HAPPY THURSDAY! 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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Virtual Event Announcement: 1:00 ET Tuesday 12/8 — Conservation & US National Security
Zoonotic diseases, natural disasters, and regional instability caused by food and water scarcity anywhere in the world could cause ripple effects here at home. Could many of our national security challenges be preempted with strong international nature conservation? What role is the US currently playing in preserving our natural world and are additional efforts needed? Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryOn the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America Save wildlife, save ourselves Lawmakers cry foul as Trump considers retreating from Open Skies Treaty MORE, Chrissy Houlahan and Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill GOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight First release from Fox News Books reaches No. 2 on Amazon top-seller list MORE join former Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight National parks pay the price for Trump’s Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions MORE and Philippe Cousteau. RSVP at: https://conservationandnatsecurity.splashthat.com/
ON SALE! The Trump administration is planning to lease land to oil and gas developers at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska before President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenLawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list GOP lawmaker blasts incoming freshman over allegations of presidential voter fraud Haaland has competition to be first Native American to lead Interior MORE, who opposes drilling there, takes office in January.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a statement Thursday that it expects to conduct the sale on Jan. 6 via video.
A notice announcing the sale is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week.
“Oil and gas from the Coastal Plain is an important resource for meeting our Nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a statement.
Drilling at the refuge is controversial, as opponents have raised concerns that it could harm animal species found there, negatively affect the landscape and negatively impact the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there.
ANWR is home to grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of birds.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to “permanently” protect the refuge even though he’s likely to be bound by a 2017 law requiring one lease sale there by the end of December 2021 and another by the end of 2024.
Although it would be difficult for Biden to avoid holding the lease sale entirely, by holding the sale before he takes office, the Trump administration may be undercutting some of the legal tools the president-elect has to limit drilling there.
Specifically, it prevents the incoming administration from deciding what land is sold and from setting terms on the leases.
Thursday’s announcement was met with backlash from environmentalists, who argue that the process has been done hastily.
“The Trump administration’s rushed and sloppy push to sell off the Arctic Refuge for drilling has been a disaster from day one, and has ignored the serious and permanent damage drilling would do to this unique ecosystem and the communities that depend on it,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
His group and others noted that the administration still hasn’t completed the prior step: seeking input on what tracts of land will be sold off.
The public can weigh in on that until Dec. 17, 10 days after the sale’s Federal Register notice is expected to be published.
Read more about the anticipated sale here.
TESTING TESTING 123: The Trump administration on Thursday formally approved a decision allow the continued use of a controversial method known as seismic testing to search for oil and gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a record of decision that allowed for continued permitting for the testing in the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf.
Seismic testing uses blasts from air guns to try to detect the deposits and is controversial among environmentalists because of its impacts on wildlife.
The Thursday decision by BOEM rejected alternatives that would have reduced the testing or stop the issuance of new permits, though it did include some measures aimed at reducing its impacts, including monitoring certain species.
“The mitigation measures chosen at this stage will help minimize the impacts of [geological and geophysical] activities on marine resources in the Gulf and adjacent state waters,” Mike Celata, director of BOEM’s Gulf of Mexico office in New Orleans, said in a statement.
However, critics argued that the agency didn’t do enough to protect endangered species like the Bryde’s whale, of which there were fewer than 100 remaining as of last year.
“They could have adopted an alternative that would have authorized a lower level of activity, required activities to cease when they see a marine mammal in the area [or] prohibit it entirely in certain habitat areas,” Kristen Monsell, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans program, told The Hill.
Read more about the decision here.
GETTING A NEW CHAIR: House Democrats on Thursday voted to elect Rep. David ScottDavid Albert ScottDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Race for House ag chair heats up Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair MORE (D-Ga.) to be the next Agriculture Committee chairman, making him the first Black lawmaker in the chamber’s history to hold the position.
Scott will take over in January from Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonGrassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? MORE (D-Minn.), who chaired the committee for six of his nearly 30 years in Congress but lost reelection last month in a district long targeted by the GOP.
Scott easily prevailed over Rep. Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Race for House ag chair heats up Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair MORE (D-Calif.), his only rival for the Agriculture post, by a 144-83 vote, according to a Democratic aide.
The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which determines members’ committee assignments, voted on Tuesday to recommend Scott to hold the Agriculture gavel. The full House Democratic caucus voted Thursday to ratify the Steering panel’s recommendation.
Scott had an edge for the chairman role as the most senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee after Peterson. Scott also currently chairs an Agriculture subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit.
Read more about his new chairship here.
LEGATE KEEPER: The White House is appointing David Legates, a top administration official with a history of questioning humans’ influence on global warming, to the committee responsible for selecting the National Medal of Science winners.
Legates joined the administration in September and now serves as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction.
Previously an academic at the University of Delaware, Legates has a long history of questioning humans’ influence on global warming.
“Seems to be a travesty to me,” said Andrew Rosenberg with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Why have someone so far out of mainstream science deciding on those deserving of such an honor that should go to those that make major contributions to the science he derides.”
Legates’s appointment to the committee is one of the first actions the Trump administration during the president’s term with regard to the award. The administration has not conferred any National Medals of Science since President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE trump took office.
Legates’s appointment will extend into the Biden administration. National Medal of Science winners are selected by a 12-member presidential committee, who serve two-year terms.
In Senate testimony in 2014, Legates argued that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was wrong in its assertion the humans are a main driver behind climate change.
Read more about Legates’s appointment here.
ON THE INTERIOR: Rep. Deb HaalandDebra HaalandHaaland has competition to be first Native American to lead Interior Lujan Grisham turned down Interior post, says transition source Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: ‘A natural fit for me’ MORE (D-N.M.) has won headlines as she’s emerged as a leading contender to become President-elect Joe Biden’s Interior secretary, but a second public figure could win the post and become the first Native American to lead the department.
Former Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, a descendant of the Taos Pueblo tribe who served during the last three years of the Obama administration, is also being seriously considered to lead the department.
Connor has largely flown under the radar while potential picks like Haaland have gathered momentum and attention, particularly as Biden has pledged to deliver a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
Connor first came to Interior in 1993, working his way up the chain before a several-year stint as counselor for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee starting in 2001. Upon returning to Interior in 2009, he served as head of the Bureau of Reclamation before being confirmed as deputy secretary in 2014, serving until the start of the Trump administration.
“Understanding the roles of the different departments and different assistant secretaries and looking at the chemistry of each department is really valuable,” one former high-ranking Interior official told The Hill.
“You get to understand how things get done, how to get things done, the areas where you have to pay close attention, and the people you can have faith are going to do the job without a lot of supervision. So Michael serving in the deputy secretary role would have seen all that. That’s an important asset he brings to table,” the official said.
Others described Connor as being well-liked and respected within the department.
Read more about Connor, Haaland and some of the other potential picks here.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Leaked draft: EPA aims to clarify Supreme Court Maui ruling, E&E News reports
San Juan County asks President-elect Joe Biden to immediately restore Bears Ears National Monument, The Salt Lake Tribune reports
‘We Don’t Have To Live This Way’: Doctors Call For Climate Action, NPR reports
How Scientists Tracked Down a Mass Killer (of Salmon), The New York Times reports
ICYMI: Stories from Thursday (and Wednesday night)...
Progressives urge Haaland for Interior as short list grows
Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office
Haaland has competition to be first Native American to lead Interior
Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel
Trump appoints NOAA climate skeptic to panel selecting National Medal of Science winners
Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico
FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:
“Climate swarming” should be Biden’s ‘Plan B’ for the planet, opines Gilbert Metcalf, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Energy at the Treasury Department