Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules

HOW ABOUT SOME AIR RULE WONKINESS?: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to finalize a rule Thursday that would ease the air pollution permitting process for certain power plants and manufacturers.

Since the early days of the Trump administration, the EPA has argued the process for obtaining permits under the Clean Air Act, known as New Source Review (NSR), is too burdensome.

The agency’s proposal seeks to make a regulation out of a 2018 memo from former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that has already been challenged in court by environmental groups.

The Sierra Club said the proposed rule would allow “some of the wealthiest industries in our country to avoid cleaning up their air emissions instead of installing modern pollution controls on their dirty facilities.”{mosads}

EPA argues it will help ease the process for facilities looking to install new equipment. 

The NSR process at the crux of the proposed regulation kicks in both for new facilities and when power plants install new equipment or make changes that would significantly increase air pollution.

The debate between EPA and environmentalists largely centers on how much pollution must be factored in when weighing changes at a power plant. Whether or not a plant has to install pollution controls hinges on that calculation. 

Environmentalists say the law requires looking at the plant as a whole, including all the ways a facility decreases and increases pollution through its operations. 

John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA proposal weighs the increased pollution from one change against all the other decreases in the plant —something that ignores that net pollution may go up.

“You can’t cherry-pick the decreases because it’s allowing even greater increases to escape control,” he said, thus leading to more pollution. “And that’s really the point of this regulation, to allow greater increases to escape control.”

He gave the example of installing a new boiler at a plant. The new technology might be more energy efficient, but if the boiler is run more often than the old one, it will still produce more pollution.

The EPA pushed back against Walke’s assertion.

“Today’s proposal is an important step towards President Trump’s goal of reforming the elements of NSR that regularly discouraged facilities from upgrading and deploying the latest energy efficient technologies,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release. “By simplifying the permitting process and implementing a common-sense interpretation of our NSR rules, we will remove a major obstacle to the construction of cleaner and more efficient facilities.”

Read more about the fight over New Source Review here


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WOTUS WOES: Two Midwest Republican senators are pushing a bill to cement changes made by the Trump administration to an Obama-era rule designed to reduce water pollution, bringing a pet project of the Trump administration to Congress. 

The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule has long been controversial within the agriculture community, with farmers arguing it gives the federal government far too much power to regulate runoff in small bodies of water that could get contaminated by farm waste.

The bill from Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) is the latest attempt to put the onus on Congress instead of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to define which waters should be regulated under the law. 

“The Obama-era WOTUS rule threatened Iowa’s farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses by giving the federal government authority to regulate water on 97 percent of land in our state,” Ernst said in a statement. “President Trump and his administration have taken tremendous steps to roll back this far-reaching regulation. … But it’s the job of Congress to make a new, reasonable definition permanent.”

Trump’s EPA finalized its own WOTUS rule in February. 

Pushback from greens: “This bill would gut the Clean Water Act even worse than the Trump administration’s reckless and wildly unpopular proposal earlier this year,” Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement to The Hill. “It’s a recipe for letting polluters around the country off the hook and forcing communities to bear the costs of contaminated waterways and destroyed wetlands. Americans have a right to clean water. We deserve better from members of Congress and the Trump administration than parroting polluters’ bogus claims.”

Though farmers gripe WOTUS goes too far by regulating small bodies of water and seasonal issues, like waterways that result from melting snow, environmentalists say the rule is essential because small waterways eventually flow into larger ones. They say the rule is also necessary to protect drinking water sources from contamination.

WOTUS was established under the Obama administration in 2015 to determine which bodies of water are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act — something Trump’s EPA sought to ease early in the administration. The Clean Water Act was first established in the 1970s to give the federal government authority to regulate pollution discharges into waterways.

The bill proposed by Ernst and Braun would dramatically scale back federal jurisdiction over water. The EPA would no longer have purview over seasonal bodies because the federal law would only apply to those that contain water slightly more than half the year — 185 days — eliminating their review over seasonal waterbodies created by snowmelt or heavy rains.

The 185-day figure comes directly from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the bill also excludes irrigation areas from what would be considered navigable waters

Read more about the bill here.


LEADING ON LEAD? Environmentalists are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a new rule they say doesn’t do enough to protect children from lead contamination.

A group of environmental advocates filed a joint lawsuit against EPA on Thursday challenging the agency’s finalized June Dust-Lead Hazard Standards that the group says are too lax to protect families. 

The suit, filed in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, takes issue with the EPA’s newly revised environmental regulations that measure lead found in dust on floors, window sills and in soil typically from older dwellings. 

The rule, rolled out jointly by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, is meant in particular to protect children from harmful lead exposure.

“Trump’s EPA had a chance to follow mainstream science and correctly update these standards for children’s sake,” said Eve Gartner, Earthjustice attorney. “Instead it botched the opportunity and gave families a rule that falls far short of protecting children.”  

This is the second time Earthjustice is taking the EPA to task over the lead dust standards. The environmental group in 2016 previously sued the EPA to force the agency’s hand in finalizing the rule, saying the EPA at the time was delaying its rulemaking. The court in 2017 sided with the group which led to the EPA’s finalized rule introduced this year.

But environmentalists are saying the EPA’s new rule still does not provide stringent enough protections for children.

“Current standards result in inspections that fail to identify homes or schools with dangerous levels of lead,” said the coalition of organizations represented by Earthjustice. “When that happens homeowners and others do not take measures to reduce lead, exposing families and children to breathing in toxic levels of lead. This is illegal and intolerable.”



Judge blocks copper mine project in Arizona national forest, the Associated Press reports.

-New Mexico private fishing ban might not be a keeper, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

-South Carolina refunds utility customers for failed nuclear plant, The State reports.


ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…

-Pompeo hits China over Mekong River dams

-Pair of GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule

-Researchers say firefly populations are dying out due to human development, pesticides

-2 percent of endangered North Atlantic right whales died this summer: report

-Trump campaign calls Democratic environmental plans ‘reckless and dangerous

-Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax

-EPA proposes easing air pollution permitting process

Tags Andrew Wheeler Ben Carson Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA Joni Ernst Lead Mike Braun New Source Review Scott Pruitt Waters of the United States WOTUS
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