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Overnight Energy: Trump signs order to divert water to California farmers | EPA proposes new rollback to Obama coal ash rules | Green group ranks Bloomberg, Klobuchar last in climate plans

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DELTA DRAMA: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE on Wednesday signed an order in California to reengineer the state’s water plans, completing a campaign promise to funnel water from the north to a thirsty agricultural industry and growing population further south.

The ceremonial order comes after the Department of Interior late last year reversed its opinion on scientific findings that for a decade extended endangered species protections to various types of fish–a review that had been spurred by an order from Trump.

Trump said the changes to the “outdated scientific research and biological opinions” would now help direct “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water for the use of California farmers and ranchers.”

Trump’s order comes as the state has taken several steps to deal with water scarcity that has lasted for decades.

“California won’t allow the Trump Administration to destroy and deplete our natural resources,” California Attorney Xavier General Becerra (D) said in a statement after the speech. “We’re prepared to challenge the Trump Administration’s harmful attack on our state’s critical ecosystems and environment.”

Critics fear the new plan, which would allow large quantities of water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the Central Valley in order to irrigate farmland, would ultimately harm chinook salmon and the delta smelt, a finger-sized fish that for three decades has stood in the way of the diversion.

Trump in October of 2018 had ordered Interior to reconsider the scientific evidence that helped bar redistribution of the state’s water. In October of last year, Interior released a new biological opinion limiting the longtime protections for the fish.

During the speech Trump gave repeated kudos to Bernhardt, who has been mired in controversy for his past work for Westlands Water District–one of the groups pushing to expand water access for central California’s agricultural industry.

Reporting from The New York Times found that Bernhardt continued to work for Westlands as late as April 2017, the month he was nominated to his previous role as deputy secretary of the department. He filed paperwork to end his status as a federal lobbyist in November 2016.

Interior said Bernhardt had “engaged in various legal services” to support Westlands — but not lobbying.

The story spurred a call from Democratic lawmakers to investigate Bernhardt’s lobbying work, and in turn a commitment from Interior’s Office of the Inspector General in April of last year to review seven complaints alleging conflicts of interest or potential ethics violations by Bernhardt.

IT’S WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

ANOTHER COAL ASH ROLL BACK: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday announced a new proposed rollback to an Obama-era regulation dealing with the waste from coal-fired power plants known as coal ash.

The proposed changes are the Trump administration’s second set of changes to protections on waste laden with arsenic.

The EPA’s proposal would ease regulations for the liners that coat the bottom of coal ash pits in order to stop the cancer-linked substance from leaking into groundwater. It would also in some cases allow the use of coal ash in closing landfills.

“These common-sense changes will provide the flexibilities owners and operators need to determine the most appropriate way to manage [coal ash] and the closure of units based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on ‘forever chemicals’ Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report Overnight Energy: Green group sues Trump over major environmental rollback | New fuel efficiency standard could take months to complete | Trump unveils picks for EPA, Energy deputies MORE said in a statement.

Environmentalists, however, said that the changes would weaken environmental protections.

“The draft rule is a gift to the coal utility industry while endangering the health of people around the country and the environment,” said Earthjustice senior attorney Lisa Evans in a statement.

“Coal plants are the number one source of toxic pollution in the nation’s waterways, and coal ash has contaminated groundwater at nearly every power plant site in the country,” Evans added.

She also said she believes that the rule changes are “contrary” to a court order requiring the EPA to strengthen protections from coal ash.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, and Klobuchar each received a score of just one out of 10 on the Center For Biological Diversity Action Fund’s updated climate scorecard released Wednesday.

The group measured the six candidates set to appear in Wednesday night’s Nevada debate on 10 actions to protect the climate.

Bloomberg and Klobuchar only received a point for a commitment to “end new fossil fuel leasing,” which all six candidates on the scorecard received credit for.

“The stark differences between how the candidates would address the climate crisis shouldn’t be glossed over,” Kassie Siegel, climate director at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said in a statement. “Bloomberg’s climate plan contains almost no bold executive actions, firm targets to curb greenhouse pollution, or spending to confront the emergency.”

INVITE ONLY: A California newspaper whose parent company is being sued by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) says that it was excluded from a water forum featuring the lawmaker and Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The Fresno Bee published an article Tuesday in which it says it was told that morning that its reporters would not be permitted to cover the forum and quoting Nunes staffer Crystal Ervin as saying in a voicemail message, “It’s invited press only, and you’re not on the list and your ticket will not scan at the door.”

One Wednesday document provides guidance on how businesses can show that they have started construction. The other sets criteria under which partnerships can get the credit.

SAGE GROUSE: The Trump administration on Friday is expected to release draft supplemental environmental impact statements that it says will address issues identified in a court order that temporarily halted its attempt to weaken protections for the sage grouse bird. A Bureau of Land Management spokesperson told The Hill in an email that the draft statements will confirm that the agency adequately considered a range of reasonable alternatives, took a “hard look” at environmental effects, evaluated cumulative impacts and allowed the public to review and comment.

“The Secretary of the Interior directed the BLM to review the [National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] documents prepared in support of the 2019 plan amendments to ensure that the four NEPA issues identified in the injunction Order have been adequately addressed. The BLM will review the comments and determine whether any further action is needed to address the issues identified in the Court’s injunction order,” the spokesperson said, referring to the bedrock environmental law.

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Wisconsin assembly passes bipartisan package of bills aimed at improving water quality, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports

Vermont senators consider requiring utilities to buy more local renewables, VT Digger reports.

New Mexico House opts to limit trafficking of wildlife parts, the Associated Press reports.

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

$1M ad buy praises swing-district Democrats’ environmental work

Environmental group ranks Bloomberg, Klobuchar last in climate plans

California newspaper says it was excluded from event with Nunes, Bernhardt

IRS issues guidances on carbon capture tax credit

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