Overnight Energy: EPA chief touts benefits of deregulation for environment | Trump officials weaken fish protections Interior chief once lobbied against | USDA watchdog to probe handling of climate reports

Overnight Energy: EPA chief touts benefits of deregulation for environment | Trump officials weaken fish protections Interior chief once lobbied against | USDA watchdog to probe handling of climate reports
© Stefani Reynolds

HOW HE SEES IT: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerCalifornia officials boycott LA auto show in warning to industry: 'It's not business as usual' More than 200 lawmakers urge EPA to negotiate new union contract Is Big Oil feeling the heat? MORE took to the microphone Tuesday to espouse the benefits of deregulation.

Wheeler, speaking to the Detroit Economic Club, said he is often asked how the agency can protect the environment by rolling back regulations.

"This question assumes that regulation is the only path to environmental protection," Wheeler said. "Innovation and technology have led to remarkable environmental progress and often deregulation is necessary to spur on that innovation. Furthermore, deregulation does not always mean rolling back rules. More often than not it means modernizing or simplifying or streamlining regulations."

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The official touted EPA stats, showing the agency has taken 46 deregulatory actions under the Trump administration with another 45 in the pipeline. The actions that have been finalized have saved $3.7 billion in regulatory costs, he said. 

Wheeler also said the EPA was also one of the best at complying with one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE's earliest executive orders requiring agencies to get rid of two regulations for every new one they finalized, cutting 26 regulations while creating four new ones. 

Pushback: But the agency's approach has been heavily criticized by former EPA employees and administrators, including Republicans, who said that under the Trump administration the agency has abandoned its mission while systematically undermining protections.  

"The deregulation which Wheeler brags about removes completely or weakens the clean air, water or land standards so there is no incentive for industry to change their existing technologies no matter how polluting they are," said Betsy Southerland, who was director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA's Office of Water under the Obama administration.

"Wheeler also continues to cite the cost savings of removing or weakening standards but never mentions the enormous benefits lost."

Two for one: The EPA's own inspector general said the agency has "exceeded the deregulatory goals" of Trump's "two-for-one" executive order, and it estimated the regulatory savings were nearly $100 million for 2017 and 2018. 

Wheeler used the session to defend a number of EPA decisions taken since he was confirmed in February, including revoking a California waiver that allows them to set more stringent tailpipe emissions standards --"Federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the entire country," -- to a proposal to roll back Obama-era mileage standards for cars.

"As prices fall more Americans will be able to purchase newer, cleaner, safer vehicles -- vehicles that they want to buy," he said, saying scrapping regulations help provide certainty for companies.

But Bob Perciasepe, the deputy administrator at the EPA from 2009 to 2014, said automakers' opposition to the rule shows that industries sometimes favor regulations and that they can help provide certainty needed to spur innovation. 

Read more here

 

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ALSO AT EPA TODAY: 

#Meta: We need guidance about scaling back guidance... The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward with plans to implement two recent executive orders that aim to limit the impact of agency enforcement guidance on affected industries.

In a memorandum sent to staff on Monday, EPA head Andrew Wheeler said the agency is establishing two internal working groups to "think critically" about President Trump's order mandating agencies scale back guidance.

"We look forward to strengthening the rule of law at the EPA as we tackle this important challenge," Wheeler wrote.

Trump announced the executive orders earlier this month, arguing that for years agency guidance has inappropriately driven government policy.

The executive orders were widely viewed as an effort to limit the reach of agency guidance on rule compliance, which some argue often misleads businesses or industries into taking more action than is statutorily required.

Read more here.

 

About that Great Lakes funding... The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday it would send millions of dollars to the Great Lakes area for cleanup projects, a renewed pledge by the Trump administration after repeated attempts to scuttle funding for the region.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made the announcement outside Detroit, securing $11 million in grants for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an effort to boost the water quality of lakes that serve as a water source for more than 48 million people in the U.S. and Canada.

"The Trump Administration is taking action to improve water quality while boosting local economies across the country," Wheeler said in a press release. "The grant funding we are announcing today will continue to accelerate this great work to the benefit of millions of Americans living in and visiting the region."

Those funds will help battle invasive Asian carp, stop harmful algal blooms and restore habitat that can help clean water.

But the visit rubbed some Democrats the wrong way, particularly after the Trump administration has pulled back such funding before as well as pushed for development of a factory many feared would drain the lakes and pollute the resource.

Each year in office, Trump has tried to eliminate or dramatically cut funding to the Great Lakes. This year, the budget proposed to cut last year's $300 million in funding to the Great Lakes by 90 percent. 

Read more here

 

WHOEVER SMELT IT SELF-DEALT IT? The Trump administration is moving to weaken protections on an imperiled fish population in California's Central Valley, a shift that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had previously called for when he lobbied on behalf of farmers.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in a biological opinion Monday that the federal government is changing decades-old protections on the delta smelt, a small fish species found in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that has for nearly three decades been a source of conflict between farmers and environmentalists. 

Separately, the agency also issued a biological opinion to lift protections on the chinook salmon, a reversal from findings issued in July and subsequently pulled by the administration.

The changes follow a presidential memorandum issued last October that called for the heads of the Interior and Commerce departments to work together to "minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens" on water projects to better meet demands.

Agency officials called the changes much-needed updates to protections of both species, which allow for a win-win scenario for local residents, the fish and farmers who wish to pump water out of their habitat for irrigation.

"I will say we have worked diligently, as I described, to protect fisheries. We will have more cold water in this action than the last 10 years. By definition, it's necessary to support winter line spawning. Similarly with delta operations we have crafted a plan that will restrict pumping if there are cause for concern," said Paul Souza, the regional Fish and Wildlife Service official.

"Our commitment is that we will be as, or more, protective for delta operations than the last 10 years," Souza said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

Critics fear the new plan, which would allow large quantities of water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the Central Valley in order to irrigate farmland, would ultimately harm the threatened fish species.

Scrutiny on Bernhardt: The announcement is likely to further raise ethics concerns surrounding Bernhardt, who just before joining the administration lobbied on behalf of a farming group based in California to roll back protections on the delta smelt. Bernhardt is currently under federal investigation over several ethics concerns including complaints that he continued to push the efforts of his former employee, Westlands Water District, to advance policy at the Interior Department.

Agency officials denied the biological opinion issued on delta smelt protections Monday were connected to Bernhardt's previous employer.

"There is absolutely no connection," said Souza, adding that he and the others who worked on the issue were "career professionals."

Read more here.

 

MEANWHILE, AT USDA: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) inspector general is launching a probe into whether the agency withheld reports on climate change.

The inspection follows a September report from Democrats that found more than 1,400 USDA climate studies the administration "largely failed to publicize" on climate research. 

"Our objective is to determine whether any changes in policy and/or processes impacted the release of scientific reports, documents, and/or communication of USDA research," the Office of the Inspector General wrote in a letter to Rep. Chellie PingreeRochelle (Chellie) PingreeOvernight Energy: EPA chief touts benefits of deregulation for environment | Trump officials weaken fish protections Interior chief once lobbied against | USDA watchdog to probe handling of climate reports USDA's internal watchdog to probe allegedly buried climate change reports Congress pumps brakes on Interior push to relocate Bureau of Land Management MORE (D-Maine) released Tuesday.

Read more here

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on "examining the oil industry's efforts to suppress the truth about climate change."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on reducing emissions from planes and trains.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on improving water infrastructure. 

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Where do all of Hawaii's recyclables go? No one knows for sure, Honolulu Civil Beat reports. 

Noise pollution hurts wildlife, but states have trouble turning down the volume, Stateline reports.

How the Trump admin plans to fast-track Tongass logging, E&E News reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday....

San Jose to propose turning PG&E utility into a cooperative: report

Ozone hole shrinks to lowest size since 1982, unrelated to climate change: NASA

Bennet, Udall aim to conserve 30 percent of US lands by 2030

PG&E notifies 200K customers of potential second planned blackout

EPA touts Great Lakes funding after Trump tried to ax the program

EPA moves to implement Trump order on scaling back industry guidance

Supreme Court allows climate case targeting Big Oil to proceed

Trump admin weakens California fish protections that Interior chief once lobbied to reduce

EPA chief espouses benefits of agency's environmental deregulation

USDA's internal watchdog to probe allegedly buried climate change reports