Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration denies permit for controversial Pebble Mine | Progressives see red flags in regulatory official on Biden transition team | EPA won't require industry to guarantee funding for toxic waste cleanups

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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BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has denied a permit for the Pebble Mine on Wednesday, likely dealing a lethal blow to the controversial project in Alaska's Bristol Bay.

The decision on the proposed gold and copper mine is a victory for environmentalists, Native American groups, and the state's commercial fishing industry, all of which opposed the project.

In a statement, the Corps said it "determined that the applicant's plan for the discharge of fill material does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest."

Opponents had argued the open-pit mine would leach sediment into nearby waters, harming the state's salmon population while scarring pristine wilderness.

"Sometimes a project is so bad, so indefensible, that the politics fall to the wayside and we get the right decision. That is what happened today," Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, which promotes Alaska's salmon industry, said in a statement. 

The decision to deny the permit is a departure from some previous findings. The Corps concluded in a July assessment that the proposed project would not affect salmon harvests in the area. That finding was a reversal from an Obama-era determination that it would.

The Pebble Partnership, the company developing the mine, said it plans to appeal the decision.

"We are obviously dismayed by today's news given that the USACE had published an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July that clearly stated the project could successfully co-exist with the fishery and would have provided substantial economic benefit to the communities closest to the deposit. One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area," company CEO John Shively said in a statement.

The decision follows mixed messaging from the Trump administration.

President Trump had pledged to look at "both sides" of the issue shortly after his son, Donald Trump Jr., spoke out against the project.

"The headwaters of Bristol Bay and the surrounding fishery are too unique and fragile to take any chances with. #PebbleMine," the president's son tweeted in August.

Environmental groups are now calling on the incoming Biden administration to take further steps to protect the Bristol Bay area.

Read more on the decision here

RED FLAG OR DEALBREAKER? Progressives are raising objections to the Biden team's pick for overseeing the transition at a key regulatory agency in the White House, arguing the official has been too sympathetic toward President Trump's deregulatory efforts.

Bridget C.E. Dooling, a research professor at George Washington University, has been tapped to help with the agency review team at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which reviews all executive branch regulations before they can be enacted.

Critics say they're concerned with Dooling's prominent role given that the center where she works, George Washington's Regulatory Studies Center, has received funding from both the Charles Koch Foundation and ExxonMobil and has long been viewed as conservative-leaning.

The center is run by Susan Dudley, who led the OIRA during part of the George W. Bush administration, and its scholars have offered sympathetic analysis for some of Trump's regulatory rollbacks.

"It's just kind of surprising to see a Democrat reach out to someone in charge of reviewing OIRA whose work in this space is funded by the Koch network, which is so opposed to the regulation of corporate America," said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, a progressive group.

"You would expect a Koch-funded person to be conducting an OIRA agency view in the Trump administration - that wouldn't be surprising - but this is supposed to be a transition, a change," he added.

When reached for comment, Dooling referred questions to the Biden transition team.

The transition team defended Dooling's role among the many individuals assisting the incoming administration.

"Over 500 policy experts serve on the Biden-Harris Transition agency review teams to ensure the policy goals of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are met. Bridget Dooling has decades of experience, is well-respected in her field and like all members of the transition, has values that align with President-elect Biden's," the transition team said in a statement.

Dooling comes to the transition team with more than a decade's worth of experience at the OIRA, starting with the George W. Bush administration and ending in the early days of the Trump administration.

In the past few years at the Regulatory Studies Center, she's reviewed a number of Trump's regulatory directives, at times suggesting how they could be improved for implementation purposes.

When Trump issued his order to strike down two regulations for every new one implemented, Dooling co-authored a report that included 10 recommendations for making the order stronger.

That did not sit well with progressives who expected members of the regulatory community to unequivocally condemn Trump's order.

The order, one of Trump's first actions upon taking office, was embraced by the right - kicking off four years of deregulation. But for critics, it was seen as an arbitrary target imposed by a president with little regard for what rules and regulations might get eliminated in the process.

"She's basically an apologist for it. She's written about how it could be improved but she never said it's been a bad idea. She said it could be improved, but never said categorically it's a bad idea and should be gotten rid of," said James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform.

"I would expect from Biden there should be a litmus test on that executive order, and if you're not categorically opposed to that executive order you shouldn't be allowed in the parking lot of OIRA," Goodwin added.

Read more on Dooling here

YOUR PRE-THANKSGIVING NEWSDUMP: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is declining to require oil and gas, coal, chemical and mining companies to have insurance to cover major spills and accidents.

Critics say the final rule, announced by the agency Wednesday, poses the greatest risk to communities of color and low income communities that most often live in the shadow of polluting industries.

"EPA has found that existing environmental regulations and modern industry practices are sufficient to mitigate any risks inherent in these industries," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release announcing the rule, adding that "the financial risks from facilities in these industries are addressed by existing state and federal requirements."

The rule targets the financial assurances the Obama administration argued should be required by major polluters, ensuring companies have sufficient means to cover any costs related to accidents in order to avoid dipping into Superfund hazardous waste cleanup coffers.

The U.S. currently has more than 1,300 Superfund sites on its cleanup list, but many have become "orphaned" by companies that go bankrupt and can no longer fund the cleanup.

"This is all so basic. It would just require that those companies have proof that if there is a release or spill of hazardous substances that there would be funds to clean it up so it's not left on the taxpayers," said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, who added that the Obama-era rules targeted "polluters that had most likelihood of creating releases."

Read more on the new rule here

WHAT WE'RE READING:

Former executive faces prison time in SC nuclear debacle, The Associated Press reports

Here are Biden's next moves on climate, E&E News reports

NY bans incineration disposal of toxic firefighting foam, The Associated Press reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday...

Progressives see red flags in regulatory official on Biden transition team

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: 'A natural fit for me'

Trump administration denies permit for controversial Pebble Mine

EPA won't require industry to guarantee funding for toxic waste cleanups

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