With help from Anthony Adragna
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â€” Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will debate tonight from Salt Lake City in the sole 2020 vice presidential confrontation.
â€” A congressional watchdog said there’s no evidence that the Interior Department’s move to aid drilling companies by slashing royalty rates actually worked.
â€” Greens detailed actions at the Bureau of Land Management they think could be undone in light of a recent Montana ruling, despite Interior’s own argument that there are no relevant actions that should be set aside.
WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY! I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Congrats to Andrew Fasoli of the American Chemistry Council for correctly identifying the name of the bird in the Twitter logo: Larry T. Bird. For today: Who were the candidates in the first-ever formal vice presidential debate? I’m off for the rest of the week so send your tips to Eric Wolff ([emailÂ protected]), who will be your ME maestro.
Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast â€” all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast. On today’s episode: The tribal loophole in Oklahoma environmental policy.
ROLLING IN THE VEEPS: Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will face off â€” while socially distanced and divided by plexiglass â€” tonight in Salt Lake City for the sole vice presidential debate. The event, hosted by the University of Utah and moderated by Susan Page of USA Today, comes as President Donald Trump recovers from Covid-19 and as he quashed coronavirus relief talks because of a stalemate with Democrats. The debate will begin at 9 p.m. and will be divided up into nine 10-minute segments, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The topics are not yet known, but green groups have clamored for weeks for climate change to be a focus, particularly amid record-breaking wildfires in the West and a rapidly intensifying hurricane approaching in the Atlantic. Last week, climate change and energy policy emerged as a surprise topic of discussion during the first presidential debate, turning into a back-and-forth between Trump and Joe Biden that went on for more than 10 minutes. In that exchange, Biden distanced himself from progressive Democrats’ Green New Deal, though Harris, his running mate, is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution.
Harris aides anticipate Pence will try to drive a wedge tonight between the liberal positions she embraced as a candidate for president and the centrist approaches that she’s adopted as Biden’s running mate, like her personal opposition to fracking and support for the resolution, POLITICO’s Christopher Cadelago reports.
Ahead of tonight’s debate, Oil Change U.S., a group that opposes the fossil fuel industry, announced its endorsement of the Biden-Harris ticket this morning. “Last week’s debate was just the latest reflection of how desperately our country needs a change in leadership, and tonight’s vice-presidential debate should show more of the same,” said Elizabeth Bast, executive director of Oil Change U.S., in a statement. “The path towards greater climate and racial justice is clear: it’s the one with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.”
Oil Change U.S. notably has pushed Democrats to shun fossil fuel industry money, and criticized Biden during the primaries â€” but their endorsement follows other progressive greens’ backing in recent weeks. “We pointed out where his plans fell short, and when he took advice from the wrong advisers,” Bast said. “But we also know he’s listening.”
THE GOOD AND BAD FOR NATURAL GAS: The glut that drove natural gas prices to the lowest level in 25 years early in the summer isn’t over yet â€” and may drive U.S. inventories to their highest-ever levels by the end of the month, according to the Energy Information Adminsitration’s latest short-term outlook. EIA estimates that natural gas production declined to 89.4 billion cubic feet per day in September â€” 5.3 Bcf/d lower than the same time last year. Despite that drop, flagging LNG exports and weak power sector demand have contributed to high natural gas storage levels. The agency estimates that U.S. natural gas inventories at the end of September reached a record high for the month of September, and inventory levels at the end of October could be the highest on record for any month, topping 3.8 trillion cubic feet.
EIA also expects that rising demand heading into the winter, coupled with reduced production, will lift natural gas spot prices to $3.38/MMBtu in January 2021. It predicts average natural gas prices in 2021 will increase more than $1 from 2020 levels.
ROYALTY PAINS: The Interior Department didn’t conduct proper analysis before cutting royalty rates companies pay for oil and gas produced on public land during the coronavirus pandemic, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday in a new report. GAO said it found no evidence that Interior actually analyzed the effect the royalty rate reductions would have before it slashed the rate this spring from 12.5 percent to an average of less than 1 percent, Pro’s Ben Lefebvre reports.
Interior started approving companies’ requests for royalty rate reductions in May, saying that the economic shutdowns and steep drop in demand for oil and gas amid the pandemic threatened to put some oil and gas companies out of business. But the department never publicly announced the plan or provided comprehensive information on which companies had applied.
There was also no evidence that the cuts were even necessary. Interior “did not assess the extent to which the temporary policy kept oil and gas companies from shutting down their wells or the amount of royalty revenues forgone by the federal government,” the report said.
Related: NYU Institute for Policy Integrity’s Jayni Hein and Max Sarinsky write in an opinion piece this morning in The Agenda that the Trump administration’s “firesale of public lands is happening at arguably the worst possible moment for the American taxpayer.” Read it.
