Many elected leaders from both parties, and on both the East and West coasts, have voiced opposition to the Trump administration's plan to expand offshore drilling.
To that, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee had something to say: If you want to block offshore development, put your money where your mouth is.
That committee, led by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), put forward a proposal this week to impose hefty fees on states that do not approve of drilling for oil and natural gas off their coasts, I reported Wednesday.
Here is how that no-drill fee would work, if it comes to fruition: The committee's draft proposal says that states will be allowed to disapprove of drilling offshore in up to half of the lease blocks off its coast without incurring a penalty.
But any state with a proposed lease sale that wants to put more than 50 percent of the blocks off-limits would be required to pay a fee equal to at least one-tenth the estimated government revenue that would have been generated from lease sales, royalties and other revenue streams, if oil and gas drilling had taken place.
The bill would also create a revenue-sharing scheme for states that decide to drill. Under current law, only Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas receive a share of offshore oil and gas receipts. The draft bill will be discussed at a committee hearing Thursday.
Democrats objected to the idea of dinging states for protecting their coastlines, saying the plan could cost individual states hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in fees.
“This bill is a ransom note in a cheap disguise,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement. “Penalizing states for protecting their own beaches is what you’d see in a petro-state, not in a modern democracy. The Republicans on this committee seem to think we’re here to do industry’s bidding regardless of the consequences, and until control of Congress changes, this is the best the American people can expect.”
Bishop's team emphasize that the draft bill is subject to change.
“What we want to really convey is that when states out East, like the coastal states, are trying to prohibit development rather than facilitating it, they are not only harming the potential oil and gas development but they’re also harming the rest of the country” by depriving the federal government of revenue, said a Republican committee staffer speaking under the condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal before it is formally introduced.
Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society environmental group, said she thought the draft needed work, noting that it empowers the interior secretary to estimate the value of offshore reserves when calculating the potential penalty.
“You could come up with almost any number there,” Epstein said. “This is very bad policy.”
At the beginning of the year, the Trump administration initially called for opening nearly every corner of U.S. waters for petroleum exploration — in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
But the plan was met with skepticism and at times outright hostility from many local politicians of both parties who had the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest oil spill in U.S. history, still fresh in their minds. That unplugged well released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing billions of animals and economically and medically imperiling thousands of Gulf of Mexico residents.
By April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke acknowledged there was “a lot of opposition” to drilling outside of the Gulf region already dotted with oil rigs. Zinke told Congress that month that he would scale back the offshore plan.
So, what are this bill's chances? Among the dissenters in Congress to the Trump administration’s offshore plan are GOP Sens. Lindsay O. Graham of South Carolina, who has called it “horrible public policy,” and Marco Rubio of Florida, who also opposes drilling off the coast of his state. With the lack of support from the full Republican Senate caucus, it will be difficult to get a measure penalizing states for blocking offshore drilling through the upper chamber, which the GOP controls by a slim 51-to-49 margin.
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— Pruitt watch: What happens if Scott Pruitt refuses to resign, and President Trump doesn't remove him? The Post's Philip Bump broke down some of the possible outcomes for the EPA chief: “Pruitt being found to have violated the rules of his job… would mean that he would be reprimanded by his boss. His boss is Trump. And Trump could respond in any way he wanted: Firing Pruitt, demanding an apology, admonishing Pruitt — or he could do nothing,” Bump explains. Another route would be through the House Oversight Committee. “If the House generally wants to hold Pruitt to account, it has a lot more tools at its disposal than simply asking Trump to do something,” Bump writes. And then there’s what Professor Kathleen Clark of Washington University Law in St. Louis described to Bump as the “nuclear bomb” of congressional actions: impeachment.
The big picture: “Unless he resigns or Trump wants to fire him, Pruitt can remain in his position despite any of the numerous investigations that surround him,” Bump writes. “Or he could make history as the first Cabinet-level official removed from his position by a Congress that had gotten its fill of news stories about his behavior.”
— Inhofe weighs in: GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe, a longtime supporter of Pruitt and a fellow Oklahoman, said Wednesday he has requested a meeting with Pruitt to discuss his conduct, saying Pruitt would be “in a very awkward position not to answer to me, and to answer me truthfully” if they meet. Inhofe also suggested the administrator put some of the issues behind him or leave his post. “I’m afraid my good friend Scott Pruitt has really done some things that surprised me,” Inhofe said in an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham. “He is capable of doing the job, but he has to do the job and quit worrying about these other things because every day something new comes out. So I’ve taken the position that if that doesn’t stop, I’m going to be forced to be in a position where I’m going to say, well, Scott, you’re not doing your job... One of the alternatives would be for him to leave that job.”
Inhofe endorsed the No.2 in the agency, Andrew Wheeler, who used to work for Inhofe, as “really qualified, too, so you know we could, that might be a good swap.”
What Inhofe did not say: The senior Oklahoma senator also clarified to The Post in an interview that he was not calling on Pruitt to resign.
Ingraham, however, did call for Pruitt to leave office:
— Inhofe is not the only Republican senator questioning Pruitt: On Wednesday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Pruitt is “ill-serving the president” — specifically, over his approach to the national ethanol policy.
— And now the National Review has turned on Pruitt, too: The conservative magazine’s editors penned a rebuke of Pruitt’s conduct Wednesday. Early on, Pruitt "looked like he would be a bright spot for the administration,” it reads. “But we are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal… We share most of Pruitt’s views about environmental policy. But the same could be said of many other people, including Andrew Wheeler... Pruitt is replaceable. And he should be replaced."
The magazine's editorial is a notable pivot from its prior defense of Pruitt this year:
February and April of this year: pic.twitter.com/P8jJB2bfGF— Dino Grandoni (@dino_grandoni) June 13, 2018
— Trump’s new CEQ pick: Trump has named Mary Neumayr, a former congressional staffer and current chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality, to lead the agency. Neumayr, is currently the highest-ranking official at the council, which has not filled its top slot following the failed nomination of Trump’s first nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, The Post reports. She has served in the Bush administration’s Energy and Justice Departments and as a counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
What the pick means: Hartnett White withdrew her nomination after she failed to gain enough support after questions about her expertise. Republicans were quick to praise Neumayr, who Juliet Eilperin and Chris Mooney write is a “far more conventional pick." Trump sent the more middle-of-the-road nomination to the Senate during a midterm-election year when most legislators prefer not to take controversial votes.
— Probe finds Interior Department had little basis for halting mountaintop removal study: Interior's inspector general has found that department officials had little basis for stopping a major study about health risks connected to living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites. Rather, officials halted the study “because they did not believe it would produce any new information and felt costs would exceed the benefits,” Mary L. Kendall, Interior’s deputy inspector general, wrote to Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. By the time the study was stopped, the report also found nearly half of the $1 million allotted to the study had been spent by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which was leading the work. Kendall noted that half “was wasted because no final product was produced.”
— Interior taps new Yellowstone leader: Just a week after the Yellowstone National Park superintendent said he was being forced out of his job, Zinke named a new leader for the park: Cameron Sholly. "As a veteran of the National Park Service, Cam has a track record of working with local communities and Tribes on important wildlife and conservation work and he's overseen some of the park service's most high-profile park infrastructure projects in recent years," the interior secretary said in a statement announcing the selection. The news release did not indicate when Sholly would start in his role, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported a department spokesman said the date was still being determined.
— Dems take legislative tack to release study: A bipartisan group of senators filed an amendment to the defense bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to publish a federal study about water contamination from commonly-used polyfluoroalkyl substances — better known as PFASs. “The administration’s job, especially at agencies like EPA and HHS, is to look out for public health, not to hide critical safety information through a cynical public relations strategy," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who led the effort, in a statement. Democrats have been demanding the release of a study on PFASs held up by the Trump administration. In an email earlier this year, a White House official warned EPA staff the study would be "potential public relations nightmare."
— Judge orders EPA to comply with clean air standards: Connecticut and New York sued the agency in January to require it to establish plans to limit emissions coming from upwind states Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, This week, U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan ruled in the two states' favor, Bloomberg News reports. The EPA said it plans to propose an action by the end of the month to address “good neighbor” obligations set by air-quality standards for ozone in 2008, and will finalize the plans by December, per the report.
