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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court hands environmentalists a win in water pollution case | Trump officials pitch nuclear plan | Dems ask EPA for briefing on controversial memo

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court hands environmentalists a win in water pollution case | Trump officials pitch nuclear plan | Dems ask EPA for briefing on controversial memo
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MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER: The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with environmentalists by giving a broad reading to the types of water-borne pollution covered by the Clean Water Act.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices held that a permit is required for either a direct discharge of pollutants into federally regulated rivers and oceans or its “functional equivalent.”

At issue in the case was whether Maui County in Hawaii violated the Clean Water Act, the landmark 1972 environmental law, by injecting wastewater underground without a permit that then seeped into the Pacific Ocean.

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“Suppose, for example, that a sewage treatment plant discharges polluted water into the ground where it mixes with groundwater, which, in turn, flows into a navigable river, or perhaps the ocean,” Justice Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerPelosi says she won't bring bill to expand Supreme Court to the floor Conservatives slam ties between liberal groups, White House The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Congress returns; infrastructure takes center stage MORE wrote for the majority.

“Must the plant’s owner seek an EPA permit before emitting the pollutant?” he continued. “We conclude that [a permit is required] if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.”

In siding with environmental groups, Breyer was joined by his fellow liberal justices Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgDemocrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Pelosi rips McConnell in new book: He's an 'enabler of some of the worst stuff' Democrats to offer bill to expand Supreme Court MORE, Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorWill Jan. 6 come for our courts next? Supreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Progressive group ramps up pressure on Justice Breyer to retire MORE and Elena KaganElena KaganBiden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives Supreme Court says California must allow in-home prayer meetings Progressive group ramps up pressure on Justice Breyer to retire MORE, as well as more conservative Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBiden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting NY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' MORE and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasTrump-era grievances could get second life at Supreme Court Joe Biden's surprising presidency Hillicon Valley: Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle | Justices dismiss suit over Trump's blocking of critics on Twitter | Tim Cook hopes Parler will return to Apple Store MORE wrote a dissent that was joined by Justice Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchTop GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Trump-era grievances could get second life at Supreme Court Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle MORE, and Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoTrump-era grievances could get second life at Supreme Court Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle Supreme Court revives police shooting victim's suit against officers MORE wrote a separate dissenting opinion that accused the majority of going beyond the text of the Clean Water Act.

The case arose in the spring of 2012, when four Hawaii environmental groups sued Maui County to stop a municipal water treatment plant from pouring millions of gallons of wastewater each day into wells running hundreds of feet deep, where the treated sewage combined with groundwater.

Read more on the decision here.

 

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IT’S THURSDAY! 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.

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A PATH TO BOOSTING NUCLEAR: The Trump administration on Thursday outlined its plan for revitalizing the U.S. nuclear energy industry in a move that would boost uranium mining while benefiting just a handful of companies.

The report from the Nuclear Fuel Working Group includes a set of recommendations to the White House and comes as the price of uranium has steadily fallen over the past decade.

The group argues that measures to buoy the struggling companies will allow for a rebirth of nuclear power in the U.S. while disrupting China and Russia’s hold on the overseas market for reactors.

“Simply put, it is within our power to pull America’s nuclear industrial base from the brink of collapse and restore our place as the global leader in nuclear technology, ensuring a strong national security position and buttressing our strength for generations to come,” the report states.

The effort to shore up nuclear power is sure to be controversial. Uranium mining has been floated in sensitive areas, including land near the Grand Canyon. And despite being a carbon-free source of emissions, many environmentalists oppose its use given the need to store toxic spent fuel for decades.

Nuclear energy has also struggled to remain competitive with other energy sources, leaving some states to bail out nuclear reactors to the tune of tens of millions of dollars to keep them afloat. New York chose to do so, calling nuclear energy “a crucial, emission-free bridge” to its plan to transition to 100 percent clean energy.

