Overnight Energy: Justices take up major case on water rules | Dems probe administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia | Greens sue EPA over toxic paint strippers

SCOTUS TO HEAR CASE THAT COULD RESTRICT FEDERAL WATER RULES: The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a major dispute with potentially far-reaching implications for how the federal government protects waterways from pollution.

The case, County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, challenges an appeals court's ruling that pollution discharged into groundwater that later flows into a navigable waterway can constitute a violation of the Clean Water Act.

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Congress traditionally leaves regulation of navigable waterways up to the federal government, while groundwater is regulated only by states. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) finding that pollution discharged from Maui County municipal wastewater wells into groundwater, which later went into the Pacific Ocean, violated the federal law.

From the greens: Kevin Minoli, a former general counsel for the EPA and now an attorney at Alston & Bird's environmental practice, said the Maui appeals court case and a similar one -- Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP v. Upstate Forever -- were landmark rulings for water regulation.

"These two cases significantly expand EPA's decades-long understanding that a Clean Water Act permit is only required when a discharge is into groundwater that has a direct hydrologic connection to a surface water," he said in a Tuesday statement.

"By holding that permits are required whenever any amount of the discharge reaches the surface water in any way and at any point in time, the two decisions have unearthed incredible uncertainty for those who are trying to understand and comply with the law."

The court did not take the Kinder Morgan case, which concerns a pipeline that ruptured in South Carolina, sending gasoline into groundwater.

From Maui County: In asking the high court to hear the case last year, attorneys for Maui County called the 9th Circuit ruling a "radical expansion" of the Clean Water Act.

They said millions of water pollution sources, including municipal water treatment plants and others, would be subject to strict new rules about where they could put waste and how to treat it.

The controversy is separate from the ongoing debate over the EPA's Waters of the United States rule, which determines the waterways that are subject to federal regulation. The Trump administration is currently working to greatly restrict which waterways, like wetlands and tributaries, are within federal jurisdiction.

Read more on the case here.

 

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DEMS LAUNCH INVESTIGATION INTO ADMINISTRATION'S DEALINGS WITH SAUDI ARABIA: Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Tuesday they are launching an investigation into the Trump administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia after several whistleblowers expressed concern about efforts to sell the kingdom nuclear technology.

The announcement came in conjunction with the release of a report by committee staff that said senior White House officials pushed for the sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia despite warnings from ethics advisers and national security officials to stop.

"Based on this snapshot of events, the committee is now launching an investigation to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interests of the United States or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change in U.S. foreign policy," the report said.

To continue the investigation, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsRepublicans defend drug company in spotlight over HIV medication prices Advocate praises Warren's opioid proposal: 'The scale of the plan is absolutely right' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House lawmakers offer measure on surprise medical bills | Top Dems press DOJ on ObamaCare document requests | Pennsylvania AG sues Purdue Pharma over opioid epidemic MORE (D-Md.) sent letters to several people and organizations involved with promoting the plan, including the White House, the CIA, the Flynn Intel Group, IP3 and the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, State and Treasury.

The version of the letter sent to the White House, which was released by the committee, asks for documents by March 5 related to the nuclear power plan from Trump's inauguration to the present.

What investigators are looking at: Among the concerns, according to the report, are that ethics officials raised red flags about former national security adviser Michael Flynn's connection to a company dedicated to building nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia.

The report cites several unnamed whistleblowers who said they witnessed "abnormal acts" inside the White House regarding efforts to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear energy reactors.

The whistleblowers "have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes," the report said. "They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting.

"And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisors at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump administration officials to halt their efforts."

A spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

The details: The company at issue is called IP3 International. Flynn was an adviser to the company from June 2016 to December 2016 at the same time he served on Trump's presidential campaign and transition team.

IP3 did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

Flynn was named national security adviser to Trump but resigned after serving just a few weeks. In December 2017, he pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.

During the first week of the Trump administration, the report said, Flynn confidant Derek Harvey relayed that Flynn had made the decision during the transition to adopt IP3's nuclear plan for Saudi Arabia, dubbed the Middle East Marshall Plan.

Career staff warned that the law requires an agreement, known as a 123 agreement, to sell nuclear reactors to other countries to ensure it meets nonproliferation standards, according to the report.

Read more on the investigation here.

 

GREEN GROUPS SUE EPA TO BAN TOXIC PAINT STRIPPERS: Environmental groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a bid to ban the sale toxic paint strippers.

Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and related groups argue that the agency hasn't taken sufficient action even though the Toxic Substances Control Act compels the EPA to prohibit paint strippers that contain methylene chloride.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows that methylene chloride is killing workers, and it knows that only a ban will protect them," Earthjustice attorney Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, the main lawyer on the case, said in a Tuesday statement. "Yet the Trump administration is so beholden to the chemical industry that it has chosen to leave workers and consumers in harm's way."

"If more than 50 coroner's reports are not enough to get EPA to ban one of the most dangerous chemicals on the market, what is?" he added.

The issue: The EPA formally determined in January 2017 that methylene chloride presents an "unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," a finding that triggers regulatory action under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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But despite then-EPA chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses MORE’s public pledge to move toward further regulating the substances in 2018, the agency has not proposed a ban, leading to accusations that the EPA has been dragging its feet.

More on the legal fight here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-Grand Canyon tourists exposed for years to radiation in museum building, The Arizona Republic reports.

-Shell leads big oil in clean energy shift, Axios reports

-New Jersey considers adopting strict plastic ban, WBNG reports

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Tuesday and the weekend...

-Environmental groups sue EPA in bid to ban toxic paint strippers

-Mud from coal ash pit accidentally dumped into South Carolina river

-Dems launch investigation into Trump administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia

-Honda to shutter UK factory amid electric cars push

-Supreme Court to hear case that could restrict federal water rules

-Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal

-Amazon aims to cut shipment carbon footprint in half by 2030

-Environment groups launch lawsuit against Trump's border emergency declaration

-Indiana gets first national park

-13 Michigan water systems fail excessive lead test: report

-Trump taps FEMA official to lead agency