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TRUMP EXPLAINS WHY HE THINKS CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T REAL: President Trump frankly explained why he thinks climate change isn’t occurring, just before his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

From Trump’s point of view, the earth is simultaneously heating and cooling. Therefore, climate change is not happening, he told Piers Morgan in an interview that aired Sunday.

“There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be ‘climate change,’ it used to be ‘global warming.’ That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place,” Trump said.

Environmental attack: At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council is rallying supporters for a major legal attack against Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency, according to an email from NRDC President Rhea Suh obtained by the Washington Examiner over the weekend.

Suh said the federal court system is the only “antidote” for the Trump administration and its policies that favor polluters. She said the group is preparing to level at least a dozen lawsuits against the EPA and the administration in the new year.  

WHITE HOUSE: ‘NO PLANS TO GUT’ ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY: Trump does not plan to gut the country’s environmental regulations to get his infrastructure plans passed through Congress, a top aide said Sunday.

The statement came after a White House document was leaked Friday night for an infrastructure plan that looks to make sizable changes in how the government conducts environmental reviews, including significant streamlining of the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements.

Reports saying Trump wants to cut up the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, among other environmental protection laws, are false, White House legislative director Marc Short said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Balanced approach: “The administration has no plans to gut the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. What you've seen really over the last year is, by rolling back the burdensome regulations the previous administration had put in place, the economy has taken off,” Short said.

Hear me out: Trump on Tuesday will call on Congress to get behind a bipartisan infrastructure funding program during his first State of the Union address.

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PRUITT’S NEW PUSH: REVISING OBAMA PLAN HURTING COAL: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is showing signs Monday that he will be reopening previously approved federal plans that tie states hands’ on energy use.

Pruitt announced Monday morning that he approved revisions to a federal plan that directed Arkansas to take specific actions to reduce nitrogen dioxide under the Obama EPA’s regional haze rule, seen as a threat to coal-fired power plant use. Arkansas’ primary fuel source for electricity production is coal, although it is moving toward natural gas.

Pruitt said his revisions target specific measures for cutting pollution at the state’s power plants. The EPA said the action is the first step in replacing the “embattled and one-size-fits-all” Federal Implementation Plan that dates to 2012. Federal plans are imposed on states if they are unable to meet pollution standards through their own programs. Most states seek to avoid being “FIPed,” as the process is often referred to by state regulators.

“Arkansas’ revised plan is yet another excellent example of the positive environmental outcomes we are achieving across the country from a cooperative federalism approach,” Pruitt said. “After working closely with Arkansas, this action returns power back to the rightful hands of the state and gives them the necessary flexibility to improve air quality across the natural state.”

A move back to state planning: More than 50 federal plans were imposed under the Obama administration’s EPA.Twenty of the FIPs were under the Regional Haze program, according to Trump’s EPA.

Under the Trump administration, Pruitt’s EPA “has turned at least one FIP” back into a state-implemented plan every month, according to the agency.

EPA said is has approved more than 200 state implementation plans since March 1, 2017. “States are best suited to run their clean-air programs and EPA will continue to work with our state partners to make sure Clean Air Act standards are met in Arkansas and across the country,” EPA said.

TRUMP BLASTS ELEPHANT HUNTING: Trump said his administration made a “terrible” initial decision to allow hunters to import trophy elephants killed in Zimbabwe, the president said in the interview.

Rescue plan: The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service in November moved to overturn an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe, before Trump intervened.

After a public outcry, Trump said he had put the policy on hold pending further study.

Trump on Sunday suggested his decision is final.

‘I changed it’: “Well, I changed it,” Trump said, referring to reversing the move to end the ban.

“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards ― well, money WAS going ― in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK? I turned that order around. You know, that was an order. I totally turned it around.”

RUSSIAN PIPELINE THREATENS EUROPEAN STABILITY, TILLERSON SAYS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is lashing out against Russia's plans to open a natural gas pipeline to supply energy to Germany, saying Saturday that it threatens stability in the region.

‘Undermining:’ "Like Poland, the United States opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline," Tillerson said while at a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski.

"We see it as undermining Europe's overall energy security and stability," Tillerson continued. "Our opposition is driven by our mutual strategic interests."

Big supplier: Russia is a top supplier of natural gas to Europe, which the Trump administration is seeking to change by encouraging the export of U.S. natural gas exports into the European market now that the U.S. is a top producer of the fuel.

Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which is still being constructed, would supply Germany and other parts of Europe with the fuel, which is most commonly used for heating.

EPA, CALIFORNIA SEEK COMPROMISE IN FIGHT OVER FUEL-EFFICIENCY STANDARDS: The Trump administration will have to compromise if it’s serious about maintaining “one national program” for vehicle emissions rules and wants to avoid a legal battle with California, experts say.

