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Overnight Energy: Democrats push green measures in next stimulus | Coalition petitions EPA for tougher pollution disclosure rules | Trump to meet oil executives Friday

Overnight Energy: Democrats push green measures in next stimulus | Coalition petitions EPA for tougher pollution disclosure rules | Trump to meet oil executives Friday
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ANOTHER CHANCE TO GO GREEN? Democrats are pushing for the next coronavirus package to include a litany of green infrastructure provisions in defiance of past GOP opposition to mixing such measures with efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioOn the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the package will include a "substantial investment" in high-speed rail, while aiming to shift the national highway system toward electrification, for cars and trucks alike.

It also includes provisions to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, by altering the mix, and that of asphalt, by recycling existing materials.

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"The materials that we use can be way greener," he said. "We can reduce that footprint by half, with new materials that have been developed, we can actually go to carbon-negative concrete. ... So this can be a very green bill."

DeFazio dismissed the objections of Republican leaders, who had hammered House Democrats' previously proposed $2.5 trillion relief package as a liberal wish list full of provisions unrelated to the coronavirus crisis.

"There are going to be objections to this," he said. "Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE made fun of my provisions -- that the airlines agreed to -- to reduce their carbon pollution dramatically and quickly. It could be carbon-neutral by 2025. It's time to get serious about this. But in rebuilding our infrastructure, we have a unique opportunity. No one disagrees it needs to be rebuilt. Rebuild it in a way that looks to the future, the 21st century, and also deals with climate change and carbon pollution at the same time. It's a no-brainer from my perspective." 

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said there are also provisions under his panel's jurisdiction to help states become more energy efficient, grant incentives for residents to weatherize their homes and provide funding to create a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.

That, he said, would "modernize our transportation system, save fuel and create a more efficient transportation system."   

Congressional Republicans have pounced on Democrats' remarks on the next phase of relief thus far, warning that it will include a number of liberal priorities disguised as an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"Let's see how things are going and respond accordingly," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. "I'm not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass."

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Read more on the provisions 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.

 

AT THE EPA:

A petition... A coalition of environmental groups is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for more stringent disclosure following a memo from the agency that allows companies to suspend monitoring for pollution during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A directive issued by the agency last week informed companies they will not face fines or other enforcement actions from the EPA if they do not track emissions and discharges during the coronavirus outbreak.

Environmental groups have characterized the memo as a license to pollute, as companies will not have to submit regular reports to the EPA showing they are not violating environmental laws.

"We fully appreciate the disruption and harm caused by the COVID‐19 pandemic. But EPA's unprecedented non‐enforcement policy creates a clear opportunity for abuse," states the petition, which was signed by 21 environmental and watchdog groups and spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA's memo requires companies to keep track of when they were not able to monitor for pollution and explain how the coronavirus outbreak was the cause. The agency has consistently pushed back against the characterization the memo is a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.

"It is important to note that, contrary to the allegations in the petition, EPA's enforcement authority and responsibility remains active," the agency said in a response to The Hill.

"The policy does not say that the COVID-19 pandemic will excuse exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations, and statutes. EPA expects regulated entities to comply with all obligations and if they do not, the policy says that EPA will consider the pandemic, on a case-by-case basis, when determining an appropriate response."

But the petition from the environmental groups asks the EPA to issue an emergency rule within seven days that requires public disclosure of which companies have suspended environmental monitoring as well as when they return to compliance, all collected in a searchable database.   

Crafting such a rule in seven days would be a lightning fast turnaround in a procedure that can drag out for years, but the petitioners argue the extraordinary measure is necessary.

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"EPA has created an emergency by inviting widespread noncompliance, providing good cause for such action," they write. 

"EPA's non‐enforcement policy threatens environmental and health protections by inviting regulated entities to pollute and to hide crucial information from the public. It conveys a broad license to industry to quit monitoring and reporting indefinitely, based only on the honor system."

