SCOTUS to hear key pipeline case today

Presented by Chevron

With help from Alex Guillén

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The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a consequential case surrounding the Atlantic Coast pipeline and its path across the Appalachian Trail.

The Nevada caucuses may be over, but President Donald Trump's vow to ditch the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in the state leaves the nation's stranded waste in limbo.

Several Trump administration officials are slated to appear before Congress this week on the president's budget.

WELCOME TO MONDAY! I'm your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — 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.

Holland & Knight's Beth Viola is the trivia winner. Beth correctly named former Interior Secretary Thomas McKennan, who agreed to serve as secretary under former President Millard Fillmore, but quickly regretted the decision and resigned after just 11 days. For today: Which former EPA administrator holds the record for longest tenure as head of the agency? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to [email protected].

Driving the Day

SCOTUS WEIGHS ATLANTIC COAST PERMIT: The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a closely watched case surrounding the fate of the 600-mile Atlantic Coast pipeline and its route across a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The high court will weigh whether the U.S. Forest Service erred in granting the trail-crossing permit to the pipeline that would bring natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina.

Developers of the pipeline and the Trump administration have asked the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling, as Pro's Alex Guillén previously reported. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in December 2018 that the portion of the trail where the Dominion Energy pipeline would cross is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service and thus the Forest Service lacks the authority to grant a right of way across the trail.

The pipeline's opponents argue that any such permit to cross the trail would have to be granted by the National Park Service, and even then that statute favors keeping the footpath clear of infrastructure development. Supporters of the pipeline meanwhile say that the Forest Service was within its jurisdiction when it approved the permit.

The state of Virginia has filed a "friend of the court" brief before the court supporting conservation groups. In a separate brief, 13 states and the District of Columbia argued that the trail is one of the few places people can hike for days or weeks in uninterrupted wilderness. Environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, arguing that under the Minerals Leasing Act, a federal agency is prohibited from authorizing a pipeline across lands in the National Park system, which includes the Appalachian Trail.

Red states and Republican House members, as well as industry groups, forestry interests and building unions, have all filed briefs backing up the Trump administration.

Keep in mind: Even if the Trump administration and the developer prevail, the pipeline can't begin construction again immediately. Lower courts have found other problems with Atlantic Coast, like Endangered Species Act compliance. Judges have twice tossed out the Interior Department's ESA review of Atlantic Coast, and last July went so far as to charge Interior with having "lost sight of its mandate" to protect threatened species. The Trump administration has been back at the ESA drawing board since then, but it remains to be seen whether the third time will be the charm.

Beyond the Beltway

WORTH A MENTION: G20 finance officials reached agreement Sunday on the language of a communique that includes a reference to climate change — a first under the Trump administration, Reuters reports. The communique stopped short of calling climate change a major risk to the economy, which had won agreement by nearly all other G20 delegates. But the group "ultimately agreed to permit a reference to the Financial Stability Board's work examining the implications of climate change for financial stability," Reuters reports.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attended the meeting, but played down the significance of the language, Reuters reports, calling it a "purely factual" reference to work being done by the FSB. The passage reads: "Mobilizing sustainable finance and strengthening financial inclusion are important for global growth and stability. The FSB is examining the financial stability implications of climate change." The communique is a result of a two-day meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers that began Saturday in Saudi Arabia.

NUCLEAR WASTE (STILL) IN LIMBO: Trump is seeking Nevada voters' support by abandoning the decades-long plan to permanently store the nation's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. But Trump's vow in a tweet this month — "Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!" — could drag the White House into an unsolvable political stalemate, POLITICO's Eric Wolff and Anthony Adragna report.

Trump, who narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in Nevada in 2016, recently pledged to find "innovative approaches" to find a new place to store the 90,000 metric tons of nuclear plant leftovers stranded at 120 temporary storage sites. But much like his actions on a federal ethanol mandate, Trump could face political risks by intervening in a politically charged, no-win energy quagmire, Eric and Anthony report.

Some lawmakers fear that Trump is undermining their efforts to work out a compromise on interim waste storage sites. "Not working on a permanent repository is going to make it harder to do consent-based interim storage, 'cause all of a sudden those communities are going to be going, 's---, we're going to become permanent storage,'" Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a senior House appropriator who has long-championed the Yucca project, told POLITICO.

