Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf

BEE EVEN MORE CONCERNED: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it would allow for the expanded use of a pesticide it considers toxic to bees, a move that comes just days after the Trump administration said it was suspending data collection on bee populations.

The pesticide known as sulfoxaflor will be permitted for use on certain crops for the first time, and in other areas that were prohibited under the Obama administration.

The agency considers sulfoxaflor "very highly toxic" to bees.

EPA explains its move: In a call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency's research on the pesticide's effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.

"To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language," including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said.

But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss.

The EPA did not respond to additional questions from The Hill about how it would monitor the impacts of its new guidelines for the pesticide.

A controversial pesticide: Sulfoxaflor's use has long been contentious. It was temporarily barred after a lawsuit from beekeepers in 2015, and the EPA in 2016 changed its instructions for how to use the pesticide in a way designed to reduce the impact on bees.

"At a time when honeybees and other pollinators are dying in greater numbers than ever before, Trump's EPA decision to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless," Earthjustice, which fought sulfoxaflor use in the 2015 suit, said in a statement Friday. "Scientists have long said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are the cause of the unprecedented colony collapse. Letting sulfoxaflor back on the market is dangerous for our food system, economy, and environment."

EPA said it was spurred to reconsider uses of sulfoxaflor following numerous emergency requests from states -- many of which the agency granted -- to allow the use of the pesticide on certain crops. It contends sulfoxaflor is safer than the alternatives.

When pressed for more information on the studies that showed the new regulations would be safer for bees, the EPA official said, "most of the studies that we used were indeed sponsored by industry. That is common practice in the pesticide program."

Read more from our story here.

 

TGIF! 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.

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LIFE COMES AT YOU PFAST: The House voted to limit cancer-linked "forever chemicals" Friday in a bill that directs the military and the Environmental Protection Agency to take stronger action against spreading contamination.

The measures, passed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), target a class of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS that have shown up in 49 states and 712 sites, according to data from the Environmental Working Group.

PFAS are 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.

The bill requires the military to phase out use of foam with PFAS by 2025 and would also designate PFAS as a toxic pollutant under the Clean Water Act. 

One big change: In in a big break from the Senate version that passed in June, the House version would allow Superfund money to be used to clean up PFAS contamination.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) who had pushed for such a measure in the Senate, called it "a move that would unleash federal powers to clean up contaminated drinking water supplies and hold polluters accountable, even when one of those polluters is the Department of Defense."

The Department of Defense (DOD) faces a $2 billion clean up tab for PFAS, and critics have accused the military of trying to limit regulations that would make them financially responsible for more cleanups. 

Criticism: But there are others who are not thrilled to see the House so robustly taking on PFAS. 

President Trump has threatened to veto the House version of the NDAA, citing two PFAS provisions among his concerns.

And in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement: Lawmakers that were already working on a broad PFAS package were annoyed to see so many policy points included in the bill before they could be vetted.

"I'd prefer regular order but there's a lot of work to be done on the PFAS issue and we're anxious to do it based on the hearings that we've had," said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) chair of the subcommittee on the Energy and Commerce Committee dealing with PFAS.

Tonko's Republican counterpart agreed.

"The House Energy and Commerce Committee takes our responsibility to keep our communities safe very seriously. We tackle complicated issues and we work to get it right - using deliberation and in this case, the scientific process," Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement. "We need to get it right. We hear it too often, but allowing regular order to continue so the committee can have good-faith discussions is important."

More on the legislation and what's next here

 

LOOKING TO THE WEEKEND: 

 

Three things to watch for at Netroots Nation:

Progressives will gather in Philadelphia this weekend for the annual Netroots Nation convention.

Attendees will hear from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and several other Democratic presidential candidates, along with a host of progressive stars from Congress.

Here are three things to watch.

Could this be the closest thing to a climate debate?

The Democratic National Committee has yet to agree to calls for a stand-alone climate debate, and has forbidden candidates from engaging in any unsanctioned debate on the topic. While the Democratic Party may decide in August to reverse that position, as of now, Democrats have not been given a significant platform to compare their climate action policies.

That could change this weekend. Four 2020 hopefuls, Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, will take the stage to talk about key issues for progressive Democrats.

Will Pelosi take any heat?