California, which can set its own fuel efficiency standards, has fought the EPA over the proposed weakening of rules set by the Obama administration that would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Come together: Experts who favor one nationwide program instead of a “patchwork” of unaligned rules say the Trump administration will have to compromise if it wants to keep California in line.

“California and the federal government need to get together to solve this problem,” said Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce U.S. demand for oil through improved vehicle efficiency.

Dangling a carrot: Diamond says the EPA should propose tougher rules for 2026-2030, when he says carmakers would be better equipped to adapt to technological changes, in exchange for weakening the standards for the 2022-2025 vehicles.

Dave Cooke, a senior vehicle analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, doubts the Trump administration would consider proposing rules for years after 2025. That’s because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which administers the fuel efficiency standards program, finalizes rules every five years.

“I don't anticipate EPA making 2030 standards under the current administration,” Cooke said.

MITT ROMNEY: AMERICANS SHOULD GET READY TO BUY MORE ELECTRIC CARS: Ninety percent of all new cars Americans buy will be electric in the not too distant future, said former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"Exponential progress and innovation is what’s just beginning to hit the world — now not just in computers," he said in a speech to a farm group in Utah last week.

Change is coming: The change in automobiles from gasoline to electric will be coming in about a decade, he said.

"You’re going to see healthcare change, automobiles change — in my view, in about 10 years, I’ll bet 90 percent of the cars we buy are electric.”

Automotive roots: Romney has a history in the American automobile industry and was born in Detroit, home of the "Big Three" — Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler. His father, George Romney, was CEO of the American Motor Co., better known by just its acronym: AMC.

EPA HALTS APPROVAL PROCESS FOR ALASKA GOLD MINE: The EPA on Friday night reversed a prior decision and halted the approval process of a gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Pruitt  said the Pebble Mine project would harm the area's natural resources.

"It is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there,” Pruitt said.

Bottom line: The decision, a rare nod from Pruitt to environmentalists, does not cancel the mine outright, but leaves in place the Obama administration's block of the project until the EPA solicits further comments.

Pruitt said he made the decision after consulting with various stakeholders, including Alaska natives and tribal governments.

Local opposition: The Obama administration had denied the mine a permit for years because of the potential impact it would have on water quality and the number of salmon that indigenous populations rely upon.

That decision led to a lawsuit in 2014 by the Canadian company developing the mine.

LAWMAKERS TO INTRODUCE CARBON CAP BILL: Democrats Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia on Monday plan to introduce a “cap and dividend” bill that would cap carbon pollution, auction emissions permits, and use the proceeds to give quarterly dividends to all Americans.

The legislation would auction carbon pollution permits to U.S. sellers of crude oil, coal and natural gas and return 100 percent of the auction proceeds electronically every three months to Americans.

‘Fair and transparent’: “Stabilizing the climate can and must be done in a way that supports vibrant economic growth and a thriving middle class,” the bill reads. “Legislation to address climate change and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy must be fair, transparent and built to last.”

TRUMP NOMINATES FORMER ASTRONAUT TO LEAD GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Trump on Friday nominated James F. Reilly II, a former astronaut, to direct the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS is the science arm of the Interior Department that studies the land resources of the U.S., such as assessing oil and gas reserves. It also tracks natural hazards, such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

Domestic explorer: Reilly, before working for NASA, was chief geologist at Enserch Exploration Inc., searching for oil and natural gas in Antarctica and the Gulf of Mexico.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would be tasked with fulfilling the Trump administration’s quest to expand domestic mining.

Competing with China: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently ordered the agency to identify new sources of copper, aluminum and other minerals as part of the “first ever national survey of critical minerals,” saying “we are vulnerable as a nation” because the U.S. relies heavily on imports from China.


New York Times Oil boom gives the U.S. a new edge in energy and diplomacy

Reuters Why Canada is the next frontier for shale oil

Washington Post Tanker carrying liquefied natural gas from Russia’s Arctic arrives in Boston

Wall Street Journal Saudi Aramco IPO decision stalled by indecision over where to list

Bloomberg Rocky road for Colorado drillers as regulatory clampdown looms

Reuters U.S. says planned Russian pipeline would threaten European energy security

New York Times The U.S. may back a Vietnam coal plant. Russia is already helping



10 a.m., 406 Dirksen. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds an oversight hearing to receive testimony from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds votes on Trump Energy and Interior nominees, including: Melissa Burnison to be assistant secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs; Susan Combs to be assistant secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management, and Budget; Ryan Nelson to be solicitor for the Department of the Interior; and Anne White to be assistant secretary of Energy for Environmental Management.

10 a.m., 2318 Rayburn. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled “Department of Energy: Management and Priorities.”

All day, Altoona, Iowa. Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit kicks off at the Meadows Conference Center.

2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on federal lands holds a legislative hearing on a bill to create the first tribally managed national monument — the Shash Jáa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument.

9 p.m., President Trump gives the State of the Union address.