To revitalize the industry, however, the new report backs President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE’s proposal to spend $150 million on a uranium reserve, which would buy U.S.-mined uranium from the small number of domestic producers. The Uranium Producers of America identifies just eight members on its website.

Support for domestic miners was first floated in a January 2018 petition filed by two of the country’s top uranium producers — Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy — pushing to enact a 25 percent purchasing quota for domestic uranium.

U.S. companies provide just 10 percent of domestic uranium purchases, with more than 60 percent of supplies imported from allies like Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan. 

Environmentalists have said increasing domestic production is unnecessary, arguing it would risk environmental damage when countries friendly to the U.S. already supply uranium at competitive prices. Uranium has fallen from a high of $140 a pound in 2007 to roughly $30 today.

Read more about the plan and its implications for the Grand Canyon here.

 

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OVER AT EPA:

-About that memo… House Democrats are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a March memo in which the agency said it may not seek penalties against companies that don’t monitor their pollution during the coronavirus pandemic.

The March 26 document states that the agency temporarily “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance.”

In a Wednesday letter, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee requested a briefing by the agency regarding the decision-making process behind that policy, its expected environmental impacts and its anticipated end date. 

The lawmakers are particularly pressing the agency on the influence of any outside groups, citing a letter that a prominent oil and gas industry group wrote to the agency on March 23 asking it to temporarily waive “non-essential compliance obligations” such as recordkeeping, training and other non-safety requirements due to the virus. 

The lawmakers also accused the EPA of “taking advantage of a global pandemic to advance an anti-environment and anti-climate agenda.”

“This unprecedented action sends a signal to polluters that they will not face any penalties for poisoning our air and water, which will put the health of Americans further at risk not only during the coronavirus crisis, but for years to come,” the Democrats wrote. 

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An EPA spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that assertions made in the letter are “false.”

Read more on that here.

-Air quality and COVID-19...House Democrats are calling on the EPA to ensure that minority and low-income communities have equal access to clean air protections amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a letter spearheaded by Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushUnleashing an American-led clean energy economy to reach net-zero emissions Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-Ill.) and signed by 83 House Democrats, lawmakers noted reports of minority and low-income communities dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19, as well as a recent Harvard University study that concluded that patients in areas with higher air pollution levels are at a greater risk of dying from the disease. 

“For these reasons, we are alarmed by EPA — the agency authorized to enhance clean air protections — taking actions that are contrary to its mission,” Democrats wrote in the letter sent to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes Overnight Energy: EPA pledges new focus on environmental justice | Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers | Biden administration asks court to toss kids' climate lawsuit Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers MORE on Wednesday.

Read more on that here.

 

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MAILBOX: As a number of Republicans write to Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell asking for assistance for oil companies, Democrats are now asking that any such financial assistance be blocked.

“Using federal money to prop up the fossil fuel industry would only increase the financial toll of climate change and the environmental degradation it has wrought…. The costs of inaction on climate change are already high, but continued investment in its root cause of fossil fuels will only drive those costs higher,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHouse Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion Biden can make history on nuclear arms reductions Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter Thursday. 

“During the federal response to this unprecedented crisis, we urge you to deploy the Federal Reserve’s resources in a way that protects taxpayer interests and avoids the bailout of an industry that has been struggling under its own short-sighted financial decisions for years.”

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Gov. Gary Herbert supports reopening Utah’s national parks, but when remains a question, The Salt Lake Tribune reports

Louisiana wants to restore island where cleaned birds were brought during BP spill, the Associated Press reports

Now that Jacksonville opened its beaches, other Florida counties and cities are following, the Miami Herald reports

SC State Parks plan to reopen in May after being closed to public during coronavirus, The State reports

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…

Oversight Democrats ask EPA for briefing on controversial compliance memo

Trump officials pitch nuclear plan that would bolster struggling uranium industry

House Democrats press EPA on clean air in minority communities

Supreme Court hands environmentalists a win in water pollution case