Overnight Regulation: Greens urge EPA to restore methane rule | Group seeks probe into Google shopping tracker | FDA drawn into fight over 'soy milk'

Overnight Regulation: Greens urge EPA to restore methane rule | Group seeks probe into Google shopping tracker | FDA drawn into fight over 'soy milk'
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Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Monday evening, and the Senate is jealous that the House gets to be in recess this week.

 

THE BIG STORY: Environmentalists are asking a federal appeals court to reinstate immediately the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) methane pollution rule for oil and natural gas drillers.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled earlier this month that the Trump administration broke the law when it tried to delay the methane rule's enforcement in June.

But the court let the EPA continue its delay for two weeks. That period ended Friday, and the Trump administration, which is trying to repeal the rule, did not ask for an appeal of the original ruling.

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"Every day that the stay remains in place, petitioners' members and similarly situated Americans are exposed to excessive amounts of air pollution from more than 11,000 oil and gas wells -- pollution that compliance with the rule would reduce or avoid," a coalition of green groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote in a Monday filing with the court.

Industry groups and a coalition of conservative states asked the full 11-judge court to rehear the case, which is the standard next level for appeal. But the EPA itself did not ask for such a rehearing.

The green groups said in their filing that the industry and state appeals for full-court review are "transparent attempts to seek further delay, and do not warrant any further withholding of the mandate."

If the court were to grant the green groups' motion, the regulation would take effect and the EPA would have to start enforcing it.

Meanwhile, the EPA is going through the full regulatory process for a proposed two-year delay of the methane rule. The public comment period for that closes next month, at which point the EPA could make it effective.

During that delay, the agency is likely to initiate a regulatory process to completely repeal the rule. 

The Hill's Timothy Cama has the story here.

 

ON TAP FOR TUESDAY

A Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee holds a hearing on EPA's Superfund oversight.

The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on "America's Affordable Housing Crisis."

  

REG ROUNDUP

Consumer bureau: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is asking federal watchdogs to investigate whether the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) violated federal election law.

Hensarling asked the Office of Special Counsel in a letter dated Friday to investigate whether Richard Cordray broke the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from running for elected office.

Rumors have been circulating that Cordray, a former Democratic Ohio attorney general, will resign in September to run for Ohio governor. But he cannot formally begin his campaign until he steps down from the CFPB. The unexpected release of a controversial CFPB rule targeting forced arbitration clauses sparked more talk that Cordray is aiming to finish as many of the agency's projects as possible before leaving.

Sylvan Lane has more here.

 

Digital currencies: A new approach to fundraising by startups that uses digital currencies like bitcoin is sparking concern among lawmakers and regulators, and calls for tougher rules.

At issue are initial coin offerings, where new companies or smaller projects seek to crowdfund -- or raise investment funds from the public -- through crypto online currencies.

While many of these offerings are well-intentioned, others are scams and some have weak security making them susceptible to hacks.

That's led to growing calls for new regulations to protect investors and consumers.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is already taking notice.

The agency made public an investigation it conducted on digital coins sold by "The DAO" -- an online leaderless group that used a cryptocurrency called Ethereum."

Hackers targeted the group in May of last year after one of the highest-profile initial coin offerings. That attack destroyed the group and the value of its coins, leading many to lose money.

In its report, the SEC concluded that the coins offered by DAO were securities -- publicly tradable debt like bonds. And the agency said U.S. securities laws may apply to the tokens.

Ali Breland and Sylvan Lane have the story here.

 

Aviation: President Trump's plan to privatize air traffic control is struggling to get off the ground.

House lawmakers left town for the August recess without voting on the proposal, which is included in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The plan would transfer the country's air navigation system to a nonprofit corporation.

But the recess means the chamber will have less than a month to consider the bill and negotiate a final product with the Senate, since the FAA's legal authority expires at the end of September.

Failure to pass the legislation would be a big blow for the White House as it scrambles to score a legislative victory on Capitol Hill, especially after the GOP's latest healthcare defeat.

