Overnight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide

Overnight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide
© Getty Images

FLINT RESIDENTS CAN NOW SUE EPA: A federal judge this week said residents of Flint, Mich., can sue the federal government over its response to the city's drinking water crisis.

Judge Linda Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan said Thursday the government is not immune from a lawsuit. She did not rule on whether federal employees were negligent in addressing Flint's contaminated water.

How we got here: Residents have long blamed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for waiting too long to intervene after a change in water treatment practices allowed lead to leach into the city's tap water.

The contamination began in 2014 but continued for years as local and state officials provided inaccurate information about the safety and issues with city water. EPA officials knew residents were not being warned of the contamination.

ADVERTISEMENT

"These lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned," Parker, an Obama appointee, wrote in her order.

The EPA referred inquiries to the Justice Department, which declined to comment for this story.

Flint residents began complaining about water quality issues shortly after the city switched its water source in April 2014, but city and state officials denied any problems until studies from Virginia Tech University researchers and the Hurley Medical Center in Flint showed high lead levels in both water and children's blood.

The legal fight: Criminal and civil cases have accused Michigan and Flint officials of being responsible for the crisis, but broader suits against other officials and agencies have been proceeding slowly.

An appeals court ruled in January that the city of Flint was not immune from federal civil lawsuits. A class-action suit against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was permitted to proceed earlier this month, according to The Detroit News.

The case against the EPA: In the suit reviewed by Parker, plaintiffs argue that the EPA failed to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to address the health risks from the water or the inaction of city and state officials. Federal attorneys argue the EPA should be immune from the suit because Michigan law would not hold private individuals liable in similar circumstances.

"The lead-contaminated public water supply system will affect the residents for years and likely generations to come," Parker wrote in her order. "The acts leading to the creation of the Flint Water Crisis, alleged to be rooted in lies, recklessness and profound disrespect have and will continue to produce a heinous impact for the people of Flint."

Read more on the ruling here.

 

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

Please send tips and comments to Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com and Rebecca Beitsch, rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @rebeccabeitsch and @thehill.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

GREENS SEE CLIMATE DEBATE REVIVED: Environmentalists and lawmakers are praising a Democratic messaging blitz that they say has put the problem of global warming back at the forefront of the national conversation.

Since Democrats took back control of the House, roughly 14 congressional hearings have been held on topics related to climate change, a striking change from the years when Republicans ran both chambers of Congress.

Polls are also showing that many Democratic voters are concerned about climate change, increasing the odds, green groups hope, that candidates will talk about the issue and potentially take action if they are elected.

New debates have also opened up in both the House and Senate on the need to tackle climate change, putting pressure on GOP lawmakers to put together their own plans and raising the temperature on Democrats to take more serious legislative steps on the issue.

"Obviously we've seen a much more substantive debate on how we address climate change and build a thriving green economy," said Charlie Cray, senior research specialist at GreenPeace.

"Until now, all we've seen is Republicans denying climate change is real and Democrats pushing back based on science. And that's not enough."

For Elizabeth Schuster, energy policy manager at Food and Water Watch, the change in messaging in Congress has been night and day.

"I've never seen anything like it. Although they were slowed by the shutdown, the [Democratic leadership] created the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, the House was able to hold hearings on climate change, it's a big welcome change," she said.

"Climate and energy has finally moved to the top of the conversation, which is very exciting for us who have worked in this space for a long time."

Role of the Green New Deal: The biggest conversation-starter on climate change has been the Green New Deal -- the idea of developing an electric grid that relies on 100 percent renewable energy.

The concept was championed early this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOmar responds to 'send her back' chant with Maya Angelou quote Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' Trump refers to Ocasio-Cortez as just 'Cortez' because it 'takes too much time' to say full name MORE (D-N.Y.), who introduced a House resolution in its name. More than 100 lawmakers have signed on to back the initiative and nearly every Democratic presidential candidate has backed the Green New Deal in some way.

