Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: States sue Trump over rollback of water protections | Fossil fuel companies get coronavirus aid | Conservative group sues Trump over mileage standards

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TGIF! 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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WATER WARS: A coalition of 17 Democratic-leaning states sued the Trump administration on Friday for rolling back Obama-era protections for waterways, arguing the move ignores science on the interconnectivity of water.

President Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule limits federal protections for a number of smaller waterways, which many scientists say risks pesticides and pollution reaching larger ones.

“This rule opens the door to new, and worse industry pollution that endangers our wildlife, it dirties our drinking water and increases the risk of harmful contamination of our nation’s waterways. In short, it risks the health and safety of Americans around the nation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a call with reporters announcing the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and asks to vacate the rule entirely.

The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits protections for headwaters like creeks, wetlands and seasonal water bodies caused by snowmelt.

It is the final replacement of the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which Trump vowed to dismantle during the 2016 campaign.

Many farm groups opposed WOTUS, arguing it subjected huge swaths of farmland to federal oversight.

“As long as I’m president, government will never micromanage America’s farmers,” Trump told audience members at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting just days before the replacement rule was announced.

But critics say Trump’s rule does more than just dismantle WOTUS.

“This rule is regressive. It ignores the science and the law and it strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act. It is a reckless rollback of clean water protections,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said on Friday’s call.  

But James is also worried about the repercussions from having disparate water protections across the country.

The changes from the Trump administration leaves it to states to set their own protections for smaller bodies of water. James said polluting industries would be incentivized to set up shop in states with weaker protections, something that presents risks for downriver states, including New York, which is downriver from 13 other states.

Read more on the suit here.


FOSSIL FUELS GET PANDEMIC AID: Fossil fuel companies have received more than $50 million in federal coronavirus relief, according to research by The Guardian and investigative group Documented.

Looking at news reports and securities filings, the review found that three coal mining companies were getting $28 million, and an additional $22 million is going to companies that provide oil and gas services equipment and those that work with drillers and coal miners. 

The findings follow changes made Thursday to a Federal Reserve lending program that have made it easier for the oil and gas industry to acquire government financing during the pandemic. 

The new guidelines loosened restrictions on borrowing for companies with high levels of debt and allowed them to use loans to refinance existing debts.

President Trump also said Wednesday that assistance for the oil industry would be coming soon, saying, “We’re not gonna let our oil companies go and get in trouble.”

Assistance for the fossil fuel industry has met opposition from Democrats and environmentalists, however, who argue that the government should not be helping polluting companies. 

The Guardian and Documented reported Friday that coal mining company Rhino Resources, which has ties to David Zatezalo, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, would receive $10 million and that coal company Ramaco Resources is getting $8.4 million. 

Read more on the aid here


NOT SAFE ENOUGH: A conservative think tank is suing the Trump administration over its rollback of fuel economy standards, arguing the government’s own analysis shows it should make the standards even weaker.

The March rule drastically cuts back the year-over-year mileage requirements automakers must achieve.

While the Obama administration required automakers to produce fleets that average nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025, the Trump rule would bring that number down to about 40 miles per gallon by 2026, lower than what automakers have said it is possible for them to achieve.

But a suit filed Friday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) would push the Trump administration to consider even an even steeper rollback.

“The agency was right to roll back the scheduled increases in fuel economy standards, which would have made cars less crashworthy and increased highway fatalities,” Sam Kazman, CEI’s general counsel, said in a statement. 

“But NHTSA should have reduced those standards even more, and perhaps frozen them entirely.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) argued that rolling back the standards will save lives because the deregulation will make cars cheaper. They posit the lower prices will convince drivers of older cars to ditch them for new cars with better safety features. 

The analysis accompanying the rule predicts it will save about 700 lives, but elsewhere the rule shows anywhere from 440 to 1,000 premature deaths resulting from air pollution caused by the increase in smog and other pollution.

That same analysis also found the rule will cost more than it will save by at least $13 billion.

Read more on the suit here


GRIDLOCK: President Trump on Friday issued an executive order declaring a national emergency over threats to the U.S. power system, taking steps to defend the grid against cyberattacks and foreign interference. 

The executive order bans the use of equipment for the power grid that was manufactured by a company under the control of a foreign adversary, or the buying of any equipment that poses a national security threat. 

“Additional steps are required to protect the security, integrity, and reliability of bulk-power system electric equipment used in the United States,” Trump wrote. “In light of these findings, I hereby declare a national emergency with respect to the threat to the United States bulk-power system.”

The order also established a task force to protect the power grid from attacks and share risk management information to prevent interference.

Read more on the order here



Roundtable rumble: The top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote a letter to its chairman complaining about recently-held roundtables put on by the majority. 

“With an absence of regularly scheduled official Committee meetings,…partisan roundtables have become the exclusive public function of the Committee.This is deeply concerning,” wrote Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). 

“While roundtables are generally an acceptable practice, the ones you recently scheduled, as displayed on the ‘hearings’ page of your official website, indicate an attempt to substitute official Committee business. You are seemingly mimicking hearings to include inviting executive branch witnesses while not inviting Republican participation,” he added. 

In response: Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) penned a letter in response to Bishop on Friday. Grijalva argued that there is “nothing inappropriate or even unusual about the events we have held” and said the committee would continue to do so. 

“This ongoing public health crisis demands leadership and innovation, which Democrats in Congress continue to provide the American public,” he wrote, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are also planning two bipartisan roundtables, one documenting the impacts of the pandemic on the fishing industry and a follow-up discussion of coronavirus impacts in Indian Country,” Grijalva added. “To the extent Committee Republicans have concerns about the harm coronavirus is having on the American people, I urge you to arrange roundtable discussions of your own, which are authorized under current House and Committee rules.”

Lincoln lightning rod: In a separate letter on Friday, Grijalva wrote to the Trump administration, criticizing the president for an upcoming town hall event slated to take place at the Lincoln Memorial, while events at the National Mall have been cancelled. 

“Your staggering lack of consistency and your willingness to ignore science have undoubtedly prolonged this crisis and cost American lives,” he wrote.  “Hosting a town hall event from the steps of a functionally closed national memorial only serves to continue this pattern of confusion and misinformation.”  

In response, a White House spokesman told The Hill: “While Congressional Democrats play politics, President Trump will speak to millions of Americans on television from the Lincoln Memorial, one of the most iconic symbols in the world, with a message of hope and optimism about safely opening up America again and getting our Nation back to work.”



Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission bans wildlife contests, The Denver Post reports

Everglades National Park will gradually reopen starting May 4. Entry fees are waived, The Miami Herald reports

NASA says Antarctica and Greenland lost enough ice to fill Lake Michigan over last 16 years, we report

ICYMI: Stories from Friday…

NASA says Antarctica and Greenland lost enough ice to fill Lake Michigan over last 16 years

Conservative group sues administration, arguing rollback of Obama mileage rule wasn’t aggressive enough

Fossil fuel companies have gotten at least $50 million in coronavirus aid: report

States sue Trump administration over rollback of Obama-era water protections

Trump issues executive order to protect power grid from attack

Court gives government two years to regulate air tours at national parks

Tags Donald Trump Rob Bishop Xavier Becerra

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