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By Tom DiChristopher, CNBC

President Donald Trump set in motion a vast rollback of energy, climate and environmental regulations during his first two years in office. Over the next two years, those actions will face intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives and the committees that conduct government oversight. Within the first few months of the year, incoming committee chairs intend to hold a series of hearings to pick apart Trump’s energy and environmental policies and what role industry insiders played in crafting them.

The Trump administration has targeted dozens of rules. Some of the biggest items on its agenda include withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, expanding drilling on federal lands, and watering down rules ranging from limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to fuel efficiency in cars and trucks.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat tipped to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, says Americans can expect the committee to probe the financial costs and public health risks associated with Interior Department policies under Trump. Those include rolling back methane emissions rules from oil and gas operations and making virtually all federally administered offshore waters available to drillers.

“The Trump administration has spent two years giving away the store to fossil fuel companies, and Republicans in Congress cheered every step of the way,” said Grijalva. “We need to know what kind of impact this corporate favoritism is having on average Americans’ health and quality of life.”

With House Republicans wielding committee gavels during the first two years of the Trump administration, the president’s deregulatory agenda has proceeded with minimal scrutiny. Now, administration officials and energy industry executives are bracing for a grilling on Capitol Hill.

“No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition, which is what these guys are about to face,” said Rich Gold, a partner at lobbying firm Holland & Knight, referencing the famous “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” sketch.

Building a record to battle Trump

Gold, who heads his firm’s public policy and regulation group, says the hearings create several opportunities for Democrats.

First, they will bog down the administration in requests for information, leaving it less bandwidth to continue slashing regulations. Second, the hearings create an on-the-record account detailing how the administration developed its policies and who it consulted to craft its agenda.

That record provides fodder for the many lawsuits aimed at defeating Trump’s energy and environmental rollback. It can also be leveraged by Trump’s challenger in the 2020 presidential contest to make the case that Trump put industry profits ahead of public health and climate action.

The hearings also present an opportunity for Democrats to trip up administration officials and damage the administration’s credibility, says Gold.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will likely become Speaker of the House, last week opened another avenue to scrutinize Trump’s policies with the creation of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Trump rejects the consensus among climate scientists that global warming is primarily caused by human activity and presents an urgent threat to the world. He dismissed a recent report by his own administration that climate-related impacts could shave 10 percent off the U.S. economy by 2100.

In a statement, Pelosi said, “The American people have demanded action to combat the climate crisis, which threatens our public health, our economy, our national security and the whole of God’s creation.”

Don’t bet on big energy legislation

But with Congress divided and many Republicans still downplaying global warming risks, few Washington watchers expect much, if any, meaningful energy or climate legislation to emerge from Capitol Hill.

“I don’t have high expectations about legislation,” said David Konisky, associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “I think most of the activity from the Democrats will be oversight of policy and activities inside the EPA and the Department of Interior.”

One area that could generate bipartisan support is carbon capture and storage, says Ben Finzel, president at Washington communications firm RenewPR.

The technology strips carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial activity and sequesters it underground. The process has not been proven commercially viable at scale, but it is widely seen as critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change because developing nations around the world are still building coal plants.

“The interesting thing about carbon capture is that it really is bipartisan and there are folks on both sides of the aisle in both chambers that like the concept of addressing at least a piece of energy policy, whether it be jobs or emissions reduction or technology innovation,” said Finzel, whose clients include the Carbon Capture Coalition, which advocates for the technology.

Rebuilding American infrastructure is also seen as some of the most fertile ground for bipartisan compromise and could yield progress in the realm of energy. Democrats say they want an infrastructure bill to include provisions to modernize the nation’s energy infrastructure, expand renewable energy and bioenergy and invest in energy efficiency and smart technology.

Gold, the public policy head at Holland & Knight, says disagreements over how to fund infrastructure spending could be an obstacle, but it’s one area where Trump is fairly content to let Congress hammer out the details. An infrastructure bill would also give him another legislative credential after two years with little to show in terms of bipartisan lawmaking.

“I think he has to go bold on something like that because if he doesn’t, what he’s done so far is not going to get him across the finish line” in the 2020 presidential election, he said.

But Democrats must also contend with intraparty fighting.

The party’s progressive wing, led by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, is pushing for a “Green New Deal,” a sweeping stimulus package that calls for generating all U.S. electric power from renewable sources within 10 years. Some centrist Democrats and members of the establishment worry the plan is unfeasible and threatens to alienate independents and moderate Republicans ahead of 2020 elections.

