Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule

Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule
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TRUMPS VETO THREAT TARGETS 'FOREVER CHEMICALS': One day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE delivered a speech preaching of his administration's environmental achievements, he threatened to veto a military spending bill in part due to provisions that aim to clean up a toxic, cancer-linked chemical found near military bases.

"If H.R. 2500 were presented to the President in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he veto it," the White House wrote in a statement Tuesday night about the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The chamber has yet to vote on the bill, but Trump on Tuesday highlighted among its various sticking points two provisions that would address the clean-up of a class of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS.

PFAS is used in a variety of non-stick products as well as firefighting foams frequently utilized by the military. The chemical is known for its slow breakdown process, denoting it as a "forever chemical," making it particularly concerning as it leaches into the water supply.

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Contamination has spread to as many as 43 states, according to the Environmental Working Group, and there are at least 400 military sites with known or suspected PFAS contamination. The military is facing $2 billion in clean-up costs for PFAS.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has promised to release a new standard for PFAS found in drinking water by the end of the year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing forward with legislation to address what they consider a public health issue. 

Some of those measures are already part of the NDAA. But the president highlighted two in his veto threat. One would phase out military use of firefighting foam with PFAS by 2025 while the other would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to treat contaminated water near bases that are used for agricultural purposes.

"At potentially great cost to and significant impact on DOD's mission, the legislation singles out DOD, only one contributor to this national issue," the White House statement said.

PFAS also enters the environment through manufacturing and municipal airports that likewise use firefighting foam.

Democrats are pushing back: "If the President wants to veto this bill because he thinks the PFAS provisions go too far, I invite him to drink, bathe, or swim in some of the water our communities do," Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOvernight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback Polling director: Young voters swayed by health care, economy, gun control MORE (D-Mich.), whose state has several PFAS contamination sites, said in a statement. "Congress needs to act to address PFAS contamination wherever it exists and stop kicking the can down the road."

Democrats have pushed a variety of measures that would require the military to take greater action to stem the spread of PFAS and clean up contamination, including requiring a Government Accountability Office review of the Department of Defense's response to PFAS contamination and making the Pentagon to enter into cooperative agreements with states for contamination cleanups. 

Read more about the NDAA and what's in the bill here

 

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REPUBLICANS ARE READY FOR TEDDY: Republicans on Wednesday launched an environment-minded conservation caucus aimed at battling the perception that their party doesn't care about climate change.

Dubbed the Republican Roosevelt Conservation Caucus after National Park Service founder President Theodore Roosevelt, the bicameral group lists public land access, water quality and ocean pollution among its priorities.

"From a Republican point of view, I think we need to showcase that we care about conservation, we care about the environment, and we have innovative solutions that are not top-down regulatory solutions," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters.

Graham also called the Democrats' Green New Deal plan to reduce the nation's environmental impact "crazy economics," adding that "innovation is going to do more to solve this problem than any government mandate."

"We believe our friends on the other side care about the environment, but they care so much they're going to destroy the economy in the name of saving the environment. That's a false choice," Graham said.

He also said Democrats have been too alarmist about climate change, adding, "You don't have to ground all the airplanes and kill all the cows."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.) has said policies like the Green New Deal and a recently passed bill to recommit the U.S. to the Obama-era Paris climate accord would "go nowhere" in the Senate.

But critics have long said the Republican Party has done little to forward its own ideas on how to respond to the climate crisis under the leadership of a president who has mocked global warming.

Republicans, alongside Democrats, have introduced a number of bills this year that would fund research and development for battery storage, carbon capture technology and other energy needs.

But the caucus members on Wednesday stressed that traditional energy sources like coal, oil and gas would remain a part of the mix.

Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Two cats visit Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who helped end 'kitten slaughterhouse' Buzz Aldrin marks launch of Apollo 11 mission to the moon MORE (R-Fla.) said traditional energy sources are important for affordability.

"Somebody can't worry about the energy efficiency of their home if they're worried about where their next meal comes from," he said.

The 2020 factor: An environmental response from the Republican Party could prove important in the upcoming election as a greater share of voters list climate change among their concerns.

Read more about the new GOP caucus here.

 

GROWING CRITICISM OF EPA FOIA RULE: A Democratic lawmaker along with a group of nearly 40 media publications are raising concerns over a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public information rule that could allow political officials more leeway to withhold requested documents.

In a letter sent Tuesday evening, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked EPA chief Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerRepealing the Clean Water Rule is not about protecting farmers Overnight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum EPA head dodges questions about environmental action against San Francisco MORE to review and revise the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) rule, which she argues shrouds the process in secrecy and failed to go through the typical public comment period.

"Government transparency is central to our democracy. At a time when climate change threatens our communities, public access to the government's work to address this crisis is essential," Porter wrote.

"The rule, as published by EPA, will make the public process for accessing information more opaque. It is particularly concerning that the EPA chose to write this rule without public input."

The Hill was first to report on the finalized rule change, submitted to the public record at the end of June without public comment.

"Before choosing to substantially and formally change the FOIA process at EPA, members of the public should be afforded the opportunity to weigh in with the agency regarding this proposal," Porter wrote.

The agency has argued it did not need to put the rule through a public comment period, pointing to several procedural exemptions.

"It is routine for agencies to update their FOIA regulations to reflect self-executing statutory provisions," a senior EPA FOIA official told The Hill.

Why the change is controversial: According to the new language in the EPA's FOIA rule, the administrator and other officials would be allowed to review all materials that fit a FOIA request criteria, known as responsive documents, and then decide "whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue 'no records' responses."

Lawyers outside the agency who specialize in FOIA requests say the "no records" response could lead to a situation where records seekers are being told there are no documents meeting their search criteria, even if they were found by EPA staffers who handle the requests, with those documents ultimately withheld by political appointees.

The EPA's side: The agency has denied the characterization of the language, arguing the specification in the rule simply states officials have the right to tell requesters there were no records responsive to them. The EPA also denied that the number of political officials allowed to view FOIA requests prior to release was expanded under the latest rule, arguing they had the same powers in the previous version.

But it's not just lawmakers: Also Tuesday, the Society for Environmental Journalists along the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 37 other news media organizations sent a letter to the EPA asking it to suspend the implementation of the FOIA rule in order to allow a public comment period.

"The News Media Coalition is deeply concerned about the Proposed Rule, which contains provisions that undermine the Act, are impermissible under clear, binding D.C. Circuit precedent, and would diminish journalists' ability to gather and report information to the public about the actions of the EPA and its personnel," the group wrote.

News organizations that signed the letter include The Associated Press, Politico, Gannett, McClatchy, The New York Times and The New Yorker.

The latest Society for Environmental Journalists letter comes after the nonprofit previously raised flags over the rule at the end of June, a letter which the EPA later derided as containing "numerous inaccuracies."

Read more about the rule and fight here

 

ON TAP TOMORROW:

-In the House, the Science, Space and Technology Committee will examine melting ice sheets. A House Natural Resources subcommittee will look at the future of coal in the U.S. 

-In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will look at evolving markets for liquified natural gas

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-Federal scientists predict 2019 will set flooding record, we report.

-EU commission president nominee backs 50 percent carbon cut by 2030, Climate Home News reports.

-Canada announces new protections for rare right whales, the Associated Press reports.

 

ICYMI:

Stories from Wednesday…

-Warren reintroduces bill mandating climate disclosures by companies

-Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule

-Federal scientists predict 2019 will set flooding record

-Republicans form conservation caucus to take on environment, climate change

-Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals'