Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Green groups sue over Trump rollback of Obama-era waterway protections | Warren calls for SEC to require climate risk disclosures

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.

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IT TAKES TWO: Two separate coalitions of environmental groups sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, challenging a rollback of protections for the nation’s waterways.

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January limits federal protections for smaller bodies of water, a move critics say risks contamination of larger ones used for drinking water.

“Our nation’s majestic waterways depend for their health on the smaller streams and wetlands that filter pollution and protect against flooding, but the Trump administration wants to ignore the science demonstrating that,” the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed a suit on behalf of eight of the groups, said in a statement Wednesday. “This regulation is plainly unlawful. It violates the simple but powerful mandate of the Clean Water Act to protect the integrity of our nation’s waters.”

The new rule is the final replacement of the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, which President Trump vowed to dismantle during the 2016 campaign.

WOTUS asserted that the interconnectivity of water required protecting small and even seasonal water bodies caused by snowmelt in order to prevent pollution and pesticides from flowing elsewhere.

Critics argue the new rule eviscerates the protections guaranteed by the decades-old Clean Water Act, not just reversing Obama-era protections but setting the U.S even further back.

So what’s the legal argument?

Environmental groups plan to argue in court that the rule ignores scientific studies showing how the health of larger water bodies is dependent on smaller ones while denying protections guaranteed under the Clean Water Act.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that pollution dumped upstream flows downstream, but the agencies shut their eyes to science and common sense. That violation of the law is why we’re going to court to protect clean water,” the Southern Environmental Law Center wrote in a release to accompany a separate suit on behalf of 14 environmental groups.

That’s a view shared by some affiliated with the EPA. The agency’s independent Science Advisory Board reviewed the rule when it was first proposed, writing in a draft report that “aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

The EPA wouldn’t comment on the suits directly, but argued the rule “will stand the test of time as it is securely grounded in the text of the Clean Water Act and is supported by legislative history and Supreme Court case law.”

Scrapping WOTUS was part of Trump’s effort to woo farmers, who argued the Obama-era protections subjected huge swaths of land to federal oversight.

Read more about the lawsuits here. 


SEC-KING CLIMATE INFO: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public companies to disclose climate risks posed by their activities. 

She wrote a letter to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton as the agency is proposing changes to financial disclosure requirements. The changes wouldn’t add any particular mandate to disclose climate risks. 

“The climate crisis will have a significant impact on our economy, and without meaningful requirements for companies to disclose their exposure to climate change risk, I am concerned that the proposed rule would not give investors and the public the information needed to make well-informed investment decisions,” Warren wrote on Tuesday.

An SEC spokesperson declined to comment on Warren’s letter. 

In January, Clayton said that the “issue of environmental and climate-related securities law disclosures has received increasing attention” and said SEC staff’s “focus on and work in this area will continue.”  He did not, however, commit to a specific policy change. 

Read more about the letter here


-Oil help… President Trump said an aid package for the oil industry would be coming shortly, speaking alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a White House roundtable for industry. 

“Well we’re not gonna let our oil companies go and get in trouble. It’s not their fault that they got hit by 50 percent less volume in one day,” Trump said. “We just saved the airlines. The airlines were having the best year they’ve ever had, and then all of a sudden they’re like out of business. We can’t let that happen, so we saved the airlines, that’s done. We’re saving other companies and industries. And I would say Steve, maybe you can talk to it, but I think the oil industry is one of the top on the list.”

The administration has yet to reveal what forms that assistance may take, but several outlets have reported that emergency lending authority is under consideration, which would give the government a stake in U.S. oil companies, as well as bridge loans.

“We’re looking at a lot of different strategies, Mnuchin said. “I’ve said before, this is not going to be a bailout of shareholders, but this is going to be supporting the national security issue…. We’re also exploring potentially having the ability to store another several hundred million barrels.”

-EJ on the way…Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign said Wednesday that it will later announce additions to the presumptive Democratic nominee’s environmental justice platform. 

“The vice president has directed his staff to pursue a process to deepen our engagement with the environmental justice community and come out with additional policies that build on the framework that he released at the beginning of the campaign,” policy director Stef Feldman said on a call with reporters. 


-Keep it up… Lawmakers are pushing back against calls for FERC to impose a moratorium on new pipeline permits during coronavirus.

“A moratorium is both unnecessary and detrimental to the nation’s energy security.  During this period, FERC should move forward, as health and safety constraints may allow, with all applications for review of natural gas intrastate pipelines and LNG facilities while embracing new forms of public engagement,” a bipartisan group of five lawmakers wrote in a letter led by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas).

-It can’t wait… Following a court decision that blocked the Trump administration from giving coronavirus stimulus funding to Alaska Native-owned corporations, Reps. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) say the Treasury Department must now speedily disperse funds to tribes.

“The detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate health care and economic impact on federally recognized tribes due a chronic lack of essential resources,” the write.

“The Congressional intent behind the [Coronavirus Relief Fund] is to expedite relief funds to governments, including sovereign tribal governments, as part of the federal government’s larger initiative to provide emergency assistance throughout the country.”

-Yes, please… An industry group representing smaller oil producers penned a letter to the Treasury Department and the Department of Energy saying they would accept financial relief that might be offered to the industry. 

“Some press reports have questioned whether support exists within the oil and natural gas production industry for these actions. IPAA wants to assure you that it supports efforts that will allow for the recovery of America’s oil and natural gas industry,” the Independent Petroleum Association of American wrote to the two agencies.

“IPAA requests that your organizations continue your actions to allow these companies access to the financial resources created by your prior efforts and the CARES Act.”

Other groups representing larger oil companies such as the American Petroleum Institute have said they are not seeking assistance for the industry. While the Trump administration and Republicans have pushed for a number of ways to help the industry, the ideas have been staunchly opposed by Democrats. 

-The Carbon Capture Coalition is eyeing the next stimulus package as a lifeline to further tax credits for the industry.

“We write to recommend targeted measures to provide immediate support for current carbon capture projects at risk of delay or cancellation due to the COVID-19 crisis and to increase the number of projects in the near-term development pipeline,” director Brad Crabtree wrote to congressional leaders. 

That assistance could include both direct payments and an extension of the 45Q tax credit that has languished at the Treasury Department. 


Texas Railroad Commission rolls out proposed order for crude oil production cuts, the Houston Chronicle reports

Chesapeake Energy preparing bankruptcy filing, Reuters reports

Las Vegas and Phoenix forecast to experience most extreme April heat on record, The Washington Post reports

Africa Braces for a Record Wave of Locusts, The Wall Street Journal reports

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES: Pandemic highlights opportunity for timely utility company reinvestment in Arizona’s coalfield communities, opine Amanda Ormond, the former director of the Arizona Energy Office and principal of the Ormond Group and Karl Cates, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Tags Deb Haaland Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Ruben Gallego Steven Mnuchin

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