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— A trio of New Mexican lawmakers is vying for the top Interior job in a potential Biden administration, sources tell POLITICO, though the campaign says it is focused on winning the election first.
— The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals spent nine hours debating the fine points of the Trump EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, a regulation that replaced the Clean Power Plan.
— A Wyoming federal judge rejected an Obama administration rule intended to curb methane emissions, accomplishing in a day what the Trump administration failed to do in almost four years.
IT’S FINALLY FRIDAY: I’m your fill-in host Eric Wolff, and nicely done, you’ve made it to the end of the week. Good job, everyone! Congrats to Rob Hall from Entergy for being first to know that Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra both wore No. 8 when they caught for the Yankees and the retired number honors both of them. Also, apparently Khary Cauthen from Cheniere did submit the right answer for the first VP debaters, which was Tuesday’s trivia question, ME’s overactive junk mail folder nabbed it and I didn’t see it until Thursday. Since today is Bagel Friday in the Wolff household, your trivia question is: What’s the difference between lox and nova? Send your answer and your energy tips to [email protected] who will be returning Tuesday.
Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast. In today’s episode: A climate czar to fight climate change.
UDALL, HEINRICH, AND HAALAND, OH MY: A trio of New Mexican lawmakers are all jostling to become the next secretary of Interior should Democratic nominee Joe Biden win next month’s election, sources tell Pro’s Anthony Adragna and Ben Lefebvre. Sens. Tom Udall, who is not running for reelection, and Martin Heinrich, and Rep. Deb Haaland, vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee, have all started to subtly make cases for themselves as the best candidates for the gig.
There are also rumblings around who might run EPA, with insiders contemplating Heather Zichal, the former Obama White House deputy assistant energy and climate change, as a potential pick, or Heather Toney, a clean air activist who is currently the national director for Moms For Clean Air Force and a former regional director of the EPA’s Southeast Region, as another.
But all the speculation comes with a big question mark, since people informally advising the candidate say that Biden’s inner core of confidants have been tight-lipped about who they might be considering for possible cabinet spots.
“Addressing the climate crisis is of critical importance, but discussion of ‘czars’ or other structural considerations is speculative and premature,” a source familiar with transition planning said. “Decisions about staffing and structure will only happen after the election on Nov 3rd.”
ACE MARATHON: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals outdid itself Thursday, investing nine hours to debating the expanse of EPA’s authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions, and Pro’s Alex Guillén listened to every minute. The panel appeared frustrated by how little the ACE rule forces states to do to limit emissions, aggravating even Trump appointee Justin Walker. “I think that’s really hard to wrap my head around,” Walker said. “We’re talking about a program to reduce air pollution and it doesn’t even require you to consider how much… pollution you’re reducing?”
He was supported by the Judges Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard, who believed EPA could at least force industries to pollute less. “The Clean Air Act gets to step in and set standards for what you’re allowed to put into the air. Then your choices are within that range. You have to meet that target,” Millett said. The law “has long been recognized” to force industries to adopt pollution control technologies and strategies they otherwise would not.
Walker also worried that the ACE rule was so loose that while a Trump EPA might allow a state like West Virginia to take a light approach, another administration could demand much tougher emission reductions under the same authority. “But maybe down the road, maybe a different EPA, West Virginia submits a perfectly legitimate plan that’s not too lenient about regulation and EPA denies that state plan because they want something that’s way, way, way stricter,” Walker said. The state could sue — but “that court is going to have no standard to apply and it’s going to be bad news for West Virginia.”
COURT TOSSES OBAMA METHANE RULE: A federal judge in Wyoming nullified most of an Obama-era rule intended to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands. As Pro’s Annie Snider reports, the Trump administration has tried several times to reverse the Obama rule only to suffer setbacks in court, most recently in July. The Environmental Defend Fund, which has led efforts to curb releases of the potent greenhouse gas, said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” by the ruling while the Western Energy Alliance, which represents energy producers, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, were “overjoyed.”
LIGHTHOUSE LIGHT, KEEP ON SHINING: Coal mining and transport company Lighthouse Resources is continuing a multi-pronged fight against a Washington State blockade of its massive coal export facility on the Columbia River, arguing to a panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges Thursday that a lower court’s stay should be lifted. The fact that Lighthouse is already challenging the Evergreen State’s denial of a Clean Water Act certification in state court last year prompted the district court judge to put the case on hold while that litigation plays out. But Lighthouse argues that its Commerce Clause challenges are sufficiently different and should be allowed to proceed at the same time.