"Climate change is at the center of American politics. Before it was somewhere in the margin. It's a huge shift from a few months ago and certainly 2016," said Stephen O'Hanlon, communications director for the Sunrise Movement, which organized youth protests backing the idea that helped it break through and receive national attention.

"It's clear that it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for 10,000 people across the country raising their voices and pushing for what we need and the Green New Deal is certainly part of that."

The Green New Deal hasn't been a complete winner for Democrats, who have been divided over how hard to push on the initiative. It has also opened up Democrats to attacks about the costs and feasibility of the program. The resolution has also failed to pass the Senate and isn't likely to be taken up in the House. Supporters of the plan have since called it a "vision" that was never intended for a vote.

But for environmentalists, it has been a winner in bringing more attention to and concern over looming global warming. And according to recent polling, climate change has risen in importance to voters.

More on how greens see a win in the climate debate.

 

THAT'S HOT: Temperatures in March were the second hottest on record around the globe, according to new U.S. government data.

Record-breaking highs in places like Alaska and Australia pushed last month near the top of the record books. The hottest March on record was in 2016, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data released Thursday.

Regions that experienced the hottest temperature variances last month were Australia, southwestern and central Asia, Alaska and northwestern Canada. Alaska and Australia had their warmest March temperatures since record-keeping began in 1925 and 1910, respectively.

The spring month also did not bode well for the polar ice caps. The amount of sea ice in the Arctic was 5.7 percent below its 1981–2010 average. Antarctic sea ice was down 21.6 percent from the same average -- the second smallest amount in March, after 2017.

Scientists see a troubling trend: Overall, the first quarter of 2019 was the third warmest on record for the globe, NOAA scientists said. And last month kept adding to the trend of increasing temperatures: March was the 411th consecutive month with global temperatures above average, according to NOAA.

The data add to an alarming trend of warming across the globe. NASA scientists announced that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, and another study from a group of international scientists released in January found that 2018 was the hottest year on record for ocean temperatures.

Read more on the report here.

 

COURT ORDERS EPA TO MAKE FINAL DECISION ON PESTICIDE: A U.S. appeals court is forcing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make a final decision on whether it will ban the use of a common pesticide linked to developmental disorders in children.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Friday ordered the EPA to make a final decision on whether it will ban the use of chlorpyrifos across the country. The agency has until mid-July to make its determination.

Why the controversy: Chlorpyrifos is an agricultural chemical used on many common crops and produce but many scientific studies have linked the insecticide to issues with brain structure and cognition, with children particularly susceptible.

Last year, the appellate court ordered the EPA to remove chlorpyrifos from use within 60 days of an August ruling, ending what would have been a decadelong fight by health advocates to ban the substance.

However, the Trump administration promptly appealed that ruling, and the court agreed to rehear the case.

Today's ruling will force EPA to make a final decision on the chemical. 

Reaction: "We are reviewing the court's order and will be taking final action on the administrative objections before the agency within 90 days," EPA spokesman James Hewitt told The Hill.

Critics have long accused the EPA of dragging its heels.

"We commend the court for this ruling as it forces the EPA to stop stalling," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, a petitioner in the case, hailing the court decision.

"While we are moving forward, the tragedy is that children are being exposed to chlorpyrifos, a pesticide science has long shown is unsafe," Goldman added. "We hope Trump's EPA finally decides to protect the future of countless children and the health of millions of farmworkers."

More on the court order here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Former EPA chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE registers as lobbyist in Indiana, we report.

Oklahoma Legislature approves ban on taxing plastic bags, the Associated Press reports.

New York's congestion pricing: Who pays and who doesn't, according to The New York Times.

EPA seeks bids to clean up uranium mines on and near Navajo Nation, KNAU reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Stories from Friday...

Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz

Summer gas supply may take a hit due to refinery maintenance

Global temperatures in March were second hottest on record

Judge rules Flint residents can sue federal government over water crisis

Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide