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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging | Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say | Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging | Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say | Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks
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TONGASS NO LONGER ROADLESS, AND GREENS DON’T THINK THAT RULES: The Trump administration on Wednesday lifted protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest, a move that will expand logging in the nation’s largest old-growth forest.

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A notice posted in the Federal Register exempts the forest from the so-called roadless rule, a Clinton-era prohibition on road construction and timber harvesting on many Forest Service lands.

Under the Trump administration’s changes, the nearly 9.4 million acres of inventoried roadless land in the Tongass would once again be considered suitable timberlands. 

It’s a major blow to environmental efforts to protect one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests — the Forest Service found in 2016 that it stores more carbon than any other forest in the country.   

“Government decisions should be informed by public input and made on the basis of science — this decision is neither. This decision ignored public input and this decision turns a blind eye to science,” Ken Rait, director of the public lands and rivers conservation project at Pew Charitable Trusts, told The Hill.

Rait pointed to comments from the fishing industry arguing the sediment runoff from road construction would harm the salmon industry that operates in the region.

Courts have already questioned the Trump administration's plans for the forest. In March, a U.S. district court judge wrote the agency failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of a project that opened logging in more than 1.8 million acres of the Tongass over the next 15 years.

But in Wednesday’s Record of Decision, the federal government characterized its action as only having "modest difference in potential environmental consequences" compared to not opening up the forest to logging. 

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"Although 9.4 million acres would no longer be subject to the 2001 Roadless Rule with the final rule, only 186,000 more acres would become available for timber production, and road construction is estimated to increase Tongass-wide from 994 miles in the no-action alternative to 1,043 miles in the final rule over the next 100 years," it said.

A final environmental impact statement, issued last month, similarly appeared to express little concern about the potential for more carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere as a result of logging.

“Many management activities initially remove carbon from the forest ecosystem, but they can also result in long-term maintenance or increases in forest carbon uptake and storage by improving forest health and resilience to various types of stressors,” it said. 

After that assessment was issued, a group of more than 60 Democratic lawmakers asked the administration to reconsider, arguing that it “failed to fully analyze the impacts of an Alaska Roadless Exemption.”

“Scientists have repeatedly urged maintaining protection for this largely intact temperate rainforest. The Tongass would rightly be managed as America’s climate forest because of the Tongass’ critical capacity for carbon storage and climate change mitigation,” they wrote. “There is no justification for such an abrupt departure from the long-standing and successful application of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass.”

Read more on the expected challenges to the decision here

ETHICS: A new video from the Interior Department praising President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE’s efforts in office — and subsequent Twitter comments defending it — have raised questions from ethics experts who say the content veers closely toward propaganda.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tagged the president on Twitter while sharing a video that praises the “Trump administration conservation record.”

It ends with clips from a speech that Trump gave in his official capacity as president where he repeatedly attacked his opponent, Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE. Trump is seen in the video touting the importance of “preserving the awesome majesty of God’s great creation.”

“This is certainly coming right up to or crossing the line. If you had told me this was running as a TV spot in Michigan or Florida, I would assume it was a campaign ad,” Delaney Marsco, an ethics expert with the Campaign Legal Center, told The Hill by email.

“The proximity of dissemination to the election, the featuring of president/candidate Trump, especially his speech in a swing state, references to the ‘Trump administration's’ record, as opposed to the Department of the Interior's record—all those factors point to this being impermissible political activity," she said, adding that “the prominent feature of the president, and the dissemination so close to the election, may push it over the line.”

Other ethics officials say while the video does not violate the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity while at work, it may violate a provision included in a 2019 appropriations package that bars government spending on propaganda.

“There's no partisan political language or advocacy for or against a candidate,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) that would flag a Hatch Act violation.

“However, there is a prohibition—signed by President Trump—on using government funds for propaganda purposes. This video doesn't seem to do anything to advance the department, only to make the president look good. It is part of a larger pattern of Interior making propaganda videos under Trump," Libowitz continued.

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Interior said its ethics office signed off on the video and Bernhardt’s tweet promoting it.

“The secretary’s video message and the secretary’s tweet were reviewed by the Departmental Ethics Office, and it was determined that it did not violate the prohibitions of the Hatch Act,” the agency said by email.

But perhaps just as problematic as the video itself are Interior’s tweets defending it after a former Obama administration employee took to Twitter with criticism.

Read more about the potential violations here

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID: Democrats are sensing political gains from the Green New Deal heading into Election Day, even as Republicans deride the progressive proposal and some Democratic candidates slink away from it.

The fight over the proposal — what’s in it and who supports it — has played out on the debate stage over the past month, with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden showing he’s as eager to cast his climate plan as his own as President Trump is to tie the Green New Deal and Biden to socialism.

The battle underscores how less than two years after it was introduced in Congress, few voters fully understand what is and isn’t in the 14-page resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressives push for direct payments to be included in COVID-19 relief deal Rubio and Ocasio-Cortez spar on Twitter: 'Work more, tweet less' Harry Styles hits back at criticism over wearing dress on Vogue cover MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyACLU sues DHS for records on purchased cell phone data to track immigrants DHS watchdog to probe agency's tracking of Americans' phone data without a warrant Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (D-Mass.).

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The resolution lacks any legislative language to enact its proposals, let alone ban meat or air travel as Republicans have suggested, but some Democratic congressional candidates have nonetheless distanced themselves from it as Republicans land some blows with their attacks.

But where Democrats sense success is in energizing voters around a massive investment in clean energy — a topic that unites the party and offers a pathway to growth amid an economic downturn.

“The resolution had the potential to divide the party, and indeed it was co-sponsored by the most liberal members and not by moderates for the most part, but what changed is the Trump COVID economic crisis,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute and ex-adviser to former President Clinton.

“That changed the politics so that Joe Biden could get behind a $2 trillion clean energy infrastructure package, and that was music to the ears of progressives but also helped Biden and the Democrats seem responsive to the economic crisis and in particular the jobs crisis,” Bledsoe added.

Recent polling has found voters are generally supportive of the Green New Deal, either when presented with a description of the plan or when asked about it by name.

A Yale University poll last week found that 64 percent of voters expressed support for the Green New Deal.

That figure is in line with the share of voters who say they support Biden’s climate plan, which he has stressed won’t transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels as quickly as Green New Deal backers would prefer.

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“My deal is the crucial framework, not the New Green Deal,” Biden said during a town hall earlier this month. “The New Green Deal calls for the elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030 — you can’t get there. You’re going to need to be able to transition.”

But Democrats and Republicans agree on one race where campaigning in favor of the Green New Deal has proven successful.

“The only Democrat who has benefited from the Green New Deal was Sen. Markey, and that was in a Democratic primary,” said Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a Republican group working to advance climate policy.

Read more on the impact of the Green New Deal here

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

FDA Delays Setting Limits on PFAS in Bottled Water, Consumer Reports reports

Parents Sue Chlorpyrifos Makers Corteva, Dow Over Child’s Autism, Bloomberg Law reports

A woman warned GM about warming. Men didn't listen, E&E News reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say

Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging

Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:

“There is long-dated precedent of labor movement support for transitioning economies to clean energy — in large part as building out renewable power, improving energy efficiency and mining critical minerals — offer the promise of creating “good” jobs and the potential to regalvanize the labor movement,” write Brad Handler, a senior fellow at the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines and Morgan Bazilian, a professor of public policy at the Colorado School of Mines.