OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule | Green groups sue after Trump administration strips bird protections | Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule | Green groups sue after Trump administration strips bird protections | Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office
© Greg Nash

HAPPY TUESDAY! 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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ACE IN THE HOLE: A court has struck down the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era rule regarding pollution from coal-fired power plants. 


A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday vacated the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which gave states more time and authority to decide how to implement the best new technology to ease emissions from coal plants.

It ruled that the “promulgation of the ACE rule and its embedded repeal of the Clean Power Plan rested critically on a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act.” 

The Clean Power Plan was an Obama administration rule that was stayed by a 2016 court decision. 

Tuesday’s ruling gives President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it MORE's incoming administration an opportunity to carry out its own rulemaking without having to undo the Trump administration’s rule. 

When the ACE rule was issued in 2019, it received pushback from environmentalists who took issue with the fact that it did not set emissions caps and said that it would exacerbate climate change.

Those groups hailed Tuesday’s ruling as a climate win.

“The EPA’s role is to protect the American people from dangerous pollution and act on the greatest threat to our country: the climate crisis,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, in a statement.


“The Dirty Power Plan didn’t do either of these things and the court rightly vacated it,” Spalding added.

The EPA and its backers, however, argued that the Obama rule was too far-reaching and that their repeal of it was necessary.

EPA spokesperson Molly Block said in an email that the agency is “disappointed that the panel majority rejected EPA’s well-supported repeal of the Clean Power Plan and its regulation of [greenhouse gases] from coal-fired power plants.”

“The decision risks injecting more uncertainty at a time when the nation needs regulatory stability,” Block said. “EPA is reviewing the decision and will explore all available litigation options.”

When it was promulgating the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration estimated that it would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 415 million tons by 2030 when compared to taking no action.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, estimated that the ACE rule would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million tons by 2030 when compared to doing nothing.

Read more about the court’s decision here. 


MBTA...The Trump administration was sued Tuesday over its plans to strip protections from migratory birds.

The rule, finalized two weeks ago, ends penalties for companies whose projects or infrastructure accidentally kill birds.

Critics, as well as the court, have argued the rule is a gutting of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which has for more than 100 years offered protections to 1,000 different types of birds.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed the suit alongside six other environmental groups.

“Trump’s Interior pressed forward in its last-ditch bidding for the oil and gas industry despite a court decision to the contrary, as well as an overwhelming majority of public opposition. This is a disaster for birds, and communities that thrive with them, which requires immediate repair by the Biden administration and ultimately, Congress to put any doubt to rest,” Katie Umekubo, a senior attorney at NRDC, said in a release.

Read more on the suit here


Once in, always in… A coalition of 13 states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a rule that allows some major polluters to follow less-stringent standards for some dangerous substances. 

The legal petition filed Tuesday doesn’t lay out the states’ arguments, but a statement says that they will argue that the rule goes against the Clean Air Act’s requirement to have major pollution sources reduce their toxic emissions by as much as possible. 

They also plan to argue that the rule is “ arbitrary and capricious” because the EPA failed to consider potential emissions increases. 

In addition to the 13 states, the cities of New York and Chicago also joined the lawsuit. Environmental groups have separately sued over the rule. 

The rule, which could reclassify some “major” sources of pollution as minor ones, allowing them to follow weaker standards for substances like mercury, lead and arsenic, was finalized in October. 

Read more on the suit here.

Smog alert… Fifteen states and two cities sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday for declining to tighten air quality standards for ozone pollution, the main ingredient in smog. 


According to a statement, the states and cities argue that “the EPA conducted a flawed and unlawfully biased review” and that “the available science clearly demonstrates the need” for stronger standards. 

“We’re going to court today because of the undeniable harm that ozone pollution has on kids playing soccer near highways and parents scraping together money they don’t have to pay for asthma medication,” California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to serve as Health and Human Services Secretary, said in a statement.

Last month, the EPA finalized its decision to retain the Obama-era air quality standard of 70 parts per billion for ozone, despite calls from environmentalists to tighten them. 

Read more on the suit here

FINAL SALE: The Trump administration on its final full day in office finalized lease sales to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), completing the process at a speed critics say is “absolutely unprecedented.” 

The sale, held less than two weeks ago, is typically followed by a months-long process to vet companies and secure payment. 

“In the past, this process has taken at least 60 days. So, what has the Trump administration done and what corners have they cut to get a two-month process done in two weeks?” asked Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior public lands policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, who called the speed “absolutely unprecedented.” 


Lease sales in the Arctic generated just over $14 million, a figure is far below the billion dollars the 2017 tax bill projected the government would earn alongside a second sale. 

Just two tracts of land received bids from oil companies, while seven were purchased by Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the state of Alaska’s economic development wing. 

Leases to drill on public land require an antitrust review by the Department of Justice as well as a review by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)

But Rowland-Shea said it would be reasonable to expect that process to take even longer this time given that the main purchaser, AIDEA, is not an oil company.

Read more on the leases here. 


White House Memo on Chemical Decisions Sparks Concern, Confusion, Bloomberg Law reports

'Unrig the data.' How utilities embellish carbon cuts, E&E News reports

Businesses Aim to Pull Greenhouse Gases From the Air. It’s a Gamble, The New York Times reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday...

Trump administration rushes to wrap Arctic oil leases on last day in office

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

Green groups sue after Trump administration strips bird protections

Barrett hears climate case against her father's ex-employer Shell

Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule