How the new Supreme Court could stymie a Biden presidency

The Supreme Court building is seen in March 2019.
AP Photo

President Donald Trump’s newest Supreme Court pick will offer conservatives an opportunity to start achieving a long-sought goal: chipping away at the vast administrative state that Americans have known since the New Deal.

The rightward shift could imperil much of the agenda of a potential Biden administration or a Democratic Congress, making it easier for the courts to block initiatives such as a “Green New Deal” or vast expansion of Medicare. The addition of a sixth conservative justice — expected to be Amy Coney Barrett — could provide the final ingredient needed for Republicans to restrict or reverse decades-old precedents that have protected a range of government programs from legal challenges, including regulations on health care, the environment, technology and the financial industry.

Continue reading “How the new Supreme Court could stymie a Biden presidency”

Pro-Pruitt group took big checks in secret

Scott Pruitt
AFP/Getty

A dark-money group supporting Scott Pruitt’s confirmation as EPA administrator raised nearly a half-million dollars from at least one oil company and other donors who did not have to identify themselves, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

Protecting America Now, a nonprofit incorporated in Delaware the day after President Donald Trump announced Pruitt’s nomination, is only now revealing basic information about itself, two years after the former Oklahoma attorney general was successfully confirmed to lead EPA and seven months after he resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals. POLITICO received the documents through a records request.

Pioneer Natural Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas company, voluntarily disclosed that it contributed $100,000 — the largest single contribution and more than 20 percent of the group’s total haul in 2017 — but the group’s remaining donors remain secret. A few weeks after he was confirmed, Pruitt halted work on a methane rule that Pioneer had identified as a threat to its business, although it’s unclear whether the company’s support influenced that decision.

Critics say the group’s laser-like focus on lobbying for Pruitt’s confirmation after raising money from companies he would regulate illustrates concerns about the lack of disclosure required by such organizations, known as 501(c)(4) groups after the relevant section of the tax code.

Continue reading “Pro-Pruitt group took big checks in secret”

Fuzzy math could doom Trump’s attack on Obama climate rule

The coal-fired Merrimack Station is pictured. | AP Photo
AP Photo

The Trump administration’s attempt to reverse President Barack Obama’s most sweeping climate regulation rests on a legally risky strategy — redoing the calculations of how much the rule would cost and who would benefit.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed replacement is expected to downplay the money that people and businesses would save from using less electricity, a key feature of the Obama-era greenhouse rule for power plants. People tracking the issue also expect that the agency will count only a fraction of the improvements in public health from reduced smog and soot pollution, and won’t consider any benefits from slowing climate change outside the U.S.

The upshot: The EPA under Trump will argue now that the Obama administration’s rule had more costs and fewer benefits than stated, a change to help improve the comparison when it unveils its own, much less ambitious power plant proposal as soon as next week.

Continue reading “Fuzzy math could doom Trump’s attack on Obama climate rule”

The radical idea behind Trump’s EPA rollbacks

Scott Pruitt is pictured. | AP Photo
Several former EPA chiefs say Scott Pruitt and President Donald Trump have it wrong. | Getty

 

 

The Trump administration isn’t just pushing to dramatically shrink the Environmental Protection Agency, chop a third of its budget and hobble its regulatory powers. It’s also trying to permanently limit the EPA’s mission — while portraying doing so as a return to the agency’s roots.

What Administrator Scott Pruitt calls his “Back to Basics” agenda would refocus the agency on narrow goals such as cleaning up toxic waste and providing safe drinking water — the kinds of issues that inspired the EPA’s creation in 1970 amid a public outcry about burning rivers and smog-filled skies. But it would abandon the Obama administration’s climate regulations, along with other efforts that Pruitt argues exceed the agency’s legal authority. Continue reading “The radical idea behind Trump’s EPA rollbacks”

Trump’s EPA attacks spook former GOP chiefs

Donald Trump’s pledges to gut the EPA have set off alarms among the agency’s backers — including the Republicans who use to lead EPA and now are warning that the GOP nominee’s plan threatens to destroy the agency that has cleaned up the nation over the past half century.

Despite declaring himself a “huge believer in clean water and clean air,” Trump has promised to revoke environmental rules, “to get rid of [EPA] in almost every form” and to allow the states to decide how to regulate pollution. And his campaign has tapped Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute — who has criticized EPA as “the No. 1 job killer in America” — as the point person to lead the change if Trump wins on Nov. 8.

