Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks

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·8 min read
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  • Cynthia Lummis
    American politician
  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States
  • Andrew R. Wheeler
    15th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
A flag of the Environmental Protection Agency is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 3
A flag of the Environmental Protection Agency is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 3


Welcome to Friday's Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we're looking at Sen. Cynthia Lummis's (R-Wyo.) hold on President Biden's EPA nominees, a failed vote on Nord Stream 2 sanctions and former EPA staffers opposing Andrew Wheeler's nomination in Virginia.

For The Hill, we're Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let's jump in.

Lummis halts Biden EPA noms over coal plant

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) on Friday confirmed she placed a hold on President Biden's nominee for a senior Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) position, citing concerns over the agency's policies toward a coal plant in her state.

The story so far: Senate Environment Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) said on Wednesday that the nomination of David Uhlmann for the EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance had been pulled from the schedule. Carper said during a markup that an unnamed committee member was waiting for further information from the agency before deciding whether to back the nomination.

In a statement, Lummis confirmed she was the senator in question and said that she had decided to block the nomination after the EPA rejected the state's regional haze plan for the Jim Bridger Power Plant. Regional haze refers to air pollution's impact on visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

And more: Lummis's office confirmed she would hold all four of Biden's currently unconfirmed EPA nominees over the issue.

"The EPA's decision today is a complete reversal from that of career EPA employees during the previous administration," Lummis said in a statement.

"The Biden EPA's decision here is needlessly hurting Wyoming's energy workers and threatening America's energy independence as well. It is blatantly political, and I will continue to block President Biden's EPA nominees over this issue," she continued. "Wyoming has worked tirelessly to comply with federal law on its regional haze plan for the Jim Bridger Power Plant. The Biden administration's decision to reverse course to appease environmental activists, including climate czars in the White House, will not help the people, or the environment, of Wyoming."

Read more about the holds here.

Dems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Sen. T Cruz (R-Texas) speaks to a reporter in the Senate Russell Office Building as he returns from a floor speech on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Sen. T Cruz (R-Texas) speaks to a reporter in the Senate Russell Office Building as he returns from a floor speech on Thursday, January 13, 2022.

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to slap sanctions on businesses tied to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a win for the Biden administration, which believes such sanctions could damage relations with Germany.

Senators voted 55-44 on Cruz's legislation, falling short of the 60 votes needed for it to pass. Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.) and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) joined every Republican save Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in voting for the bill.

The vote on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany, comes at a delicate moment for White House as it navigates renewed tensions with Moscow over its buildup of troops on the border with Ukraine.

So why did most Democrats vote against it? Underscoring the dilemma for Democrats, many of whom previously voted for similar sanctions, senators stressed that they are alarmed about Russia and the pipeline, but that Cruz's legislation isn't the most effective response.

"We can't look at this legislation in isolation. This legislation ... is coming at a time when the administration is exhausting every single diplomatic avenue to deter Putin from further violating Ukraine's territorial integrity," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), adding that the pipeline is "leverage that the West can use at a pivotal moment."

Read more about the vote here from The Hill's Jordain Carney and Laura Kelly.

WELL, FED

President Biden on Friday announced the nominations of three top Federal Reserve officials, lining up a full slate for the Fed Board of Governors.

Biden formally announced the nominations of former Treasury Department Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin to serve as Fed vice chair of supervision and of Michigan State University professor Lisa Cook and Davidson College professor Philip Jefferson to serve as Fed board members.

Fed experts do not expect Biden's nominees to dramatically shift the course of the bank's monetary policy, which is controlled by a committee including board members and the presidents of reserve banks. The Fed is expected to begin hiking interest rates as soon as March, with inflation at four-decade highs and the unemployment rate falling below 4 percent in December.

But there's always a climate story... Even so, Biden's new picks could heavily influence the Fed's pending revamp of anti-redlining rules and its approach to climate-related financial risks.

Raskin is likely to face intense Republican skepticism over her views on how the Fed should treat the fossil fuel industry and banks who serve it, particularly after opposing efforts to include oil and gas companies in COVID-19 emergency lending programs in 2020.

"Former Fed Governor Raskin has a long history of distinguished government service," Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.

"I encourage her to maintain the apolitical posture of previous Vice Chairs for Supervision, and to focus on the supervisory role while leaving social and fiscal policy making to Congress."

Read more about the nominees here from The Hill's Sylvan Lane.

150 ex-EPA staffers oppose Wheeler in Virginia

More than 150 former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees are urging Virginia lawmakers to oppose the nomination of the Trump administration's EPA chief to a high-ranking environmental position.

In an open letter written to the state's senators, the former employees asked them to oppose the impending nomination of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to serve as the state's Natural Resources Secretary.

"As EPA Administrator, Mr. Wheeler pursued an extremist approach, methodically weakening EPA's ability to protect public health and the environment, instead favoring polluters," they wrote.

"Mr. Wheeler also sidelined science at the agency, ignored both agency and outside experts, rolled back rules to cut greenhouse gasses and protect the climate, and took steps to hamstring EPA and slow efforts to set the agency back on course after he left office" they added.

Team Youngkin pushes back: A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), however, defended the former EPA administrator in a statement.

"Wheeler is the right person for the job, and the Governor-elect selected Andrew because he is incredibly qualified and will deliver for all Virginians," said spokesperson Macaulay Porter.

"Andrew will do the critical work of protecting the Chesapeake Bay, supporting the Virginia Coastal Restoration Authority, stopping the unnecessary dumping of raw sewage into the James River and to the Potomac, and standing up for our environment. Virginians want more from their elected officials than partisan bickering," Porter said.

Read more about the controversy here.

LEGAL BRIEFS, BRIEFLY

  • The Biden administration on Friday appealed a court decision that nixed solar tariffs. The tariffs had been supported by both the Biden and Trump administrations, but opposed by the solar industry.

  • The Biden administration on Thursday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Trump-era order that ended an Obama administration pause on federal coal leasing. It argued that the case is moot since Interior Secretary Deb Haaland rescinded the order in April. But, when she revoked the order, Haaland did not reinstate the moratorium on coal leasing, though the department has since launched a review of the federal coal program. The latest developments have left some environmentalists feeling spurned. "That's not an all of government approach, that were promised, to fighting climate change," said Nathaniel Shoaff, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, said.

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

On Wednesday:

  • FERC Chairman Richard Glick and Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about pipeline reliability

On Thursday:

  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing titled "What More Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Leasing Means for Achieving U.S. Climate Targets."

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled "Cleaning up cryptocurrency: the energy impacts of blockchains"

  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a series of wildlife and water bills

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Clean Water Act policy could spur widespread disarray (E&E News)

  • Australia records highest temperature in 62 years (Reuters)

  • Environment groups, company settle lawsuit over landfill (The Associated Press)

  • One of the world's biggest offshore wind farms gears up for full operation (CNBC)

ICYMI

Conservationists, veterinarians warn Sri Lankan plastic waste is killing region's elephants

Biden administration approves third major California solar project

And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: Voir dairy

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's energy & environment page for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Monday.

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