Overnight Energy: Flint task force faults state government

FLINT TASK FORCE POINTS TO SNYDER ADMINISTRATION: A state-convened task force is putting the blame for the Flint water crisis on Michigan state agencies.

It faulted the state's emergency manager law, but mainly charged the state's environment and health agencies, overseen by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), with dropping the ball in multiple instances.

"The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice," Chris Kolb, co-chairman of the task force, told reporters in unveiling the group's findings Wednesday, according to Michigan Radio.

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"Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] once water quality problems were encountered," the report said.

"Given the demographics of Flint, the implications for environmental injustice cannot be ignored or dismissed."

Snyder said the state has already begun working to fix the various problems identified and implementing the recommendations from the task force.

Read more here.

Kildee to House: Don't go home: As House lawmakers prepared to head home Wednesday for a two-week recess, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint, called on the chamber to stay in Washington until it passes an aid bill for the city.

In a floor speech, Kildee said Congress has a "moral responsibility" to pass an aid package and that it would be "unconscionable" to leave for a recess without doing so.

The House has passed a bill from Kildee and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to improve public notifications of drinking water problems.

But the Senate is still negotiating on a potential $250 million aid package to expand loan and health programs for communities with drinking water contamination.

Despite Kildee's call, the House took three votes on Wednesday and left town on a two-week recess. 

Read more here.

GOP HITS OBAMA OFFICIAL ON COAL RULE: Republicans on a House committee complained to a top Obama administration official Wednesday about a new coal mining rule.

Joseph Pizarchik, the director of the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), testified before a House panel on Wednesday, giving lawmakers the chance to raise questions again over what they consider the lack of input from states on the agency's stream protection rule.

"If you're supposed to be working with the states, how does one do that when your actions prompted nine of the 11 states impacted to withdraw from your program?" Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) asked.

Pizarchik defended the agency's work on the rule, now into its sixth year. He said he's offered to bring states back to the table to talk through the regulation and that OSM has already integrated much of their input into the rule.

"From our standpoint, the states have had significant input into the draft [environmental impact statement] and the rulemaking process," he said. "The experience the states have demonstrated with the work they have done has been very influential in informing what is in this rule."

The stream protection rule has caused tension between competing forces -- the coal industry, states and Republicans versus the federal government -- for years. States say they haven't had a chance to comment on the rule, which the industry warns will eventually kill jobs and hurt coal production.

But Democrats have defended the rule as overdue.

"I think it's an extremely important rule both for the environment and the health of the communities that have these mines in their backyards," Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said.

Read more here.

MASSIVE UTILITY MERGER APPROVED: Local Washington, D.C., regulators approved the merger of Pepco Holdings and Exelon Corp. Wednesday, paving the way to create the largest privately held electric utility in the country.

While attaching various conditions that the companies have to consider and approve, D.C.'s Public Service Commission found the merger would be in the city's public interest.

It came nearly two years after the companies first proposed joining forces, and after two rejections by the commission.

Other federal and state bodies already approved the combined utility over the objections of environmentalists and consumer advocates.

Read more here.

LEADING GREEN PUSHES OBAMA ON METHANE: Bill McKibben, a leading advocate for climate action, is urging the Obama administration to do more to prevent leaks of methane from oil and natural gas drilling sites -- including ending natural gas production entirely.

In an article in The Nation, McKibben highlighted a recent report from Harvard University, which estimates the amount of leaked methane in the United States has turned on its head the U.S.'s progress on cutting global warming-causing emissions.

He criticized leaders -- including President Obama -- for relying on natural gas as both a jobs engine and a source of cleaner-burning fuel while also underestimating methane's impact on climate change. Methane -- the main component of natural gas -- has about 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Now, he wrote in his piece, the U.S. should crack down on methane leaks, but also consider the more drastic step of shutting down natural gas drilling entirely to prevent further environmental damage.

"We need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad," he wrote. "Even with optimistic numbers for all the plausible leaks fixed ... methane emissions will keep rising if we keep fracking."

McKibben, the co-founder of the climate action group 350.org, is a proponent of the "keep it in the ground" movement to prevent future fossil fuel development. His article can be found here.

AROUND THE WEB:

Republican lawmakers in Colorado failed for the second time in as many days to defund the state's planning effort to comply with the Clean Power Plan, the Denver Post reports.

California officials are offering some options for Southern California Gas Co. to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from the massive Aliso Canyon natural gas leak, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Local fights over energy transmission lines are increasingly threatening renewable energy projects around the country, the New York Times reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

-GOP hits Obama administration over coal mining rule
-DC approves mega-utility merger
-Michigan task force blames state government for Flint water crisis
-Flint lawmaker: No recess until Congress passes aid
-Greens protest Gulf of Mexico drilling lease auction

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