Overnight Energy: Democrats say stimulus should not bail out fossil fuel industry | Court rules for scientists barred from EPA boards | New setback for Keystone XL pipeline

Overnight Energy: Democrats say stimulus should not bail out fossil fuel industry | Court rules for scientists barred from EPA boards | New setback for Keystone XL pipeline
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DON'T FIND IT VERY STIMULATING: More than 40 Democratic lawmakers are arguing that fossil fuel companies should not be able to receive any assistance under the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress last month. 

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays MORE and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell, lawmakers say the $2 trillion deal was "intended to support struggling families, workers, businesses, states, and municipalities." 

"Giving that money to the fossil fuel industry will do nothing to stop the spread of the deadly virus or provide relief to those in need. It will only artificially inflate the fossil fuel industry's balance sheets," lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.).

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"We call on you to ignore the pleas of big oil lobbyists, put consideration of this corporate bailout aside, and instead focus on supporting the workers and small businesses who truly need assistance due to the coronavirus public health emergency," they added.

Neither agency responded to requests for comment from The Hill.

Democrats have been strongly opposed to fossil fuel companies receiving any sort of benefit from the Trump administration, even as prices hit record lows.

Their insistence thwarted an administration attempt to secure some $3 billion needed to buy 77 million barrels of oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  

The Department of Energy, however, is now moving ahead with renting oil companies space in the reserve, to be paid in oil, as a way of buoying the industry by offering a space to store excess supply.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents oil companies, had said the industry was not interested in a bailout, but condemned the lawmakers' letter.

"This proposal is harmful to American workers, opportunistic during a public crisis and contrary to the law. We encourage the Treasury and the Fed to soundly reject it. If this group of members wanted to amend the law, they should have done it before they passed it," API spokesman Scott Lauermann said in an email to The Hill.

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Read more on the letter here

 

Other asks from Democrats on Monday...

A group of 29 House Democrats is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to stop approving new natural gas pipeline projects and new liquefied natural gas export facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Read more on that here

 

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SETBACK FOR KEYSTONE XL: A federal court on Wednesday delivered a setback to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, vacating a permit the government had issued for its construction. 

Federal judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, determined that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrongly issued the permit, saying the Corps did not comply with environmental requirements. 

His decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by conservation and landowner groups last year. 

Read more on this late breaking story here.

 

COURTS SIDE WITH SCIENTISTS OVER EPA, AGAIN: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot bar recipients of its own grants from serving on agency boards, a New York district court ruled Wednesday. 

The court is the latest to side with scientists who were barred from serving on EPA boards by former 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, who said receiving funding from the agency would represent a conflict of interest. 

"This is an important victory for science and health," said the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued over the policy. "And it's a repudiation of EPA's effort to stifle the voices of independent scientists."

The decision from U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, a Clinton appointee, vacates the policy.  

"The EPA's deficiencies in instituting the directive were serious," Cote wrote in a decision, noting "the EPA had failed to articulate any reason for changing its longstanding practice of permitting EPA grant recipients to serve on EPA advisory committees."

The decision follows another from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals last month that likewise found the agency erred in trying to block its grantees from serving on EPA boards.

In that case, the judges sided with the Union of Concerned Scientists, 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."

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A spokeswoman for the EPA said the agency is reviewing the decision.

"We continue to litigate this issue in several courts and believe that the policy is a proper exercise of the administrator's discretion to appoint board members that will provide the best possible service to the agency," agency spokeswoman Andrea Woods said in a statement to The Hill. 

Read more on the decision here

 

INDUSTRY CHECK-IN:

Prices are down, but so is demand... The year-over-year demand for gasoline was down 20 percent last month amid decreases in use linked to the coronavirus, according to a new analysis. 

"March 2020 saw an unprecedented decline in demand as many Americans followed stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said the analysis from GasBuddy, a navigation app focused on gas prices. 

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The analysis also found that demand for gasoline dropped 10 percent between February and March of this year, although there's normally an uptick during this period. 

Read more on that here

Clean energy is in trouble too… More than 106,000 jobs in the clean energy sector were lost in March amid economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new analysis. 

The analysis, which was conducted by BW Research Partnership for the E2 advocacy group, found that the 3 percent employment drop had more than erased the industry's growth for the year prior. 

"What these numbers tell us is that clean energy workers are a huge and important part of America's workforce – and they are hurting badly," E2's executive director Bob Keefe said in a statement.

"Lawmakers simply cannot ignore the millions of electricians, technicians and factory workers who work in clean energy as they consider ongoing economic recovery efforts – especially since we know from our country's last economic meltdown that clean energy can lead the way to recovery," Keefe added. 

The analysis showed losses in several areas of the clean energy sector, including energy efficiency renewable power generation and alternative transportation. 

Read more on that here

 

LOGGING IT: The U.S. Forest Service will allow timber companies to apply to extend federal logging contracts for another two years, arguing companies may need extra time in light of the coronavirus. 

In a notice posted to the Federal Register, the agency said it hopes to "allow timber purchasers, contractors, and permit holders time to navigate through the COVID-19 crisis and other market conditions, minimize contract defaults, mill closures, and bankruptcies, and sustain employment opportunities."

But environmental groups say the assistance helps camouflage how the timber industry has been hit hard by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE's trade policies.  

"The real reason for this is not coronavirus, it's because the president picked a trade war with China and that shut down the export market for American timber," said Aaron Weiss deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE (R-Alaska) said the move was appropriate in light of the 20 percent tariff China placed on U.S timber.

"The coronavirus pandemic threatens timber jobs and could potentially bankrupt mills that operate in rural communities near our national forests," she said in a release, calling the announcement needed relief.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

As humans stay indoors, wild animals take back what was once theirs, The Washington Post reports

Armed men seize, release tanker off Iran by Strait of Hormuz, the Associated Press reports

Thousands of gallons of oily water spill into Alaska harbor, the Associated Press reports

 

ICYMI: News from Wednesday...

March gasoline demand down 20 percent from last year

Democrats call for new gas pipeline moratorium amid pandemic

Democrats say coronavirus stimulus should not bail out fossil fuel companies

106K clean energy jobs lost in March: analysis 

Court says EPA erred in blocking agency grantees from serving on its boards