Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues

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HAPPY FRIDAY! 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.

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SEMANTIC BATTLE: The U.S. Park Police on Friday hedged its earlier claims that it did not use tear gas to clear crowds near the White House on Monday, telling Vox earlier statements were a “mistake” given that the chemical agents they used cause similar eye and lung irritation.

A Tuesday statement from Park Police said it used “smoke canisters and pepper balls” to clear “violent” protests in the area, counter to multiple reports that peaceful demonstrators were met with tear gas.

“I’m not going to say that pepper balls don’t irritate you,” Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado told Vox, noting they contain an irritant derived from pepper plants. “I’m not saying it’s not a tear gas, but I’m just saying we use a pepper ball that shoots a powder.”

The original Park Police statement ignited a semantic battle over chemical agents amid a broader discussion over whether the use of force was necessary as protestors demonstrated in Lafayette Square following George Floyd’s death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes pepper spray and pepper balls under the category of a “riot control agent,” something it defines as “chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.” 

“The point is we admitted to using what we used,” Delgado said. 

“I think the term ‘tear gas’ doesn’t even matter anymore. It was a mistake on our part for using ‘tear gas’ because we just assumed people would think CS or CN,” he said, using abbreviations for other forms of tear gas.

An updated statement on the Park Police website posted Wednesday still claims that “officers and other assisting law enforcement partners did not use tear gas or OC Skat Shells to close the area at Lafayette Park.”

There has been a growing demand from Democratic lawmakers for the Department of the Interior, which oversees Park Police, to explain the use of chemical force and defend the aggressive clearing of protesters before Washington, D.C.’s curfew for the night had begun.

The move came just minutes before President Trump walked through the area to visit a church that had been vandalized the night before.

A letter obtained by The Hill shows Interior Secretary David Bernhardt requested assistance from the D.C. National Guard to quell protests, specifically saying they would be armed with “appropriate chemical munitions.”

Read more about the new comments here.


GO FISH: President Trump on Friday announced that he will reopen the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of Massachusetts for commercial fishing. 

The monument, about 130 miles from Cape Cod, Mass., was established in 2016 by then-President Obama to protect deep-sea environments and marine life. 

It includes several undersea mountains and canyons and is often visited by animals including whales, dolphins, turtles, swordfish, sharks, Atlantic puffins and deep-sea coral.

“We’re opening it today. We’re undoing his executive order,” Trump said on Friday, speaking from Bangor, Maine. “We are reopening the Northeast Canyons and the Seamounts Marine Region to commercial fishing.”

According to the White House, the president’s proclamation will amend the restrictions put forth in Obama’s executive order, but will not alter the boundaries of the monument. 

Gib Brogan, a senior campaign manager at Oceana, said that rolling back the monument raised concerns about the impact crab and lobster traps will have on coral and sponge habitat. 

“They are hundreds of years old, they’re extraordinarily fragile and even a lobster trap or a crab trap being dropped on top of them will do damage and it will take centuries for them to recover, if they can recover at all,” Brogan said of the corals.

He said it also posed risks to endangered North Atlantic right whales. 

Beth Casoni, the executive director of the Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association, said that there have never been interactions with protected corals where people are fishing. 

“The fishing industry is under the most restrictive and conservative fisheries management anywhere in the world,” Casoni said. “The fisherman have been punished for being … conservation minded.”

She added that not allowing fishing in a 900-square-mile part of the monument would cause a $3 million dollar loss for the lobster industry. 

Fishing activities are still taking place in the monument, as the fishing prohibition established in Obama’s executive order doesn’t take effect until 2023

Read more about the president’s announcement here


GOING GREEN: Environmental issues are emerging as a major factor in some key Senate races as voters show increasing concern on topics such as climate change and conservation measures.

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are seeking to boost the electoral appeal of Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) by putting their support behind legislation that permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides money to protect and conserve habitats of endangered species, develop parks and outdoor recreation sites and protect sensitive forests. 

The bill, called the Great American Outdoors Act, is moving closer to a formal Senate vote and was introduced to the House on Thursday. It has wide support in Montana and Colorado, and Trump has vowed to support it in a bid to boost Daines and Gardner as they face tough challenges from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), respectively.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Sen. Ed Markey (D) is leaning hard on his environmental record, including his role in co-authoring the Green New Deal resolution with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), as he seeks to fend off a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III.

The growing importance of environmental issues in these races comes as voters, particularly Democrats, express concerns about issues such as climate change. A Morning Consult poll conducted last month found that 71 percent of voters are concerned about climate change, with 38 percent responding that they are “very” concerned.

Read more about the role environmental issues are playing in these competitive races here



On Tuesday…

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a remote hearing titled “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Environmental Justice Communities.”
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on wildfire management amid the pandemic.
  • The Senate  Energy and Natural Resources panel will also hold a business meeting to consider the nomination Mark Menezes, to be the deputy secretary of Energy.
  • And the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a virtual forum on “how best to build a pro-jobs, pro-environment economy after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.”

On Wednesday…

  • The House Natural Resources panel will hold an online forum looking at coronavirus impacts on wildland fire operations and vulnerable communities. 



Study finds mines are hotspots for spread of Covid-19, The Guardian reports

Water data reveal how a devastating agricultural legacy, aggravated by decades of bureaucratic failure — and now climate change – thwart quest for solutions in Florida, The Investigative Reporting Workshop and the Weather Channel report

Massachusetts directs agency to study phase-out of natural gas, Reuters reports

Epidemic of wipes and masks plagues sewers, storm drains, The Associated Press reports


ICYMI: Stories from Friday…

Climate agency reports May was hottest on record worldwide

US Park Police say it was a mistake to say no tear gas was used in Lafayette Square

Trump to reopen Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument for fishing

Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Cory Gardner Donald Trump Ed Markey Joe Kennedy John Hickenlooper Mitch McConnell Steve Bullock Steve Daines

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