OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration finalizes plan to open up Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling | California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump | Democrats use vulnerable GOP senators to get rare win on environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration finalizes plan to open up Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling | California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump | Democrats use vulnerable GOP senators to get rare win on environment

HAPPY MONDAY! 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 NEW DEVELOPMENT ON THE 2017 TAX CUT BILL: The Trump administration announced Monday it would open up 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.


A document signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt would open up the entire 1.56 million-acre area of the refuge’s Coastal Plain. The whole refuge is 19.3 million acres. 

The administration argues the decision will lead to jobs, but green groups and opponents for years have warned of a devastating environmental effect from opening up the area to drilling. 

"Over the course of this oil and gas program, it could create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of billions of dollars," Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told reporters. 

The controversial decision is the latest by the Trump administration to advance oil and gas drilling, including in the Arctic region. 

Critics said drilling in the refuge could harm animal species that are found there and could also negatively affect the landscape itself.  

“This plan will not only harm caribou, polar bears, and other wildlife, it is foolish in the face of rapidly advancing climate change,” said a statement from Center for Western Priorities executive director Jennifer Rokala.

“Oil companies will have to harden their infrastructure to withstand melting permafrost and rising seas, leading to an even greater impact. Essentially, Bernhardt is approving a plan to despoil America’s wildest landscape for oil that we will be using less of in coming decades, all for the benefit of his former and future clients,” she said, referring to Bernhardt’s former job as an oil lobbyist. 


Animal species found in the refuge include grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves, caribou and arctic foxes. 

Concerns have also been raised about the impacts of drilling on the indigenous Gwich'in people, who hunt caribou in the area and to whom ANWR land is sacred.

Democrats this year accused the administration of not being sufficiently thorough in its assessment finding that drilling activity wouldn't harm polar bears.

The Interior Department rejected their assertions, calling them "erroneous."

Financial institutions have recently expressed resistance to finance drilling at ANWR or in the Arctic at large, citing environmental impacts.

The plan exceeds what was laid out by Republicans in Congress...

A provision in the 2017 Trump tax bill approved by a GOP-controlled Congress opened ANWR to drilling following years of debate over the matter. The House, now led by Democrats, has since voted to block ANWR drilling again, but the GOP-controlled Senate has not taken up the bill. 

That legislation required the Interior Department to hold at least two lease sales of at least 400,000 acres each over the next few years. 

Those sales are slated to take place before December 22, 2021, and December 22, 2024, respectively, but Bernhardt told reporters he would not be laying out the specific timing of the sales on Monday.

The reax depends on who you ask...

Matt Hill, a spokesperson for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE's presidential campaign said in a statement that he would "continue his efforts to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" if elected.

Meanwhile, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Senate to vote Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court Senate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court MORE (R-Alaska) called Monday's news a "capstone moment in our decades-long push to allow for the responsible development" in the area.

"Through this program, we will build on our already-strong record of an increasingly minimal footprint for responsible resource development,” Murkowski said.

Read more about the administration’s ANWR plans here

THE ART OF THE DEAL: California on Monday finalized agreements with five automakers in an attempt to undercut the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards.

As part of the deal, BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and Volvo agreed to annual fuel economy improvements that hew more closely to those required under the Obama administration rather than the less stringent ones just finalized by the Trump administration.

The deal represents a blow to the Trump administration, which has revoked the waiver California relied on to set stricter auto emissions standards that were in turn adopted by more than a dozen other states. 

“Instead of propelling our country toward the clean cars of the future, the Trump administration’s failure to lead on this issue has left American workers and automakers behind. While the administration created a void of leadership, vision and direction, the state of California and automakers came together in these voluntary agreements that provide a path forward to support the clean cars of the future,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities | Montana asks court to throw out major public lands decisions after ousting BLM director | It's unknown if fee reductions given to oil producers prevented shutdowns Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress MORE (D-Del.) said in a release, encouraging other automakers to follow suit. 

The Trump administration March announced it would require automakers to produce a fleet averaging 40 mpg by 2026, rather than the previous requirement under the Obama administration to reach 55 mpg by 2025. 

