Overnight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate
Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors
USDA SCIENTISTS PEACE OUT: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will lose nearly two-thirds of its staff at two research agencies as the department pushes ahead with a move to the Kansas City area.
Sixty-seven percent of employees at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will leave their jobs instead of uprooting for Kansas City, as will 57 percent of those currently working at the Economic Research Service (ERS), according to information from USDA.
Internal estimates from ERS employees show 70 percent intend to leave USDA rather than move.
Those two agencies are filled with the bulk of USDA researchers, who either study or fund research into food stamps, climate change, rural poverty and conservation farming.
Critics see the move as another Trump administration effort to sideline those who work on efforts that may be considered counter to the administration's overall agenda.
"The Trump administration's decision was flawed from the start but giving USDA researchers two months to completely uproot their lives is plain wrong," said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who has sponsored legislation to fight the move.
"If given the choice between losing your career and hauling your family across the country on a dime, what would you do? It's not a choice that they should have to make. These highly-skilled federal employees are being treated as casualties in the Trump administration's ideological war on science."
A larger debate: The employee exodus at USDA could inform other departments considering similar moves West. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Tuesday announced its plans to move 323 D.C.-based employees to offices across the West, including a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo.
USDA employees unionized in the wake of the move, and feel the short timeline makes it even tougher to uproot and sort out employment and school for spouses and children.
USDA unveiled Kansas City as its chosen location on June 16, and employees have until Sept. 30 to move there.
"This kind of staff loss will completely gut the ERA and NIFA, and will ultimately prevent the USDA from conducting critical research that helps grow the food our families eat. I urge Secretary Perdue to reconsider this move," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-M.D.) told The Hill.
The figures provided by the USDA reflect the decisions of 395 employees at the department, which originally had 547 employees slated to move to Kansas City.
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EPA PRAISES AIR QUALITY DATA: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pointed to a new study out Wednesday to emphasize the Trump administration's achievements in decreasing air pollution while championing economic growth that occurred simultaneously.
The report's results also showed that emissions from all six measured criteria air pollutants decreased between 2016 and 2018, the years Trump has been in office.
Additionally, the administration hailed the ongoing trend of dropping pollution rates across the country, starting in 1970, when the Clean Air Act was implemented. The results of the annual national air quality report showed that the emissions of six key pollutants dropped by 74 percent in that time period.
"The U.S. is a global leader in clean air progress, and we've proven that we can protect the environment while growing our economy," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
A statement from EPA added that the U.S. economy has grown 275 percent since 1970.
The agency's economic and environmental comparisons echo similar remarks heard last week by President Trump. Speaking at the White House for his speech on American's Environmental Leadership, Trump hailed his administration's continued achievements in air and water quality.
"For years politicians told Americans that a strong economy and vibrant energy sector were incompatible with a healthy environment," Trump said. "And that's wrong."
Pushback: But critics say Trump's EPA is wrongfully taking credit for the decrease in emissions in Wednesday's report. First, the report compares decreases over the span of four decades, many years in which Trump was not in office.
"They are taking credit for long term improvements in air quality that are results of regulations we've had in place for many years," said Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"The way they frame it is we've mostly seen improvements of air toxics emissions, but at the same time they are doing that, they are changing policies that will actually make it worsen air toxics emissions."
The administration in the last year replaced Obama's Clean Power Plan for regulating emissions from power plants and revoked the "once in, always in policy," which loosened regulatory compliance standards for certain sources of air pollution previously considered "major."
NUKE REGULATOR CUTS BACK: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials have reportedly recommended the agency cut back on inspections of U.S. reactors as a cost-cutting measure.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that NRC officials said that the move would maintain adequate safety measures while allowing the NRC to meet budgetary constraints. The decision was reportedly controversial, however, with some arguing that it exposed the public to unnecessary risk.
This cost-cutting measure "improves efficiency while still helping to ensure reasonable assurance of adequate protection to the public," the NRC said Tuesday in a report, according to the AP.
"NRC shouldn't perform fewer inspections or weaken its safety oversight to save money," countered commission member Jeff Baran, according to the news service.
"It affects every power reactor in the country," he told the AP. "We should absolutely hear from a broad range of stakeholders before making any far-reaching changes to NRC's safety oversight program."
According to the AP, the measure would reduce the time and scope of some inspections while reducing the frequency of others from every two to every three years.
House Democrats, led by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), reportedly urged officials to reconsider the changes in a letter.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
The Senate, Agricultural, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hold a hearing Thursday to discuss the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill and is expected to address USDA's decision to move researchers to a Kansas City office.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Missouri Supreme Court stands with Republican lawmakers in decision over state's clean water commission, The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports.
Oil fades as US raises 'red flags' with slump in fuel demand, Bloomberg reports.
A major Kern County oil spill in environmentally conscious California, the Los Angeles Times reports
Stories from Wednesday...
-USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City
-Fashion chain Zara commits to using 100 percent sustainable fabrics by 2025
-NRC eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors
-EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution