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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House
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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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ANOTHER ESA ROLLBACK? A new proposal from the Trump administration that defines habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would limit the areas species will have to recover, critics say.

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An advance copy of the proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that was obtained by The Hill writes that habitats are “the physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species." 

When species are endangered, the ESA requires the government to set aside habitat deemed critical for its recovery.

But environmental groups say the new definition being proposed by FWS will allow the agency to block setting aside any land that isn’t currently habitat but might be needed in the future, particularly as the climate changes.

“It sounds kind of innocuous,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “But what this essentially says is if an area is degraded, if it can no longer support endangered species without restoration, then it couldn't be protected.”

Take the northern spotted owl, an endangered species that nests in old-growth forest. Its protected habitat includes millions of acres of new-growth forest that are not in use by the owls currently, but could be as they age.

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to help endangered species flourish and expand back into their former habitats. If this rule were in place fifty years ago, the bald eagle would have been kept at death’s door in perpetuity, limited to a few square miles here and there. If this administration can’t tell the difference between where an endangered species lives today and where it would live if it were no longer endangered, it has no business rewriting this or any other law,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The proposal from FWS stems from a 2018 Supreme Court ruling challenging habitat for the dusky gopher frog.

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“The court’s ruling provides the Trump Administration and [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt the opportunity to create a new definition that will help ensure that all areas considered for critical habitat first and foremost meet the definition of habitat. We are proposing these changes on behalf of improved conservation and transparency in our processes for designating critical habitat,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a release obtained by The Hill.

Habitat set aside for the frog, which includes pine forests, was challenged by Weyerhaeuser Co., a large logging company.

Greenwald said the area set aside for the frog’s recovery otherwise had the unique elements, including ephemeral ponds, needed by the species.

But he sees longer-term impacts if the proposed language is adopted, particularly as climate change wipes out existing habitat and transforms the landscape. 

“Take species threatened by sea level rise created by climate change. Areas they need for survival and recovery in the future may not be habitat right now,” Greenwald said, pointing to coastal wetlands used by birds and other species that will gradually migrate. 

“But this rule will totally preclude that.”

Read more on the proposal here

SKIPPING STONES: The House passed a broad spending package on Friday for fiscal year 2021 with amendments that include a measure blocking the construction of the controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska.

The overall spending package for the 2021 fiscal year passed Friday would cost $1.3 trillion. It encompasses defense; labor, health and human services, and education; commerce, justice and science; energy and water; financial services and general government; and transportation and housing and urban development.

An amendment, offered by Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver MORE (D-Calif.) would prohibit using funds provided by the legislation to issue approval for the project. 

The passage of the bill comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s completion of an environmental impacts assessment of the Pebble Mine, bringing it one step closer to construction. 

The government assessment determined that the controversial project “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay,” something environmentalists have raised concerns about. 

Critics of the assessment said that it underestimated the potential for harm to water and fish. 

A number of other environmental amendments were also recently added onto the approximately $49.6 billion in energy and water spending. 

For example, amendments from Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) would prohibit the government from rejecting grant applications because they use the phrases “global warming,” “climate change,” or “sea level rise.”

Overall, the water and energy section would provide $41 billion for the Energy Department's budget, an increase of about $2.3 billion over last year, and provide $7.63 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The legislation faces negotiations with the Republican-led Senate during which some of the provisions could be lost. 

Read more about the Pebble amendment here and read more about the entire spending package here

NOT EXACTLY LIGHT READING: The Interior Department said on Friday that it delivered 100,000 pages of documents to Congress to be “consistent with our ongoing transparency” and to accommodate oversight requests from Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva. 

The department’s press secretary tweeted a picture of multiple boxes appearing to contain the documents. 

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NEWS ABOUT NEWS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is immediately canceling its paid subscription to one of the largest environmental trade publications, E&E News.

The move takes effect Aug. 1 and will end EPA employees’ free access to the Washington-based publication, which provides in-depth coverage of the agency and related government agencies alongside a wide variety of environmental issues.

“EPA has decided to cancel its desktop subscription to E&E News,” Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento wrote in an email to employees on Thursday.

“Over the next two years, EPA would have spent $382,425 to receive" various E&E newsletters, Benevento said, noting that the money will instead be used to purchase subscriptions and access to other publications.

He did not name the other publications.

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The American Federation of Government Employees, the EPA employee union, described the cancelation as a retaliatory move that would hurt agency employees.

“By cutting @EPA staff off from @EENewsUpdates, #EPA is stopping EPA scientists from getting E&E’s impeccable & in-depth press coverage of EPA’s union busting moves & #AFGE’s efforts to counter them, thereby retaliating against both E&E News & the union,” the union tweeted.

EPA has been one of the Trump administration’s most vocal agencies in pushing back against critical press coverage.

The agency often issues press releases denouncing coverage from outlets like E&E, The New York Times and The Hill.

A press release in March was titled “EPA Corrects the Record after Reckless Reporting” after a number of outlets reported on its coronavirus policy to pause enforcement of pollution monitoring requirements.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew Wheeler EPA reapproves use of pesticide previously struck down in court OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities | Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire | Trump order strips workplace protections from civil servants EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities MORE and the agency occasionally use Twitter to push back on coverage.

“.@EENewsUpdates is misleading Americans with an alternative narrative. Bottom line: This final rule will save lives, reduce pollution and provide significant benefits to the American economy,” Wheeler tweeted in reference to coverage of the same story.

Last year, EPA’s top spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer told The Washington Post that the tweets and press releases are a way to establish an official record of disputing a story.

“If we sat back and didn’t do anything, it can spin out of control,” she said at the time. 

E&E is one of the largest publications dedicated solely to covering environmental issues, with paid subscribers ranging from government agencies and congressional offices to advocacy groups and energy producers.

“I’m sad EPA isn’t renewing. Their staffers are heavy readers of our publications, generating hundreds of thousands of page views a year,” E&E executive editor Cy Zaneski told The Hill in an email Thursday. “We will miss their readership, but we’ll continue to cover EPA with gusto.”

Read more on the cancelation here

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

On Monday:

  • The Senate will vote on a motion to limit debate on the nomination of Mark Menezes to be deputy energy secretary. If the chamber approves the motion, a confirmation vote for Menezes should be coming soon. 

On Wednesday:

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on a nuclear infrastructure bill
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity in the energy sector

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Oil Giants Post Historic Losses As COVID-19 Obliterates Demand, HuffPost reports

Florida blocks oyster harvesting as court mulls Georgia water case, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports 

Ohio coal giant Murray Energy is $100K dark money donor ‘Company B’ in federal probe, The Columbus Dispatch reports 

Trump distorts Biden’s position on fracking, The Associated Press reports 

ICYMI: Stories from Friday (and Thursday night)…

EPA cancels subscription to news outlet dedicated to covering it

Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say

Manufacturers to phase out sales of food packaging containing 'forever' chemical

House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction