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 [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.
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TICK TOCK ON THE CLOCK: The Trump administration is scrambling to wrap up a slew of environmental rollbacks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in less than 70 days.
The administration has yet to get some of its most prized proposals across the finish line: finalizing the prep work to enable drilling in the Arctic and off the coasts; limiting protections for endangered species and migratory birds; and restricting what types of studies inform the government’s policy choices.
Those efforts are raising concerns among environmentalists who have spent the past four years battling President Trump on issues like climate change and scientific independence.
“This is an administration that has been breaking norms from the beginning, so why shouldn’t we expect them to do that until the bitter end?” said David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University’s School of Law.
Hayes, along with others, is also worried about “personnel and other disruptive executive actions” beyond new regulations.
At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), top of the list is a proposal that has already generated roughly 600,000 negative comments.
The rule, which the agency bills as a transparency measure, could block consideration of studies that don’t make their underlying data publicly available, something likely to exclude landmark public health research when crafting agency policy.
Former EPA head Scott Pruitt, who led the agency from 2017-2018, called the rule a way to battle “secret science.” Critics counter it will block the agency from using studies that won’t release personal health information or confidential business data – common practices in studies the agency relies on when reviewing chemicals and assessing public health risks.
Another rule the agency hopes to get out before Jan. 20 would change the cost-benefit analysis behind Clean Air Act regulations, making it tougher to account for some of the benefits of curbing air pollution. The rule change would also make it more difficult for future administrations to justify new air regulations.
Critics say the two proposals would systematically undermine the agency going forward.
“Those two are just killers for the whole foundation of the work of EPA,” said Betsy Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water during the Obama administration.
Stan Meiburg, who served as the EPA’s acting deputy administrator under former President Obama, said “you can’t just put your fingers on the scale by discounting the benefits” of reduced air pollution.
“You have to count all the costs and all the benefits,” he added.
Also in the hopper at the EPA are two rules that would freeze pollution standards for smog and soot, unusual moves for an agency that typically sets more ambitious targets when they are reconsidered every five years.
Read more on the rollbacks here.
ORDER UP: Critics say a new order from the Interior Department kneecaps a conservation effort that President Trump routinely campaigned on.
Trump regularly touted the Great American Outdoors Act on the campaign trail, a bipartisan bill he signed in August that solidifies more than $900 million in funding each year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The fund is designed to allow the federal government to acquire land for parks, trails and conservation purposes, but a Friday order from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt gives governors and even county commissioners the ability to veto any purchases of private land by requiring “written expression of support.”
“It’s a clear interference with private property rights and that the big irony here is that it’s coming from the party claiming to support personal liberty and private property rights. They’re trying to give every county commission and governor in the country veto power over private land owners who want to sell their land to the government at fair market rates,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the law doesn’t allow for state and local officials to have this kind of authority.
“This administration can’t resist the urge to break the law, and this order is a perfect example of why they can’t be trusted to protect our environment,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
“They have no interest in conservation; even with clear direction and guidance from Congress they are doing their best to sabotage the Land and Water Conservation. They’re just trying to smash and grab whatever they can on their way out the door when they should focus on working with the Biden transition team.”
The Great American Outdoors Act and its funding for LCWF was a remarkable turnaround for the Trump administration, who previously proposed nearly eliminating the program in every previous budget.
But support for conservation efforts gained new momentum in the Trump administration as Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) headed into tough reelection battles.
In another surprising portion of the secretarial order, Bernhardt claims it “will remain in effect until its provisions are completed” and that “termination of this order will not nullify the implementation of the requirements and responsibilities effected herein.”
“They’re basically saying no take backs,” Weiss said. “Like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make this law even after I leave.’ It doesn’t work that way but it’s laughable Bernhardt is even tying it.”
Read more on the order here.
ANWR: The Trump administration is reportedly poised to take another step to advance drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.
Two people familiar told Bloomberg that the Interior Department will host what’s known as a call for nominations as soon as Monday to gain advice on which parts of the refuge’s coastal plain to lease out.
The administration formally approved opening up the entire 1.56 million acre coastal plain to oil and gas drilling this year.
Bloomberg reported Friday that the call for nominations could help shape a future lease auction, though the department is required to issue a formal notice before holding the actual sale.
Spokespeople for the Interior Department didn’t immediately return The Hill’s request for comment.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to “permanently protect” ANWR, though a measure in a 2017 tax law requires one lease sale to be held there by Dec. 22, 2021 and another by Dec. 22, 2024.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has been eager to open up the refuge to drilling, with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt saying earlier this year that it could “create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of billions of dollars.”
The department has also recently taken another step to advance drilling, proposing a plan for the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation to test for oil deposits there starting as soon as December.
Critics, meanwhile, argue that drilling at ANWR could harm animal species that are found there, negatively affect the landscape, exacerbate climate change and harm the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there.
Read more on the plans here.
OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:
Ford CEO says carmaker now eyes making own EV batteries, Reuters reports
Michigan governor seeks shutdown of Great Lakes oil pipeline, The Associated Press reports
ICYMI: Stories from Friday…
Trump administration to further advance lease sales at Arctic refuge: report
New Interior order undermines conservation bill Trump campaigned on, critics say
Park Service faces $270M suit after death in Arches National Park
Trump races clock on remaining environmental rollbacks