Overnight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups

Overnight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups
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DATA IS BEAUTIFUL: Critics say the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) water policy unveiled Thursday is one of the biggest rollbacks to water rules in decades, but it's tough to know the extent of its impact because of challenges that come with mapping America's waterways.

"I've never seen an EPA regulation so utterly divorced from the facts and so apparently uninterested in developing them," said Jon Devine, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s director of federal water policy.

The new rule limits the small streams and waterbodies covered by the Clean Water Act, raising fears that an increased amount of pesticides and other industrial chemicals will be able to enter streams, wetlands and underground water sources. 

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More than 18 percent of streams that flow because of rainfall or snowmelt and more than half of U.S. wetlands could be affected, according to data that was part of a 2017 slideshow put together by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers staff and obtained by E&E News in 2018. 

However, EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation OVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey MORE said while announcing the new regulation that "there are no data or tools that can accurately map or quantify the scope of waters of the United States for the agency's regulatory purposes" or to compare the new rule to a since-repealed Obama administration regulation.

Critics question how the administration could pen such a rule without having the proper information.

"How can you promulgate a rule when you don't know what the impacts are going to be?" House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocrats to probe Trump's replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog Donald Trump is proposing attacks on Social Security and seniors; here is what we should do instead House committee investigating Carnival cruise line's response to coronavirus MORE (D-Ore.) told reporters on a press call Thursday. 

Devine agreed, saying that if the agency doesn't know what the effects of its rule will be, "the right answer is not to barrel forward and put out that rule, it's that they should have taken the time they needed to actually analyze the impacts."

He specifically pointed to the National Hydrography Dataset and National Wetlands Inventory as examples of some data that maps the nation's waters, but said it's likely to be an underestimate of how widespread they are.

Meanwhile, the EPA recently released a statement critical of the databases highlighted by Devine, saying that the National Hydrography Dataset only differentiates between two types of waterways in "very limited portions of the country" and that the National Wetlands Inventory has "errors of omission and commission."

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The agency said that any attempts to quantify the changes in scope "are far too inaccurate and speculative to be meaningful."

Read more here.

 

HAPPY FRIDAY!  Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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MAILBAG: A coalition of more than 320 groups will ask the White House to extend its comment period on planned changes to a bedrock environmental law. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE this month announced the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would allow greater industry involvement in environmental reviews of projects and reduce the role climate change plays in those assessments.

On Monday, the coalition will send a letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) asking for the extension. 

"Currently, the Trump administration is offering an extremely short 60-day public comment period and mere two public hearings," said a statement from the groups. 

Major opponents of the changes have included environmental groups, who argue that it would allow the government to turn a blind eye when projects emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. They are also among those asking for the longer comment period. 

"The Trump administration is silencing the people's voices for the sake of polluters' profits," said Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice, in the statement. "Rushed comment periods, hearings held at odd daytime hours to discourage working families from attending, and space so limited that the room fills up in five minutes – it all adds up to a concerted effort to sideline communities." 

"Shutting out public input on this latest egregious attack on our environmental protections adds insult to injury," said Matthew Gravatt, deputy legislative director for Sierra Club. "Our communities will not be silenced about the threats posed by this administration's dangerous pro-polluter agenda." 

Meanwhile, proponents of the changes to NEPA have argued that the law has slowed down construction and infrastructure projects. 

"From Day One, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. And we want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost," President Trump said this month. 

Read the full story here.

 

BACKLOG: Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explain a drop in the number of hazardous waste sites that the agency cleaned up last year. 

The figures show that the agency had the highest number of unfunded construction projects at major hazardous waste sites of the last 15 years.

In 2019, the EPA did not have funding to begin work on 34 so-called Superfund sites, a number more than 50 percent above the highest figures from the Obama administration.

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"Unfortunately the increase in the number of unfunded cleanup of Superfund sites follows repeated proposed budget cuts to the superfund program and raises concerns the EPA is failing to effectively implement this program," Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoHouse coronavirus stimulus bill to include effort to limit political influence over science House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs OVERNIGHT ENERGY: More than 70 lawmakers join suit challenging Trump power plant rollbacks | Ranchers sue Trump administration, arguing water rollback is federal overreach |Democrats press Trump administration over plan to reopen national parks MORE (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteAdministration rolls back pollution standards amid a global pandemic Colorado Democrat: Shipment of ventilators to her state seems like favor to Gardner House Democrats call on Trump administration to lift restrictions on fetal tissue for coronavirus research MORE (D-Colo.) wrote in a late Thursday letter to the EPA, asking for a briefing from the agency as well as any plans to address the issue.

The EPA said it is in the process of teeing up a number of projects at Superfund sites.

"This translates to 40+ more communities being closer to having their sites cleaned up and deleted off the National Priorities List," the agency said in an email to The Hill.

"While Congressional funding for Superfund has remained essentially flat over the last 15 years, the number of newly funded projects at sites can be smaller or larger in a particular year due to the actual cost of the active projects."

But critics previously said the data highlights the dangers of the agency's continued push to reduce its own budget.

"Every year the president's budget says they want to cut the Superfund budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and every year Congress says no," Betsy Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA's Office of Water under the Obama administration, told The Hill previously. 

Read more here

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ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will examine the impact of wildfires on the power sector and the environment. 

Also on Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on three water-related bills and a separate hearing on a bill regarding reporting of fossil fuel extraction and emissions

That same day, the House Agriculture Committee will review implementation of farm bill conservation programs

On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hear stakeholder perspectives on the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Also on Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will mark up a series of bills

 

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY: 

97K gallons of red wine spill into Sonoma County river in threat to fish population, we report

Volkswagen CEO confident he can catch Tesla in e-car race, Bloomberg News reports

'Blatant manipulation': Trump administration exploited wildfire science to promote logging, The Guardian reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Friday...

Dems demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years

More than 320 groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental law changes

Critics question data used in rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections

97K gallons of red wine spill into Sonoma County river in threat to fish population 

More than 320 groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental law changes