"I wanted to pass it now," a frustrated Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill before leaving town.

"If we had another week here, I think we'd have it on the floor next week. It's just one of those things where it takes time for members to engage and understand."

The long-term aviation package has been viewed as one potential area where Republican leadership could deliver a victory for the administration. It was also thought to be a far easier lift than healthcare or tax reform.

Here's Melanie Zanona with the details.

 

More aviation: Texas lawmakers have joined a growing chorus of voices in Congress that are urging the Trump administration to crack down on Persian Gulf countries for unfairly subsidizing their state-run airlines.

In a letter to the departments of State, Transportation and Commerce, the Texas congressional delegation slammed United Arab Emirates and Qatar for funneling more than $50 billion in subsidies into three state-owned airlines.

The members argue that the subsidies are a clear violation of the international Open Skies agreement, create unfair competition and hurt U.S. airlines and workers. They called on the administration take "resolute action" against the foreign air carriers.

"These subsidies have allowed their carriers to significantly increase capacity to the U.S. at the expense of our domestic airlines," the Texas lawmakers wrote.

Melanie Zanona has more here

 

Tech: A privacy watchdog group has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how Google analyzes credit card data to track consumers' offline shopping habits.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says that Google has not been forthcoming about the privacy safeguards in its program and wrote in its complaint that the opt-out process for consumers is "burdensome, opaque, and misleading."

"EPIC asks the Commission to investigate Google, enjoin its unfair and deceptive business practices, and require Google to protect the privacy of its users," the complaint reads.

Google announced in May that it would be launching "store sales measurement," a new tool that will allow its advertisers to track whether their online ads are leading to in-store purchases.

The company pushed back against the complaint, insisting that it only has access to aggregated, anonymized data and not personally identifiable information about consumers' shopping habits.

The Hill's Harper Neidig has the full story here

 

Transportation: The Department of Transportation (DOT) is writing a new rule aimed at encouraging more private sector investment in public transportation projects.

The DOT's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on Monday that would allow public transit projects to streamline some steps in the regulatory or permit approval process if they prove that it will attract more private investors.

Speeding up the project approval process has been a top priority for the Trump administration and is expected to be included in the president's $1 trillion infrastructure package. The White House has said that the effort will help spur more public-private partnerships.

Melanie Zanona explains here

 

Foods: The Good Food Institute (GFI) is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to a 20-year-old petition and clarify once and for all that soy-based beverages can be labeled as "soy milk."

The nonprofit, which works to promote plant-based meat, dairy and eggs, asked the FDA on Monday to respond to the petition the Soyfoods Association sent on Feb. 28, 1997, asking the agency to allow manufacturers to use the term "soy milk."

The GFI also submitted a petition of its own.

The group is asking the FDA to amend its regulations to clarify "that new foods may be named by reference to other 'traditional' foods in a manner that makes clear to consumers their distinct origins or properties."

But the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is pushing back.

The group claims plant-based "milk" imitators are using dairy terminology and imagery to advertise their products as suitable replacements for cow's milk and urged the FDA in a meeting last week to enforce its food standards. 

Lydia Wheeler has the story.

 

Energy: Two companies developing a nuclear plant in South Carolina announced Monday they would end construction of the $14 billion project.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. (SCE&G) and state-run Santee Cooper both said Monday they would suspend their plan to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant northwest of Columbia.

The companies cited cost overruns and construction delays, as well as the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse.

The Santee Cooper board of directors voted unanimously on Monday morning to pull out of the project. In a statement, the company said the decision would save customers $7 billion in construction fees, which have already cost $4.7 billion.

SCE&G later announce that it, too, would cease work on the power plant.

Read Devin Henry's latest here.

 

ALSO IN THE NEWS

The Guardian: HSBC chief sounds alarm over financial regulation and Brexit

The Spokesman-Review: Spokane eyes tougher regulations for Uber, Lyft after outcry from cab companies

 

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