Overnight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms

Overnight Energy: Fewer than half of school districts test for lead | Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act | FEMA avoids climate change when discussing plan for future storms
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FEWER THAN HALF OF SCHOOLS TEST FOR LEAD IN DRINKING WATER: A government watchdog report released Tuesday found that in 2017 fewer than half of all school districts tested their drinking water for lead levels.

The schools that tested for lead serve 35 million students, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that 37 percent of those tests found elevated lead levels.

GAO opened the investigation following requests from Democrats in Congress who wanted the watchdog to look into state and school district practices for lead testing and remediation efforts.

Reaction from Democrats: "The findings in this report are disturbing and unacceptable," the Democrats, lead by House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), said in joint statement. "No child should be put at risk for toxic lead exposure simply by drinking water at school."

Questions for the EPA: The GAO report additionally found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was partially responsible for the lack of testing at schools. The watchdog found that EPA--which is responsible for submitting guidance on acceptable lead levels in drinking water--has sometimes issued "misleading" guidance.


"Although EPA guidance emphasizes the importance of addressing elevated lead levels, GAO found that some aspects of the guidance, such as the threshold for taking remedial action, were potentially misleading and unclear, which can put school districts at risk of making uninformed decisions," the GAO report read.

The report added that EPA has not followed through on a 2005 memorandum agreeing to regularly collaborate with state and school districts to familiarize them with the agency's lead guidance.

Read more here.


Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill.


FEMA AVOIDS 'CLIMATE CHANGE' WHEN DISCUSSING RESILIENCY PLAN: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is taking blame for its response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated communities across Puerto Rico last summer, but the agency and its heads are largely avoiding all mention of climate change preparedness.

Speaking at an event Tuesday, FEMA Deputy Administrator for Resilience Daniel Kaniewski remarked on the agency's new plan to reduce community risk and enhance its "culture of preparedness" by focusing on resiliency.

"In the aftermath of these disasters we cannot simply ignore that it will happen again," Kaniewski said of the back-to-back storm systems that hit the U.S. last year.

But Kaniewski stopped short of identifying why FEMA led with the belief that natural disasters would continue.

"With regards to climate I think we all can acknowledge that the climate shifts, it changes over time and we at FEMA are an all-hazard agency. We have to be prepared to respond to any type of event, can be a natural disaster like we just responded to, it can be a man made event-- an industrial accident or a terrorist attack," Kaniewski said.

Read more here.


DEMS SLAM BILL TO CHANGE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT: Senate Democrats on Tuesday criticized multiple GOP-backed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), saying they threaten the conservation program's successes.

The debate came at a hearing examining Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWatch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection MORE's (R-Wyo.) major proposal to overhaul the law.

The Republican side: Barrasso's bill aims to give states a bigger role in species recovery, mostly through "recovery teams" -- at least half of whose members would represent state and local interests -- with power to oversee an imperiled plant or animal's recovery.

"The discussion draft elevates the role of states in partnering with the federal government in implementing the Endangered Species Act. It affords states the opportunity to lead wildlife conservation efforts, including through the establishment of recovery teams for listed species in development and implementing recovery plans," Barrasso said at the committee's hearing on the legislation.

"It provides for increased regulatory certainty, so stakeholders are incentivized to enter into voluntary conservation recovery activities," he said. "It increases transparency. It codifies a system for prioritizing species listing petitions, so limited resources flow to the species most in need."

The bill is modeled on an ongoing process by the Western Governors' Association to recommend changes to the law, a process that has been endorsed by numerous GOP governors and one Democrat -- Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

The Democratic side: While Democrats on the Environment Committee recognized that the ESA might warrant some changes and expressed an openness to contributing to the process, they said Barrasso's bill was unacceptable.

"The legislation proposes some changes to the act that cause, for me, some real concerns," Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNearly 200 Democrats back EPA in Supreme Court emissions case Bottom line Biden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  MORE (Del.), the panel's top Democrat, said.

He pointed specifically to changes in the way the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would have to consider scientific findings in its decisions.

"This change could actually prevent the best available science from guiding species management, especially in an administration that consistently denies and undermines science," he said.

Read more.


House Dems also fight defense bill amendments: More than 100 Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against Republican efforts to include provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would weaken certain endangered species protections.

On Tuesday, 119 House Democrats sent a letter to various lawmakers in both chambers urging them to remove specific language in the House version of the defense bill that could weaken the ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Democrats wrote that the provisions in the bill would "have widespread, negative consequences."

"The 2019 Defense Authorization bills contain numerous, controversial, anti-environmental provisions that are unrelated to military readiness," the lawmakers wrote. "These deceptive provisions would cause irreparable harm to our wildlife and public lands."

Read more.



The House is due to start voting on amendments to the "minibus" appropriations bill, which includes both the Interior/EPA section and the financial services section.

Dozens of amendments were approved by the Rules Committee Monday for potential votes. While high-profile proposals like restricting offshore drilling areas or Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Understanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official MORE scandal-related ones didn't make it, some other major regulatory matters did.

Here are a few to watch:

- One from Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithDon't just delay student debt, prevent it Nunes resignation sets off GOP scramble on Ways and Means The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown MORE (R-Mo.) and others would prevent the federal government from paying any attorneys fees as part of a settlement under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act.

- One from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and others would undo the section of the bill that would repeal the EPA's Clean Water Rule.

- One from Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrats urge IRS to start with lowest-income Americans in clearing tax return backlog Biden to sign order to streamline government services to public Proposed Virginia maps put rising-star House Democrats at risk MORE (D-Va.) and others would prevent the EPA from making any changes to the 2015 rule setting coal ash disposal standards.

- One from Rep. Gary PalmerGary James PalmerGOP beginning to jockey for post-election leadership slots Alabama Republican touts provision in infrastructure bill he voted against Mo Brooks launches Senate bid in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) would defund the EPA's Criminal Enforcement Division.

- Another from Palmer would defund the EPA's Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program.

- One from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) would boost funding for the Interior's Office of Inspector General by $2.5 million, taking the money away from Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeGOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund unveils first midterm endorsements Trump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Watchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership MORE's office.

Other Wednesday happenings:

"SHARKS!" is the real title of a hearing in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It will examine innovations in shark research and technology.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee will hold a hearing on the role of energy storage in the nation's electric grid.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's emergency management subcommittee will hold a hearing on how federal programs are helping recovery from the 2017 hurricane season and preparing for the 2018 season.



Navajo Nation leaders have kicked off formal talks with a company that may buy the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, the Associated Press reports.

New research argues that bringing back supersonic flights would by an environmental disaster, Reuters reports.

HSBC is predicting that Texas will soon eclipse Iran and Iraq in oil production, CNNMoney reports.



Check out stories from Tuesday...

-Watchdog: Fewer than half of all school districts test for lead in drinking water

-FEMA avoids 'climate change' when introducing future storm resiliency plans

-Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act

-More than 100 Dems oppose GOP efforts to change endangered species law

-Greens sue EPA over 'super-polluting' truck rule