Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Wheeler seeks to paint EPA regulatory rollbacks as environmentally friendly | Former EPA chiefs endorse Biden, criticize agency under Trump | White House opposes House energy bill as Democrats promise climate action

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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Shot... Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday sought to portray some of the agency's most significant regulatory rollbacks as environmentally friendly.

During a speech at the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute, the country's top environmental official touted rules governing regulation from power plants, vehicle emissions and methane emissions as actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

He also praised the agency's move to regulate aviation emissions. 

"Just at EPA, the Trump administration in its first term has taken four concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gases," Wheeler said.  

However, some of the rules are expected to provide significantly fewer emissions reductions than the Obama-era rules they replaced. 

More fact-checking on that here.

Chaser... A group of former EPA heads, including two who served under Republican presidents, endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday, slamming the direction of the agency under the Trump administration.

"I've never seen an administration that actually seems to me to have a war against the environment and a war on science," Christine Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor from New Jersey who ran the EPA under then-President George W. Bush, said in a call with reporters.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has a very simple mission. It's to protect human health in the environment. This administration seems determined not only to do away with it but to turn its back aggressively on that mandate," she added.

The call, hosted by the Biden campaign, is the latest in a string of endorsements the campaign is seeking to highlight from prominent Republicans.

Former EPA administrators have been particularly vocal in criticizing the Trump administration, testifying before lawmakers and writing letters condemning the agency.

During much of the call, the former EPA heads called out Wheeler's claims specifically...

"We have done more in the first four years of the Trump administration to improve the environment than probably any administration except perhaps during the very first years of EPA," Wheeler said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

That offended some of the former administrators on the call.

"How dare he compare himself to Bill Ruckelshaus, who served two different terms as EPA administrator and launched the agency in a very, very significant way, making it about protecting the health of the American people," said Carol Browner, who headed EPA during the Clinton administration. 

"Mr. Wheeler is no Mr. Ruckelshaus," she added.

And later...

"Honestly this reminds me of President Trump's claiming to have done more for African Americans than Abraham Lincoln," said former administrator Bill Reilly, who served under former President George H.W. Bush. "You go through these specific rules that have been proposed by the administration and an invariable characteristic of the defense of those rules is their reduction in cost."

Read more of their comments here and more on their endorsement of Biden here.  

VETO THREAT ALERT The White House is threatening to veto an energy bill rolled out by Democrats last week, calling it a "a top-down approach that would undermine the administration's deregulatory agenda."

The 900-page bill crafted from 40 different existing proposals isn't a far cry from a Senate measure pushed earlier this year by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

It would funnel money into research and development for all sorts of types of energy, including methods that would assist the longevity of fossil fuel-backed industries. It also focuses on reducing energy use through a series of weatherization grants and building code updates.

The letter opposing the bill said it "would interfere with how we have been designing our own energy and environment destiny free from the reins of the Paris Climate Accord and international agreements or organizations that ignore the clear lessons that have led to American energy independence."

Read more on the letter of opposition here

MORE PAIN THAN GAIN: The coronavirus pandemic isn't having the lasting environmental boost some had hoped for, as emissions tick back up and single-use products like disposable face masks and takeout cutlery clog landfills.

At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring, greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 17 percent globally as commutes came to a halt and people stuck closer to home.

At the same time, many cities with bans on plastic bags and styrofoam containers suspended those policies to ease burdens on restaurants and avoid potential transmission at grocery stores, though surface contact is no longer suspected to be a major contributor to virus spread.

The net effect: a negligible dent in climate-warming emissions and a surge in plastic and other waste that can take centuries to break down.

"We just published a paper that looks at how much COVID would reduce climate change and the effect is 0.01 degrees Celsius, so it's actually essentially nothing," said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

Despite the massive drop a few months ago, emissions are now hovering within 5 percent of what they were around the same time last year, something Le Quéré says is more a result of things slowing down rather than really changing, particularly as people shift back to their routines outside of the U.S.

A big portion of the increase since spring has come from people hopping back in their cars.

"As soon as confinement ended, we've gone back in the car mostly and there those emissions have come back up very close to where they were," Le Quéré told The Hill.

Part of the reason the drop in emissions isn't significant is that the billions upon billions of tons of carbon emitted this year are accumulating in the atmosphere, along with all the carbon emitted before the pandemic took hold.

"We're focusing on a relatively small drop in this year's emissions compared to the flood of emissions we'll still release this year into the atmosphere. We need to be close to zero and we'll still be well over 30 billion tons," said Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project.

"The fact that it's a few billion tons less than it would have been helps, but only a little."

On the waste front, people around the globe have sharply pivoted to a number of single-use products, a 180-degree turn at a time when societal pressure was leading to bans on plastic bags, straws and styrofoam takeout containers.

Read more on the environmental impact of coronavirus here

CBO WITH THE SCORE: U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be 1 percent smaller than it would have been otherwise in 2050 because of climate change, according to a new projection from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). 

CBO predicted that between 2020 and 2050, climate change will, on average, reduce GDP growth by 0.03 percentage points, culminating in the ultimate 1 percent decrease as of 2050. 

This year is the first time that the office has put forth a separate analysis on climate impacts to GDP, as opposed to simply incorporating climate into other projections. 

The CBO finding appears to differ from other recent assessments showing that climate change could have a much larger impact on the U.S. economy. 

A study from last year found that the U.S. could see a GDP decrease of up to 10.5 percent by 2100, and earlier this month, a report from a Wall Street regulator said that climate change was likely to cause economic instability

The CBO conducted its assessment by analyzing the GDP impacts of things like weather patterns and hurricanes and also looked at projections for temperature, precipitation, hurricane frequency and sea level rise in different states and counties. 


  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on emerging  offshore energy technology for areas like wind, marine and hydrokinetic energy. Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director  Walter Cruickshank are slated to appear. 
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a virtual hearing titled "Trump Administration Broken Promises on Renewable Energy"


How the oil industry made us doubt climate change, the BBC reports

Bezos pledged billions for climate. But so far? Crickets, E&E News reports

The story behind that Patagonia tag, and how the Trump era changed outdoor recreation, The Los Angeles Times reports 

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and over the weekend...

Environmental gains during pandemic prove short-lived

GE to stop producing coal-fired power plants

Wheeler seeks to paint EPA regulatory rollbacks as environmentally friendly

Former EPA chiefs endorse Biden, criticize agency direction under Trump

White House opposes House energy bill as Democrats promise climate action


Donald Trump is making America polluted again, writes Kenneth C. Brill, a career Foreign Service Officer who served as U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the George W. Bush administration and as a senior intelligence official in the Obama Administration.