Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump casts doubt on climate change science during briefing on wildfires | Biden attacks Trump’s climate record amid Western wildfires, lays out his plan | 20 states sue EPA over methane emissions standards rollback

getty: A home burns during the Bear fire, part of the North Lightning Complex fires in the Berry Creek area of unincorporated Butte County, California on September 9, 2020.

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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IN DENIAL: President Trump cast doubt on the science of climate change and its role in the devastating western wildfires during a briefing with federal and local authorities in California on Monday, predicting that it would soon get “cooler.” 

State officials who met with Trump in McClellan Park, Calif., emphasized the increase in temperatures in California in recent years, saying that climate change has been a primary factor driving the wildfires ravaging parts of the Pacific Northwest. 

California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said Trump and state officials agree that vegetation management needs to be an area of focus, but he said it would be a mistake to put one’s “head in the sand” and ignore how climate change is exacerbating the fires. 

“We want to work with you to really recognize the change in climate and what it means for our forests. And actually work together with that science. That science is going to be key because if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” Crawford said at the briefing. 

“It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch,” Trump replied. 

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied.

“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said, without providing any further explanation.

Reminder: There is a broad scientific consensus that climate change is real and largely human-caused. 

Read more on the exchange here

MEANWHILE, JUST MOMENTS BEFORE: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hit President Trump for his climate denialism Monday, attacking him for failing to respond to natural disasters like the wildfires raging across the West while outlining a vision he promises will both boost the economy and clean the environment.

Responding to fires that have raged for weeks across California, Oregon, and Washington, Biden took a broader view, listing off disasters from flooding in the Midwest, to hurricanes battling the Southeast and accusing Trump of ignoring the changing climate as the underlying thread exacerbating each.

“What we’re seeing in America, in our communities, is connected to all of this, with every bout with nature’s fury caused by our own inaction on climate change,” Biden said from Delaware.

“If we give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If we leave a climate denier with four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater. We need a president that respects science, understands that the damage from climate change is already here. Unless we take urgent action, it will soon be more catastrophic.”

Though Biden has the most aggressive climate plan of any Democratic presidential nominee to date, Monday’s speech was the most forceful example yet of the candidate making the case for his plan, the economic upside and the consequences of inaction.

Trump has repeatedly denied or diminished climate science and climate change–something that has increasingly become a central line of attack for Democrats.

Trump didn’t publicly acknowledge the fires that have been raging for weeks in the West until a Friday night tweet, thanking firefighters and first responder for their work and adding that he is “with them all the way.” 

His Monday visit to the state came sandwiched between campaign stops in Nevada and Arizona on swing out West and included a closed-door briefing on the wildfires in McClellan Park, Calif., a former air base now a hub for officials combatting the blazes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has blamed climate change for the hot, dry air, drought, and lightning storms that set the state ablaze.

“This is a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said Friday while surveying damage in Northern California.

“The debate is over on climate change,” Newsom added. “Just come to the state of California.”

Experts say both climate change and mismanagement of public lands are a contributing factor to the extreme fires. The federal government oversees more than 45 percent of the acreage in California.

Biden also attacked Trump for past comments he’s made about California’s management techniques, referring to 2018 comments where the president said the state needed to be “raking and cleaning” the forest floor.   

“This is another crisis, another crisis, he won’t take responsibility for. The West is literally on fire. And he blames the people whose homes and communities are burning. He says, ‘You got to clean your floors; you got to clean your forest.’ This is the same president who threw paper towels on the people of Puerto Rico.”

Read more about Biden’s speech here

METHANE SUIT HEATS UP: A coalition of 20 states and four municipalities sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday over its rollback of methane emissions standards for oil and gas production. 

Last month, the EPA formally rescinded Obama-era standards that regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, processing, transmission and storage. It also rolled back requirements for detecting and repairing leaks.

The agency said that combined, its actions would increase the emissions of methane, which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, by 850,000 tons over 10 years. 

In announcing their lawsuit on Monday, the states and cities argued that the standards rollback would accelerate the impacts of climate change and harm public health. 

