Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year

WAVE GOODBYE TO WOTUS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced final plans to redefine and thus shrink the waterways that must be protected under the law, a move likely to be swiftly challenged legally by environmentalists.

The final plans to repeal the 2015 Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule would stymie the federal government’s capacity to regulate pollutants in wetlands and tributaries that feed into large rivers.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerTrump administration to repeal waterway protections The Hill’s Morning Report – 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown Overnight Energy: Democrats grill BLM chief over plans to move headquarters | EPA moves to end its use of animal testing | Top NOAA official defends Trump over Alabama forecast MORE told a crowd on Thursday afternoon that the plans will entirely scrap the prior definition of the rule, relegating waterway protections back to 1986 standards.

“What we have today is a patchwork across the country,” Wheeler told The Washington Post. “We need to have a uniform regulatory approach.”

Wheeler said the agency will announce a new definition of which water bodies should remain federally protected in upcoming months.

The Obama rule was initially intended to clarify that small waterways like ponds and headwaters can be protected by the EPA. But agriculture, developers and other industries complained that it was too far-reaching and would subject huge swaths of land to federal oversight.

Environmentalists say the rule is essential because small waterways eventually flow into larger ones. They say the rule is also necessary to protect drinking water sources from contamination.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMexico says it disagrees with ‘astonishing’ Supreme Court decision allowing Trump asylum rule The Afghan negotiations — echoes from the past Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall MORE made promises to dismantle the rule upon first coming into office. A February 2017 executive order directed the EPA to begin actions toward “the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

The EPA under former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump administration to repeal waterway protections The Hill’s Morning Report – Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Scientists fight Trump EPA ‘secret science’ proposal to exclude certain research MORE, first showed signs of dismantling WOTUS when Pruitt suspended the rule from implementation for two years in early 2018, promising to rewrite it to “reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers.”

The EPA first announced plans to repeal WOTUS last winter.

In August, a pair of Republican senators introduced legislation to put the onus on Congress instead of the EPA to define which waters should be regulated under the law. The bill proposed by Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump administration to repeal waterway protections Ernst calls for Congress to fix Social Security ‘behind closed doors’ 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa’s top pollster MORE (Iowa) and Mike BraunMichael BraunTrump administration to repeal waterway protections Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Conflicted Senate GOP fears clash with NRA MORE (Ind.) would dramatically scale back federal jurisdiction over water. 

Read more here.

Happy Thursday! And welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. 

Please send tips and comments to Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com and Rebecca Beitsch, rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @rebeccabeitsch and @thehill.

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PUTTING A FREEZE IN ALASKA: The House on Thursday passed legislation that would block drilling along the shoreline of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The 225-193 vote in favor of the bill, which follows the passage of two offshore drilling bans on Wednesday, sends a signal to Senate Republicans and the White House, who have said the climate change-focused legislation has no future in the upper chamber or as a law.

“Most Americans would agree there are some places so special, so wild, so spectacular, that they have to be off limits to being spoiled by oil and gas development,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanHouse votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge House approves two bills to block Trump drilling House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban MORE (D-Calif.), sponsor of the House bill. “If you believe that, then surely that proposition has to apply to the Arctic refuge.”

Republicans have long sought drilling in the 19 million acres of Alaskan wilderness. An amendment from Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge Trump moves to permit new logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest: report Innovation for the climate through innovative policy MORE (R-Alaska) added to the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act brought the prospect of drilling closer to reality by mandating the government hold two lease sales in the coastal plain of ANWR.

The language was heavily criticized by Democrats and conservationists alike.

“Thanks to that drilling mandate slipped into their 2017 tax scam, the Trump administration is now recklessly rushing to ruin the Arctic Refuge with oil rigs,” Huffman said.

Thursday’s House vote comes as lawmakers are facing a dwindling timeline to act. The lease sales prompted by Murkowski’s amendment are expected to begin shortly. An environmental impact statement analyzing the project is expected soon, one of the final steps before leases can be sold.

