Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick

TRUMP PICK ON HOT SEAT: Senate Democrats repeatedly lambasted Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Michael Dourson Wednesday, framing him as a "lackey" for the chemical industry he's been tapped to regulate.

Dourson, President Trump's pick to lead the EPA's chemical safety and pollution prevention office, has worked for the last two decades to conduct chemical risk research on behalf of clients including industry groups, companies and governments.

Democrats in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee repeatedly brought up instances when Dourson's organization, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, made far more industry-friendly findings on chemical exposure risks than the EPA, individual states or other authorities.

"Never in the history of the EPA has a nominee to lead the chemical safety office had such deep ties to industry," said Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel's top Democrat.

"Never has a nominee had such a long record of recommending chemical safety standards that are as much as thousands of times less protective than those recommended by regulators. Never, to my mind, has a nominee so consistently underestimated the risks of chemical exposures to the most vulnerable among us."

"You're not just an outlier on this science, you're outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are," added Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) started to cry as she spoke about residents of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., who had come to the hearing. They've been diagnosed with numerous illnesses, including cancer, due to drinking water contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked to a Saint Gobain's Performance Plastics plant.

Dourson was on a panel in 2002 that settled on a far higher safe exposure level of PFOA than the EPA has since recommended.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to live and not know if the water that your children are being bathed in is safe, if they're going to get cancer when they're 25, if they're going to be able to have kids," Gillibrand said. "Their lives are so affected by the decisions that you have made."

While Dourson received the most scorn from Democrats, they also took on William Wehrum, Trump's choice to lead the EPA's air and radiation office. Wehrum is an attorney with Hunton & Williams representing numerous industry groups and companies challenging EPA air rules, and he was the air office's acting head for years under former President George W. Bush.

Carper said that Wehrum, who lives in Delaware, asked the senator to introduce him at the hearing, but he declined, citing his opposition to the nomination.

"I think he's a good person," Carper said. "But he's not, in my judgment, a good choice for this particular job."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) had a lengthy back-and-forth with Wehrum over his beliefs regarding climate change, though Merkley wasn't pleased with the answer.

Wehrum said it is an "open question" as to the degree of human activity influence in climate change.

Read more here.

INTERIOR MOVES TO DELAY METHANE RULE: The Interior Department moved Wednesday toward an 18-month delay in implementing the Obama administration's rule to limit methane leaks from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

Under a proposal set to be published Thursday in the Federal Register, the key requirements for oil and gas drillers would be delayed until January 2019.

Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is using that time to decide whether to fully repeal the regulation.

"The BLM is currently reviewing the 2016 final rule and wants to avoid imposing temporary or permanent compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future," the agency said in its notice.

Trump administration officials said they are concerned that the rule "may have underestimated costs and overestimated benefits, and is therefore presently reviewing that analysis for potential inaccuracies."

The oil industry and its allies cheered the Trump administration's action Wednesday.

"We welcome BLM's efforts to get this right and encourage the agency to develop an achievable rule in the months ahead that serves to prevent waste and conserve resources while encouraging energy production on federal lands," said Erik Milito, director of upstream operations at the American Petroleum Institute.

But environmentalists slammed the action as irresponsible for taxpayers and the climate.

"It's hard to remember the last time Interior made a major announcement to protect public lands, but these giveaways for oil and gas companies are starting to feel routine," said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.

Read more here.

CLEAN POWER PLAN REPEAL COMING SOON: Reuters and The New York Times obtained an internal EPA document giving some basic details about the agency's plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan and open the process of replacing it.

The document laying out regulatory activities for the month was distributed to the EPA's Regulatory Steering Committee, and says it "is issuing a proposal to repeal the rule."

It also plans to issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to get feedback on "developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units."

The details closely align with what The Hill and other outlets have reported in recent weeks about the EPA's plan to write a weaker, more industry-friendly regulation that seeks to make coal-fired power plants less carbon-intensive.

But it doesn't provide much in the way of details, Reuters and the Times report.

CHAIRMAN PROBES ZINKE'S PLANE USE: A House GOP chairman is investigating the use of charter and military aircraft by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter late Tuesday with Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) asking for details on use of various types of aircraft by the Trump administration official.

But the Republicans are also investigating how extensively Zinke's predecessors in the Obama administration -- Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar -- used private and government planes.

The probe comes as multiple Trump Cabinet secretaries, such as Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, are under scrutiny for their use of charter and military aircraft.

Read more here.

ON TAP THURSDAY I: The House Energy and Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on "consumer-oriented perspectives" on improving electricity markets.

ON TAP THURSDAY II: The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on the role of liquefied natural gas in Latin America.

AROUND THE WEB:

The government of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May is moving forward with draft legislation to implement a cap on energy prices, the Telegraph reports.

Buying salmon from Walmart and ALDI might be financially supporting North Korea, the Associated Press reports.

A ban on certain uses of flame retardant took effect Wednesday in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-Interior moves to delay Obama's methane leak rule

-Federal 'whistleblower' quits over reassignment, disagreements with administratio

-Dems lambaste Trump's 'outrageous' EPA chemical safety pick

-GOP chairman probes Zinke's charter plane use

-EPA to propose ending Obama-era Clean Power Plan: report

-Hurricane Maria worsens Puerto Rico's water woe

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @dhenry, @thehill

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