“The West is on fire, the South floods, the Midwest gets ripped apart by super-tornadoes, and the East prepares for calamitous hurricanes. The Trump Administration ignores the dire reality of the climate crisis at our peril,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who led the coalition, in a statement. 

“We won’t let the EPA gut critical pollution emissions standards and allow super pollutants like methane to destroy our atmosphere,” he added. 

A California-led coalition also plans to sue over the leak detection rollback. 

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. 

In rescinding the standards last month, the EPA argued that they were redundant, and overlapped significantly with regulations for chemicals known as volatile organic compounds.

Read more on the suit here

WAVE GOODBYE TO WAIVERS: The Trump administration extended an olive branch to the ethanol industry Monday, announcing it has denied a number of waivers that exempt small refiners from adding the biofuel to their gasoline.

The news comes after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chose not to challenge a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found its economic hardship waiver program shortcut national goals for ethanol use. 

The decision is a win for an industry that was hit hard by Trump’s trade war with China and has been in stiff competition with refiners to secure favorable policies from the administration.

The decision from the EPA rejects 54 so-called “gap-year” petitions that allowed refiners to skip blending in ethanol between 2011 and 2018, though another 14 are still under consideration. The EPA found the applicants did not make a sufficient economic case for needing a break.

“Rejecting the petitions is simply the right thing to do, and today’s decision marks a big step forward toward fully restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard. This should serve as the final nail in the coffin of these gap-year petitions, and we are eager to put this dark and sordid chapter in the history of the RFS behind us once and for all,” the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers, said in a statement.

“EPA is correct that these refineries ‘do not warrant an exemption.’”

Read more on that here

NEPA: The Trump administration’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rollback took effect today after a district judge Friday refused to grant an injunction in a case challenging the rollback.

This is the first setback in environmentalists’ challenge to the July rule they say undermines the basic concept of the law. 

U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones said the Southern Environmental Law Center did not sufficiently make the case for an injunction though they “may ultimately succeed in this case.”

The Trump administration is facing four suits on the rollback–three from different coalitions of environmental groups and one from a coalition of states.

Democratic lawmakers on Monday asked the White House to abandon all of its various changes to NEPA.

“The NEPA attacks from this administration have come big and small—through executive orders, secretarial memorandums or orders, agency rulemakings, budget proposals, and other questionably legal actions pending judicial review—but the intent is the same, to inherently weaken environmental protections in any way possible,” they wrote, calling the July rule the most far reaching and “consistent with this administration’s ongoing effort to elevate polluters over people.” 

The letter, signed by 61 lawmakers and spearheaded by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-A.Z.) asks the White House to “ immediately suspend implementation of all efforts intended to weaken NEPA.”


The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing “addressing the legacy of Department of Defense use of PFAS.”


A Secret Recording Reveals Oil Executives’ Private Views on Climate Change, The New York Times reports

An energy efficiency finance program is trapping Florida homeowners in debt, The Tampa Bay Times reports

Connecticut sues Exxon for deceiving consumers about climate change, Reuters reports

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and the weekend…

EPA delivers win for ethanol industry angered by waivers to refiners

Trump casts doubt on climate change science during briefing on wildfires

Mercedes-Benz settles with US over alleged emissions cheating

Biden attacks Trump’s climate record amid Western wildfires, lays out his plan

2020 oil demand will be lower than previously projected: OPEC

EPA, in limiting guidance, undermines past administration policy, critics say

20 states sue EPA over methane emissions standards rollback

Oregon governor calls wildfires a ‘bellwether for climate change‘: ‘This is a wake up call for all of us’

Oregon senator says Trump’s blame on ‘forest management’ for wildfires is ‘just a big and devastating lie’

Los Angeles mayor slams Trump over response to California fires

Professor who has questioned climate science hired at NOAA

Biden hits Trump on climate: Western fires foreshadow ‘unending barrage of tragedies

COVID-19 complicates California’s record-setting wildfire season 


Tags Donald Trump Gavin Newsom Joe Biden Xavier Becerra
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