Overnight Energy: Critics accuse EPA of weakening pollution rule for Pentagon | Booker unveils environmental justice initiative | House to vote on climate bill next week

Overnight Energy: Critics accuse EPA of weakening pollution rule for Pentagon | Booker unveils environmental justice initiative | House to vote on climate bill next week
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CRITICS SAY EPA HELPED PENTAGON WITH POLLUTION RULE: Critics say an Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposal would weaken the Pentagon's obligation to deal with harmful chemicals that pollute groundwater near military bases.

They say the proposal, released Thursday, is the result of a long military effort to weaken EPA standards on cleaning up chemical pollution.

"If reports are true that the DOD [Department of Defense] pressured the EPA to weaken PFAS cleanup standards, this is wholly unacceptable and is inconsistent with assurances that Acting [Defense] Secretary [Patrick] Shanahan gave me on the Pentagon's commitment to address PFAS contamination," Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities Crucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research MORE (D-N.H.) wrote on Twitter. "We cannot afford to take a step backward on addressing PFAS contamination."

What's the issue: The fight is over a group of nonstick chemicals typically referred to as PFAS, which are used in everything from Teflon pans and food wrappers to raincoats. But the chemicals are also a key ingredient in firefighting foam, which is used heavily on military bases and leaves the chemicals seeping into groundwater that often supplies the drinking water for nearby communities.

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The health worries: After decades of use, there is growing evidence of the health risk of PFAS. The substance causes various types of cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and other illnesses. It's also doesn't break down easily--studies have found the substance in 98 percent of people's blood.

The criticism: Critics say EPA's proposal, which will now go through a 45-day comment period, does little to address the contamination present at as many as 400 military sites. They say the rules would allow the Pentagon to take years to begin cleaning up PFAS pollution at many sites.

"They don't compel any meaningful action at the sites already known to be polluted," Sonya Lunder, senior toxics advisor at the Sierra Club said in a statement about the proposal.

"There are hundreds of communities contaminated by military activities and industrial emissions, and most have drank contaminated water for decades," Lunder continued. "We do not have the luxury of waiting any longer. We need immediate action to protect women, children and communities most exposed to these dangerous chemicals."

Lawmakers want answers: Democratic senators expressed concern earlier this year that other agencies, including the Pentagon, might try to weaken EPA standards. In March, they wrote to a number of agency heads requesting documents on any "interagency dispute related to how stringent the guidelines should be."

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them 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 Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards MORE (D-Del.), one of the signatories of the letter, said EPA's proposal "fails to adequately protect public health from this emerging crisis.

"[EPA] Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler himself said that safe drinking water is the greatest environmental challenge facing our world, yet, again, we see that EPA is not addressing this issue in the manner in which it demands, nor with the urgency in which Americans deserve."

The details on the proposal: When EPA first considered a potential rule on addressing PFAS contamination, the agency and Pentagon were far apart on what standards to implement.

EPA recommends water have no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS. The Department of Defense (DOD) had argued they shouldn't be held responsible for cleanup unless those levels reach a much higher level, 380 ppt.

The difference in those numbers goes beyond the pollution level of water. Raising the threshold for cleanup would cut the number of military sites considered contaminated and save the Pentagon potentially millions on what could be a $2 billion cleanup tab.

Though EPA's proposal would cover a greater number of sites than the military's suggested contamination level, critics say the proposal does not require immediate clean up.

Missing from the proposal is a measure that would have allowed the EPA to take emergency action on its own to clean up sites with more than 400 ppt of PFAS and later bill the government agency or entity responsible for the pollution.

Betsy Southerland, a former director of the EPA's Office of Science and Technology in the Office of Water, helped develop the 70 ppt recommendation for the agency at the tail end of the Obama administration. She said the removal of the emergency measure is "the worst thing about this guidance."

We've got more about the proposal here.

 

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HOW MUELLER COULD IMPACT CLIMATE CHANGE: Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Memo: Toxic 2020 is unavoidable conclusion from Trump tweets MORE (R-S.C.) told those gathered at a Dallas-based sustainability conference that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE has a long way to go in acknowledging the science behind climate change.

"Climate change is real, the science is sound and the solutions are available," Graham said, adding jokingly, "If I told Trump that [special counsel Robert] Mueller thinks climate change is a hoax, we'd be well on our way."

Trump has a long history of lashing out at both the special counsel investigation and global warming as a concept, repeatedly saying winter storms are a sign that climate change isn't real.

Graham was speaking on a panel at the EarthX2019 conference with Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight 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 Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-R.I.) and Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerrySenior Trump administration official to leave post next week Overnight Energy: Trump doesn't mention climate change in speech touting environmental policies | Green groups fight EPA's new FOIA rule | Trump emissions rollback hit with legal challenge Trump touts environmental policies, but says nothing of climate change MORE.

For his part, Perry mirrored some of Trump's vocal skepticism about renewable energy sources, according to reporting from the Dallas Business Journal.

"Some people just want to rely on them solely," he said. "Our air might be cleaner, but the energy supply isn't nearly as reliable. Imagine what a single natural disaster or cybersecurity attack would do to us when the sun doesn't come out, or the wind doesn't blow. The cost to our economy would be huge."

More on their remarks here.

 

BOOKER EYES IMPROVEMENTS AT EPA: Senator and presidential hopeful Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations MORE unveiled an environmental justice policy while on the campaign trail Friday, saying it's time to address regulatory practices that ignore the concentration of pollution in some communities.

"The Trump administration has gutted the EPA, rolled back clean air and clean water protections, and allowed polluters to go unchecked, causing immense harm and suffering by vulnerable communities," Booker said in a statement, calling environmental inequality a key civil rights issue today.

Studies have shown that poor communities and communities are color are much more likely to be exposed to various types of pollution than white people. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies have also found environmental racism is real.

What Booker is doing: Booker promised to strengthen EPA protections, expand the number of EPA employees and reverse rollbacks that have taken place during the Trump administration. Polluting companies would also face higher fines under Bookers proposal, doubling the cleanup fee on coal companies for abandoned mines.

Booker's announcement comes the same week as he joined a newly-formed Senate Environmental Justice Caucus. Booker has also pledged support for the Green New Deal.

Read more on his efforts here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

Coming back after two weeks of recess, Congress has numerous slated hearings.

Jump-starting the week, House committees on Tuesday will explore the clean energy future of public lands, the impacts of a proposed Department of Interior reorganization plan and the proposed 2020 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tuesday will also be a big day for climate hearings in the House. The House Select Committee on Climate Crisis will hold its second hearing this year on "Drawing Down Carbon and Building Up the American Economy."  The Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on new plastic recycling technology and the Committee on Oversight and Reform's new subcommittee on environment will hold its second hearing on the health effects of global warming.

Later in the week, the House will also explore the state of oil and gas pipeline safety and on Thursday is expected to vote on its first climate bill, the Climate Action Now Act, which would bind the U.S. to the emissions cutting goals of the Paris climate agreement.

A Senate committee on Thursday will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of Daniel Jorjani, to be the Interior Department's newest top lawyer and Mark Lee Greenblatt, to be its inspector general. If confirmed, Jorjani's role will be in part to defend Interior against potential investigations lead by Greenblatt.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Death Valley hits 109 as scorching temperatures sweep across southwestern US, Accuweather reports

Oil ends nearly 3 percent lower as traders react to Trump's plea to OPEC to lower prices, Marketwatch reports.

Why California wildfires turn into deadly traffic jams, the Ventura County Star reports