Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Senate passes major lands conservation bill | Mnuchin ordered to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding | Key Republican jeopardizes Trump consumer safety nominee

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! 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@digital-stage.thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@digital-stage.thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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A GREAT DAY FOR THE GREAT AMERICAN OUTDOORS: The Senate passed a major public lands bill on Wednesday, voting to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars each year for conservation efforts.

The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed in a 73-25 vote, would permanently provide $900 million in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.

The legislation will also put $6.5 billion toward addressing a maintenance backlog at national parks.

“Permanent LWCF funding will help improve access to public lands, including providing important access for hunting and fishing opportunities, and will ensure the program remains an important contributor to a strong and growing outdoor recreation economy that will benefit state and local economies throughout our nation,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was part of a bipartisan group that introduced the bill, said in a floor speech. 

The bill, which has broad bipartisan support, now heads to the House. The lower chamber is expected to take up the legislation by July 4, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

The legislation also recently secured the backing of President Trump, who in earlier budgets proposed cutting the conservation fund by about 97 percent.

The election year reversal stands to benefit two particularly vulnerable Republican senators — Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) — who are chief backers of the bill and who Trump cited when announcing his support.

“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks,” Trump tweeted in March. “When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed back on the notion that the legislation was intended to boost the vulnerable incumbents in November.

“It’s in proximity to the election, but nobody said you ought to quit doing things just because there’s an election,” he told reporters this month.

Securing permanent funding for the LWCF caps a multiyear effort to shore up funding to preserve vast stretches of U.S. wilderness for recreation.

The program secured permanent authorization last year, but its funding was never guaranteed.

“This legislation affects all four corners of Colorado, but it also affects every part of this country,” said Gardner. “From sea to shining sea … The Great American Outdoors Act will provide billions of dollars in opportunity for recreation.”

Billions of dollars in repairs to National Park System have been delayed because of budget constraints.

As of 2018, that backlog consisted of nearly $12 billion worth of deferred repairs. 

Republicans who opposed the legislation raised concerns about the cost of taking care of the maintenance backlog as well as spending the oil and gas revenues on the LWCF.

“It’s expensive, shortsighted and it’s wrong,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Read more on the bill here.

And learn more about next steps for the bill, and the politics already at play, here



Yes, funds for tribes must actually go to the tribes… A federal judge is once again ordering Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to release the full amount of stimulus funding Congress set aside for Native American tribes.

A Tuesday decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin’s decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding.

“The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds,” Mehta wrote, referring to the $2.2 trillion March legislation that sets aside $8 billion for tribal governments.

“The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough.” 

The Treasury Department did not respond to request for comment. 

Tribes have waged a months-long battle to gain access to the funds set aside by Congress. It wasn’t until May that Treasury announced it would begin releasing the first 60 percent of CARES funding, following a decision just a week prior from Mehta blocking the department from giving the funds to Native-owned corporations in Alaska.

Mehta’s decision blocked so-called Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), which have vast land holdings and secure significant profits from timber and oil sales, from receiving funds, as they are not government entities. A form from the Department of the Interior included space for ANCs to apply for the funding.

ANCs have appealed and the case is still working its way through court, but Mehta said Mnuchin has not been directed to reserve any funding for them.  

“That amount is being withheld of the Secretary’s own accord,” Mehta wrote. “The Secretary’s withholding of $672 million ‘to resolve any potentially adverse decision in litigation’ … simply cannot be justified.”

Read more on the decision here

A monumental case… Environmentalists sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over the president’s decision to allow commercial fishing in a protected marine monument designated by former President Obama.

President Trump issued a proclamation this month that would reopen the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, for commercial fishing. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity and others have filed suit, claiming that Trump’s rollback was outside the scope of presidential authority. 

“Congress authorized the President to ‘designate’ national monuments and to ‘reserve’ lands and waters for the protection of objects of historic or scientific interest, but not to undo such designations or to abolish such reservations, in whole or in part,” their suit says. 

They also argued that allowing commercial fishing at the monument will probably harm endangered and threatened species and interfere with scientific research. 

Read more on the case here.



Beck faces GOP opposition… A key Republican will oppose President Trump’s nominee to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Nancy Beck, setting the nomination up for a possible failure.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will vote to oppose Beck’s nomination for the chair of the consumer safety agency, which, barring a Democratic defection, would lead to a 13-13 vote and the ultimate failure of the nomination. 

Capito cited Beck’s record on the regulation of a class of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS in her decision. 

“Nancy Beck’s record as it relates to PFAS chemicals, as well as her responses to my questions and the questions of other Senators at yesterday’s Commerce Committee hearing have led me to conclude that she is not the right person to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Capito said in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

“I will vote against Dr. Beck’s confirmation in both the Commerce Committee and on the Senate floor,” the senator added. 

Beck is a former employee of the American Chemistry Council, a group that advocates for the chemical industry. Beck also held a top chemicals role at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Trump administration and was subsequently detailed to the White House. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is not on the Commerce panel, also said that she would oppose Beck’s nomination if it came to the full Senate. 

“Based on her record at the Environmental Protection Agency and at the White House, I do not believe that Dr. Nancy Beck’s views on chemical safety, including on PFAS substances and asbestos, align with the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s mission,” Collins said in a statement. “I plan to oppose her nomination to lead the CPSC.”

Read more about Beck here

Seeking a Domenech domino effect… More than a dozen Democrats are calling for the Trump administration to fire Assistant Interior Secretary Douglas Domenech, arguing that two ethics investigations in a six-month period show that his “unethical behavior justifies his immediate removal.”

The effort comes after a May report from the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found Domenech “took advantage of his position” and wrongly used government resources by reaching out to a former high-level Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee both in person and by email about a job for his son-in-law.

That report followed a December investigation that admonished Domenech for meeting with his former employer, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which at the time was suing two Interior agencies.

Democrats sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Tuesday, saying President Trump should remove Domenech.

“You have not held Mr. Domenech accountable in any meaningful way, even after the second OIG report of his violations,” the 13 lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

“According to a statement from DOI [Department of the Interior], the only consequence for Mr. Domenech’s misconduct has been additional ethics training on top of the repeated sessions that had already clearly warned him not to use his position to endorse friends and family, among other actions.”

Read more on the letter here.



-The House Natural Resources Committee will consider a number of bills 



Washington, DC, experiences cleanest air on record, we report

Trump administration takes Keystone dispute to Supreme Court, The Associated Press reports

Futuristic solar plants plagued by glitches, poor training, E&E News reports

Texas could tighten some natural gas flaring rules by fall, Reuters reports


ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…

Trump administration sued over marine monument rollback

Senate passes major lands conservation bill

Judge orders Mnuchin to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding

Democrats call for removal of Interior official after ethics investigations

Efforts to rescue recycling complicated by coronavirus

Key Republican jeopardizes nomination of Trump consumer safety pick

Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill



Time to permanently block the Dakota Access pipeline, argues Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Joe Manchin Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Shelley Moore Capito Steve Daines Steven Mnuchin Susan Collins

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