WOTUS LAWSUIT: A coalition of environmental groups informed the Trump administration Tuesday that it would sue over a major rollback of water protections designed to replace the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.
“Trump’s despicable giveaway to polluters will wipe out countless wetlands and streams and speed the extinction of endangered wildlife across the country,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Even as we’re fighting this in court, the polluters will rush to fill in wetlands and turn our waterways into industrial toilets.”
The coming suit, which is spearheaded by the Center for Biological Diversity and includes a number of waterway protection groups, is the first of what may be many lawsuits against the rule.
President Trump‘s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, finalized last month, dramatically limits the scope of protections for the nation’s waterways, excluding many smaller bodies of water, including seasonal ones, from federal oversight.
Critics argue the rule ignores that all waterways are connected, with reduced protections increasing the risk that pollution and pesticides will flow downstream into bigger water bodies that serve as drinking water sources.
The coalition’s notice argues the rule did not comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — another law rolled back by the Trump administration.
The new water rule violates endangered species protections “by taking an action that ‘may affect’ ESA-listed species without having first engaged in mandatory consultation under the ESA,” the group wrote in its notice.
Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to repeal WOTUS, calling it “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”
The law had been particularly unpopular with farmers, who argued WOTUS was too far-reaching and required grand efforts to protect relatively small bodies of water that run through their property, ultimately subjecting large swaths of land to federal oversight.
But experts say Trump’s new rule does much more than reverse the Obama-era plan, scaling back protections for waterways in place for as much as 50 years by limiting the Clean Water Act.
IT’S 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 [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected]hill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.
INTRA-PARTY STRIFE: Republicans’ new climate plan was meant to show voters the party cares about climate change, but it’s also illustrating the difficult tightrope the GOP walks on green issues as it faces internal pushback.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rolled out the legislative package Wednesday, flanked by some of the party’s most active lawmakers on energy and environment issues.
“The Democrats have trained everybody to think that the only people who care about climate change are the ones who engage in hysterical alarmism or engage in real high-minded but ultimately false aspirations of ‘we’re going to decrease this much’… but they forget about the actual solutions,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who is leading a bill on carbon capture research and development.
But the bill was immediately condemned by the powerful Club for Growth PAC and elicited grumbles from a handful of lawmakers.
“The next step needs to be the trash can for this stuff,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has advocated for more carbon in the atmosphere, arguing it will spur plant growth.
In the first of three eventual proposals, the package focuses on carbon capture, hoping to sequester pollution by planting trees and expanding tax credits for and boosting research on technology that helps remove carbon as energy is produced.
The legislation hasn’t been embraced by environmental groups, who argue it’s not a serious solution to climate change. And it’s gotten a tepid response at best from Democrats who, despite their concerns about the approach, have scheduled a hearing for the tree legislation.
But the conservative Club for Growth has described it as a collection of “stifling liberal environmental taxes, regulations, and subsidies” while threatening to withhold support from any lawmaker who backs it.
“Besides hurting our economy, these measures will not make a single environmentalist vote for a Republican and only alienate conservatives across the country,” the group wrote in a statement.
Massie is likewise concerned Republicans are falling into a trap, being pushed by Democrats to address issues that are unpopular within the GOP base.
“Moderate Republicans are doing what they do when Democrats introduce a gun bill. They feel like they have to introduce their own gun bill even though constituents don’t want it and it won’t make them safe,” he said.
Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist, said he sees little political downside for members who chose to support the legislation, even if it means losing some endorsements.
“Outside groups don’t get press off milquetoast statements, so when the rubber meets the road we’ll see if they follow through on their threat, but I think they hope they don’t have to. The idea is to try and scare members from it,” Gorman said.
McCarthy’s leadership on the effort gives Republicans easy cover, he added, and backing the legislation could be a good move for those in swing districts.
Concerns expressed by hesitant members include spending money on tax breaks as well as government involvement in an effort that could be led by citizens.
“I have no aversion to planting trees, I just don’t think the government needs to be in that business,” Massie said.
Other members fear the ultimate package would raise the costs of energy or focus too heavily on renewables.
“Here’s the problem: It can’t be addressed this way,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), adding that the country must rely on fossil fuels to ensure consistent electricity generation. “We’ve got to have an all-the-above type solution.”
House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who helped roll out the bills, was surprised by some of the resistance.
“Who’s against planting trees?” he asked.
Walden sees the legislation as fully in line with GOP values.
“They’re positive, they fit in a conservative mantle. They’re not regulatory, they’re not taxes. They’re good things we all ought to be able to embrace,” he said.
ALL SMILES: Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry will rejoin a dental insurance company as the vice chairman of its board and as its chief strategy officer.
MCNA Dental announced Monday that Perry, who previously served on its board of directors, would return to the company.
Perry will “play a leading role” in MCNA Dental’s government relations, a statement from the company said. He will also “provide strategic vision” for company’s expansion of its national platform and give insights on health care reform.
“I am excited to rejoin the MCNA team and help to further its mission of providing high quality oral health care for the children of America,” Perry said in the statement.
The company’s website says it offers public services for people on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicare, as well as private plans.
