Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump has yet to sign into law any of the major pieces of legislation he promised to quickly pass if he won. The effort to unwind the Affordable Care Act may have been dealt its final death blow this past week. A comprehensive tax rewrite and infrastructure spending bills have yet to get off the ground.
And the most consequential law passed under Trump, the Russia sanctions bill, is one that the White House initially opposed. Trump was not a fan of the bill but apparently felt he had no other choice but to sign if after a rare rebuke from Congress in tying the president's hands on foreign policy, something lawmakers usually yield to the president.
So into that vacancy comes a bipartisan energy bill drafted by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that will be, through no arm-twisting or string-pulling by the president himself, the biggest piece of legislation yet to land on his desk should it pass Congress.
What does the bill do? The bill, called the Energy and Natural Resources Act (ENRA), contains a number of provisions addressing a wide array of energy and environmental policy, including updating the U.S. volcano monitoring system; promoting access to electricity for Native Americans; and easing permissions on federal lands for hunters. Like many pieces of comprehensive legislation, the energy bill cobbles together dozens of standalone proposals that lacked the momentum to make their way through Congress on their own. Regarding the National Park System alone, for example, the ENRA repackages 38 existing bills.
To the delight of some environmentalists and renewable-energy advocates, the bill permanently authorizes a fund that grants money collected from offshore oil and gas projects to state and local governments to buy land for parks and other outdoor recreation areas. It also reauthorizes, with some tweaks, the Energy Department's loan program to companies developing new energy technologies. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating that loan program.
But the portion that will likely get the most attention — from both environmentalists and, perhaps, from the White House — concerns streamlining the process by which the federal government approves pipelines and export terminals for natural gas. Currently, companies building that infrastructure have to go through rounds of approvals from DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that industry regards as overly tedious. The new bill would expedite the process.
Trump has made increasing the export of natural gas a cornerstone of his "energy dominance" agenda, and will likely embrace that change. This month, a group of 42 national left-leaning organizations, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying "the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure takes us in exactly the wrong direction." The groups are calling for the defeat of the legislation.
Can energy legislation pass? Murkowski and Cantwell have come close to getting over the finish line the earlier draft of the bill. A version passed the Senate in a 85-to-12 vote last year before dying in conference after conservatives in the House demanded changes to the legislation.
But McConnell appears to want this win. After the bill was introduced in late June, McConnell allowed for the legislation to skip committee so it could be considered by the full chamber sooner.
Or at least McConnell was enthusiastic before the latest vote on the bare-bones Obamacare rollback, which Murkowski voted against despite great pressure from the Trump administration.
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-- The EPA's official museum is considering adding a display of coal. Administrator Scott Pruitt is crafting the future of Trump's EPA. But he is also shaping the past too. In an obscure corner of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building, a debate is underway about how to tell the story of the EPA’s history and mission," reports The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. Currently, that miniature museum "features the agency’s work over 4½ decades, with exhibit topics such as regulating carbon dioxide emissions and the Paris climate accord." Now the climate displays are "slated to be removed," with another on coal potentially being installed instead.
-- Oklahoma bound: Pruitt is pushing back on charges that he spent too much time in his home state from March through May.
“I think the whole question about — you've got to consider the source. The folks talking about this, one, their facts are wrong, and that’s not a surprise. But it's an alt-EPA,” he told local Oklahoma City station Fox 25.
Pruitt was referring to American Oversight, an ethics watchdog group that has filed a complaint asking for a look at Pruitt’s Oklahoma travel, and the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit that originally released the travel data.
“It’s a group of employees that worked for Obama, that formed an organization to put out these kinds of things that are not accurate and completely forthcoming as far as those issues,” Pruitt added.
-- "The monument is more than 'drop-dead gorgeous.'" Read Darryl Fears’ look at why Americans are fighting to save Bears Ears National Monument from redesignation:
Newspaper Rock is an odd name for a boulder seemingly in the middle of nowhere, its Native American petroglyphs recording 2,000 years of history.
It’s been described as spiritual and eerie. There are drawings of humans with small heads and big bodies and of wheels that sit off on their own. There are also people on horseback and animals that were probably hunted as game.
Conservationists say there are tens of thousands of similarly valuable sites in Bears Ears, containing pottery, drawings, dwellings and spiritual gathering places.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited two national monuments in Nevada over the weekend as part of his review of national monuments created under the previous president. He seemed to be tipping his hand on whether he would recommend downsizing the monuments following his review.
"They can't be large tracts of public land or private land or state land," Zinke said, according to the Associated Press.
-- KO for Keystone XL? The developer behind the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would deliver oil from Canada to Texas now says it’s not sure whether the controversial project will be built at all.
