Energy & environmental Reporter

THE LIGHTBULB

The Supreme Court decided Monday to again take up the case of a hunter who sued the National Park Service for stopping him from shooting moose from a hovercraft in Alaska.

The case may seem provincial for the highest court in the land — and that is exactly the point, according to supporters of Anchorage businessman and sportsman John Sturgeon.

Narrowly, the case concerns the use of certain vehicles on federal waters in Alaska. More broadly, Sturgeon's supporters and detractors say, it may have wide implications for Alaska's relationship with the federal government — and whether the 49th state should be treated differently from those in the Lower 48.

What happened: In 2007, three Park Service officers found Sturgeon and his hovercraft in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in east central Alaska while he was hunting for moose. Trying to kill that animal wasn't the problem; the hovercraft was. Park Service rules prohibited such loud vehicles on park premises.

But Sturgeon's lawyers would eventually argue that those rules for the other U.S. states do not apply in Alaska, where the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) sets more specific policies. That 1980 law allowed for accommodations such as commercial fishing and the use of snow machines and airplanes on federal conservation areas in the state.

More broadly, Washington Post Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes wrote in a profile of Sturgeon two years ago:

"It might be difficult for those in 'America,' as some Alaskans refer to the Lower 48, to divine such an outcome from a case that many who know the court were surprised the justices decided to accept.

The distinctly underwhelming question — were federal officials legally justified in enforcing the hovercraft ban in the Alaskan preserve? — was deemed by the federal government’s lawyers to be 'not in itself one of surpassing significance.' All agree that the answer lies in a statute that applies exclusively to the 49th state.

But Sturgeon’s petition landed at a court whose conservative members increasingly are on alert for signs that federal bureaucrats are bursting through the limits of their statutory authority.

And it comes amid an ongoing siege in Oregon, where armed protesters are taking an unlawful but dramatic stand over the federal government’s management of its vast Western landholdings.

Nowhere are the concerns more pronounced than in Alaska, where 60 percent of the land — an area bigger than California — is under federal control."

In 2016 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, overturning a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that had gone against Sturgeon. But that decision did not settle whether he could hovercraft his way back into parks.

The extent of the state's independence from federal bureaucrats is even more relevant during Donald Trump's presidency. On Monday, the court agreed to rehear the case.  

Alaskans — at least those representing them in Congress — are sick of other politicians telling them not to drill in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the GOP tax bill, Trump and Republicans in Congress permitted drilling in the ecologically sensitive area in the remote northeast corner of the state over the strenuous objections of Democrats and their environmental allies.

Some of those same groups worry a victory for Sturgeon could cripple the Park Service’s other enforcement powers in the resource-rich state.

Republican Lisa Murkowski, the senior senator from Alaska, was glad to see the Supreme Court take up the case again. “Alaskans needed the Supreme Court to take this case in order to secure our right to reasonable access to Alaska’s lands and waters and undo the damage threatened by the Ninth Circuit,” she said in a statement.

POWER PLAYS

— What happened to Pruitt’s red-team blue-team exercise? As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was touting his plan to launch a public debate over mainstream climate science, the White House asked to meet with his team about it. Pruitt’s policy adviser Samantha Dravis received an email from Trump’s energy adviser Mike Catanzaro to talk about the proposal: “There are a lot of reports about EPA's planning on this,” Catanzaro wrote July 25, E&E News reports. “None of it is being run by us. This seems to be getting out of control.” White House chief-of-staff John Kelly also made it clear last year to the EPA it should not move forward with the debate. 

— EPA review process, rescinded: The agency last month rescinded a policy that had a political appointee review grants before they could be approved. An email sent last month withdrew the memo from August that directed the Office of Public Affairs to review and approve grants, E&E News reports. “Now that all of our Regional Administrators and most of our program AAs are in place, we have shifted the responsibility to these leaders to review and manage the grants that flow through their respective offices,” an EPA spokesman told the publication.

— Trump vs. green, Chicago edition: The Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Chicago River on Monday said it intends to sue the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago over violations of EPA rules for protecting fish. “Donald Trump has repeatedly said ‘we want crystal-clean water, and we want clean air — the cleanest ever’ but his hotel on the Chicago River has been flouting the Clean Water Act for years, and Bruce Rauner’s Illinois EPA has been letting them get away with it,” Jack Darin, Sierra Club Illinois chapter director, said in a statement. The notice of intent to sue alleges the hotel’s use of a cooling water intake structure that takes water from the Chicago River, likely traps or kills fish and other wildlife.

 — “American dominance in space”: Trump on Monday called for a new “Space Force” to be added to the U.S. military. “We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the space force,” Trump said, announcing he is directing the federal government to create a sixth branch of government. “When it comes to defending America it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”

Some are worried that a new branch would duplicate existing efforts — and not just those of NASA, the world's premier civilian space agency. "The Air Force already maintains a Space Command, for example,” The Post’s Sarah Kaplan and Dan Lamothe report.

— A Zinke-linked deal in Whitefish: A foundation established by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and led by his wife is providing key assistance in a real estate deal backed by the chairman of oil-services giant Halliburton. “A group funded by David Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, is planning a large commercial development on a former industrial site near the center of the Zinkes’ hometown of Whitefish…  There also would be a microbrewery — a business first proposed in 2012 by Ryan Zinke and for which he lobbied town officials for half a decade,” Politico reports. “Meanwhile, a foundation created by Ryan Zinke is providing crucial assistance. Lola Zinke pledged in writing to allow the Lesar-backed developer to build a parking lot for the project on land that was donated to the foundation to create a Veterans Peace Park for citizens of Whitefish.”

Meanwhile, the Whitefish city planner told the publication the project’s developer suggested the microbrewery on the property could be set aside for the Zinkes to own and operate. But no final decisions have been made.

What’s more, the Zinkes own the land on the other side of the development area, a property that could increase in value if new projects like a hotel, retail stores and a microbrewery go through.

OIL CHECK

— Another retailer bans methylene chloride: The paint vendor Sherwin-Williams announced Monday it will take paint strippers containing methylene chloride off its shelves. The decision comes a month after the EPA signaled it will ban certain uses of the toxic chemical linked to the deaths of professional painters and do-it-yourselfers. Public-health advocates were cautiously optimistic following that announcement because the rule’s language has not yet been made public. Lowe's recently announced it will no longer sell methylene-chloride paint stripper, too.

— How a Florida utility became a green power king: NextEra Energy, the nation’s most valuable power company, is also the largest operator of wind and solar farms worldwide. “The Florida company has grown into a green Goliath, almost entirely under the radar, “ the Wall Street Journal reports, “not through taking on heavy debt to expand or by touting its greenness, but by relentlessly capitalizing on government support for renewable energy, in particular the tax subsidies that help finance wind and solar projects around the country. It then sells the output to utilities, many of which must procure power from green sources to meet state mandates.”

— How the Koch brothers are killing public transportation efforts: Across the country, the Koch brothers have included lobbying against public transportation as part of its long-standing fight against higher taxes and encroaching government. “Supporters of transit investments point to research that shows that they reduce traffic, spur economic development and fight global warming by reducing emissions,” the New York Times reports. “Americans for Prosperity counters that public transit plans waste taxpayer money on unpopular, outdated technology like trains and buses just as the world is moving toward cleaner, driverless vehicles.”

— The road ahead for Tesla: The company filed notices to state and local officials in California that stated it would soon let go of 420 employees in its Fremont, Calif. locations and another 86 workers in its Palo Alto headquarters, Bloomberg News reports.

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THERMOMETER

— Pruitt science plan may block use of Harvard study: Harvard scientists are undertaking an international survey to improve understanding of how buildings affect public health. In the past, such studies could have been used by officials at the EPA to craft new regulations. But in April, Pruitt moved to prevent the agency from considering studies where underlying data is private — like the Harvard one. The Harvard team promised participants it will keep sensitive personal data confidential. "This speaks to the central issue with that regulation,” Harvard's Joseph Allen, the main investigator of the buildings study, told E&E news.

— A record cold in the Atlantic could lower hurricane strengths: Temperatures at the surface of the tropical Atlantic Ocean are the coldest they’ve been in decades. That could have an effect on this hurricane season, potentially weakening any storms, as warm water is the source of tropical storms. “Currently, sea surface temperatures averaged over the tropical Atlantic … are the coldest that they have been in the middle of June since at least the early 1980s,” Phil Klotzbach writes for The Post.

— Within the century, millions of homes could be underwater: According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, hundreds of thousands of homes in coastal areas in the United States could be underwater by 2045 due to rising seas. And by the end of the century, that number of homes at risk is projected to grow to nearly 2.4 million, CNN reports. Homeowners in Florida, New York and New Jersey may be some of the most at risk.

— Man, it's a hot one: Relief from the heat wave that hit the Midwest and Northeast on Monday may be coming on Tuesday. “But as the heat leaves the Midwest, a cold front on Tuesday is expected to offer the Northeastern region some relief, said Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist at the Weather Service," per the New York Times. Heat advisories are expected to be canceled by Wednesday.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The American Council on Renewable Energy's finance forum begins.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on the nominations of William Charles McIntosh and Peter C. Wright to be assistant EPA administrators on Wednesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “the Benefits of Tax Reform on the Energy Sector and Consumers” on Wednesday.
  • The Atlantic Council holds its US launch of the 2018 BP Statistical Review of Energy on Wednesday.
  • The EPA holds a webinar on “Environmental Sampling and Analytical Methods for Environmental Remediation and Recovery” on Wednesday.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts the launch of Bloomberg New Energy Finance's New Energy Outlook 2018 on Wednesday.
  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a public meeting on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment holds a hearing on “State Perspectives on Regulating Background Ozone” on Thursday.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a meeting on Thursday.
  • The Wilson Center holds a briefing on “Energy Innovation in Remote Arctic Communities” on Thursday.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a discussion with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good on Thursday.
  • Brookings Institution holds an event on “Blending climate finance for low-carbon infrastructure” on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— "No accident, out of the blue": The startling video shows a Tesla Model S that appears to burst into flames in Los Angeles. A Tesla spokesman called the incident an “extraordinarily unusual occurrence,” The Post’s Peter Holley reports: