Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels
Overnight Energy: EPA to reconsider cost benefit analysis of air pollution rules | Interior gets new rules on free concert tickets | Dem challenges EPA for skipping hearing
EPA TO RECONSIDER COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF AIR POLLUTION ON HUMAN LIFE: The Trump administration will soon rewrite the factors it uses to determine the health risks of air pollution, a move critics warn will make it harder to place limits on emissions.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended the change in a memorandum to staff dated May 13 and made public Tuesday as a way to rectify inconsistencies in the current cost-benefit analyses used by the agency across all sectors.
"Benefits and costs have historically been treated differently depending on the media office and the underlying authority. This has resulted in various concepts of benefits, costs and other factors that may be considered," Wheeler wrote. "This memorandum will initiate an effort to rectify these inconsistencies through statute-specific actions."
The memo, labeled, "Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Rulemaking Process," is a direct result of President Trump's regulatory reform agenda, according to Wheeler. That executive order asked agencies to identify rules that "impose costs that exceed benefits."
Wheeler said EPA found stakeholders regularly said the costs stemming from environmental regulations outweighed the benefits.
"I have determined that the agency should proceed with benefit-cost reforms using a media-specific approach, taking into account the variety of statutory programs," Wheeler wrote.
The reforms will span EPA's offices of Air and Radiation, Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Land and Emergency Management and Water. The Office of Air and Radiation will be the first to submit their proposal "later this year."
The memo didn't identify specific changes to be made but told agency heads to use "sound economic and scientific principles."
How we got here: The Trump administration has long argued that the Obama administration over-estimated the health risks for various environmental regulations, often to the detriment of industry.
"With these improvements to our regulatory decision-making, the EPA is taking another step to provide the public with a more open federal government and more effective environmental and public health protection," Wheeler wrote.
Pushback: Critics warn the shift will make it easier for the Trump administration to take the heat off rollbacks to key Obama administration pollution rules like the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
For example, EPA had initially calculated that repealing and replacing the climate policy for its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, would result in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year.
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INTERIOR TO ALLOW $43,000 IN FREE CONCERT TICKETS: The Department of the Interior will be able to treat members of Congress and the executive branch to free concert tickets under new rules released Tuesday.
The rules spell out how the Interior secretary and other employees can use tickets that come through a department contract with the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, located outside of Washington, D.C.
The venue has provided free tickets to the department since the 1970s, something the department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has advised against for almost as long.
An agreement between Interior and the nonprofit that runs Wolf Trap early this month once again guaranteed eight tickets per show to the secretary, reaching an estimated value of $43,000 in entertainment per year.
Details on the rules: The contract renewed calls from the OIG to come up with a process for managing how the tickets are distributed. Earlier this month, the department said they'd spoken with ethics officials about how to handle the tickets but did not provide details about what that process would be.
The guidelines, distributed Monday, say tickets can be used to better understand Wolf Trap's operations and to "engage in dialogue" with government officials who have oversight of the department, or anyone with whom the department would benefit from a closer working relationship.
The tickets could also be given to other Interior employees as a recognition for good work or even given to journalists if part of an effort to show the importance of public lands and cultural resources.
The secretary's office will approve the tickets in writing and identify which of the ticket criteria is being met. Anyone using the tickets cannot have more than one guest and may not access the Encore Circle Lounge.
OIG did not immediately respond to a request for comment but told The Hill earlier this month that they wanted to see written guidelines from the department.
TOP DEM CHALLENGES EPA FOR SKIPPING HEARING ON MERCURY POLLUTION: The chair of a House panel is crying foul over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) failure to provide an expert to testify on the effects of toxic mercury air pollution.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations panel that oversees the EPA, said the denial left the committee with "serious questions."
"The EPA is supposed to be working for the American people," DeGette said in a statement sent Monday night.
"If it's going to ignore how a new rule would benefit public health going forward, then our committee - which is charged with overseeing the EPA - has serious questions as to whether it would still be acting in the public's best interest."
The committee hearing on Tuesday morning looked into moves the EPA has made under President Trump to undo an Obama-era mercury emissions rule that restricts levels of mercury pollution that has been linked to developmental delays in children, among other health risks. The agency announced last December it will reconsider the reasoning behind mercury pollution standards for power plants.
EPA's side of the story: An EPA spokesperson, however, pushed back on DeGette's characterization, saying it was "misleading."
"We offered a witness for a different date as we were unable to have someone available tomorrow due to scheduling conflicts. This is customary. We also offered up a briefing to staff," the spokesperson said.
DeGette's office did not respond to a request for comment on EPA's supposed scheduling conflict.
The bigger fight: This is not the first time House Democrats and agencies have butted heads when it comes to congressional oversight hearings. Since Democrats took back control of the lower chamber this year, they have increased the number of oversight hearings related to pollution rollbacks and their effects on climate change, often leading to heated arguments.
Earlier this month, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, got in a back and forth with new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whom the committee alleged would not set a time to testify in front of the House.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Texas pipeline activists face 10-year sentence under Texas plan, Bloomberg reports.
Trump's EPA shifts more environmental enforcement to states, the Associated Press reports.
Bayer hires lawyers as Monsanto spying probe widens, Bloomberg reports.
Stories from Tuesday
-EPA to reconsider cost benefit analysis of air pollution on human life
-Top Dem challenges EPA for skipping hearing on mercury pollution
-Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats
-Interior can treat lawmakers, officials to free concert tickets under new guidelines
-Trump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report