OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Army Corps delays Pebble Mine over 'adverse impacts' and 'degradation' | Trump administration sued over Alaska wildlife refuge drilling plan | EPA approves coronavirus-killing product — for just one airline

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Army Corps delays Pebble Mine over 'adverse impacts' and 'degradation' | Trump administration sued over Alaska wildlife refuge drilling plan | EPA approves coronavirus-killing product — for just one airline
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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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UP FIRST: ROADBLOCKS FOR ADMINISTRATION PROJECTS

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Between a rock and a hard place… The federal government is requiring the company behind the Pebble Mine to take extra steps to mitigate “unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources,” delaying its final decision on the project.

A letter, dated last week but published online on Monday, follows political pressure from conservatives, including Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE Jr. and Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonEx-Pence aide: Trump spent 45 minutes of task force meeting 'going off on Tucker Carlson' instead of talking coronavirus Biden town hall draws 3.3 million viewers for CNN OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups | Kudlow: 'No sector worse hurt than energy' during pandemic | Trump pledges 'no politics' in Pebble Mine review MORE, who have rallied against the mine, which would be located at a prominent sockeye salmon fishery in Alaska.

Prior to the new letter, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued an environmental impact statement that found that the proposed project would not impact salmon harvests in the area, reversing an Obama-era determination that it would. The most recent assessment did say the project would impact wetlands and streams.

Now, the Army Corps is giving Pebble Limited Partnership, the company behind the mine, 90 days to submit a plan to mitigate impacts such as discharges into wetlands, waters and streams.

The Army Corps said it will “review the compensatory mitigation plan upon submittal to determine if the amount and type of compensatory mitigation offered is sufficient to offset the identified unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources and overcome significant degradation at the mine site.”

The letter said that discharges from the mine site would directly or indirectly affect 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters and 129.5 miles of streams and that discharges from its transportation corridor would impact 460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters and 55.5 miles of streams.

Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier on Monday downplayed the significance of the new requirements from the Army Corps of Engineers.

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“Based on our understanding of the substance of the letter, our discussions with the state, our substantial work in the field and our discussions with the USACE we believe our final Comprehensive Management Plan submission will be submitted within weeks and will satisfy all of the requirements of the letter,” Collier said in a statement. 

“Anyone suggesting a different opinion—i.e. that Pebble will not be able to comply with the letter or that such compliance will significantly delay issuing a [decision]—must be ignorant of the EXTENSIVE preparation we have undertaken in order to meet the requirements of the letter,” he added, saying the company “will share more details of our initial plan as they become more defined.”

Collier denied that the recent attention from prominent conservatives played a role in the USACE’s letter.

"A clear reading of the letter shows it is entirely unrelated to recent tweets about Pebble and one-sided news shows. The White House had nothing to do with the letter ... This is the next step in what has been a comprehensive, exhaustive two-and-a-half-year review of the project. Nothing in the letter is a surprise to us or them,” he said.

Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the letter will likely cause a “very significant” delay to the project.

“The problem with Pebble is that it has always been the wrong mine in the wrong place,” Reynolds told The Hill. “A massive open pit at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery is a project whose impacts cannot be mitigated.”

He also said it was highly unusual for the government to require a new mitigation plan this late in the game.

“These sorts of issues typically have been resolved by this stage,” Reynolds said. “This has become public only after the final environmental impact statement has been issued. That’s remarkable.”

Read more about the Alaska delegation’s reaction here

A speedy suit… Environmental and indigenous groups are suing the Trump administration over plans to open up an area in an Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling.

Two lawsuits announced Monday claim the federal government didn’t adequately comply with environmental laws requiring thorough impact assessments as part of its plan, announced by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week, to open up 1.56 million acres of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. The refuge totals 19.3 million acres.

One reason that selling off leases for drilling in the region is controversial is because of potential effects on the indigenous Gwich'in people, who hunt caribou in the area and to whom ANWR land is sacred. 

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which is one of the groups that is suing, argued the government’s decision “is an attack on our rights, our culture and our way of life.”

“We have lived and thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years. We have listened and learned from our elders, and we know we must stand united to protect future generations, and that means going to court to protect the caribou herd and sacred lands,” Demientieff said. 

Critics also say that drilling in the refuge could harm animal species found there, as well as the landscape itself.  