“Then there’s that mandatory 30-day waiting period and after that it’s open for bidding under law,” said Nora Apter with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The administration has, since the passage of the tax act, been barreling full speed ahead through the environmental review process to get leases out on public lands.”

Read more on the vote.

Trump is eager to get those lease sales going…

The Trump administration announced a key step toward opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration Thursday, rolling out a plan that would see lease sales occur by the end of the year.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its finalized Environmental Impact Statement, which favors the option to offer lease sales across 1.56 million acres of Alaska’s coastal plains.

“After rigorous review, robust public comment, and a consideration of a range of alternatives, today’s announcement is a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

Under law, the BLM now has a 30-day waiting period before it can open up calls from fossil fuel companies for tracts to bid on and file its finalized Notice of Decision. Officials say they anticipate holding lease sales before the end of the year.

Read more about the lease sales here.

DOD UPS ESTIMATE ON COST OF PFAS DAMAGE: Military leaders said Thursday that “forever chemical” contamination costs are likely to surpass their original $2 billion estimate as Congress works to push the Department of Defense (DOD) to clean up contaminated water across the country.

The class of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS is used in a variety of products ranging from nonstick cookware to raincoats. It’s also used in the firefighting foam that has been heavily relied on by the military. As PFAS leaches into the water supply it’s dubbed a “forever chemical” due to its persistence presence in the environment and the human body. 

The House and Senate are preparing for a conference committee on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this month, and both versions of the bill push for greater military response to clean up PFAS that has spread from military instillations to nearby communities.

Sitting down with reporters for the first time since DOD created a PFAS task force, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Bob McMahon said the department has taken measures to ensure that service members are not drinking water laced with the chemical, which has been tied with cancer and other health issues.

DOD has identified at least 425 military sites where water has been contaminated by PFAS, and their first efforts have been to offer bottled water at the 24 sites where contamination was beyond the 70 parts-per-trillion level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We are committed to ensuring that we have a safe place for our people and their families to live, work, play and pray,” McMahon said of the task force, which Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump marks 9/11 anniversary with Taliban warning | President rips into Bolton as ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ | More turmoil trips up government funding George W. Bush lays wreath at 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Trump commemorates 9/11 with warning to Taliban MORE created in his first day on the job.

But there are still 401 other military installations where lower levels of PFAS still remain in the water.

Also of concern to lawmakers is how DOD will take responsibility for nearby communities whose water supply has been tainted at least in part by the military’s use of products containing PFAS.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenators from both parties offer resolution to nix Trump emergency declaration to build wall Federal watchdog: Trump admin broke law by pulling from park entrance fees during shutdown Top Trump Interior official joins oil company in Alaska after resignation MORE (D-N.M.) has pushed to add a provision to the NDAA that would require the military to help farmers clean up their water supply after cows at a New Mexico dairy farm had to be slaughtered once their milk became tainted with PFAS. 

Another provision pushes the DOD to enter into cooperative agreements with states, an effort by lawmakers to force the military to tackle water issues without outside intervention from the EPA.

McMahon said when contamination clearly extends from a base, it becomes a military responsibility. 

But some communities have been frustrated by efforts to get DOD to take financial responsibility for cleaning the water.

“In some cases, there are multiple sources out there feeding a well system for a community. So the challenges become delineating responsibility in those installations,” McMahon said.

Read more about PFAS here


-Hawaii’s largest solar block goes online, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.

-Florida governor wants tougher fines for sewage spills, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

-Federal research ship to begin studies in the Gulf in 2023, the Associated Press reports.


Ane Alencar, director of science at IPAM-Amazonia, and Michael Coe, senior scientist and Amazon program director at Woods Hole Research Center, think about how to stop fires in the Amazon.

Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, urges that killer heat is leading to more deaths.

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…

-Trump administration to repeal waterway protections

-House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge

Greenpeace activists rappel off Houston bridge to protest fossil fuels before Democratic debate

-California lawmakers pass bill banning the use of wild and exotic animals at circuses

-Trump administration takes key step to open Alaskan wildlife refuge to drilling by end of year

-Defense Department says “forever chemical” cleanup costs will dwarf earlier estimates

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