“Consider if states could ban or refuse to permit permits for otherwise legal commodities, such as, for example, cars running on gas instead of electricity, genetically modified foods, vaccines, etc.,” argued Michael Davis with Venable LLP for Lighthouse. “Those types of cases belong and must be in (federal) court, as they are critically important to the functioning of our republic.” In addition to the litigation in Washington state court, the states of Wyoming and Montana are also asking the Supreme Court to take up their challenge to Washington’s denial.
GREENS CHALLENGE DOJ MEMO BARRING SEPARATE ENVIRONMENTAL PAYMENTS: The Conservation Law Foundation is challenging in federal court a DOJ memo that said EPA could not allow companies to pay for environmental projects as part of court settlements, Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. DOJ has long included provisions in settlements in which companies pay environmental and public health organizations to make up for their air and water quality violations, in addition to federal crimes. But in March, DOJ declared that practice in violation of the “spirit, if not the letter” of the law. EPA has been avoiding such practices since the start of the Trump administration, going back to 2017 when DOJ told Harley Davidson it would not need to pay $3 million to the American Lung Association Northeast as part of a legal settlement over engine pollution.
MONEY FOR PUMPS AND YOUR TANKS FOR FREE: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue distributed $22 million across 14 states to help gas stations start replacing key infrastructure needed to sell 15 percent ethanol blends year round. Though EPA recently allowed stations to start using standard E10 tanks to sell E15, some stations need to make the upgrades, and Perdue has $100 million to spread around.
PENDLEY IGNORES COURT ORDER: William Perry Pendley remains atop the Bureau of Land Management despite a court ruling that he cannot hold that position without Senate confirmation and his decisions have no legal authority. He was defiant in an interview with the Powell (Wyoming) Tribune. “I have the support of the president. I have the support of the Secretary of the Interior and my job is to get out and get things done to accomplish what the president wants to do — which means increase recreational opportunities on federal land and to increase opportunities for jobs, so we can [economically] recover back to where we were pre-pandemic,” he said.
LCV VICTORY FUND DROPS $2 MILLION TO HIT TRUMP: The League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund said Thursday it will spend $2 million in digital and cable ads attacking oil companies and President Donald Trump for exacerbating climate change. “Trump isn’t the only one who denies reality and puts people’s health and safety at risk,” Pete Maysmith, the organization’s senior vice president of campaigns said in a statement. “The fossil fuel industry continues to try to muddy the waters when it comes to their responsibility for the climate crisis, and they rely on politicians like Trump who are willing to ignore science and health experts to roll back critical environmental protections.“ The ad campaign launched in Arizona, where Democratic Nominee Joe Biden enjoys a polling lead, and will be rolled out nationally in coming days.
BLM TO HOLD CALIFORNIA OIL LEASE SALE IN DECEMBER: The Bureau of Land Management will sell leases to over 4,100 acres of federal land in California for new fossil fuel drilling despite opposition from environmentalists and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), California Pro Colby Bermel reports. The agency first proposed selling leases for 1.2 million acres in April 2019 after a protracted legal fight. The sale is expected to take place the week of Dec. 7.
CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS TO EPA: LEAVE THE OFFICES CLOSED: Forty-four of California’s 53 House members wrote to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler asking him to leave the state’s regional offices closed, our California colleague Debra Kahn reports. The members believe EPA’s plan for reopening Region 9 offices “is not fully developed, does not adequately address health and safety protections for employees, and has much weaker protections than the state and local orders.”
LAST MAN STANDING UP FOR PEBBLE MINE: Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy may be the last major politician trying to advance the massive Pebble Mine project in the state. Dunleavy has been trading letters and speeches with members of the state’s legislature even as his administration tries to help the mine meet federal permit requirements. “We’ve got to go through the study process, permitting process. But if we can, wouldn’t we celebrate that? That it would lift countless people out of poverty? That it would provide economic opportunity for a depressed region?” Dunleavy told Alaska Public Media in an interview. But the project is opposed by many in the Bristol Bay region as it would cause potentially irreparable damage to the massive sockeye salmon fishery. Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators opposed the project in comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.
THE MAN WHO SAVED THE OZONE LAYER DIES AT 77: Mario Molina, Nobel laureate and researcher at the University of California San Diego, died Wednesday, the San DIego Union Tribune reported. Molina discovered that chlorofluorocarbons were destroying the ozone layer, and if left unchecked, the chemicals would leave life on earth exposed to dangerous radiation from the sun. His work led to the Montreal Protocol, an environmental agreement first signed by Ronald Reagan, which resulted in a massive reduction in the use of CFCs.
— Wind, solar smash records. But analysts worry it won’t last, via E&E
— Elected officials urge automakers to support cleaner cars, via Smart Cities Dive
— Icahn sees energy sector rebound but urges patience, via Reuters
— The Energy Sectors Most Threatened By A Biden Presidency, via OilPrice.com