Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — EPA launches civil rights probe over Jackson crisis

A water tower emblazon with the City of Jackson, Miss., official seal looms over this north Jackson neighborhood Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. The recent flood worsened Jackson’s longstanding water system problems and the state Health Department has had Mississippi’s capital city under a boil-water notice since late July. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The EPA is conducting a civil rights probe into the Jackson, Miss., water crisis. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is holding firm despite pushback from the U.S. over the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, and the Biden administration prevailed in a court challenge to the “social costs” of greenhouse gases.

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 Budryk.


EPA confirms investigation into Jackson water crisis

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a civil rights investigation into the water crisis that left residents of Jackson, Miss., without water earlier this year, the agency confirmed in a letter to the NAACP. 

The civil rights organization filed a complaint alleging a pattern of discrimination by the state in its predominantly-Black capital, prompting the EPA’s Office of External Civil Rights Compliance (OECR) to confirm the probe Thursday. 

What are they saying? In the letter, acting OECR head Anhthu Hoang said the office will investigate whether the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health discriminated along racial lines in funding for water infrastructure, “by intent or effect,” as well as whether the two departments have adequate guardrails in place against such discrimination.

Proceeding with the investigation does not equate to confirming the allegations, and the EPA office will have 180 days to conduct the probe. 

The NAACP responds: In a statement, NAACP President Derrick Johnson praised the EPA’s move but added “This action is only the first step.”

  • “NAACP and its partners will continue to press the Biden Administration and Congress to hold state officials accountable and ensure that Jackson officials and residents are active participants in the decision-making that will be required to fix the unacceptable problems with Jackson’s water,” he added.

Jackson’s water infrastructure has fallen into disrepair over the past several decades, as large numbers of its wealthier and white populace left the city following integration, shrinking its tax base.

The latest water crisis came after flooding knocked the city water treatment plant offline, but it marked Jackson’s second water crisis in as many years.

  • The state government was allocated about $75 million in funds to update water infrastructure from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year, but put none of it toward the Jackson system.
  • Earlier this week, House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), whose district includes most of Jackson, wrote to Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to seek further answers on the state’s use of federal water funds.

Read more about the investigation here.

Saudi Arabia unfazed by US backlash on oil

Saudi Arabia shows no sign of backing down in the face of U.S. pushback to its decision to cut oil production, part of Riyadh’s strategy to flex its foreign policy influence more forcefully.  

Saudi officials insist that the highly criticized decision to cut oil production to keep prices high is purely economical, pushing back on attacks they are siding with Russia over its war in Ukraine.  

How we got here: Democrats have furiously called to freeze military sales and cooperation with the kingdom as Republicans largely remain quiet, saying U.S. ties to the powerful Gulf nation are too strategic to risk. 

Experts say Riyadh is trying to find a balance between the U.S. and Russia, concerned that Washington is retreating from the Middle East but cautious to avoid severing the relationship completely.  

  • “The Saudis have tried to thread the needle between the Americans and the Russians, in part because they are distrustful of the United States,” said Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
  • “I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term rift, it’s just going to be one of those major ups and downs in the American-Saudi relationship, and, today, here’s another down.” 

President Biden’s highly publicized fist bump with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah in July did little, in Riyadh’s eyes, to make up for his campaign comments pledging to treat the kingdom as a pariah in the wake of it killing Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, experts say.  

And the administration’s pursuit of reviving the nuclear deal with Iran — as well as lingering upset from the Trump administration over what the kingdom viewed as an insignificant response to Iranian drone attacks on the Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq — have hardened their position. 

Read more from The Hill’s Alex Gangitano and Laura Kelly. 

Biden fends off climate accounting metric challenge

The Biden administration has fended off another challenge to its effort to assign significant weight to climate impacts in the federal decision-making process.  

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt from red states to block the Biden administration’ use of an assessment of how much climate change costs society. 

  • The Biden administration is giving significantly more weight to the potential damage caused by climate change than the Trump administration did.  
  • Republican-led states, led by Missouri, have challenged the Biden administration’s use of certain uniform values across agencies to estimate the cost of climate damage.

A three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling against these states. The appellate judges wrote that the states lack standing because they can’t pinpoint a specific way in which the Biden administration’ climate cost estimates have harmed them.  

“The Plaintiff States failed to plausibly allege the ‘irreducible constitutional minimum’ of Article III standing — concrete and particularized actual injury in fact that is fairly traceable to defendants’ challenged conduct,” their opinion states.  

“If the States believe that specific agency actions justified by the interim SC-GHG estimates inflict concrete and particularized injury, they may challenge the actions, and the interim [climate cost] estimates themselves,” they wrote.  

When the federal government takes actions — ranging from regulating greenhouse gas emissions to issuing permits for energy projects like pipelines — it has to weigh the cost and benefits of that action.  

One such cost or benefit may be how much the action will worsen or mitigate climate change. In order to find a uniform way to quantify potential climate damages, the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have assigned monetary values to greenhouse gas emissions, known as their “social costs. “ 

Read more about the ruling here. 

FONDA THE CLIMATE

Jane Fonda says she’s heading back to Washington, kicking off her first in-person climate protest in nearly three years.

The “Grace and Frankie” star announced Thursday that she’s relaunching her high-profile “Fire Drill Friday” demonstrations beginning Dec. 2. 

“We’re coming together to sound the alarm on the climate emergency,” the 84-year-old actress told her nearly 2 million Instagram followers in a video

“We need our leaders to step up,” she said. “It’s going to be a big moment — so mark your calendars and pack your bags.” 

Fonda and Greenpeace USA originally launched “Fire Drill Fridays” in 2019 to raise awareness and urge action on climate change. The outspoken performer — often joined at the rallies by other Hollywood figures — was arrested multiple times during the events, which ran for 14 weeks around the nation’s capital. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Fonda took the protests virtual. 

Earlier this year, Fonda announced she was creating a climate-focused PAC in order to “defeat the political allies of the fossil fuel industry, no matter which side of the aisle they’re on.” 

Last month, Fonda shared that she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had begun chemotherapy treatment. She vowed at the time that her cancer diagnosis wouldn’t “interfere” with her climate and political activism. 

Read more here from The Hill’s Judy Kurtz. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Ahead of the Midterms, Energy Lobbyists Plan for a Republican House (The New York Times
  • Secret files suggest chemical giant feared weedkiller’s link to Parkinson’s disease (The Guardian
  • ‘It’s life or death’: Why one Hawaii island’s severe drought problem should scare everyone (SFGate
  • Brazil presidential vote sparks rush to clear more Amazon rainforest (The Financial Times
  • Italy aims for ‘miracle’ with LNG project in energy crunch (Reuters

🦓  Lighter click: Capturing nature’s…beauty? 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news, and explore more newsletters here. We’ll see you Monday.  

Tags Biden Carolyn Maloney Derrick Johnson EPA Jackson Mississippi Jackson water crisis Jane Fonda OPEC+ saudi arabia Saudi oil social cost of carbon
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