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Overnight Energy: Trump EPA finalizes air rule that critics say favors polluters | Zinke, in official and unofficial portraits, returns to Interior on horseback | Vilsack gets lukewarm response as Biden Agriculture pick from those seeking reformed USDA

Overnight Energy: Trump EPA finalizes air rule that critics say favors polluters | Zinke, in official and unofficial portraits, returns to Interior on horseback | Vilsack gets lukewarm response as Biden Agriculture pick from those seeking reformed USDA
© Department of Interior

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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IT’S A MOVE CRITICS SAY PUTS THE CON IN PRO-CON LIST: The Trump administration on Wednesday finalized a rule changing how incoming administrations evaluate their air regulations, something critics say will undermine future attempts to reduce air pollution. 

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The rule changes how the government justifies its own air pollution regulations, limiting how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) weighs carbon pollution that impacts climate change as well as the benefits of tackling multiple air pollutants at once.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerBiden 'freeze' of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards MORE announced the new rule at an event with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, which backed the changes.

“Up to now there have been no regulations to hold us, the EPA, accountable to a standardized process and guarantee the public can now see how those calculations informed decisions,” Wheeler said.

The rule dictates how the agency must compile its cost-benefit analysis for future air rules — a lengthy, technical pro-con list defending a rule that is most often scrutinized by staffers and those who plan to sue over their regulations.

“What they’ve done is essentially manipulate and rig the cost-benefit analysis so that when EPA in the future gets back to their mission of protecting the environment and fighting climate change it will be much harder to justify their rules,” Amit Narang of Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group, said when the rule was first proposed.

“This is going to have to be one of the first things the next administration and EPA will have to get rid of to get back to doing their jobs,” Narang added.

The rule will apply to any new regulation proposed under the Clean Air Act, a law President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE is likely to turn to in order to meet his goals of getting the U.S. on a path to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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And a tidbit for you big EPA nerds…

During the rollout, Wheeler also said the agency is working on a narrower rewrite of its science transparency rule in response to some of the comments they’ve received. The proposal was revamped after the first version which solicited over 600,000 comments, most of them negative. 

Read more about the cost-benefit rule here

HORSIN AROUND: Former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Trump administration pushes for grazing permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Interior secretary tests positive for COVID-19 after two days of meetings with officials: report MORE will now be immortalized on the horse he rode in on.

In his official portrait unveiling, Zinke, who famously came to his first day at the agency on horseback, is seen sitting atop a black and white horse, trotting through brush with a tree-lined butte in the background.

The portrait is based on a photo taken of Zinke when he visited Bears Ears National Monument in 2017, a monument in Utah that was later shrunk by the Trump administration.

Painted by Montana-based artist Brent Cotton, the portrait includes the insignia of Seal Team Six on Zinke's shoulder and the emblem of U.S. Park Police on the horse's martingale. The likeness was funded through private donations.

The official portrait was joined by an unofficial portrait that also shows Zinke again on horseback, this time holding a sickle while his horse rears up in response to a fanged snake in the foreground.

The unofficial portrait is based on the painting "Death Dealer 6" by fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, which sold for $1.79 million in 2018 and features a mythic warrior wearing a tri-horned helmet. 

Read more on the dual portraits here

ONE TRILLION TREES, TWO BILLS: Bipartisan senators on Wednesday introduced a bill that seeks to use trees to mitigate climate change, similar to a Republican-backed bill that was introduced in the House earlier this year. 

The new legislation, introduced by Sens. Mike BraunMichael BraunBiden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (R-Ind.) and Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (D-Del.) on Wednesday, looks to forests, wetlands and other ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the atmosphere. 

It authorizes $10 million for a program to shore up the country’s supply of seeds and saplings and also aims to facilitate the sale of credits that can be earned by landowners for sequestering carbon dioxide. 

Though it has bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill could face an uphill battle in Congress’s lower chamber. 

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During a February hearing, House Democrats criticized the GOP leadership-backed bill by Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanGOP attacks Democrats for allowing Moore to vote after positive COVID test Moore to appear in House for Speaker's vote after testing positive for COVID-19 LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (R-Ark.) that sought to plant more trees, saying that it didn’t go far enough to prevent climate change. 

Read more on the legislation here.

VILSACK ATTACKS: News that President-elect Joe Biden has picked former Obama administration Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE to run the agency anew has drawn disappointment from some who felt he was too aligned with major agriculture corporations during his previous stint.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who served eight years at the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), would come to the job from his current role as president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a major dairy lobby.

Large agriculture groups, from the more conservative-learning Farm Bureau to the more left-leaning Farmers Union, and a host of commodity groups have largely praised the return of a familiar face that was easy to work with.

“Should he be confirmed, he will be no stranger to the important issues facing the meat and poultry industry and all of U.S. agriculture,” National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said in a statement.

But those who would like to see the USDA take on a greater role in fighting food insecurity, climate change and racial inequality, expressed either disappointment in the pick or advised Vilsack to approach the position differently the second time around. 

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The Farmer’s Union, which said Vilsack had the “necessary qualifications and experience,” ticked off a list of reforms — from protecting farmers from anticompetitive practices to advancing racial equity in agriculture — that Vilsack would need to tackle.

“The Secretary’s obligation is not just to serve farmers; it’s also to serve the American public at large” the union said. 

A source familiar with Biden's thinking said Vilsack was a good choice to lead the department as rural America reels from the trade war and economic fallout of the virus.

"The President-Elect was eager to nominate someone with experience and who is prepared to step in on day one to deliver immediate relief for families all across the country — and no one is knows the department better than Tom Vilsack," the source said, noting that Vilsack has already passed Senate scrutiny once. 

In picking Vilsack, the Biden team passed over Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeOn The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Record number of women to serve in Biden Cabinet MORE (D-Ohio) for the role, who has been a vocal force for protecting food stamps and other food insecurity programs during her time on the House Agriculture Committee.

There’s clear pressure from outside groups and food experts for the department to expand its focus on food security.

Read more on Vilsack’s lukewarm reception here

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EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: “We have got to show people the road, and if we fall short on that road, we have to be honest about it,” incoming climate czar John KerryJohn KerryBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing Kerry promises Europeans Biden will seek to make up time on climate action MORE told NBC News.

“I'm confident we can get there. The issue is are we going to get there in time? That's our race. This is our moonshot.”

WHAT WE’RE READING:

As many as 15,000 New Jerseyans living in public housing face rising tides that could wreck their homes, NJ.com reports

Study: Human-made materials now outweigh Earth's entire biomass, The Guardian reports

New California bill pushes state to stock, distribute masks to farmworkers during wildfires, CalMatters reports

Contentious NJ river terminal to export fracked Pa. natural gas gets final approval, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

Bipartisan senators introduce tree conservation bill as climate solution

Vilsack gets lukewarm response as Biden Agriculture pick from those seeking reformed USDA

Zinke, in official and unofficial portraits, returns to Interior on horseback

Trump EPA finalizes air rule that critics say favors polluters

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 reached new high