Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose $2T 'green stimulus'

Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose $2T 'green stimulus'
© Greg Nash

WINGS ATTACHED: The stimulus package to battle the economic effects of the coronavirus proposed by House Democrats includes provisions to crack down on pollution from the airline industry.

The bill also includes more than $50 billion in relief for the industry, but it would require airlines to go carbon neutral for domestic flights by 2025. It also promotes cleaner jet fuels and would greenlight the government to buy older, less efficient planes from airlines.

Environmentalists have pushed the party not just to crack down on airlines but to offer tax incentives to the renewable energy sector. But Democrats' efforts to include environmental language have in part stalled similar legislation in the Senate, where a vote on a stimulus package has once again been delayed.  

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"Airlines that want public support should live public values," Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLiability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks Democrats call for McConnell to bring Voting Rights Act to floor in honor of Lewis Hillicon Valley: Russian hackers return to spotlight with vaccine research attack | Twitter says 130 accounts targeted in this week's cyberattack | Four fired, dozens suspended in CBP probe into racist, sexist Facebook groups MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted when pushing the concept in the Senate last week.

The House package tasks the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with overseeing most of the required emissions reductions.

Beyond the carbon neutrality provisions, airlines who take assistance would also be required to set binding targets to reduce their own emissions to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. 

Airlines would have to start posting about the emissions levels for flights alongside their ticket prices starting in 2023. 

The government would also purchase $1 billion worth of older, more-polluting planes with the expectation airlines would replace them with more fuel-efficient models. The U.S. would be able to recoup some of those costs by selling airplane parts back to various carriers.

The provisions were met with opposition from some Republicans.

"Democrats are taking advantage of this pandemic to check items off their wishlist while watching the American people suffer, and it's truly horrifying," Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsSunday shows preview: White House, Democratic leaders struggle for deal on coronavirus bill Trump and Biden tied in Georgia: poll Democrats blister Barr during tense hearing MORE (R-Ga.) tweeted.

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But environmental groups have been strongly advocating for those measures, echoing calls that public funds must be used to clean up an industry whose pollution is rapidly accelerating. 

Emissions from global air travel increased 32 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation released late last year.

"If taxpayers are investing money in this industry and they are going to be the industry of the future, they have to accelerate the adoption of fuel efficient airplanes," Melinda Peirce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Hill.

Read it here

 

HAPPY MONDAY! 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.

 

MEANWHILE, IN THE SENATE: Senate Republicans and Democrats identified different sticking points Monday as they failed to reach agreement on a coronavirus-spurred stimulus package, with GOP lawmakers repeatedly arguing environmental efforts should not be included in the bill.

"We're here trying to fight for the man and woman on the street in our hometowns, and yet they're fighting for the Green New Deal," Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (R-Wyo.) said on the Senate floor Monday.

But Democrats argued in various floor speeches that the hold up on the bill was largely over their concerns it fails to address the coronavirus crisis by sufficiently bolstering the health care system or by providing enough help to the most vulnerable segments of society.

Environmentalists have been pushing hard to secure a variety of environmental measures in the stimulus package, fighting funding that might go to the oil and gas industry while pushing for tax incentives for renewables and tougher emissions requirements on airlines. 

But most of those options haven't secured any clear path forward, and only the House stimulus bill would force carbon reduction measures on the airline industry in exchange for a bailout.

Measures included in the Green New Deal, such as moving to 100 percent clean electricity or guaranteeing universal health care, have not been included in any proposals.

Still, Republicans have largely framed their opposition to any Senate deal as a matter of fighting environmental measures they don't see as germane.

"Emissions standards? What's that got to do with the virus? Nothing," Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeControversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (R-Okla.) said on the floor Monday evening. 

Meanwhile Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election MORE (R-Texas) blamed Democrats for being "willing to extort a crisis to try to advance their political agenda," specifically citing his opposition to tax credits for the wind industry. 

But Democrats said the alarmism over environmental measures was misleading. 

"I keep hearing about the House wanting a Green New Deal as part of this emergency package. That's a total red herring," Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (D-Md.) said. 

Read the story here

 

Senators aren't wrong that there's an environmental wishlist... Green groups see the coronavirus stimulus package as a way to push for environmental measures, an idea that's gaining traction in the Democratic-led House but contributing to the stalled negotiations in the GOP-run Senate.

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Organizations are calling for checks on industries heavily involved in the production and use of fossil fuels and offering tax incentives to renewable energy producers.

The House seems to be heeding their calls, with a proposal from the chamber's Democrats including provisions that would crack down on pollution from the airline industry.

Republicans, while opposed to the environmental measures, have thrown their support behind efforts to shore up the struggling oil and gas industry, including $3 billion to buy oil for the nation's petroleum reserve. 