Animals in the refuge include grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves, caribou and arctic foxes.

“Developing Alaska’s last wild places would be a death sentence for polar bears and other threatened Arctic species. The oil industry just doesn’t belong in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said a statement from Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is part of the other lawsuit.

Interior spokesperson Conner Swanson noted that Congress, not the Interior Department, initially put the drilling plan in motion.

“This is a congressionally mandated energy development program that leaves ninety-two percent of the refuge completely off-limits to development,” Swanson said in an email to The Hill. 

“The Department’s decision regarding where and when development can take place includes extensive protections for wildlife, including caribou and polar bears,” he added. 

Read more on the suit here

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GETTING AIR: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved what it says is the first-ever long-lasting product to fight surface transmission of coronavirus, but the special dispensation to use it is primarily going to only one company: American Airlines. 

Monday’s announcement clears the way for the use of SurfaceWise2 by American Airlines in Texas, the first state to apply for an emergency exemption to use the disinfectant, which kills the virus on surfaces for up to seven days.

Though surface transmission is no longer thought to be a major source of spread of the virus, the EPA, alongside a top executive for American Airlines and the cleaning product, touted the product as a way to rebuild consumer confidence around flying.

“This is a groundbreaking event as it’s expected to provide longer lasting protection in public spaces, increasing consumer confidence, resuming normal air travel and other activities,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Smoke from wildfires has reached Europe | EPA postpones environmental justice training | UN report: Countries have failed to meet a single target to protect wildlife in last decade EPA postpones environmental justice training after White House memo OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' MORE said. 

But former EPA officials said it’s unusual for the agency to allow the product to be used by only one airline, when in theory any might find the product useful for cleaning surfaces throughout their planes.

“It only says American Airlines. Not Delta Airlines or United or some other airline that all fly through Texas. So American can use it when they can't and that seems odd,” said Stan Meiburg, the acting deputy administrator of EPA from 2014 to 2017.

The statute the EPA used to approve the new product, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), allows states to apply for emergency use of chemicals and pesticides, say, when there is an outbreak of some pest or disease on crops.

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The request from the Texas Department of Agriculture sought permission to use SurfaceWise2 both for American Airlines and Total Orthopedics Sports & Spine, an orthopedic and sports medicine practice with three locations in Texas. 

Wheeler said he hopes other states will apply for similar waivers, but as of now the product can only be used within Texas, and within the airline industry only by American Airlines. If other airlines want to use the same product, they will have to demonstrate it would be effective on their surfaces, something he hopes could be approved quickly.

American Chief Operating Officer David Seymour told reporters that it will take months to route all of the airline’s fleet through Texas in order to apply the product. 

Meiburg said while the state-based nature of the request was not unusual, limiting use of a product to one company is a departure from how the law is typically used for pesticides.

“It seems unusual that you would be thinking about it in terms of only something one company could do and allow it for one airline as opposed to any airline. That does seem very odd,” he said, comparing it to outbreaks faced by plants.

“If you had a citrus canker issue in Central Florida that could be affected by a product, you wouldn't limit its use to one orchard.”

Read more about the EPA’s approach here

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: “For the same reasons that Mr. Pendley is unfit to be confirmed as director, he is unfit to exercise the authority of the director without being confirmed, and we ask that you remove Mr. Pendley from this position,” Democrats wrote to the Department of the Interior late Friday in their second caucus-wide letter on Pendley.

Read more on that here

ON TAP TONIGHT:

The Republican National Conventions kicks off at 8:30 p.m.

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Thousands allowed to bypass environmental rules in pandemic, The Associated Press reports

The New York Times reports on how decades of racist housing policy left neighborhoods sweltering

Heat is turbocharging fires, drought and tropical storms this summer, The Washington Post reports 

Illinois Gov. pushes to tighten utility regulations after ComEd bribery charges to fight taint of ‘excessive clout and political contributions’, The Chicago Sun-Times reports

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and the weekend…

Pair of tropical storms expected to hit Gulf Coast states within days

GOP platform on climate risks ceding issue to Democrats

Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal

Army Corps delays Pebble Mine over 'adverse impacts' and 'degradation'

Trump administration sued over Alaska wildlife refuge drilling plan

EPA approves coronavirus-killing product — for just one airline