Overnight Energy: Critics worry Trump ignoring plight of honeybees | EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Wheeler | Green groups team up to host presidential climate summit

Overnight Energy: Critics worry Trump ignoring plight of honeybees | EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Wheeler | Green groups team up to host presidential climate summit
© Getty Images

BEE CONCERNED: Democrats and environmentalists are sounding the alarm following a decision by the Trump administration to scale back research on bee populations.

Critics are warning that the decision eliminates a vital tool for monitoring how climate change and pesticides are reducing the number of bees worldwide, a development they say will have dire consequences for agriculture and the environment.

The back story: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) quietly announced it was suspending its survey on bee populations following the Fourth of July holiday, pausing data collection for one of the few remaining government sources tracking bees and their rapid decline.


Bees pollinate a third of U.S. crops and are considered a "canary in the coal mine" for gauging how human activity affects the environment. Now, after years of declining bee populations, researchers and the federal government will have fewer tools to study the species.

The fallout: Critics were quick to blast the decision.

"Trump's Department of Agriculture cutting off this crucial data is an outrage. At a time when pollinators are dying at alarming rates, we should be gathering more data and working to solve the problem," said. Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerPass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief Michelle Obama to promote absentee voting MORE (D-Ore.), who sponsored legislation earlier this year that would reduce the use of pesticides that are harmful to bees.

The USDA survey began in 2015, part of an Obama administration effort to track problems facing pollinators.

And advocates are worried about more than just the environmental fallout from decreasing bee populations.

Commercial bees, which are brought to farms to pollinate crops like blueberries, squash, apples and almonds, contribute an estimated $15 billion in value to the agriculture industry.

This winter an estimated 38 percent of commercial honeybees were lost, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, which, following the suspension of the USDA data collection program, is now one of the few sources left monitoring bee populations. While some bee loss is common over the winter, this year's figure was up 7 percentage points from last year.

The cause? Initially, the source of trouble for bees was blamed on causes as varied as the use of Wi-Fi and cellphone towers, but increasingly a growing body of research points to pesticides as the culprit.

"It's interesting because people still talk about colony collapse disorder as a mysterious thing, but we still know really well what's going on with honeybees and pollinators," said Lori Ann Burd, the environmental health director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Pesticides are a major factor that react synergistically with other issues."

Environmentalists say the Trump administration is making the problem worse by allowing the use of pesticides damaging to bees.

Read more about the plight of bees here


IT'S A RAINY THURSDAY! And 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.


AN AWARD-WINNING PROTEST: An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee protested the agency's new union contract while receiving an award from Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations | Oil lobby says low prices still hurting industry | Conservative group wants Trump to go further in rolling back key environmental law States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE on Wednesday. 

Loreen Targos, an EPA employee in Chicago, unfurled a banner on stage next to Wheeler reading, "I care about EPA workers having a fair contract to address public health and climate change. Do you?"

Targos was on stage with the rest of a team being honored for cleaning up refinery waste near Muskegon Lake in Michigan. 

In a video released by American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704, based in the Great Lakes region, Targos can be heard asking Wheeler if he supports a fair contract for EPA workers. 

EPA employees have been outraged by a recent contract that went into effect Tuesday that remains unsigned by union leaders and scales back union protections. 

In an interview with The Hill, Targos said Wheeler did briefly respond to her. 

"I did look at him and ask him and ask if he was going to support a fair contract and he said something along the lines of agency talking points of 'We tried to come to the bargaining table but you guys refused.'"

The fight between the EPA and the union began over how much of the contract was even negotiable. The EPA wanted to renegotiate the entire contract, while the union wanted to renegotiate a narrower slice.

Under the latest contract, union employees would have to give up office space within the EPA offices and union leaders would not be able to use the intranet or agency billboards to communicate with members. It would also limit the amount of time union leaders could spend helping rank-and-file employees with labor disputes and other issues by 75 percent. It also changes how employees can arbitrate their grievances.

Targos said the new contract was "unilaterally imposed." The AFGE has already filed an unfair labor practice charge against the EPA.

"There was all this pomp and circumstance to highlight the good work of EPA employees," Targos said. "Why take away the conditions that supported such award-winning work?"

The agency's response: The EPA said it issued the new contract after years of fruitless negotiations.

"Administrator Wheeler was proud to host the National Honor Awards ceremony for the first time in 10 years and recognize the outstanding achievements of more than 700 EPA staff," a spokesman told The Hill. "This collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired 12 years ago, the Trump EPA has worked with AFGE for the past two-and-half years to reach a new CBA and EPA is not the party refusing to come to the negotiating table."

Targos said a security officer stopped her later and asked if she was actually an EPA employee.

Read more about the protest here


DIY CLIMATE DEBATE: Environmental groups are teaming up with The New Republic and Gizmodo to host a presidential climate summit after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) refused to hold a climate debate despite calls from progressive groups.

The four-hour discussion will be held on Sept. 23 in New York City during Climate Week NYC. 

It will be moderated by Errol Louis, a political commentator for CNN and NY1, and event co-planners, Emily Atkin from The New Republic and Brian Kahn from Gizmodo.

The events sponsors include Earthjustice, an environmental legal group, the League of Conservation Voters and Columbia University's Earth Institute. 

The official invites, with the date, went out Thursday alongside the public announcement, Atkin told The Hill. 

Will candidates show? No candidates have yet confirmed if they will attend. But organizers contacted all Democratic candidates back in June with preliminary information notifying them of a climate-focused forum, and received "a lot of interest," Atkin said. 

Organizers said it will be a forum-style event, but that they would change to a debate format if the DNC reverses its prohibition on candidates taking part in non-DNC debates. 

A DNC spokesperson did not immediately respond to The Hill as to whether the party plans to lift the rule. 

The forum will involve each candidate taking the stage one by one to be asked questions by moderators and others.

Read more about the debate here



-Washington floods expose a double threat: Old drains and climate change, The New York Times reports. 

-Department of Energy may have mistakenly shipped dangerous nuclear materials to Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

-States, provinces OK plan to protect Great Lakes from carp, the Associated Press reports.