EPA sued over reapproval of key Roundup chemical

Democratic senators, attorneys general slam proposal to roll back protections for birds

Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers

Tags Donald Trump Matt Cartwright
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