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TRUMP’S ROLLBACK OF UTAH MONUMENTS BECOMES OFFICIAL: President Trump’s rollback of the Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah became official Friday, allowing citizens and companies to make new oil, natural gas, and drilling claims.
Cut it out: Trump on Dec. 4 signed a proclamation cutting Bears Ears by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent, and creating two smaller monuments instead. Former President Barack Obama, who created the 1.35-acre Bears Ears National Monument just before he left office, had banned mining and drilling there.
Trump also slashed the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, nearly in half.
Open for business: “We’re working on getting information and new monument maps ready for people interested in claims,” Utah Bureau of Land Management spokesman Michael Richardson told Reuters.
Energy reality: Environmental groups have argued that shrinking Bears Ears could lead energy developers to seize on the land removed from protection to mine for oil and natural gas.
But there is limited opportunity for oil and gas drilling in Bears Ears and the area around it. Some uranium deposits are there, but prices are low and energy companies have downplayed their interest.
The area formerly protected in Grand Staircase, meanwhile, has known coal reserves.
ZINKE ISSUES NEW POLICY OPENING DRILLING ON ALL PUBLIC LANDS: The national monument changes came as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke looks to speed up permits for drilling on all public lands under a new policy issued Thursday.
The department issued a memorandum that looks to streamline oil and natural gas permits on public lands, including the elimination of an Obama-era policy of requiring Master Lease Plans that call for more environmental reviews.
Parks open for business: Environmental groups issued statements that the new policy means Bears Ears and Grand Escalante are open for business for oil and natural gas drillers and mining companies.
"Trump’s monstrous move to slash Bear’s Ears’ area by 85 percent and sell it off to mining and oil interests is a violent attack on Indigenous rights and disgrace to our nation’s cultural and natural heritage,” said Ruth Breech, senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network
“It’s beyond appalling. Thousands of acres of sacred lands are now wholly defenseless to desecration and permanent destruction."
Gutting Obama’s policy: Zinke’s new memorandum "supersedes existing policy" on oil and natural gas leases on federal land implemented under the Obama administration in 2010, calling it a "conflicting guidance."
That would change the Master Lease Plans that were developed under the Obama administration, which placed strict limits on the types of activities allowed on public lands.
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HIGHER OIL PRICES COULD BE A BLESSING AND A CURSE: Oil prices are projected to rise to $80 per barrel, which is good for U.S. producers that shed jobs after prices plummeted to less than $40 for two years.
Now that prices are picking up, the oil services sector says that’s good for business, but they don’t like being blamed for higher fuel prices at the pump.
Changes to the political landscape: That could change the political landscape, even though the price of oil is only part of the reason for the retail price of gasoline. Most consumers typically see the price of oil as the culprit for pain at the pump. That could harm arguments for increasing the federal tax on gasoline to fund Trump’s infrastructure bill.
One oil services CEO told the Washington Examiner that the price rise means more drilling, and that’s good for business. But he fears his industry could be seen as the bad guys if gas prices rise.
The federal government seems to justify those fears, with its Week in Petroleum analysis that says gasoline and diesel prices, the lifeblood of commerce, are going up, up, up.
Pump prices higher than last year: The price of regular gasoline rose 4 cents to $2.61 on Jan. 31 from the previous week and 31 cents from a year earlier, the Energy Information Administration said.
Big pump up for diesel: The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose nearly 5 cents to $3.07 per gallon on January 29,which is a staggering 51 cents higher than a year ago.
On Friday, oil giant Exxon Mobil reported that its quarterly earnings were five times higher than last year, to $8.4 billion. Chevron said its earnings were up to $3.1 billion in the fourth quarter.
PRUITT CALLS FOR CHANGES TO RENEWABLE FUEL MANDATE: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt waded into dangerous waters Thursday when he said the nation’s renewable fuel mandate needs changes to the ethanol credit trading system that has been blamed for bankrupting the largest oil refinery on the East Coast.
Ethanol credit reform: "We need RIN reform," Pruitt said on Fox Business Network, discussing last week’s bankruptcy of Philadelphia Energy. RINs are the credits that independent refiners have to buy to comply with the EPA ethanol mandate. The industry argues that the high prices of the credits is causing them to lose money and resulted in last week’s bankruptcy.
Taking steps? "It's something I've talked to Congress about. We've got to take steps to address this. And I think there are many that understand that," Pruitt said.
Restraint: Pruitt restrained himself from saying that the Renewable Fuel Standard should be killed. "This is about the accounting mechanism to ensure that we have a certain percentage of our fuel actually has ethanol," Pruitt said. "So it truly is an enforcement mechanism that is being used in ways that really it wasn't intended. We need to get reform around that."
