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
Overnight Energy: Prosecutors drop charges over Flint water crisis | US blames Iran for attack on oil tankers | Air Force diverted $66M for chemical cleanup costs | Criminal cases referred by Interior at near 25-year low
TIME FOR A FLINT DO-OVER: Prosecutors have said they are dismissing all criminal charges against eight people who were charged in the Flint, Mich., water crisis and are restarting their investigation into one of the worst man-made public health crises in U.S. history.
The announcement of the dropped charges comes as prosecutors say they will essentially start from scratch in reviewing the water crisis in order to expand the scope of the investigation.
Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud took over the case in January and said previous prosecutors had not taken advantage of all available evidence, according to The Associated Press.
"This week, we completed the transfer into our possession millions of documents and hundreds of new electronic devices, significantly expanding the scope of our investigation," Hammoud said in a statement.
That expanded search included seizing the cell phone and other records from former Gov. Rick Snyder (R).
Former state health director Nick Lyon was among those whose charges were dropped. Lyon was facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and accused of not quickly alerting the public of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak while Flint used water that was not properly treated.
The outbreak of Legionnaires', a form of pneumonia, occurred while the city used lead-contaminated water that also contained other bacteria tied to the disease. Lyon was the top official charged in the probe.
Lyon's attorney, Chip Chamberlain, told the AP they "feel fantastic and vindicated," after it was announced that charges would be dropped, but also acknowledged that Lyon and others could be charged again.
In April, a federal judge ruled residents of Flint, Mich., can sue the federal government over its response to the city's drinking water crisis.
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US BLAMES IRAN FOR ATTACK ON OIL TANKERS: The Trump administration is blaming Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leveled the accusation from the State Department briefing room on Thursday.
"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks the occurred in the Gulf of Oman today," Pompeo said in a roughly five-minute statement.
"This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used and the level of expertise needed the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication," he added.
The details: The Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous were reported attacked Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman about 25 miles off the southern coast of Iran.
U.S. Central Command said the U.S. Navy received two distress calls, one at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second 7 a.m. The USS Bainbridge guided missile destroyer was operating in the area and responded, Central Command said.
Rising tensions: The attack comes weeks after alleged sabotage attacks against four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The United States similarly blamed those attacks on Iran, pointing to limpet mines that officials said were Iranian.
"On April 22, Iran promised the world it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise," Pompeo said Thursday.
Iran has frequently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all oil traded by sea passes but has not in the past acted.
The Gulf tanker attacks also led to a spike in oil prices. More on that here.
AIR FORCE OUT $66M OVER CHEMICAL CLEANUP: A new analysis from the Department of Defense shows the Air Force diverted more than $66 million to cover the cleanup costs of harmful "forever chemicals" that have leached into the water supply.
Those funds were originally intended to cover a number of other projects, including asbestos abatement, radiological cleanup, removing contaminated soil, repairing the protective covering for a landfill and several projects to monitor water for contaminants and pesticides.
The class of chemicals, commonly referred to as PFAS, has been widely used by the military in firefighting foam. Called forever chemicals due to their persistence in the environment, the military has now identified more than 400 sites contaminated with PFAS. Cleaning it up is expected to cost the military $2 billion.
The analysis was provided at the request of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
"Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars -- perhaps billions of dollars -- in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities," Carper said in a release. " Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination."
In DOD's response, the agency said the Army and Navy "have been able to address these emerging requirements without diverting funds" not intended for PFAS cleanup.
CRIMINAL REFERRALS FROM INTERIOR AT 25-YEAR LOW: The number of criminal environmental enforcement cases brought by the Interior Department has decreased by nearly 40 percent since 2016, according to internal data shared with The Hill.
Criminal environmental cases that often deal with unlicensed big-game hunting, illegal drug running, or oil and gas theft have all dropped to an almost 25-year low, according to the Interior data.
The falling number of case referrals to the Department of Justice (DOJ), prosecutions filed and convictions come as the number of law enforcement officers at Interior also drops.
Officers within Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service are increasingly stretched thin, with employment numbers at both agencies at an all-time low, according to another set of information shared with The Hill.
The information was obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The number of cases referred by Interior to the DOJ to prosecute in fiscal 2018 stood at 132, down from 154 in 2017 and 216 cases in 2016, Obama's last year in office. At the height of referrals in 2000, 835 cases were sought.
The number of cases ultimately taken up by the DOJ to convict has also significantly decreased. In 2018, the agency prosecuted 161 cases, the lowest number of cases taken up since 1991, according to the Interior data. The highest number of cases brought in one year was in 2007, with 644 cases prosecuted.
The pattern of shrinking referrals largely aligns with the drop in law enforcement numbers across the agency over multiple presidencies.
The National Park Service has experienced steady declines in its permanent law enforcement workforce. Rangers dropped by nearly 14 percent between 2005 and 2016, from 1,548 rangers to 1,331, according to internal data.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Australia, in a victory for coal, clears the way for a disputed mine, The New York Times reports
Austria moves to ban glyphosate this year, Politico reports
Delhi residents experienced their hottest June day on record, according to NASA
Stories from Thursday...
-Norway to sell off billions in fossil fuel stocks
-Scotland planted over 22 million trees last year, smashing goals
-Prosecutors drop Flint water charges, restart investigation
-Air Force diverted $66M to cover growing chemical cleanup costs
-The Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden: study
-FDA gets pushback on claim 'forever chemicals' in food are not a health concern
-Hickenlooper rolls out climate plan
-European Central Bank official says climate change should factor into monetary policy
-Number of criminal environmental cases referred to DOJ by Interior at nearly 25-year low
-Gulf tanker attack leads to spike in oil prices
-Jerry Brown to run new California-China Climate Policy Institute