A TransCanada executive said Friday it was still gauging interest and seeking customers for the project, but even if they found it, it wouldn’t mean construction would start right away, Politico reported. He also said the company was awaiting approval from Nebraska regulators.
"In November, we’ll make an assessment of commercial support and [Nebraska] approval," TransCanada Executive Vice President Paul Miller said. "In the event we do decide to proceed on the project, we’ll need six to nine months” before construction could start.
That might mean oil wouldn’t start flowing through the pipeline until two years after construction begins, coincidentally just ahead of the next presidential election. Trump approved the pipeline’s permit back in March, fulfilling a campaign promise following a bumpy and delayed road under President Obama.
-- Braked Alaska: By casting the clinching vote, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received the lion's share of attention following what seems to be the end of his party's seven-year bid to repeal Obamacare. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of the two other Republican "no" votes, "endured more intense pressure from the Trump administration in getting to that vote than McCain, who, at 80, is likely serving his last term in Congress. And Murkowski has far more to lose for her stand in her resource-rich state," Juliet Eilperin and I report.
Why? Many of Murkowski's priorities — opening up more of Alaska's North Slope to oil drilling, building a 20-mile road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, etc. — require the cooperation of Trump's Interior Department. And Trump dispatched Interior Secretary Zinke to make separate phone calls to Murkowski and the state’s other Senate Republican, Dan Sullivan. Zinke, the Alaska Dispatch News reported, implied that the interests of their state were at risk because of Murkowski’s health-care stance.
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell documents the first six months of the EPA under Scott Pruitt. The whole piece is worth reading, but here's the key takeaway:
While the rest of the Trump administration has been mired in scandal or incompetence (or both), and the media has been distracted by the Republican health care debacle and daily revelations about the Trump family's involvement with the Russians, Pruitt has been quietly tearing down decades of environmental progress. 'If there was ever an example of the fox guarding the henhouse, this is it,"'says Michael Mann, a noted climate scientist at Penn State University. 'We have a Koch-brothers-connected industry shill who is now in charge of climate and environmental policy for the entire country.'
-- Paradise to be lost: In the front-page of Sunday edition of The Post, Darryl Fears has an intense story about just how prone Tampa Bay is to damage from a major hurricane — and how ill-prepared the region is for handling such a storm. Analysts say the metropolitan area is the "most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage is a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit."
The piece contains a note of foreboding as Kathryn Schulz's story in The New Yorker on the possibility of a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. But the political headwinds in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott (R) has famously discouraged state officials from using the term "climate change" in official communications, are pushing back against any substantial government response.
That, and people's proclivity for a bayside view. Or as one oceanographer told Fears: "People who want to live on the waterfront will always live on the waterfront."
Read the whole thing (graphics and all) here.
--And a tropical depression became "Tropical Storm Emily" overnight, with a warning issued for western and southern Florida.
-- The Trump Organization faces an obstacle in building a golf course in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Environmental agencies charge that Trump’s proposed 18-hole course violates rules on sewage pollution, environmental protection and groundwater conservation, The Post’s Amanda Erickson reports.
It’s another in a series of setbacks for the Trump course, an estate which now President Trump first bought in 2006.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage are calling on the Trump Organization to make significant changes to their plans.
SNH says there is “substantial risk” that significant parts of the course could be damaged by drifting dunes, which happened at Trump's already-built course in Scotland — Turnberry, on the west coast — in 2016. SEPA objects to the Trump Organization's use of a "soakaway" (basically, a pit filled with rubble) to dispose of waste water, and it wants the company to connect the course and clubhouse to the public sewage system before building the second course. The agency also worries that the current irrigation plan could contaminate local water supplies. SEPA wants the company to pay to use public water supplies instead.
- The EPA holds a public hearing on compliance dates for national wastewater discharge standards.
- Pew Charitable Trusts holds a webinar on flooding threats to public schools on Tuesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing on the superfund program on Tuesday.
- The EPA will hold a public hearing on the proposed “Renewable Fuel Standard Program: Standards for 2018 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2019” on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power holds a hearing on water security and drought preparedness on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on the FBI Headquarters Consolidation Project on Wednesday.
- The Interior Department holds a program on reviewing advances in oil spill responses since the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on Wednesday.
- The CRES Forum holds an event on the future of job growth in the solar industry and free trade on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to “examine federal and nonfederal collaboration, including through the use of technology, to reduce wildland fire risk to communities and enhance firefighting safety and effectiveness” on Thursday
- The UPROSE holds its 6th Climate Justice Youth Summit is on Thursday.
Was this the Trump administration’s worst week in Washington?
Conservationists want to protect sea turtles on Lebanon's beaches:
On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Al Gore offers some climate-related pick-up lines:
Stephen Colbert’s take on the Trump administration’s reported pressure on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska):