with Paulina Firozi

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, facing a tough reelection race, said she doesn't support President Trump’s decision to open nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing. 

The longtime moderate Republican senator announced her opposition to rolling back marine protections put in place under President Barack Obama as she tries to strike a delicate balance in the contest to keep her seat.

In a statement to The Energy 202, Collins said the administration “should direct its focus” to other priorities for Maine's fishermen. 

Collins is courting the president’s die-hard supporters in Maine, where Trump lost by 2.9 percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016, while trying to peel off enough independents and Democrats from Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent, to win reelection in November.

Winning the closely watched race is key to Democratic efforts to retake the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 53-to-47 majority.

Complicating her reelection bid is a trip Trump recently took to Collins's home state.

During a roundtable discussion last week with commercial fishermen in Bangor, the president signed a proclamation opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing.

Four months before leaving office in 2016, Obama created the marine sanctuary — the only one in the Atlantic Ocean — to allow whales and other sea life to recover from years of becoming entangled in ropes and nets and injured by baited hooks not intended for them.

But the creation of the national monument proved controversial with the seafood industry, which sought unsuccessfully in both federal district court and before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Obama's designation.

“We’re opening it up today,” Trump said at the event with Maine’s former Republican governor, Paul LePage. “We’re undoing his executive order. What was his reason? He didn’t have a reason, in my opinion. 

Conspicuously absent from the event was Collins.

Her office said she spent the day in Washington tending to federal work.

Collins said she has worked with Maine's politically influential fishing industry on other priorities, including reducing barriers to selling its catch to China and the European Union, providing relief to fishermen during the coronavirus pandemic and making sure rules protecting the endangered right whale don’t impede fishing.

She suggested it was a waste of time to re-litigate the creation of the Northeast Canyons. 

“The federal government should direct its focus to resolving these challenges rather than reopening the debate over this national marine monument,” Collins said in a statement to The Energy 202.

Indeed, as my colleagues Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report, “there is no evidence that the creation of the conservation area has hurt commercial fishing in New England. Federal data shows revenue for the industry did not decline in the four years between the designation and the arrival of the coronavirus. 

Political handicappers have the Maine Senate contest as a dead heat. 

There have been few recent polls in the race, but both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rate it as a toss-up

While she won reelection in 2014 by more than 36 points, Collins faces a formidable challenger in Gideon, who currently serves as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. 

Collins, one of only three GOP senators in favor of abortion rights, faced a barrage of criticism from liberals for voting to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Collins said she thought Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. 

At the same time, she has earned the ire of some fellow Republicans by voting against her party’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and by declaring in 2016 she could not support Trump for president.

On environmental issues, the Republican senator has cast herself as a centrist, voting against both of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chiefs, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, who each had close ties to industry before joining the Trump administration. She also cast a vote against an effort by Trump and other Republicans to repeal an Interior Department rule protecting streams from coal industry pollution.

Power plays

The Trump administration is set to make it easier for hunters in Alaska to kill bear cubs and wolf pups. 

Hunters will be allowed to bait hibernating bears from their dens to kill them and use artificial light to go into wolf dens, per a final rule set to publish Tuesday that will end a half-decade ban on the practices, Darryl Fears reports.

Conservation groups call the practices inhumane, but hunters in Alaska argue the “October 2015 regulations ordered by the Obama administration infringed on traditional native hunting practices and were more restrictive than what is allowed on state land.” 

Jim Adams, the National Parks Conservation Association’s Alaska director, said the “state’s real aim is to reduce the population of wolves and other predators to increase the numbers of caribou, moose and other game animals that sport hunters enjoy harvesting.”

Energy companies and their employees are donating less to Trump’s reelection bid this time around. 

The oil and gas industry was a reliable source of donations to Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, but as firms feel the impact of a record oil-price crash, they are donating less compared with how much they spent on past Republican presidential candidates, Bloomberg News reports.

“As Trump faces widespread criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and of the protests over police brutality, the slump in donations from a once-reliable ally is more evidence of a troubled re-election campaign,” per the report. “Trump raised $1.1 million from oil and gas company employees between May and November in 2016, the only period he actively raised donations during his first presidential run. But in the 40 months since, when he’s relentlessly been raising re-election cash, they’ve given him $654,103.”

Coronavirus fallout

Democratic lawmakers want to know how FEMA will handle natural disasters amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor questioning whether agency officials “have the staff and other essential tools to successfully respond to multiple natural disasters during the ongoing coronavirus crisis,” citing a “a deadly tornado season already underway, above-average flooding to date, a hurricane season that began on June 1, and wildfire season looming.” 