"Instead of throwing money into building out the strategic petroleum reserve, we should be going to build out technology for the future like developing electric vehicles and battery storage," Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Hill.

"Because when we come out of this, we shouldn't be dependent on cheap fossil fuels and continue to drive emissions up. We should be driving cleaner cars and trying to make progress on climate change," Pierce added.

Read more on environmental groups' asks here

 

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Some environmental groups are hoping the stimulus will go even further...

Progressive activists are proposing a "green stimulus" plan that would aim to boost the economy through the implementation of environmental reforms in various sectors.

The advocates and academics behind the plan outlined their at least $2 trillion proposal that aims to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and create "green jobs" in an open letter to Congress posted Sunday. 

The proposal includes certain elements of the Green New Deal, a broad policy framework that seeks to mobilize the U.S. economy to fight climate change. 

Read more on that here.

 

THE OIL INDUSTRY HAS ITS OWN WISHLIST: An oil and gas industry group is asking the Trump administration to ease certain regulations it faces so that it can better distribute fuel amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

American Petroleum Institute (API) executives wrote to both President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking that they temporarily waive "non-essential compliance obligations" such as record-keeping, training and other non-safety requirements. 

"The oil and natural gas industry needs to maintain safe and reliable operations, taking into consideration that there may be limited personnel capacity to manage the full scope of the current regulatory requirements," API President Mike Sommers wrote in the letter to Trump on Friday. 

Another letter to the EPA asked the agency to delay requirements for greenhouse gas reporting, provide flexibility on monitoring sampling and analysis required for drinking water permits and add certain delays or deferrals to pollution monitoring. 

Read more on the letter here

 

BACK TO YOU: A federal appeals court sided with scientists Monday, forcing a lower court to reconsider a case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to bar those who receive agency grants from sitting on its boards.

The policy in question was put forth by former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic MORE, blocking scientists from serving on the agency's esteemed Science Advisory Board (SAB). 

He argued that receiving money from EPA represented a conflict of interest that should bar scientists from evaluating agency policies. 

But critics sued, arguing it will leave EPA's board stocked with those with ties to industry.

"When you get rid of the very scientists that EPA has decided do the most promising and relevant research, you're going to skew those committees markedly, and that's what's happened," said Michael Halpern, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which sued over the policy. 

"We've seen a significant increase in representation on these committees by scientists who work for industries with significant conflicts of interest, reducing the independence of these committees."

Judges for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the union, writing that the law "clearly requires agency heads at least to consider whether new restraints on committee membership might inappropriately enhance special interest influence and to eschew such restraints when they do so."

Read more on the decision here

 

REGULATION WITHOUT HESITATION: Environmental groups, states and cities are urging the Trump administration to give the public more time to weigh in on key agency rules as almost all sectors of society are focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

While many of the policies the groups are concerned about are related to the environment, their calls underscore broader frustrations that rulemaking is proceeding at a time when the outbreak is consuming the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said it will go on with "business as usual" for its regulations, and the Interior Department has said it will evaluate its actions on a "case-by-case basis."

One of the proposals that's making its way through the rulemaking process is the EPA's Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, sometimes called the "secret science" rule, which limits consideration of studies that don't make their underlying data public.

Attorneys general from 13 states and several cities recently wrote a letter to the EPA asking for at least a 120-day comment period on the proposal, as opposed to the current 30-day period for input.

"Given the significant new elements of the supplemental proposal in the context of a proposed rule of such consequence, as well as the significant disruption facing our nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EPA must extend the comment period to at least 120-days to permit adequate time for the public to consider the supplemental proposal and provide feedback on it" they wrote to the agency.

"States, healthcare professionals, and scientists who should weigh in on the supplemental proposal will not be able to devote the time necessary to fully evaluate the supplemental proposal and its implications during this evolving crisis," they added.

Read more on the regulatory work here

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

How the Coronavirus Crisis May Hinder Efforts to Fight Wildfires, The New York Times reports

PG&E to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in California wildfires, we report

Scientists just discovered a massive new vulnerability in the Antarctic ice sheet, The Washington Post reports

 

ICYMI: News from Monday and over the weekend...

Pentagon cleanup of toxic 'forever chemicals' likely to last decades

Advocacy groups push back on 'business as usual' at EPA during coronavirus

PG&E to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in California wildfires

Progressive advocates propose $2T 'green stimulus' plan

House stimulus includes controversial effort to stem airline pollution

Green groups push for environmental protections in stimulus package

Court sides with scientists on EPA policy barring grantees from serving on agency boards

Oil industry group asks Trump administration to lessen regulations amid coronavirus

GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus