Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog issues rare 'alert' on toxic substances data | Trump to announce new orders to speed up pipeline permits | New Keystone XL pipeline permit challenged in court | Congress approves seven-state drought bill

WATCHDOG ISSUES 'ALERT' OVER INACCURATE DATA: The top watchdog overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rare "management alert" Monday warning that the agency’s public data on toxic substance releases are not accurate.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) said the inconsistencies were “of sufficient concern to warrant immediate reporting.”

The emergency letter from the EPA’s acting IG to the head of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention warned that certain information the EPA released publicly about its toxic chemical releases did not match internal EPA data.

“As a result, the public is not receiving complete and timely information about environmental conditions affecting human health,” the letter read.

What's at issue: Specifically, the alert referred to missing data pertaining to releases of hazardous substances from publicly owned treatment works. The government watchdog discovered that there were substantial differences between the publicly listed data on the total number of pounds of toxic chemicals released into the environment and internal data sets the EPA handed over separately to the IG.

The IG found the discrepancy while auditing the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which annually collects information about toxic chemical releases reported by both industrial and government facilities. Chemicals covered by the TRI cause cancer or other chronic human health effects.

The discrepancies the EPA found referred to releases between 2013 and 2017.

Why IG issued the alarm: The watchdog said the discrepancy will likely be the most troubling to local communities or global researchers who use the data in their analyses.

The IG wrote that the "audit of the EPA’s TRI data is ongoing, but we found this information to be of sufficient concern to warrant immediate reporting" and asked the EPA to respond within 15 days to announce actions taken to correct the identified discrepancies.

What's next: An EPA spokesperson said the agency “developed and deployed corrections” within three business days of hearing from the IG internally.

“Additionally, EPA has determined that the glitches did not impact the recently released 2017 National Analysis,” the spokesperson said.

At least one environmental organization heavily criticized the improperly released public information.

Reaction: “EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler should take the inspector general’s warning seriously and move immediately to restore the integrity of the TRI,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

Read more here.

 

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TRUMP PLANS NEW ORDERS TO SPEED UP PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE will travel to Texas on Wednesday to announce two new executive orders that aim to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to get permits for pipeline construction, among other infrastructure needs.

The executive orders, which will be announced at the International Union of Operating Engineers' International Training and Education Center outside Houston, will each focus on incentivizing private investment in energy infrastructure and streamlining permitting of projects, according to a White House official.

“The two Executive Orders the President will sign will help American energy companies avoid unnecessary red tape, allowing the U.S. to continue to be the undisputed global leader in crude oil and natural gas production for the foreseeable future,” the official said in a statement.

Background: The move comes on the heels of a presidential permit that Trump issued in late May to jump-start the delayed construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The new permit would invalidate a previous March 2017 permit, which is currently being held up by courts, and instead replace it with a new permit for a pipeline with a facility in Montana. The pipeline would pass through longtime tribal lands in Montana and South Dakota.

A White House spokesperson told The Hill that the new permit "dispels any uncertainty."

The big picture: The anticipated mid-week announcement is in line with Trump’s overall energy independent agenda and an administration-wide push to increase U.S. energy extraction.

The United States in 2018 became the leading producer for natural gas. Trump during his State of the Union address in February boasted of the achievement, saying “we have unleashed a revolution in American energy.”

In addition to the pipelines, Trump also favors an increase in onshore and offshore drilling.

The Interior Department, for example, is currently in the first stages of developing a plan to build more offshore drilling platforms in the Atlantic. The move is widely opposed by government officials representing coastal states.

More on Trump's plans here.

 

And in other Trump pipeline news...

 

TRUMP'S LATEST KEYSTONE XL PERMIT CHALLENGED IN COURT: President Trump’s effort to reboot progress on the Keystone XL oil pipeline is facing another lawsuit, this one contending he does not have the power to issue such a permit.

Filed by the Indigenous Environmental Network on Friday in the U.S. District Court of Montana, Great Falls Division, the suit argues that Trump lacks the authority to issue pipeline permits as Congress administers federal lands.

In March, Trump signed a presidential permit to jump-start construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline with a facility in Montana, a move seen as a way to circumvent previous court orders halting development.

This latest permit revoked an earlier permit, which was invalidated by a Montana federal judge in November who said Trump’s State Department did not give sufficient review to environmental impacts of connecting U.S. refineries with Canadian oilfields.