Days after a series of tense exchanges between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and high-profile freshman lawmakers in her caucus, three members of the "squad" are set to speak at Netroots.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) will each hold court at Netroots in various events. Pressley will speak Friday at a panel on "A Progressive Vision for 2020 and Beyond," while Omar and Tlaib will speak Saturday on the topic of "Making Herstory: The Women who are Shifting the Balance of Power in Washington."

The lawmakers are almost certain to be asked about one of the No. 1 topics this week in Washington: the war of words between Pelosi and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the fourth member of the squad.

Who emerges as the liberal favorite?

Warren will be on familiar ground Saturday, speaking at the final keynote speech of the event. Her appearance before the crowd will be especially to her advantage with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) skipping this year.

Castro and Gillibrand, fresh off strong performances at the presidential primary debates in June, will look to highlight their policies and get a boost from their appearances. Castro in particular has some momentum after the last debate.

Inslee, who is also speaking Saturday, is expected to focus on his climate agenda, an issue likely to be well received by the audience. 

Read the full list here and follow @MirandaGreen for more updates throughout the weekend.

 

Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf:

Tropical Storm Barry is expected to hit the Louisiana Coast as early as Saturday, threatening to send flood waters in New Orleans and other areas of the state.

While it doesn't appear that Barry will bring tremendous wind power, there are legitimate fears about storm surges causing extensive damage and endangering those who do not evacuate from areas set to be hit by the weather event.

Here are five things to watch for.

New Orleans levees may be tested

New Orleans' levee system was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but experts have long worried another strong storm would wipe out the $14 billion in infrastructure designed to protect the city from flooding.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has forecast that the Mississippi River, which snakes through the city, will crest at 19 feet. Though a foot lower than previously predicted, that's still uncomfortably close for many residents, as most levees would be topped by river heights between 20 to 22 feet, according to Nola.com. 

Other towns hit by Michael are also in Barry's path

Any storm traveling through the Gulf will mean heavy wind and rain for towns that are still recovering from Hurricane Michael in October of last year. 

Aerial footage of the Florida Panhandle shows trees on their sides and roofs ripped from homes.

Energy sources could be disrupted and there are pollution worries

Offshore oil rigs are shutting down in preparation for the storm. Nearly 40 percent of rigs in the Gulf have evacuated employees, according to the Bureau of Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore activity. That figure is up 10 percentage points from just the day before. 

There's always the chance that a pause on drilling could cause disruptions on the market, but Hurricane Harvey showed the potential storms and resulting flooding have for exacerbating pollution from industrial sites.   

Is this related to climate change?

The increasing frequency and intensity of major storms has been attributed to climate change.

"We're seeing a record-breaking disaster at least once a year; in a decade there will be at least a half dozen every year; in three decades devastating disasters will be common all over the world," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a release.

Check out the full list here.

 

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

The House is slated to consider a slew of bills next week including provisions to increase research on solar, wind and fossil fuel energy.

On Tuesday, the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing titled Oil and Gas Development: Impacts of Business-as-Usual on the Climate and Public Health, which will discuss how the Trump administration should incorporate the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from mining when determining its leases on public lands.

On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a markup on three bills, including the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act, which aims to protects 1,006,545 acres of public land surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining as the Trump administration appears to be considering opening up uranium in the area.

The House Science, Space and Technology committee Thursday will hold a hearing to consider glacial melting due to climate change. Five scientists are set to testify.

A subcommittee of the House Natural Resources committee will also Thursday discuss the future of the Federal Coal Program. Brandi Colander, the former Interior Department deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, will testify.

In the Senate next week, a subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the administration's handling of the wild horse and burro program.

The Senate's Environment and Public Works committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to examine the challenges of electric battery production and waste.

A subcommittee for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee Thursday will consider bills dealing with water infrastructure.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

-California passes $26 billion plan to deal with wildfire threats, The Sacramento Bee reports. 

-Maine governor comes out against 'foolish' federal regulations to protect right whales, The Portland Press Herald reports.

-New Mexico outlines plans to close its only coal-fired electricity plant, the Associated Press reports. 

 

-ICYMI:

Stories from Friday...

-NOAA offers $38K reward for information on speared dolphin

-Three things to watch for at Netroots Nation

-Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf 

-EPA expands use of pesticide considered 'very highly toxic' to bees

-House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals'

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