The lawmakers called for a remote hearing on the agency’s plans and also noted the agency “has not made public its plans or preparing for and responding to multiple natural disasters in the coming months… This information is vital to prepare for high-intensity natural disasters that may include tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires.”

Zoos shut down amid pandemic want federal help to care for endangered species. 

More than 200 major zoos and aquariums in the United States have seen major losses as they locked down during the pandemic. 

Zoos say they “have been hit harder than many other shuttered institutions because their occupants — more than a million animals nationwide, some owned by the U.S. government — still need food, water, heating, cooling and veterinary care,” Karin Brulliard and Jennifer Oldham report. But they’ve had to lay off or furlough workers who care for the animals as they deplete funds without being able to bring in ticket revenue. 

Zoos play a critical role in supporting endangered species, but many have had to put the breeding of endangered animals on pause. Now, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a coalition of cultural institutions are calling on lawmakers to provide relief for zoos and aquariums, including for those that participate in endangered species recovery. 

Massachusetts added new pandemic-related claims to its climate case against Exxon. 

In a new complaint filed Friday, the state’s Attorney General Maura Healey argued Exxon’s business model “will not survive other major crises like climate change, despite its claim otherwise,” E&E News reports. The complaint adds that the “calamitous consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are a harbinger of the types of systemic risks posed by climate change, demonstrating the sweeping and interconnected nature of climate-driven dangers and disruptions.”

Storm watch

Cristobal will bring heavy downpours all the way north to Canada. 

The tropical storm hit Louisiana on Sunday and then its impacts shifted inland, Matthew Cappucci reports, “where Cristobal could cause serious flooding as its tropical remnants swirl up the Mississippi River Valley.” 

“Flash flood watches stretch more than 1,000 miles, from the Florida Panhandle to central Wisconsin,” he adds. “The unusual system has the potential to become the nation’s farthest north and west tropical depression in more than two centuries of record-keeping. Cristobal could even merge with another, nontropical weather system and intensify over the Upper Midwest and into Canada, achieving subtropical storm strength late in the week as it clips the Hudson Bay.”

A new bill introduced this month would prohibit Trump from nuking a hurricane. 

The Climate Change and Hurricane Correlation and Strategy Act introduced by Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) “explicitly prohibits the president, along with any other federal agency or official, from employing a nuclear bomb or other ‘strategic weapon’ with the goal of ‘altering weather patterns or addressing climate change,’” Maddie Stone reports. “In a phone interview, Garcia told The Washington Post that the bill was drafted as a direct response to last year’s report that Trump has floated the idea of nuking hurricanes to his senior homeland security and national security advisers.”

The president denied making such a suggestion. 

The bill appears unlikely to make it out of committee, and even more unlikely to appear on Trump’s desk. “But after hearing Trump’s alleged comments on nukes and hurricanes and researching the issue further, Garcia felt she had to at least get the idea of a ban on using nuclear weapons to disrupt the weather on the table,” Stone adds. 

Scientists are studying volcanos to assess the impact of elevated carbon dioxide levels on tropical environments. 

Teams of scientists are looking to Rincón de la Vieja, one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, and the carbon dioxide that seeps from its cracks. 

“The stability of the world’s climate depends in part on these areas,” Daniel Grossman reports. “Every year, tropical forests soak up more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a substantial share of what’s emitted by power plants, industrial smokestacks and vehicle exhaust pipes. Yet how increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall will affect them long term remains unclear.” 

Some climate scientists believe tropical forests will start to absorb less carbon dioxide, while others say higher concentrations of CO2 will protect them. 

Oil check

BP is cutting thousands of jobs amid the pandemic’s impact on oil prices. 

The British energy giant will cut about 14 percent of its workforce, nearly 10,000 jobs, and freeze pay for senior-level managers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The job cuts come as newly appointed Chief Executive Bernard Looney responds to the pandemic’s devastating effect on oil demand and coincides with his attempts to reshape the U.K.-based oil giant for a low-carbon future,” per the report. 

In other news

PG&E Corp. will sell its headquarters in San Francisco and move to Oakland. 

The move is a money-saving one and a “major step for the company and subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has been based in San Francisco since its creation 115 years ago,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “The company’s roots in the city stretch back even further, to the founding of San Francisco Gas Co. in 1852.”

The announcement that it will move in the coming years “comes as PG&E seeks to wrap up its costly bankruptcy case this year. The utility and its parent company filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, facing billions of dollars in liabilities from devastating wildfires that the company’s power lines caused,” per the report.