Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior Secretary will lead BLM after judge ousts Pendley from public lands role | Trump, Biden spar over climate change at debate | Trump official delays polar bear study with potential implications on drilling: report

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! 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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FILL-IN THE BERN: The Department of the Interior will not name a new acting director to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after its leader was ousted by a federal judge, top officials told employees in an email obtained by The Hill.

Instead the job will be left to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

A Montana-based U.S. district judge on Friday ruled William Perry Pendley, the controversial acting director of BLM, "served unlawfully ... for 424 days" and enjoined him from continuing in the role.

The decision was in response to a suit from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who argued Pendley, whose nomination to lead the BLM was pulled by the White House last month, was illegally serving in his role through a series of temporary orders. 

A Wednesday email makes clear that Interior will not be placing the top career official in charge of the nation's public lands agency, as its department manual dictates.

"I understand there may be some questions about the ruling on Friday regarding William Perry Pendley's leadership role at the Bureau of Land Management," Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond wrote in an email to BLM staff.

"Secretary Bernhardt leads the bureau and relies on the BLM's management team to carry out the mission. Deputy Director for Programs and Policy, William Perry Pendley, will continue to serve in his leadership role."

Judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, ruled Friday that Interior and the White House improperly relied on temporary orders far beyond the 210 days allotted in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act while also violating the Constitutional requirement to seek approval from the Senate.

"The President cannot shelter unconstitutional 'temporary' appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities," he wrote.

Pendley has sparked controversy over the course of the year he has led BLM due to his long history opposing federal ownership of public lands as well as comments he has made questioning climate change and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Putting Bernhardt at the helm of the agency appears to comply with the court order from Morris. 

But critics say the move centralizes power for the agency in the highest political circles after relocating more than 200 Washington, D.C.,-based positions to Grand Junction, Colo., in order to bring employees closer to the lands they manage.

The move leaves just 61 BLM employees in Washington.

"Secretary Bernhardt's decision to centralize final decision-making in Washington, D.C., undermines the entire argument underpinning the Bureau of Land Management's expensive and unnecessary headquarters relocation. Far from bringing the BLM's decision-makers 'closer to the people,' Secretary Bernhardt is highlighting the Trump Administration's true intention all along to keep agency decisions closer to political appointees," said Mike Saccone, spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation.

Read more about the leadership plans here

THEY ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT CLIMATE AT THE DEBATE: and, boy, did they cover a lot of territory...

President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over climate change and their respective records on the issue during Tuesday night's presidential debate.

Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump during one segment of the debate whether he believed that human greenhouse gas emissions contribute to warming of the planet.

"I think a lot of things do but I think to an extent yes," the president said, later adding in reference to current wildfires blazing in the West that "we have to do better management of our forests."

The vast majority of scientists believe that climate change is human-caused. Many forests in Western states facing wildfires are federally managed, like California, where about 57 percent of them are managed by the federal government.

Trump also defended his decision to roll back fuel economy standards, claiming that it made cars safer and cheaper.

"The car is much less expensive and it's a much safer car and you're talking about a tiny difference," he said, calling California's recent decision to try to phase out the sale of gas-powered cars "crazy."

However, the cost-benefit analysis for the administration's fuel economy standards found that consumers would ultimately pay $13 billion more in the next decade, in part due to spending more on gas because of lower fuel economy standards.

Meanwhile, Biden defended his own energy policies, saying they would create jobs.

The candidates became heated when Biden began to criticize Trump administration moves that roll back the regulations of methane emissions and weaken fuel economy standards.

Trump interjected, invoking the Green New Deal, a group of policies advocated by progressives that are aimed at mobilizing the economy to fight climate change.

Biden's campaign has called the Green New Deal a "crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face" but has refused to explicitly endorse it.

"It's not $2 billion or $20 billion .. it's $100 trillion," Trump, said, calling the idea "the dumbest."

American Action Forum, run by a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has estimated that the Green New Deal would cost between $51 trillion and $93 trillion over 10 years.

Read more about the discussion here.

BEARLY THERE: A top official at the Interior Department has slowed the release of a study on the number of polar bears that give birth on land overlapping an area recently opened to oil and gas drilling, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The study has been ready for at least three months, but has been held up by U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly, The Post reported, noting that Reilly has raised questions about it, including why it uses data from a former scientist and why polar bear dens aren't counted individually. 

The study reportedly looks at the number of bears that give birth in an area near the southern Beaufort Sea, which is part of an area the administration has moved toward opening up for oil and gas drilling. 

The Post reported that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to use the study in determining if drilling can proceed ahead of the approval of a $3 billion drilling project on the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (NPR-A), but that Reilly has questioned why it needs a "published version of this report."

The study also reportedly found that 34 percent of polar bear dens are located within the coastal plain area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which the administration has also separately opened for drilling in its entirety. 

Both drilling at ANWR and NPR-A are among dozens of projects that were recently fast-tracked, benefitting from a June order from President Trump waiving environmental reviews to speed construction. 

The U.S. Geological Service did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment, but told The Post in a statement that its leadership "routinely reviews and requests additional information on scientific reports to best understand the technical data of key references that are used in the model conclusions."

"This is a longstanding practice to review scientific reports prior to publication to verify the strength of the science presented," the agency said. "Our scientists are working to address requests for additional information."

However, an official, speaking anonymously, told the newspaper that the slowdown was "unprecedented" and problematic. 

Read more here

ON TAP TOMORROW:

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on improving clean energy access and affordability. 
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on an environmental justice bill

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Denver Wants to Fix a Legacy of Environmental Racism, The New York Times reports

Calif. winegrowers face 'unprecedented' crisis, E&E News reports

Greenland ice sheet will melt at fastest rate in 12,000 years this century, we report

Getting warmer: Trump concedes human role in climate change, The Associated Press reports

California Bans Lead, Mercury, Forever Chemicals in Cosmetics, Bloomberg Law reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday and Tuesday night...

House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks

Trump, Biden spar over climate change at debate

Shell set to cut up to 9,000 jobs in low-carbon overhaul

David Attenborough calls for global $500 billion a year investment in nature

Interior Secretary will lead BLM after judge ousts Pendley from public lands role

Greenland ice sheet will melt at fastest rate in 12,000 years this century

Trump official delays polar bear study with potential implications on drilling: report

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