Perry left the Trump administration last year. President Trump announced Perry’s departure from his post as Energy secretary in October amid scrutiny over dealings with Ukraine.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Perry served as the governor of Texas and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012 and 2016.
MCNA Dental CEO Jeffrey Feingold said in the Monday statement that Perry’s “tremendous diplomatic expertise and his experience spearheading Medicaid reform in Texas will enhance the capabilities of our leadership team and help to introduce a new era of innovation and growth.”
BANKROLLED: Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Monday announced the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund, a new global initiative that will commit $10 billion to combating climate change.
Bezos, whose net worth is listed at $130 billion, said in an Instagram post that the fund would support scientists, activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”
While he did not offer details on what efforts he plans to prioritize, Bezos said he would begin issuing grants in connection to the fund this summer.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” he said. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.
SEEKING COMMENT: A decision by the Department of the Interior to open up comments on a scientific study looking at how polar bears are impacted by oil and gas activity is raising questions from observers who say the department may be looking to undermine any opposition to drilling in protected Alaskan wilderness.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) posted the study to the Federal Register Tuesday, inviting comment on peer-reviewed research looking at how seismic activity from the oil and gas industry affects polar bear “denning” as they raise their young cubs.
But experts say it’s highly unusual for any branch of Interior to post one scientific study for comment rather than a body of peer-reviewed research that accompanies a policy decision.
“What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The study comes as Interior is pushing to open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), something the House has tried to block.
“What is it you want the public to say about the peer-reviewed study — are they going to peer review it better than the peer reviewers? You don’t normally open up an avenue like this unless you’re waiting for special interest groups to jump in,” Rosenberg told The Hill. “This is a very directed way to undermine the science.”
The FWS said posting a study for comment is unusual but is part of a new effort to increase transparency.
“This is not something we have typically done in the past that I am aware of, but we are always looking for new ways to be transparent and keep the public informed about the new and often innovative science taking place across the Service,” Gavin Shire, spokesman for the FWS, said in a statement to The Hill. “This notice is a way for us to make the public aware of the study and receive [its] feedback on how we might apply the model in the field.”
ICYMI… PITCHING IN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday pledged that the U.S. would contribute $1 billion to help support the energy independence of European allies.
The support to the Three Seas Initiative, an effort that aims to promote dialogue among 12 member states in Central and Eastern Europe on a variety of policies, comes as President Trump continues to press European allies over their contributions to shared defense, trade and other issues.
“As a brand new statement today of our support for sovereignty, prosperity, and energy independence of our European friends, today I want to announce that through the International Development Finance Corporation, and with the support of our United States Congress, we intend to provide up to $1 billion in financing to Central and Eastern European countries of the Three Seas Initiative,” Pompeo announced at the Munich Security Conference.
“Our aim is quite simple: It is to galvanize private sector investment in the energy sector to protect freedom and democracy around the world.”
Trump and lawmakers in Washington have urged European countries to rely less on Russian natural gas and instead use energy exports from the U.S. and other countries.
GORE’S GET OUT THE VOTE: Former Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday launched a new national voter registration campaign in partnership with the Climate Reality Action Fund, recruiting younger voters to prioritize climate when voting in 2020.
The former vice president will visit college campuses across the country to discuss the climate crisis, according to the “Vote Your Future: Vote Climate” campaign’s press release.
The campaign, which will be managed by the Climate Reality Action Fund, will begin at Texas Southern University Wednesday. Gore tweeted that Bob Bullard, the self-described “father of environmental justice,” will join him.
A RECYCLING HITCH: A new report from Greenpeace has found that many plastic products are not actually recyclable because few, if any, U.S. facilities can process them.
The report, published Tuesday, was based on a survey of all 367 operating material recovery facilities in the U.S. It found that only some types of plastic bottles and jugs “can be legitimately labeled as recyclable in the U.S. today.”
The organization found that only 14 percent of the facilities accept plastic clamshells, 11 percent accept plastic cups, 4 percent accept plastic bags and 1 percent accept plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers.
Greenpeace, in the statement on the report, also threatened to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against several companies that it accused of using “misleading labels” if the companies do not change the labels on their plastics.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Behind the scenes, Pebble leaned on Alaska governor pleading for its survival, Alaska Public Media reports
Refinery fire extinguished in south Texas, no injuries, The Associated Press reports
Less logging means less money for schools in the northwest, Stateline reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday and the long weekend…
Climate change could wipe out coral reefs by 2100: scientists
Bezos launching initiative that commits $10 billion to combat climate change
With polar bear study open for comments, critics see effort to push drilling in ANWR
Green groups plan to sue over Trump rollback of Obama waterway protections
Pompeo pledges $1 billion in US support for European energy initiative
GOP climate plan faces pushback — from Republicans
UAE issues license for first nuclear plant in Arab world
Rick Perry to rejoin dental insurance company as chief strategy officer
Greenpeace says many plastics are not actually recyclable
Al Gore launches new voter registration effort with Climate Reality Action Fund
Fort Lauderdale mayor could seek federal assistance after 211M gallon sewage spill