Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Major drilling projects among dozens fast-tracked after Trump order | UN discrimination committee questions impact of US Arctic drilling on Indigenous people | Democratic lawmakers demand climate questions in presidential debates


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TRUMP’S FAST, GREENS ARE FURIOUS: Controversial oil drilling projects in Alaska’s pristine reserves are among those that benefited from a June order from President Trump waiving environmental reviews to speed construction — a move he said would aid the economy in the face of the pandemic.

Oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) are just a few of the 21 fossil fuel and mining projects the Interior Department has forwarded with reduced environmental scrutiny due to the June order.

A number of highway expansion projects are also on the July 15 list given to the White House, an outline of more than 70 projects expedited by Interior that was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Brett Hartl, the group’s government affairs director, argued that the sped-up reviews likely wouldn’t be sufficient to determine the projects’ environmental impacts. 

“If they were concerned with doing a thorough environmental review, they wouldn’t be telling the agencies to expedite the approvals,” he said. “You can’t rush to the finish line and do a thorough review at the same time.”

Interior spokesperson Conner Swanson declined to answer questions from The Hill, but said in a statement that projects have been “needlessly paralyzed by federal red tape.”

“The Trump Administration has taken significant steps to improve the federal government’s decision-making process, while also ensuring that the environmental consequences of proposed projects are thoughtfully analyzed,” he said. 

Does this sound familiar?

The June 4 order from Trump waived requirements under a suite of environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires thorough environmental review of major projects, as well as the Endangered Species Act.

It expedited the permitting of construction and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies, using emergency authorities to skirt the regulations with little public notice.

“From the beginning of my administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

Data limitations…

The Center for Biological Diversity’s list is not exhaustive. A number of agencies were given emergency authorities under the order beyond Interior. The details were released only after the group filed a lawsuit.

“Once again you apparently have to sue to be told what your government is doing with your public lands resources, which is disappointing to say the least,” Nada Culver, a lawyer with Audubon Society, told The Hill. “If this is such a wonderful thing for all of us, why can’t we know what it is?”

But the list offers a preview of the types of projects being advanced through the order and the legal complications they may face.

The money quotes…

-“There’s significant impacts during the construction, you’ve got to build the pipeline from wherever you’re going to wherever you’re shipping it, many of these ports involve significant dredging and coastal change to make them accessible … and then obviously you’ve got long-term climate impacts plus the impacts of air pollution from operation,” Hartl said. 

-“You can say it’s all streamlining and moving forward, but what we’re seeing is this streamlining consistently is violating various legal requirements, and they are sent back to the drawing board, and I don’t see how the executive order will change the course of this,” Culver told The Hill. 

Read more about the fast tracked projects here

UN: LISTEN TO THE GWICH’IN: The United Nations’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is asking for information about whether a U.S. plan to advance drilling in Alaska is fair to a native group. 

CERD Chair Yanduan Li wrote in a letter to U.S. ambassador Andrew Bremberg that it received allegations that the oil and gas drilling plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was done “without the free, prior and informed consent of and adequate consultation with Gwich’in [I]ndigenous peoples, despite the serious harm such extractive activities could allegedly cause.”

Li also said the committee received allegations that drilling would harm Gwich’in people by reducing a significant traditional food source, subject them to air pollution and exacerbate the impacts of climate change that they will face. 

The letter, which is dated Aug. 7 but posted online more recently, asks the U.S. for details on measures taken to give the Gwich’in people informed consent about the plan, protect sacred sites and mitigate the impact of climate change from the development. 

Read more on ANWR development here


-In Maine… The Sierra Club has endorsed Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon (D) in her race to unseat Sen. Susan Collins (R).

“We are confident that Gideon will be a tireless environmental advocate standing up for the rights of Mainers to access clean air, clean water, and a livable climate,” the Sierra Club’s Maine chapter said in a release.

The endorsement is the latest move in an increasingly expensive race that threatens to unseat the four-term moderate Republican.

“Mainers deserve a senator who will take action on climate change. As Speaker, I worked to protect our natural resources, invest in renewable energy, and reduce carbon emissions. I’m ready to bring that same leadership to Washington,” Gideon said on Twitter.

Collins has never scored an endorsement from Sierra Club, but she has been backed by other green groups in the past. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed her in 2014, and the Environmental Defense Fund Action Fund ran an ad that same year praising her for fighting climate change. She also received kudos from environmental groups for voting against both of President Trump’s nominees to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Read more on that here.

-Return of the climate debate… Democratic lawmakers are pushing for questions about climate change to be included in the upcoming presidential debate, renewing a frequent complaint from environmentalists that the topic has been overlooked in previous debates.

“In 2016, there was not a single question on climate change in any of the four presidential and vice-presidential debates. This cannot happen again,” according to a letter signed by 70 lawmakers that was spearheaded by Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.).

“The Commission on Presidential Debates must make climate change a centerpiece of the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates,” it adds. “Given the dire nature of the crisis, we ask that you break precedent and publicly call on the moderators to include climate in the topics that will be addressed during the debates.”

Read more on that here

A FLOWER IN THE DESERT: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new office based in Colorado focused on western lands, an area that has recently been given renewed attention by the Trump administration at large. 

EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento said at a press conference that the office would deal with cleaning up hardrock mining sites, including dealing with large Superfund hazardous waste sites caused by mining. 

“Superfund was designed to address Eastern sites that are smaller and more compact. What this office will do is it will bring a focus on how to address those larger sites.” 

He also said that the agency was “moving decisionmaking out of D.C. into the West for issues that are uniquely important to the West.”

A press release from EPA says the office “will address cross-cutting issues unique to the region, and more effectively leverage existing EPA staff, expertise and resources in hardrock mining cleanup.”

It also said that the office will “address cross-cutting issues unique to the region, and more effectively leverage existing EPA staff, expertise and resources in hardrock mining cleanup” and will employ between five and nine people full time. 

Benevento told reporters that no current EPA staffers would be required to move West as a result of the office’s creation. 


California to let gas plants stay open as time runs low for climate action, The Los Angeles Times reports

Georgia nuclear project reports more than 800 COVID-19 cases to date, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports

Exxon, Shell, Chevron Face Climate Suit from Hoboken, N.J., Bloomberg Law reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

Major drilling projects among dozens fast-tracked after Trump order

Sierra Club endorses Collins’ competitor Gideon

UN discrimination committee questions impact of US Arctic drilling on Indigenous people

Engineers say privately funded border wall is poorly constructed and set to fail: report

Democratic lawmakers demand climate questions in presidential debates


To fight climate change, strand fossil fuel assets, not workers, writes Jake Higdon, a senior analyst of U.S. climate policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. 


Tags Donald Trump mike levin Susan Collins

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