The issue presents an interesting dilemma for Pruitt, since the EPA does not oversee the credit market, which is mostly industry-generated. How far he wants to go in changing it could undermine the agreement that President Trump made not to touch the fuel mandate.
Pruitt’s contradiction: "Administrator Pruitt's recent comments completely contradict his own rule and repeated promises to support the letter and spirit of the RFS," said Emily Skor, the head of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group.
ZINKE BOASTS BEING THE FIRST TO USE NEW BLACK HERITAGE LAW: The Interior Department is boasting that it is the first agency to take action under a new law honoring African Americans that President Trump signed last month.
Black History Month: Zinke designated a mural to the famed African American opera singer Marian Anderson as a national history site on the first day of Black History Month.
New national history site: The mural depicts Anderson’s 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert, and was designated a national historical site under the African American Civil Rights Network Act of 2017.
First time: It is the first time the law, after being signed by Trump last month, has been used to designate a site, the agency said.
‘Most moving chapters’ in history: "The civil rights movement is one of the most moving chapters of the American story – the people and events that shaped this period of history continue to inspire Americans to this day," Zinke said.
Zinke honors black struggles: He said few events from the era “stand out” as much as the inspirational story of Anderson “holding a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after being barred from singing at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.”
Zinke said he was proud to call special attention to this part of the nation’s heritage on the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the mural.
OPPOSITION TO ZINKE’S OFFSHORE DRILLING PLAN BUILDS: Coastal states are fighting the Interior Department’s plan to expand offshore drilling to almost all U.S. waters, warning it would threaten their economies and natural resources.
Under the Interior Department's draft proposal for offshore drilling, spanning 2019 to 2024, more than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be made available for leasing.
12 attorneys general send letter: "You pledged that, under your leadership, the Department of the Interior would be a 'collaborative department' that would 'solve problems rather than create them.' But the Draft Proposed Program fails to live up to those promises," the attorneys general, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to Zinke. "Instead, it would create multiple problems for nearly everyone who participates in or benefits from our states’ coastal and maritime economies.”
Coast to coast: North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein led the coalition.
The letter also was signed by attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia.
Critics were incensed after Zinke granted Florida an exemption, just one day after announcing the plan.
Pacific lawmakers want ban: Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and a group of 15 other Pacific Northwest lawmakers wrote a letter to Zinke Thursday saying they oppose drilling off their states’ coasts, too.
The pushback comes ahead of the Interior Department’s Feb. 5 public meeting in Tacoma, Wash., where the government will seek feedback on its plan.
Two Republicans signed onto the letter: Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert of Washington.
Lots of spills, greens say: Meanwhile, an environmental group published a report that projects 5,500 oil spills if Trump’s plan to open offshore drilling were approved.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which has filed more than 40 lawsuits opposing the administration’s various policies, issued the report “showing that Trump's plan to open America's coasts to offshore drilling could result in 5,500 spills totalling over 34 million gallons of oil fouling our coastal waters and beaches,” Kierán Suckling, the executive director of the group, tweeted on Thursday.
Based on federal data: The modeling was based on average spill rates for platforms and pipelines based on 1974-2015 data, but does not include “catastrophic events” such as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
REPUBLICAN INFRASTRUCTURE CHAIRMAN PUSHES GAS TAX INCREASE: Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Thursday he will push his colleagues to support an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment plan.
‘Elephant in the room’: Shuster told reporters at the Republican retreat in West Virginia that raising the gas tax is the “elephant in the room” in his party.
“Nobody wants to raise any taxes, but this is something that’s understandable and efficient,” Shuster said, in comments reported by Bloomberg. “The understandable part is that if you pay money at the pump, it goes into the Highway Trust Fund so it’s not going to Washington in the end. One hundred percent of it goes to fund rebuilding highways and bridges and road systems in this country. I think the American people understand that.”
Chamber on board: The Chamber of Commerce has proposed the gas tax be raised by 25 cents per gallon.
Funding woes: The federal government has long been resistant to increasing user fees such as the gas tax, leading to chronic shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund.
Since 1993, the federal tax on gasoline has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon, and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel. It is not indexed to inflation.
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FRIDAY, FEB 2
1:45 p.m., Secretary of Energy Rick Perry will host an all-hands meeting with the employees of Savannah River National Laboratory and Savannah River Site.
3:45-5:15 p.m., 3351 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Va. The 14th Annual Symposium of the Journal of Law, Economics & Policy will feature a panel discussing white papers documenting “Creative Regulators and Environmental Protection” at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School.
TUESDAY, FEB. 6
10 a.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a legislative hearing on a number of bills regarding national monuments.
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to receive testimony on the Bikini Resettlement and Relocation Act, and the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 7
10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to receive testimony on the public lands legislation.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 14
2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power & Oceans will hold an oversight hearing titled “The State of the Nation’s Water and Power Infrastructure.”