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Energy & Environment — EPA announces new civil rights office

Roll Call/Pool

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces a new civil rights office, Joe Manchin’s permitting reform bill faces rough currents and congressional Democrats call for the EPA to back its union in negotiations. 

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack BudrykSubscribe here.

EPA launches civil rights office to tackle inequity

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a new office focused on civil rights in an effort to take on environmental challenges in historically underserved communities. 

  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights on Saturday in Warren County, N.C.
  • Warren County is the location of 1982 protests against a landfill that were seen as the spark behind the environmental justice movement, which aims to tackle racial disparities in environmental issues.  

What is environmental justice? Studies have shown that people of color face a disproportionate amount of pollution compared to their white counterparts.

  • In his speech, Regan described the office as “elevating” environmental justice and civil rights issues and said it would put the issues on “equal structural footing” with those tackled by the agency’s air and water offices.
  • “If we’re going to change how the system works, we have to change the structure of the system,” he said.

What will the office do? As part of the new office, 200 staffers will work toward solving environmental issues in underserved communities. These employees will work with other agency offices to incorporate environmental equity concerns into their programs and make sure funding recipients comply with civil rights laws.  

  • The office was created by merging three existing EPA programs: the Office of Environmental Justice, External Civil Rights Compliance Office and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.
  • A similar effort took place earlier in the year inside a different Biden administration department: In May, the Justice Department announced the creation of its own environmental justice office. 

Read more about the announcement here. 

Senate GOP leaders whipping against Manchin bill

Senate Republican leaders are urging their GOP colleagues to stay unified against a permitting reform bill sponsored by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) and to support instead a competing bill sponsored by his home-state colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).  

  • Senate GOP sources say Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) is doing most of the whipping but that Senate GOP leadership is united in trying to push colleagues to Capito’s bill.
  • “There’s a concerted effort in the Republican conference to stay united in our support for Capito’s legislation and to stay united in our opposition to Manchin,” a Republican aide said.   

Wild card: The one wrinkle in their plan is that Capito last week announced her support for Manchin’s bill, even though prominent GOP experts on permitting reform such as Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, say Manchin’s bill is too weak.

But Senate Republicans opposed to Manchin’s bill say that Capito’s support is primarily motivated by her home state’s interest in approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 304-mile natural gas pipeline that runs through West Virginia and Virginia. Manchin’s bill would greenlight its approval.   

Manchin’s legislation is part of deal he reached with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in exchange for his vote on Democrats’ climate, tax and health care bill. The proposal would speed up the process for approving both green and fossil fuel energy projects. 

Read more from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. 


BIDEN OFFICIALS URGED TO BACK EPA UNION IN CONTRACT TALKS

More than 80 congressional Democrats on Monday called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan to back the agency’s union in contract negotiations.

  • The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, the biggest union representing EPA members, is in negotiations with agency management for a new contract, with its current contract set to expire in 2024.
  • Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, led a letter to Regan, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Among their demands is the addition of so-called blind hiring practices, or the removal of personal information from applicant resumes. Advocates say the practice prevents any unconscious biases from affecting the hiring process.  

It also backs EPA employees’ call for wages to match their workloads.  

“For example, according to several of our constituents who are currently EPA employees, they are stagnating at the GS-12 level, while completing the work of a GS-13,” they wrote. “The practice of keeping employees at a GS-12, with pay and benefits of a GS-12, will only risk draining the EPA’s workforce as employees seek better opportunities with room for growth in the private sector.” 

Read more about the letter here. 

Tampa evacuation ordered ahead of Hurricane Ian

Residents in parts of Tampa, Fla., received mandatory evacuation orders on Monday as Hurricane Ian barrels toward the state’s Gulf Coast, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) warning more evacuations are likely to come. 

  • The evacuation order spans waterfront areas in Tampa and elsewhere in Hillsborough County, while officials also issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas slightly more inland.
  • The National Hurricane Center forecasts Ian will continue strengthening into a major hurricane in the coming hours as it hits Jamaica and western Cuba before traveling north toward Florida, possibly bringing life-threatening storm surges along the state’s west coast. 

“We’re asking everyone to go ahead and while the weather is cooperating just get out of those high-water areas,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (D) said on CNN’s “At This Hour With Kate Bolduan.” 

Castor said residents don’t have to travel far, but should get away from areas that could see the impacts of storm surges. 

“If you can leave, just leave now, and we will take care of your personal property,” she said on CNN. 

DeSantis, during a press conference on Monday, urged Floridians to not panic buy, while warning that more evacuation orders are likely still to come. He said the storm’s large diameter could mean widespread impacts across the state, including power outages. 

Read more from The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld.

ICYMI

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • As wildfires become common, Idaho’s smoke season becomes a public health hazard (Idaho Capital Sun)
  • EPA report reveals long list of violations at Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility (HawaiiNewsNow)
  • Biden may help fund overseas mining to boost mineral access (E&E News)

 🛰 Lighter click: Practice makes perfect?

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

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Tags environmental justice EPA Joe Manchin John Thune Manchin-Schumer deal Michael Regan Michael Regan permitting reform
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