The former EPA chiefs under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush see the strategy as a disaster.

“All we’re doing is shoving ourselves back into where we were in the late ’60s,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, who became the first EPA administrator in 1970 and returned under Reagan during a turbulent period at the agency. “Rivers catching on fire, smog so bad you could hardly see one another. And those kind of problems would recur.” Continue reading “Trump’s EPA attacks spook former GOP chiefs”

Supreme Court’s mercury ruling comes too late for coal

President Barack Obama’s opponents won a Supreme Court skirmish in the “war on coal” Monday, but the ruling blocking his mercury pollution rule won’t do anything to reverse coal’s waning role in the nation’s power supply.

And on top of that, legal experts don’t expect the decision to hamper the administration’s plans for landmark climate regulations that are set to further cement the decline of the fuel that only a few years ago dominated the industry.

For utility giant American Electric Power and others in the power sector, the judgment on the mercury rule that started to take effect in April comes too late to save the dozens of plants that already closed, or are slated to in the next several months.

“We’re not bringing them back,” Nick Akins, AEP’s CEO, president and chairman told POLITICO. “Once that ball gets rolling, it’s not going to change.” Continue reading “Supreme Court’s mercury ruling comes too late for coal”

Bye-bye, birdie: How this threatened species became a flashpoint in the $1.1 trillion spending bill

A Gunnison sage grouse is pictured. | AP Photo
AP Photo

Before lawmakers could agree to a $1.1 trillion, last-minute deal to avoid shutting down the U.S. government, they first had to deal with a couple of birds.

The result is a 1,603-page spending bill that includes a paragraph barring the Obama administration from approving endangered-species protections for two types of sage grouse, an imperiled, pheasant-like bird that is ruffling the petroleum industry’s feathers across the West by cohabiting on prime oil and gas land.

Now environmentalists are squawking. Continue reading “Bye-bye, birdie: How this threatened species became a flashpoint in the $1.1 trillion spending bill”

Oil and gas ‘soul searching’ over Landrieu

Endangered Senate Energy chairwoman Mary Landrieu has a new problem to worry about — the risk that her longtime supporters in the oil and gas industry would abandon her in a December runoff against Republican challenger Bill Cassidy.

Even before Wednesday’s news of a personnel shakeup in the Louisiana Democrat’s campaign, people in the industry were grappling with a tough decision: whether to stick with one of their staunchest champions on the Hill or embrace Cassidy in hopes of putting Republicans in charge of the Senate. Some of them say the choice has become especially acute in recent months, with polls indicating the likelihood of a Dec. 6 runoff that could decide which party controls the chamber. Continue reading “Oil and gas ‘soul searching’ over Landrieu”

Green vs. green battles continue

The Obama administration is hoping to put a stop to an increasing problem for wind and solar power — feuds with environmental groups that say the projects threaten endangered species or valuable habitat.

But some conservation groups are wary of being burned.

The irony, of course, is that environmentalists are generally big fans of renewable energy, especially compared with greenhouse gas-spewing fossil fuels like coal.

The Interior Department has looked for ways to avoid these green-vs.-green conflicts both by trying to expedite environmental reviews for large solar projects and by creating voluntary guidelines to prevent wind turbines from killing birds. Continue reading “Green vs. green battles continue”

Post-Solyndra, GOP eyes other targets

Rep. Darrell Issa is pictured. | JOHN SHINKLE/POLITICO
Darrell Issa has pursued probes into solar firms Abound Solar and BrightSource Energy. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

Solyndra is dead. Long live Solyndra?

Republicans may not be ready to give up their attacks on the Obama administration’s green energy investments, despite their failure to produce any bombshells — or even a winning campaign theme — from the demise of the California solar manufacturer.

Even as Solyndra itself fades from center stage, the GOP still has plenty of targets in the billions of dollars’ worth of grants, loan guarantees and other investments the Energy Department has made in solar, wind, battery and alternative-vehicle companies, some of which have suffered headline-grabbing stumbles of their own. And Congress’s series of fiscal disputes could provide ample avenues for the Republicans to make their case. Continue reading “Post-Solyndra, GOP eyes other targets”