GREENS LAY OUT PENDLEY ACTIONS: Sixty environmental and conservation groups drew up a list of wide-ranging actions they contend should be reversed because of the federal court decision that enjoined William Perry Pendley from exercising the authority of director at the Bureau of Land Management. In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Tuesday, the groups tallied 30 resource management plans â€” including the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument RMPs â€” the implementation of Interior’s royalty rate relief program, and the records of decisions related to oil and gas leasing and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
That’s way more than the three RMPs Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who filed the initial lawsuit, called on the court to unwind Monday.
The federal government, for its part, filed its own response late Monday saying that no BLM actions should be set aside. In the case of two of the RMPs that Bullock said should be undone, the government said the resolution of protests at the center of Bullock’s argument was “properly delegated to another BLM official under longstanding BLM practice” â€” not Pendley. “Careful review shows no relevant acts taken by Mr. Pendley â€” rather than by other Bureau of Land Management officials â€” much less any within the Director’s exclusive authority,” the filing said.
Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, which led the letter, told ME the group is closely watching the Montana ruling and said she hopes that Bernhardt will take the letter seriously, since it “represents the voices of literally millions of Americans between the 60 organizations.”
Even if a director delegated work to somebody else, Manning said, that delegation in itself is “a finger on the scale.” Interior’s response “suggests that Mr. Pendley’s work is irrelevant, [that] there’s nothing of relevance here. Well then, what is he doing?” she said.
EPA PROPOSES EASING BALLAST WATER STANDARDS: EPA on Tuesday proposed national standards that would loosen some requirements designed to stanch pollution and reduce the spread of invasive species from water discharges from more than 80,000 cruise ships, tug boats, freighters, offshore drilling units and other commercial vessels, Pro’s Annie Snider reports.
ANARCHY IN THE EPA: Senate Democrats, including Environment and Public Works ranking member Tom Carper (Del.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), warned EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler against withholding funds intended for the cleanup of contaminated land and drinking water sources in several Democratic-led cities, in response to a September memo and guidance from the White House on withholding federal tax dollars from cities that “allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.” The Democrats said they’ve learned EPA, in its internal meetings on the policy, “has begun to identify funding sources that could be subject to the directive.”
“Setting aside the legally questionable and abhorrent nature of the President’s directive, EPA’s implementation thereof could endanger human health and the environment,” they write, urging Wheeler “not to take any action that could result in the collective loss of more than a billion dollars of funding intended to clean up contamination and drinking water in these American cities.”
â€” In response, EPA spokesperson Molly Block said the senators are “once again peddling a false narrative to diminish the accomplishments of the Trump Administration.” The agency “will continue to follow guidance from the White House in accordance with its statutory obligations,” she added.
SIERRA CLUB PULLS PLUG ON PARTY-SWITCHER: The Sierra Club pulled its endorsement of Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched parties to become a Republican last year, and backed his Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy. “Jeff Van Drew abandoned South Jersey’s conservation values and legacy of wilderness protection in an effort to maintain his political career by tying himself to the most toxic President for our environment in the nation’s history,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We no longer trust anything he says.” The group says it will mobilize its members in support of Kennedy.
LCV TOUTS BIDEN IN NEVADA: Somos PAC and LCV Victory Fund announced a $1 million Spanish radio and TV ad in Nevada aimed at describing Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s personal history to Latino voters. Watch here. It runs through Election Day.
REPORT: BLACKOUTS CAUSED BY POOR PLANNING, MARKET: Analysis published Tuesday by California’s energy agencies said the state’s first rolling blackouts in almost two decades were triggered by poor short- and long-term planning that led to inadequate supply and market deficiencies, Pro’s Colby Bermel reports.
THE BUSINESS OF SOLAR: Corporations, including major technology companies and retailers, made “significant” investments in clean energy in 2019, installing 1,283 megawatts of new commercial solar capacity in the U.S. last year, according to a new report this morning from the Solar Energy Industries Association. That figure marks the second-largest year on record.
Apple and Amazon rank first and second, respectively, as top corporate solar users, according to the report, followed by Walmart, which installed the most solar in 2019 and increased its solar use by 35 percent. Facebook, a leading buyer of off-site solar, made the “biggest leap forward” on SEIA’s top corporate solar users list, jumping from 27th to 9th. The rankings coincide with recent clean energy commitments from several of the same corporations.
â€” “Over 5,600 fossil fuel companies have taken at least $3bn in U.S. Covid-19 aid,” via The Guardian.
â€” “Exxon, oil rivals shield their carbon forecasts from investors,” via Bloomberg.
â€” “Biden wins over Pennsylvania union leaders worried about his climate plan,” via Washington Examiner.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!