The conservation group argued the move was a clear "sidestep" to the earlier ruling that barred construction of the pipeline.

"President Trump attempted to sidestep those rulings by issuing, through his Office of the Press Secretary, a new 'Presidential Permit' purportedly 'grant[ing] permission' for TransCanada 'to construct, connect, operate and maintain' its proposed project without compliance with the laws of the United States. President Trump, however, is not above the law of the United States," lawyers for the group wrote in their suit against the Trump administration.

In rejecting the earlier permit, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, said the Interior Department didn’t properly account for factors such as low oil prices, the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gases from Keystone and the Alberta Clipper pipeline, and the risk of oil spills.

Read more about the legal fight here.

 

CONGRESS PASSES COLORADO RIVER DROUGHT BILL: The House and Senate both approved a seven-state agreement Monday night designed to reduce use of water from the parched Colorado River by drought-stricken Western states.

Sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOvernight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds Trump taps new Air Force secretary Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran MORE (R-Ariz.) the bill gives approval to a deal crafted through years of negotiations, designed to manage a limited water supply in the dry but rapidly-growing West. The bill passed by voice vote in both chambers.

McSally praised the House and Senate for passing a bill just introduced last Tuesday on the same day, saying urgent effort was required.

"Unfortunately the last 19 years have been the Colorado Basin's driest on record," she said, leaving water supplies for major cities at risk of reaching crisis levels.

Why it matters: The Colorado River is a water source for some 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. But reservoirs along the river are increasingly drying up: Lake Mead and Lake Powell sit below 40 percent capacity.

Congressional and presidential approval is required for interstate compacts, and supporters stressed the deal's importance to avoid dire consequences.

Lake Mead currently sits just 15 feet above the 1,075 feet above sea level mark that would trigger mandatory water restrictions already hashed out by a 2007 agreement. The goal with this year's deal is to stave off those cuts with progressively severe cutbacks as the water level at the lake drops.

More on the region's water troubles here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

- In Asbest, Russia, Making Asbestos Great Again, from The New York Times.

-'Florida's Flint': State health department emails show agency struggled to manage algae crisis, USA Today reports.

-Pennsylvania governor under scrutiny for role in approving pipeline, The Guardian reports.

-Fire at Capitol Power Plant prompts evacuation in century-old structure, Roll Call reports.

 

ON TAP TUESDAY:

The full House Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday will hold a hearing on climate change’s effects on national security. Witnesses will include former Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelSwalwell says he will convene a bipartisan 'blended cabinet' if elected president Overnight Energy: John Kerry hits Trump over climate change at hearing | Defends Ocasio-Cortez from GOP attacks | Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan For planet and country: National security's climate moment MORE and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryChimamanda Ngozi Adichie becomes first African to deliver Yale graduation speech Dem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts Judd Gregg: The dangers of the Bolton Doctrine MORE. Both served under former President Obama.

That same day, the new House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on the environment will hold its first hearing on climate change, entitled: "The History of a Consensus and the Causes of Inaction."

The hearing will be the first of three hearings on climate, discussing the past, present and future risks and causes of global warming.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will also Tuesday meet to consider and mark up H.R. 9, a House climate bill introduced by Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorHouse climate panel will study drilling ban backed by 2020 Dems Overnight Energy — Presented by Job Creators Network — Ocasio-Cortez knocks O'Rourke's climate plan | Dems in disarray over Paris climate bill | Climate change top issue for Dem voters in poll Dems lack unified plan for pushing Paris climate bill MORE (D-Fla.) which aims to bind the U.S. to the tenants of the international Paris climate agreement.

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Tuesday will hold a legislative hearing on "Health and Environmental Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining." The meeting will also consider H.R. 2050, a bill that would place a moratorium on granting permits for mountaintop coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will also testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change about the agency’s 2020 budget proposal.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Stories from Monday and over the weekend...

-Watchdog issues rare 'alert' that EPA data on toxic substance releases inaccurate

-Trump's latest Keystone XL permit challenged in court

-Trump to announce new executive orders to speed up pipeline construction

-London to charge for older vehicles entering special 'Ultra Low Emission Zone'

-California sues Trump administration for details on car emissions rollback decision

-Obama praises youth climate activists: 'The sooner you start, the better

-Secrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress