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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ to let companies pay for environmental projects again to reduce fines | House Democrats reintroduce green energy tax package

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ to let companies pay for environmental projects again to reduce fines | House Democrats reintroduce green energy tax package
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TGIF! 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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ENFORCED OUT: The Department of Justice (DOJ) has eliminated nine Trump-era directives on environmental law enforcement, including one that ended polluters’ ability to reduce fines by paying for environmental projects. 

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In a memo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams, a career official, wrote that the policies were “inconsistent with longstanding Division policy and practice" and "may impede the full exercise of enforcement discretion in the Division’s cases.”

Through its action Thursday, the department restored the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in agency settlements, which are popular with both industry and environmentalists. 

SEPs, which have been used for roughly three decades in environmental cases, allow companies to take actions like cleaning up streams to lessen any fines they may have to pay for environmental violations.

Eighty percent of what companies spend on a project can be credited as a discount to any potential fines, with companies often choosing to clean up areas they polluted.

Williams this week also withdrew a memo that prevented the department from pursuing civil penalties in cases where states had already taken action.

The Trump administration said it was attempting to avoid “piling on” companies already facing scrutiny from states. Critics said the federal memo could shield bad actors from sufficient accountability, arguing that the federal government has the authority to levy steeper penalties than states.

The new memo said that it was nixing the directives under President Biden’s executive order that tells agencies to address actions that “that conflict with these important national objectives, and to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis.” 

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Read more about the withdrawal here.

 

GUESS WHO’S TAX, TAX AGAIN: Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday put forward a sweeping green energy bill that would extend several clean energy tax credits, expand electric vehicle tax credits and set the stage for putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill, called the GREEN Act, was first introduced last year but is being put forward again with Democrats now controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House. The legislation would extend the use of tax credits for solar, wind and geothermal energy while also extending the use of a tax credit for using technology that captures carbon dioxide in the production of fossil fuels.

It would also expand an electric vehicle tax credit and create a new tax credit for zero-emission commercial vehicles and zero-emission buses. The bill would further direct the Treasury secretary to assess the Environmental Protection Agency’s data on greenhouse gas emissions to tax entities based on their emissions.

“Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time and we must act boldly to address this existential threat,” Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonDemocrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms Democrats have a growing tax problem with SALT Two gun bills for law and order go to the Senate MORE (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor, said in a statement.

Democrats also included a provision that seeks to reduce environmental inequity by providing a tax credit for environmental justice programs at universities, with extra funding being made available to historically Black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions. 

The Sierra Club, a leading environmental group, praised some of the bill’s measures, but also said it wasn’t bold enough. 

“The Green Act would do a good deal to help the clean energy economy recover, re-employ hundreds of thousands of clean energy workers currently out of a job, and support President Biden’s build back better goals,” said the group’s Deputy Legislative Director Matthew Bearzotti in a statement. “However, this version of the GREEN Act falls short of the bold and ambitious legislation that is required and now possible.”

Read more here.

A RESOLUTION AND MANY AMENDMENTS: Senators signaled where they stood on a number of energy-related issues including the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking during a late-night session on a budget resolution that teed up a vote on a coronavirus relief package. 

More than 800 amendments had been filed as of Thursday night. Because the budget resolution isn’t signed into law, the votes aren’t binding and are more political messaging tools or efforts to get the opposing party to go on the record. 

The fracking amendment, from Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunA number of Republican lawmakers are saying no to COVID-19 vaccines GOP goes on the attack against Biden relief bill Amazon removing books that frame LGBTQ issues as mental illness MORE (R-Ind.), would endorse blocking the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency from banning fracking. President Biden has said repeatedly that he does not support a ban on the controversial fossil fuel extraction method, which has been linked to water contamination. 

Republicans were joined by Democratic Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSenators press for answers in Space Command move decision Biden announces first slate of diverse judicial nominees American Rescue Plan: Ending child poverty — let's make it permanent MORE (Colo.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats divided on gun control strategy Senate Democrats call on DHS for details on response to Portland protests Dems' momentum hits quagmire over infrastructure plans MORE (Pa.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichGroups petition EPA to remove ethane and methane from list of compounds exempt from emissions limits Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure MORE (N.M.) John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperOn The Trail: How marijuana went mainstream Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants MORE (Colo.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinClose the avenues of foreign meddling Democrats see political winner in tax fight MSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' MORE (W.Va.) on the measure. 

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In the resolution in support of the Keystone pipeline, from Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump faces test of power with early endorsements OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum MORE (R-Mont.), Republicans were joined by Manchin and Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.). 

But Republicans accused Democrats of stripping out the amendments related to support for fracking and the Keystone pipeline, as well as one related to immigration at the end of the night. 

"What they have done here is to reverse three important amendments that were adopted on a bipartisan basis," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Democrats see opportunity in GOP feud with business Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others MORE (R-Ky.) said about a final amendment offered by Schumer.

Schumer didn't describe what was in his amendment, which was approved with Harris casting her first tie-breaking vote, but said that it would ensure that the House could "move forward expeditiously" with the budget resolution. 

A separate amendment, from Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows As Congress considers infrastructure, don't forget rural America MORE (R-Wyo.) would endorse creating a fund for schools that lose revenue because of a federal pause on oil and gas leases or permitting, passed with broad bipartisan support. 

Read more about the budget resolution and amendments here

 

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BRAUN IS GOING ALONG: Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told the Indianapolis Star he plans to vote to confirm Michael ReganMichael ReganOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Biden budget proposes .4 billion for environmental justice Overnight Energy: EPA pledges new focus on environmental justice | Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers | Biden administration asks court to toss kids' climate lawsuit MORE to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The EPA often is at the center of partisan fights,” Braun said, adding that Regan, "seems like somebody who will listen, and he seems like somebody that's going to talk to the people impacted, like the farmers."

Regan has already secured the votes of Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNorth Carolina mayor Rett Newton launches Senate bid Democratic hopeful Jeff Jackson raises .3M for North Carolina Senate bid Rick Scott 'very optimistic' Grassley will run for another term MORE and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings GOP senator recovering from surgery for prostate cancer Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured MORE, both Republicans of North Carolina, where Regan has run the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. 

Braun’s commitment to back Regan comes as he has questioned other environmental moves made by President Biden, particularly as it relates to the Climate Solutions Caucus he helped found.

“All the progress we’ve made in the Senate Climate Caucus would be out the window because of moves like the Keystone XL Pipeline and getting back into the Paris Climate Accord,” he said. “We’re going to lose some of the people we got on the caucus, let alone trying to bring more on board.". 

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

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  • On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a virtual hearing titled "Back in Action: Restoring Federal Climate Leadership."

 

WHAT WE’RE READING:

EU lawmakers call for carbon border costs by 2023, eventually for all industry, Reuters reports

Proposed river authority would assert Utah’s claims to the Colorado’s dwindling water, The Salt Lake Tribune reports

Paul Crutzen, Nobel Laureate Who Fought Climate Change, Dies at 87, The New York Times reports

 

ICYMIStories from Friday…

DOJ to let companies pay for environmental projects again to reduce fines

Russian court orders mining giant to pay nearly $2 billion for Arctic spill

Bloomberg reappointed UN climate envoy 

House Democrats reintroduce green energy tax package