The new agreements finalized by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) give automakers until 2026 to produce fleets averaging 51 mpg. 

Still, some environmental groups were hoping California would chart a more ambitious course. 


“While this deal is a positive interim step, we need bolder action to prevent us driving off the carbon cliff,” Katherine Hoff, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. 

“To meet California’s own climate goals and to be the model the world needs, CARB must lead the way quickly in making 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales the standard by 2030.”

News of California’s effort to strike a more environmentally friendly deal with automakers first broke in July of last year, shortly after the Trump administration revokes its waiver. 

California’s roughly 40 million population gives it large sway in the market, something the state has not been shy about using to promote its interests, including efforts to battle climate change.

The agreements are not only designed to reduce pollution in a state plagued by smog but could have a larger climate change impact by reducing carbon emissions in any state that may sell greener vehicles. 

Read more on the deals here

IT’S THE SENATE, STUPID: President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE’s decision to withdraw his controversial nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a rare example of Democrats and conservation groups being able to leverage the vulnerability of Republican senators to their advantage.


Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave Cunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll MORE (R-Colo.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans Climate change — Trump's golden opportunity MORE (R-Mont.), whose electoral survival is key to Republicans holding the Senate, had faced rising pressure on whether they would support William Perry Pendley, the de facto head of the agency who has a long history of advocating for selling off public lands.  

Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Energy: Barrett punts on climate, oil industry recusals | Ex-EPA official claims retaliation in lawsuit | Dems seek to uphold ruling ousting Pendley Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans MORE (D), who’s in a tight race with Daines, used the pending vote as his latest line of attack, running an ad last week that condemned Pendley and promised to “keep our public lands in Montanans’ hands.”

On Saturday, Trump withdrew the nomination.

Democrats previously had little success in pressuring the administration from backing off its policies or nominees when it comes to the environment, leaving the Pendley case an outlier likely designed to spare tensions for GOP senators in key races.

“President Trump realizes that if Pendley actually had to answer questions about his troubling record through the confirmation process he'd put vulnerable Republicans in the hot seat,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal Five takeaways from final Senate Intel Russia report MORE (D-N.M.) said when the Trump team first acknowledged they would withdraw the nomination.

Nearly every major environmental group in the country as well as the entire Democratic caucus had penned letters to the White House asking for Pendley’s nomination to be withdrawn, citing his controversial comments on climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and federal ownership of public lands.  

“The letter just made it clear that there was no margin for error on the Republican side. They would not be getting [Sen. Joe] Manchin, they would not be getting any courtesy votes from Democrats. And that made it clear who the swing votes were going to be,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said of the West Virginia Democrat.

“It’s not like [Interior Secretary] David Bernhardt woke up one morning and realized he had a public lands opponent running the Bureau of Land Management. Clearly the decision to pull down Pendley’s nomination was a political one and not a policy one.”

Read more on the surprising reversal here


The Democratic National Committee Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis will have a 2-hour virtual event Tuesday as part of official DNC convention programming.  Speakers are expected to include Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeDemocrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Pandemic politics dominate competitive governor's races OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden would face hurdles undoing Trump environmental rollbacks | Biden team weighs climate 'czar': report | Donald Trump Jr. urges hunters to vote for his father MORE, Minnesota Attorney General Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonPrivate security contractors advertising jobs for armed guards at Minnesota polling places: report Derek Chauvin allowed to establish residency outside of Minnesota while awaiting trial in George Floyd case Officers in George Floyd's death appear in court, motion for separate trials MORE and former presidential candidate Tom SteyerTom SteyerDemocrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein 2020 election already most expensive ever TV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month MORE


'They deserve to be heard': Sick and dying coal ash cleanup workers fight for their lives, The Guardian and Southerly report

Trump whisperer Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox The Memo: Trump searches for path to comeback Trump to hold rally Monday in Florida despite his COVID-19 case MORE takes on Pebble mine, E&E News reports 

Mauritius copes with split Japanese ship that spilled oil, The Associated Press reports

Watchdogs criticize EPA's move to approve air quality around Ameren's biggest coal plant, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports

ICYMI: Stories from Monday…

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California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump