BLM CHIEF GETS GRILLING: Democrats tore into chief of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at a hearing Tuesday, questioning the merits of a Department of Interior plan to decentralize the public land agency and send its top officials across the west.
BLM acting director William Pendley testified before the House Natural Resources Committee, where he faced tough questions about the details of the move, how it will save taxpayers money, and whether the agency can be effective as its headquarters staff are broken apart and placed in different offices in different states.
"The Department of the Interior has done nothing to alleviate concerns that this move has been hastily planned, poorly researched, and questionably motivated," said Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "There is no doubt this plan fits this administration's pattern of trying to sell out our environment and natural resources."
For Pendley, a controversial figure given his past support for selling off federal lands, it was his first appearance before lawmakers since being quietly appointed to lead the bureau through an order from the Interior secretary.
"Nothing beats being on the ground," Pendley told lawmakers at the hearing, defending the relocation plan. "Nothing beats seeing something up close and personal."
The plan: Interior announced in July that it would be moving nearly all of the BLM staff based in Washington, D.C., to new locations across the west, relocating roughly 300 employees and leaving just 61 in the nation's capital.
Those relocated employees would then primarily take their orders from a new BLM headquarters to be located in Grand Junction, Colo.
Critics see it as a way to dismantle an agency that can at times stand in the way of energy developers and other business interests. They worry the plan will remove career employees from the corridors of power, leaving political appointees at the helm in D.C.
Dem questions: At the heart of the issue is whether it makes sense to establish a new headquarters in a small city far away from D.C.
"Why Grand Junction? What is the justification for locating there?" asked Rep. TJ Cox (D-Calif.). "There's no major airport there. Denver is 250 miles to the east, Salt Lake is 200 miles to the northwest. There's no other federal agencies in Grand Junction. How can Grand Junction be more efficient than someplace else out west, be it Denver or Reno?"
BLM's side: Interior has argued the move will put employees closer to the public lands they manage, the majority of which lie in Western states.
Pendley said the move would save the agency money on renting office space, employee pay, and even travel.
And he said BLM would help those who do not want to take "more fulfilling jobs out west" by finding them roles elsewhere within Interior.
"For employees unable to make the move, we hope to find each a position in the Department of Interior family," Pendley said.
GOP on board: Republicans on the committee were supportive of the plan.
"Moving the decision makers closer to the lands that they manage undoubtedly improves agency efficiency, accountability and local engagement," said Rep. Doug LambornDouglas (Doug) LambornOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan GOP lawmakers worry vaccine mandate will impact defense supply chain Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE (R-Colo.).
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BIG CHANGES FROM EPA ON ANIMAL TESTING: The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will adopt a plan to eliminate all animal testing requirements at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 2035.
The agency announced it will devote $4.25 million for five universities to research and develop alternative methods for evaluating chemical safety that don't include animal testing. EPA will begin winding down its requests for and funding of animal testing, aiming to cut use by 30 percent by 2025 and completely eliminate mammal testing 10 years later.
EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — American Clean Power — Supreme Court to review power plant rule case EPA to consider tighter air quality standards for smog Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels MORE on Tuesday directed the agency to implement new methods to test the effects of chemicals and other substances regulated by the department in order to "significantly reduce" the use of testing on animals. Cell testing and computer modeling are the main alternatives to animal testing.
"This is an effort that the agency will undertake over the next 16 years to improve the science we use for scientific decision and eliminate the need for animal tests. This is a long-standing personal belief on my behalf," Wheeler said at a press conference Tuesday.
"There are a lot of alternatives between computer modeling and in vitro testing. There are better alternatives for testing the chemical impacts on people than animal testing," he added.
The onus of complying with the directive will largely fall to chemical and pesticide manufacturers, who must register their products through EPA and provide detailed test results of the substances' effects on humans.
The agency argues the move away from animal testing could ultimately allow for "equal or greater biological predictivity than current animal models."
"Scientific advancements exist today that allow us to better predict potential hazards for risk assessment purposes without the use of traditional methods that rely on animal testing," Wheeler wrote in the memo.
The move was hailed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society, groups that partnered with EPA on the development of the plan. Each group has a long history of advocating against testing products and chemicals on animals.
NOAA BACKS TRUMP: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acting Administrator Neil Jacobs on Tuesday continued to back President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE's claim that Alabama had been in the storm's path after NOAA, in an unsigned statement, rebuked a tweet from the National Weather Service that contradicted Trump.
"At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast," Jacobs said speaking at the National Weather Association's meeting in Huntsville, Ala. "Up until Advisory 29, the risk the Gulf states exceeded that of North Carolina, but as everyone in this room knows, forecast models change."
Jacobs also defended the agency's Friday statement supporting Trump's position in his speech.
"The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the potential impacts of Dorian. What it did not say however is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather forecast office, which was to calm fears," he said.
"The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time," the Friday statement said of the days-old weather service tweet.
Meteorologists and former officials criticized the statement, which was reportedly being probed by the agency's inspector general.
ON TAP WEDNESDAY:
A House subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a hearing on protecting chemical facilities from nuclear attacks Wednesday morning. The House Financial Services Committee will also hold a hearing on the macroeconomic impacts of climate change.
The Senate on Wednesday will consider the nominations of two Trump nominees. The Senate Environment and Public Works committee will consider Aurelia Skipwith to be Interior's director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and Katherine Andrea Lemos to be chairperson of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Norwegian voters deliver warning to country's oil industry, Bloomberg reports.
John BoltonJohn BoltonWhen will Biden declare America's 'One China, One Taiwan' policy? India's S-400 missile system problem Overnight Defense & National Security — GOP unhappy with Afghan vetting MORE was fired, and the price of oil instantly fell, CNN reports
Nearly 100 Wawa stores in south Jersey to be powered by solar panels, CBS Philly reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday...
Democrats grill BLM chief over plans to move officials out of DC
Greta Thunberg to join 'climate strike' event outside White House
Democratic senator requests inspector general probe NOAA's backing of Trump on Dorian
NOAA chief backs Trump on Alabama claims, notes difficulty of forecasting Dorian
GOP New Hampshire governor to sign offshore drilling ban
EPA takes major step toward ending animal testing
Climate activist Greta Thunberg: 'The planet is outside its comfort zone'
Japan's environment minister says country will dump radioactive water from Fukushima into ocean