Ocasio-Cortez has taken a combative stance and said Pelosi’s new select committee will be weaker than one the leader convened when she was last Speaker of the House.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a rare coal supporter within the Democratic party, will also become the ranking member on the Senate Energy Committee. Environmentalists and progressives worry that Manchin will use the position to advocate for the coal industry, a powerful player in his state.



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Senate Republicans to hold Green New Deal vote this week

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — The GOP Senate could hold a procedural vote as early as Tuesday on the Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as Republicans seek to put Democrats on the record on the ambitious plan.

The measure will require 60 votes to advance and is expected to fail, both because Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and because many Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are expected to vote present in protest of what they call an openly political show-vote. It’s possible the vote could slip to Wednesday.

Republican congressional leaders have criticized the Green New Deal for weeks, arguing that it would devastate the U.S. economy. GOP lawmakers are hoping that the vote will put Democrats in a tough spot politically, especially those up for re-election or running for president in 2020.

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., joined Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in February to introduce the resolution, which calls for a complete transition to renewable energy by 2030 and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of its Senate cosponsors include Democratic presidential contenders Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“The proposal we are talking about is, frankly, delusional,” McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “It is so unserious that it ought to be beneath one of our two major political parties to line up behind it.”

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CANCEL BREXIT: Brexit petition update – will Britain EVER leave the EU?

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A PETITION to cancel Brexit continues to gather momentum, with more than 5.5 million signatures to date. So will Brexit ever really happen?

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New Jersey Senate postpones vote on legal recreational pot

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By Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey lawmakers dealt a blow to the prospects of legal recreational marijuana use Monday, when the state Senate president postponed a vote after his and the governor’s lobbying campaign failed to muster enough support in the chamber.

But Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said the issue isn’t going away, and though he didn’t specify when a vote would happen again, he promised to hold one.

“We’ll be back at this, so anybody that thinks this is dead — they’re wrong. We’re gonna get back, and one way or another we’ll get this passed,” Sweeney said at a news conference Monday.

Legal recreational pot has been widening its footprint across the country despite a federal prohibition. New Jersey would join the District of Columbia and 10 other states if the measure succeeds.

But it’s not clear when or if that will happen despite the strong backing of legislative leaders and the Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

The delay is a setback for the first-term governor, who campaigned on legalizing recreational weed and comes even though his party controls both chambers of the Legislature as well.

Murphy had said he was burning up phone lines leading up to the vote trying to persuade enough lawmakers to back the measure that would have made New Jersey the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

After the delay in the Senate, the Democrat-led Assembly also decided to postpone a vote on the measure, according to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s spokeswoman Liza Acevdeo.

In a statement, Coughlin said he was “disappointed” the measure didn’t get enough support and said he’s committed to continue working to get it passed.

“We moved closer to the goal than ever before,” Coughlin said.

New Jersey’s Statehouse was a hive of supporters, opponents and TV cameras covering the stalled vote on the measure to allow those 21 and over to possess or buy up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana, as well as to expunge the records of many people convicted of marijuana crimes.

Opponents declared the canceled vote a win and took credit for “flooded phones and email boxes” among lawmakers.

“This is a huge victory for us,” said Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Act. “They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong.”

Supporters downplayed the significance of the delay. Scott Rudder, the head of the state’s pro-legalization CannaBusiness Association, said he was confident that lawmakers would eventually come to support legalization and that they needed more time to understand the intricacies of the bill.

New Jersey’s bill calls for a tax of $42 per ounce, setting up a five-member regulator commission and expediting expungements to people with marijuana-related offenses.

The bill would also let towns that host retailers, growers, wholesalers and processors levy taxes as well, up to 3 percent in some cases.

Tax revenue would go into a fund for “development, regulations, and enforcement of cannabis activities,” including paying for expungement costs.

The expungement provisions, which Murphy says would set New Jersey apart from any other state with legal weed, waive any fee for expungement processing and permit clearing of records for possession up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms).

That unsettled some lawmakers, including Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty. The change appeared to permit felons, and not just low-level offenders, to qualify for expungement, he said.

Under earlier versions of the bill, the expungement provision covered people convicted of possession roughly 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana.

Lawmakers said during hearings that while 5 pounds sounds like a lot, it’s necessary to allow for an expedited expungement process because the statute covering possession for small amounts of cannabis goes up to 5 pounds.

The measure calls for an investigation on the influence of cannabis on driving and for funding drug-recognition experts for law enforcement.

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