Swapping positions on Yucca may not yield many political benefits for Trump, said University of Nevada political science professor Eric Herzik, who has tracked the state's politics for decades. "If it was a political ploy, I don't see where it will get him much in Nevada," Herzik said. "Trump somewhat pulled the rug out from under the mostly Republican legislators pushing to get Yucca back on track and this is a gift to the Democrats in the Nevada delegation."

Related: The New York Times reports that the Yucca Mountain issue caught Trump's attention before the 2018 midterms, when then-Sen. Dean Heller pointed to train tracks a half-mile from Trump's Las Vegas hotel that could cart the nuclear waste to Yucca. "I think he calculated pretty quickly what that meant," Heller told the Times.

TRUDEAU: BLOCKADE MUST COME DOWN: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for blockades that have stopped rail traffic for more than two weeks to come down on Friday, Pro's Maura Forrest reports. The statement marks a change in tone for Trudeau as pressure mounts for his government to resolve the crisis sparked by a dispute over construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Trudeau said his government has exhausted all avenues of negotiation with protesters standing in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary leaders who oppose construction of the pipeline. "Every attempt at dialogue has been made, but discussions have not been productive," he said. "It has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down." Maura reports that Trudeau has been clear he wanted a peaceful solution, but his remarks Friday issued a strong signal that police should intervene if Indigenous leaders don't dismantle the blockade themselves.


In the Courts

SCAM PAC TREASURER SENTENCED TO 1 YEAR IN PRISON: Scott Mackenzie, a Republican political operative who ran a fundraising entity tied to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison on Friday for lying on federal campaign finance reports, Pro's Ben Lefebvre reports. The judge also sentenced Mackenzie to pay $172,000 in restitution related to work for three PACs — the Conservative Majority Fund, Conservative StrikeForce and Tea Party Majority Fund. Mackenzie pleaded guilty to the charges. Mackenzie was treasurer for other so-called scam PACs, including one under the name of the Virgin Islands GOP for which Zinke helped raise funds.

On the Hill

BUDGET BONANZA: Several top Trump officials will be on Capitol Hill this week to make the case for their department's fiscal 2021 budget request — marking their first appearances there since the president proposed his budget that largely calls for slashing domestic spending.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette will testify on Thursday before the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee on DOE's fiscal 2021 budget request in his first congressional appearance since his December confirmation. Trump's budget for Brouillette's department proposes cutting funding for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Lawmakers will also no doubt press Brouillette on Trump's nuclear waste plans after his comments about the Yucca Mountain repository.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold its own budget hearing Thursday with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The White House's budget proposal earlier this month called for cutting EPA's funding by 27 percent.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen will testify this week before both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee. Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will appear before the House Science Committee on the administration's budget for federal research and development on Thursday.

GROUP SUES FOR McCONNELL ENERGY DOCS: Watchdog group American Oversight sued the Energy Department, as well as the departments of Transportation and State, on Friday, seeking documents that could shed light on whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has wielded influence at the departments. The lawsuit, which seeks the release of communications between department leadership and the office or campaign of McConnell (R-Ky.), follows a POLITICO report last year that detailed how Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao met more often with officials from Kentucky than from any other state. Friday's lawsuit seeks communication records between McConnell's office and the office of former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, as well as U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, in order to see whether similar patterns are evident. The lawsuit comes after the agencies failed to respond to three Freedom of Information Act requests filed by American Oversight, the watchdog group said.

Movers and Shakers

Kyle Winslow joined clean transportation nonprofit CALSTART as federal policy director. Winslow previously was a legislative director at the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and a legislative and policy adviser to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The Grid

— "That time Mike Bloomberg installed an AC unit in his SUV," via POLITICO.

— "U.S. pushes changes to Western land plans that judge blocked," via Associated Press.

— "Rising temperatures are taking a worsening toll on the Colorado River, study finds," via The Arizona Republic.

— "Natural-gas exporters struggle to lock up buyers despite 'freedom gas' pitch," via The Wall Street Journal.

— "U.S. Agriculture secretary breaks ranks to endorse carbon pricing," via Financial Times.


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