Overnight Energy: Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns | New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic | Lawmakers urge help for oil and gas workers

Overnight Energy: Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns | New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic | Lawmakers urge help for oil and gas workers
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PARKS BENCHED: Some of the country's most iconic national parks closed Tuesday amid growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The National Park Service (NPS) closed Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains on Tuesday, marking the latest in a series of closures around the country.

"The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks," Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said in a joint statement.


Among the other monuments and parks that have closed in recent weeks are Yosemite National Park, the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are closed until further notice in order to implement the latest health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NPS says.

A separate statement on the Great Smoky Mountains closure said that it would be closed until April 6 to "support regional COVID-19 prevention efforts."

The new closures come just a week after NPS said it would waive fees at parks that were remaining open.

"Our vast public lands that are overseen by the department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing," said Secretary David Bernhardt of the Interior Department, which oversees NPS, in a statement on the fee waiver.

The agency told The Hill in a statement on Tuesday that decisions about whether to change park operations are "being made on a park-by-park basis by the respective superintendent, using the most current guidance from state and local health authorities, in support of the CDC's effort to promote social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus."

Read more about the closures here.



HAPPY 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.


TELEWORKING OUT: A newly implemented order from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires employees to work from the office at least three days per week, though the agency says it does not apply to the current situation involving the coronavirus pandemic.

"Full-time employees are expected to report to the official worksite and duty station a minimum of three (3) days per week," says the order, which was obtained by Inside EPA and E&E News.

An EPA spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that the agency adopted the new policy on March 15 but continues to tell all of its employees to telework for the time being. 

"This work schedule policy was drafted well before the Covid-19 matter arose, and was finalized several weeks ago," the spokesperson said. "Many of our non-bargaining unit employees asked for the flexibilities offered in this policy to offer them increased flexibility, therefore we implemented."

By contrast, a 2016 EPA order obtained by E&E had said certain eligible employees could telework full time. 

Tim Whitehouse, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, slammed the new requirements in a statement to The Hill. 

"At a time when businesses and many government agencies are managing for performance, EPA is insistent on establishing arbitrary telework policies that do not comport to the needs of EPA's modern workforce," Whitehouse said. 

"EPA has provided no justification for this policy and seems intent on driving out as many career staff as possible to satisfy its broader political objectives," he added. 

Telework policy has also been a point of contention between the EPA and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union that represents many of its workers. 

In a December statement announcing that the EPA would return to the bargaining table, the AFGE said it would be able to negotiate for "improvements on important provisions around telework" in addition to other priorities. 

Read more about the order here



GAS-SISTANCE: A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to congressional leadership asking for assistance for oil and gas industry workers as oil prices have plunged amid the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes. 

"We write to ask you to help address the unique challenges facing the people who work in the U.S. oil and gas sector," said the letter, which was signed by seven Democrats and two Republicans. 

"We know from previous economic aid efforts that any COVID-19 relief package must protect all hard-working Americans. The effects of COVID-19 will be felt across the economy," it continued. 

The lawmakers wrote that there have been layoffs in recent weeks linked to the decreasing fuel prices. A Texas oil regulator recently told Bloomberg that tens of thousands of people in the state were being laid off as drilling rigs close down.

"As various sector-specific proposals are considered to address the impacts of COVID-19, this sector and the people who work in it must be taken into account," the legislators wrote. 

The letter was signed by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Sylvia GarciaSylvia GarciaBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (D-Texas), Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 MORE (R-Texas), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenBipartisan lawmakers call for action on anti-hate crime measures House Democrat sits on Capitol steps to protest extremist threat Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm MORE (D-Texas), Brian Babin (R-Texas), Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornWhy does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? The US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it What should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? MORE (D-Okla.), and Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Native groups hope Haaland's historic confirmation comes with tribal wins | EPA asks court to nix Trump rule limiting GHG regs | Green group asks regulators to block use of utility customers' money for lobbying  Bipartisan lawmakers back carbon capture with new legislation  House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-Texas.)


Read more about their letter here.


P-LEASING THE INDUSTRY: The Trump administration continues to sell oil rights amid an industry slump. 

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with drilling lease sales as oil prices plummet and as conservation groups and others call for suspending business as usual during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held lease sales in Wyoming, Montana, Nevada and Colorado on Monday, selling oil rights on parcels of public land covering hundreds of thousands of acres.

But taxpayer groups argue the sales come at an inopportune time, as oil prices fall to roughly $23 a barrel, risking generating little income for the treasury.

"In this environment, it is impossible for the American taxpayer to expect anywhere near a fair return on oil and gas leases," Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship and Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote last week, encouraging the administration to suspend lease sales for the rest of the year. 


The groups' analysis of lease sales in Utah in mid-March found 90 percent of acres sold received the minimum bid of $2 per acre.

Read more here.



Here's what a coronavirus-like response to the climate crisis would look like, The Los Angeles Times reports

A plant in Florida emits vast quantities of a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, InsideClimate News reports

A mustang crisis looms in the West, The New York Times reports


ICYMI: News from Tuesday

New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic

Trump administration continues to sell oil rights amid industry slump

Bipartisan lawmakers urge assistance for oil and gas workers

Thunberg says she has recovered from mild coronavirus symptoms

Energy Department to send adviser to Saudi Arabia amid oil tensions

Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns



Limiting our carbon footprint in a post COVID-19 world -- we shouldn't go back to business as usual opines Vinod Thomas, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and former direct-general and senior vice president of the Independent Evaluation Group at the World Bank Group.