Read more on the petition here

 

And a setback in court… The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was wrong to withhold information about how it devised its new fuel efficiency standards, a panel of judges ruled just a day after the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era mileage standards.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday sided with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Fund, which sued the EPA to gain insight into a controversial modeling technique that many said oversold the benefits for rolling back the Obama administration's policy.

The new standards unveiled by the Trump administration Tuesday require automakers to produce a fleet averaging 40 mpg by 2026, rather than the previous requirement under the Obama administration to reach 55 mpg by 2025.  

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Environmental groups have vowed to sue over Tuesday's regulation, but the controversial rule has faced numerous suits throughout its development, including the case from the NRDC.

At issue in Wednesday's decision is the OMEGA modeling used to determine various outcomes from reducing mileage standards. 

Part of the modeling attempted to forecast consumer behavior, assuming people would resist buying as many new cars given the tougher Obama-era fuel standards would likely make them more expensive. If true, used cars would likely stay on the road longer.

But Jeff Alson, a former senior policy adviser at EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, which helps develop vehicle mileage and emissions standards, said the resulting analysis found a surge of roughly a trillion extra miles that would be driven by used cars.

"The miles driven should be about the same," Alson said, regardless of whether someone buys a new car or keeps driving an older one.

"If I have to go to work, I go to work; if i need to go to the store, I go to the store, but I'm not going to drive all of a sudden a lot more miles," he said, adding the formula "went haywire."

Read more on the case here

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THE LATEST FOR OIL: 

Space for rent... The Energy Department could rent space in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to oil producers, according to reports from Bloomberg and The Washington Examiner.

People familiar with matter told the news outlets of the possibility to help producers who are low on space and cannot sell their product. 

The oil industry is facing plunging prices due to a decrease in demand because of the coronavirus outbreak and an increase in supply linked to international disputes involving Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

Oil prices were about $21 per barrel Wednesday afternoon, down from a high of $53 per barrel in February. 

The Energy Department did not respond to requests for comment from The Hill. 

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is an emergency supply of crude oil established to lessen the impacts of international supply disruptions of petroleum products. It can hold up to 77 million more barrels of oil than it is currently storing. 

Read more on the reported plan here.

 

Meet and greet... President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE will meet with oil industry leaders at the White House on Friday to discuss efforts to help the industry as companies feel the impact of a massive drop in prices.

"I'm going to meet with the oil companies on Friday. I'm going to meet with independent oil producers also on Friday, or Saturday, maybe Sunday. We're having a lot of meetings on it," Trump said Wednesday.

Executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Continental Resources plan to meet with Trump, sources told The Wall Street Journal.

Read more on that here

 

NEW GIG: James Danly was sworn in Wednesday as the newest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioner after he was confirmed by the Senate last month. 

"So proud of my friend & colleague, James Danly, on being sworn in as Commissioner of @FERC," tweeted the commission's chairman Neil ChatterjeeNeil ChatterjeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats push Biden to pick Haaland as next Interior secretary | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | Wasserman Schultz pitches climate plan in race to chair Appropriations Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump takes major step toward Alaska wildlife refuge drilling opposed by Biden | Grijalva backs Haaland for Interior Secretary | Obama alumni considered top picks for Biden Energy secretary MORE

Revisit The Hill's coverage of Danly's confirmation here and here

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

UN climate talks postponed due to coronavirus, we report

EPA Region 3 employee dies of COVID-19, E&ENews reports 

All Rhode Island state parks, beaches to close, the Providence Journal reports 

 

ICYMI: News from Wednesday...

Coalition petitions EPA for disclosure as agency OKs suspension of environmental monitoring

Democrats push for green infrastructure provisions in next coronavirus package

Government weighs renting petroleum reserve space to producers: reports

Trump to meet with oil industry CEOs amid price drop: report

EPA loses case seeking modeling behind Obama mileage rollback

UN climate talks postponed due to coronavirus

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGES:

The Saudi-Russia oil fight is the last thing the economy needs in a pandemic, writes Simon Henderson, the Baker Fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.