— Antarctica is melting, rapidly: The rate at which the continent’s ice sheet is melting has tripled in the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Nature. The research is based on data compiled following a review of 24 recent measurements of Antarctic ice loss to produce “the most definitive figures yet on changes in Antarctica,” Mooney reports. “If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they’d hoped,” Mooney writes. “The result also reinforces that nations have a short window — perhaps no more than a decade — to cut greenhouse gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.”
Here are some of the key figures from the study:
- The ice sheet has poured 219 billion tons of ice into the ocean each year from 2012 to 2017, increasing the sea level by a half millimeter annually.
- That’s about triple the 73 billion-ton melt rate that was reported a decade ago. From 1992 through 1997, Antarctica lost 49 billion tons of ice each year.
- From 1992 through the present, the ice sheet has lost almost 3 trillion tons of ice.
- And the total number of scientists who co-authored the report: 80.
— Two Harvard social scientists say 80,000 Americans could die each decade if the EPA goes forward with proposed regulatory changes: The pair, David Cutler and Francesca Dominici, came to that figure in an essay featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which Bloomberg News notes was not formally peer-reviewed. In response, the EPA said the essay was political, not scientific. “The science is clear, under President Trump greenhouse gas emissions are down, Superfund sites are being cleaned up at a higher rate than under President Obama, and the federal government is investing more money to improve water infrastructure than ever before,” the EPA said in a statement to Bloomberg.
— No more monkeying around: Volkswagen said Wednesday that German authorities fined the carmaker about $1.2 billion, or 1 billion euros, over the diesel emissions scandal. The company said it would accept the fine. “Prosecutors concluded that Volkswagen failed to properly oversee the activity of its engine development department, resulting in some 10.7 million diesel vehicles with illegal emissions-controlling software being sold worldwide,” the Associated Press reports.
— Fossil-fuel use is still growing: A new report from oil giant BP found carbon dioxide emissions and coal consumption both increased last year, and worldwide fuel mix has remained mostly unchanged over the last two decades, signaling the ongoing stability of fossil fuel use. Here are some key figures from the report, according to Axios:
- The share of coal in the global power mix was 38 percent in 2017, and was also 38 percent in 1998.
- Natural gas consumption increased 3 percent and oil consumption increased 1.8 percent.
- Renewable power increased by 17 percent, mostly via wind and solar power.
— “Come for the football, stay for the oil diplomacy”: Russia and Saudi Arabia are planning to discuss boosting oil production when they meet in Moscow on Thursday during the World Cup’s opening match, according to Bloomberg News. “The world’s largest oil exporters are negotiating how to rework their unprecedented, and successful, deal to control oil production as U.S. sanctions on Iran and the collapse of the Venezuelan petroleum industry threaten to send crude skyrocketing,” per the report. The two must also deal with Trump, who just this week attacked the oil cartel Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia is a member, for withholding production.
— Big Apple oil battle: ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Chevron are asking a judge to dismiss New York City’s lawsuit over costs related to climate change. The oil majors "argued in a hearing Wednesday that the federal court in Manhattan isn’t a proper forum to regulate the global activity of the energy industry,” Bloomberg News reports. The companies say the issues should be considered under federal law, which would not allow for the claims New York is pursuing. A lawyer representing the city, meanwhile, dismissed the idea that New York is misusing state law in the suit. The judge has not said when he will rule on this request.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a markup on 2019 appropriations.
- The Center for American Progress holds an event on “Risks Posed to Climate and Energy Data from Political Interference."
— A "dark, perpetual night": Here's what happened to NASA's Opportunity rover when a massive dust storm covered about a quarter of Mars's surface, as the New York Times reports.
From The Post's Sarah Kaplan:
.@NASA's longest-lived rover,@MarsOpportunity is caught in of the worst Martian dust storms ever. The image on the left shows what the rover normally sees when it looks at the sun, on the right is a simulation of what it sees now. This is bad news for a solar powered space robot! pic.twitter.com/4eDJDAcRAo— Sarah Kaplan (@sarahkaplan48) June 13, 2018