Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge

Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge
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EPA WILL REGULATE FOREVER CHEMICALS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced it would regulate "forever chemicals" that have been leaching into the water supply in cities across the country.

The announcement kicks off a lengthy process to regulate a class of chemicals known as PFAS, which are known for their persistence in both the environment and the human body. The substance has been linked with cancer and other health ailments.

The decision was welcome news to environmentalists, who often argue the Trump administration EPA has earned a reputation for rolling back environmental regulations rather than bolstering them.

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"Under President TrumpDonald John TrumpIllinois governor says state has gotten 10 percent of medical equipments it's requested Biden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll Tesla offers ventilators free of cost to hospitals, Musk says MORE's leadership, EPA is following through on its commitment in the Action Plan to evaluate PFOA and PFOS," EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Trump administration expected to roll back Obama-era mileage standards Overnight Energy: EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus | Trump oil purchase in jeopardy | Analysis finds gasoline demand could fall 50 percent MORE said in a statement, referring to the two forms of PFAS that would be regulated under Thursday's action.

The EPA had promised to decide whether or not to regulate PFAS by the end of last year, earning a rebuke from Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Trump administration rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards MORE (D-Del.) as the anniversary of the agency's PFAS Action Plan came and went. 

EPA currently recommends water contain no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS, but it's not a mandatory standard, and many health advocates argue that number is too high. In the absence of EPA action, a number of states have passed laws requiring lower levels of PFAS for drinking water.

"Today's decision shows that an avalanche of public pressure and overwhelming science is finally forcing EPA to act," Melanie Benesh with the Environmental Working Group said in a statement.

EPA's decision to regulate PFAS kicks off a two-year period for the agency to determine what the new mandatory maximum contamination level should be. Once that is formally proposed, the agency has another 18 months to finalize its drinking water requirement.

"We're not going to be seeing a drinking water standard for at least four more years," said Betsy Southerland, who helped set the voluntary 70 ppt standard while working as the director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA's Office of Water under the Obama administration.

PFAS contamination has been found in every state but Hawaii, according to data collected by the Environmental Working group, with cities in Michigan and New Jersey, where some PFAS was manufactured, being hit particularly hard. 

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However, there are many municipalities with no contamination – something Southerland worried would limit EPA's appetite to set a national standard.

"There are all these small systems in the country and if it looks like there is low likelihood that all these small systems have this contamination you don't want to impose the cost of even the monitoring technology on them," she said.

Municipal water suppliers are the most likely to caution against setting too aggressive of a drinking water standard. Though vocal about the health concerns from PFAS, they would be saddled with the costs of monitoring for the substance or investing in equipment to remove it. 

"We haven't said there should or shouldn't be a number, a maximum contamination level. What we ask is that we make a sound decision," said Steve Via with the American Water Works Association, which represents water utilities.

Read more about the EPA and forever chemicals here.

 

And in other PFAS news...

Earthjustice sued the Department of Defense (DOD) on Thursday, arguing the military has been improperly incinerating so-called forever chemicals.

Read more about the lawsuit here

 

HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Besitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

 

CLIMATE CUTS: President Trump's budget proposes closing a network of climate science centers, prompting concerns the administration will hamstring climate change research while booting employees from the federal workforce.

Trump's fiscal 2021 budget would slash funding for the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, eliminating all $38 million for research to help wildlife and humans "adapt to a changing climate."

Rather than fund all eight regional centers along with the national one, the budget instead calls for just one center, at a cost of $20 million. 

The restructuring plans follow similar steps employed by the Trump administration, where agencies with research ties are reshuffled or relocated, often prompting a reduction in staff.

While the president's budget is unlikely to be passed by Congress, it is seen as an important marker of the administration's priorities, which has environmental groups worried.

"They have a track record of doing this," said Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental watchdog group. "In a normal administration, you wouldn't blow up eight other regional climate centers without going through Congress. I don't know exactly what they're going to do, but, this being their wishlist, I won't be surprised if they try to put some of it into action without approval from Congress."

The administration previously moved two research wings of the Agriculture Department to Kansas City. One of those agencies, the Economic Research Service, lost nearly 80 percent of its nearly 200-plus person staff and had trouble producing required reports.

The administration is also in the midst of relocating Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff, shifting more than 150 Washington-based employees to locations across the West, leaving just 61 employees in the nation's capital. The move is expected to break apart the team that reviews the environmental impacts of major projects.

The move ignited a fight between lawmakers and the BLM, with agency officials arguing they did not need congressional approval to move forward with the relocation.

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The eight regional centers that are on the chopping block are part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) but are housed at universities where they produce research about the local impacts of climate change.

This isn't the first time the administration has tried to trim the number of regional centers, but it is the first time they've tried to eliminate all of them. Last year, Congress not only kept all eight centers, it also boosted their funding.

"Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) provide actionable science and research that directly address many of the climate-related challenges unique to different regions of the country," the House Appropriations Committee wrote in a report. "The Committee believes the administration's attempt to reduce and curtail the activities of these centers is shortsighted and counterproductive at a time when our natural and cultural resources, our communities, and our health are being assaulted by climate change."

A spokeswoman for the USGS argued the consolidation of regional centers would not harm its mission.

"Doing so continues this work while achieving efficiencies," Karen Armstrong said in a statement to The Hill.

Read more about the proposed restructuring here

 

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IN ARCTIC NEWS:

House Dems don't want banks to finance drilling in ANWR... Dozens of House Democrats are urging several major banks not to fund oil drilling and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), following a similar push by Senate Democrats.

A group of 33 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats call for stimulus to boost Social Security benefits by 0 a month Schiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security House Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.) urging the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley to stop funding such drilling in the refuge.

The letter was sent Thursday and follows an announcement from Goldman Sachs that it would prohibit financing for new drilling or oil exploration in the Arctic, including in the refuge. 

"Roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips, and other facilities that would be developed to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would fragment habitat, displace wildlife, and undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge. Millions of gallons of fresh water needed to support drilling activities could be drained from fragile Arctic rivers. And oil spills, which already occur on the North Slope, would harm fish and wildlife," the lawmakers wrote. 

"Any development in the coastal plain would permanently destroy this critically important intact ecosystem. We urge you to take a leadership role in recognizing that investing in a project that would threaten human rights and worsen the climate crisis is an expensive risk that's not worth taking," they added. 

Senate Democrats last month similarly urged banks to not finance drilling in the refuge.  

Read more here

 

Senate Dems don't want expanded development at the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska... A group of Democratic senators is criticizing a Trump administration plan that could expand oil and gas development on a reserve in the Arctic.

"With the Arctic warming 'faster than any other place on Earth,' according to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, removing existing protections in this region is reckless and unwise," the Democrats wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. 

The lawmakers said that if any change is made, it should be "to maintain the strongest possible protections" for Special Areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and "not open additional acreage in the Reserve to oil and gas leasing."

Last year, the Interior Department put forth a plan with alternatives that include possibly expanding significantly the number of acres that can be developed.

Other alternatives in the plain include maintaining the current level of development or decreasing the land available for development.

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers MORE (Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Biden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll MORE (Calif.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE (Md.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children Legal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic MORE (Ill.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls MORE (Mass.), and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Democratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men MORE (N.J.), as well as Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Sanders still sees 'narrow path' to Democratic presidential nomination Tenants call on lawmakers to pass rent freezes MORE (Vt.), who is an independent. 

They characterized the plan as "part of a larger push by the Trump administration to recklessly sell off America's Arctic for oil and gas development without any regard for how it will harm the people who live in and near the Reserve, our climate, and the fish and wildlife that depend on the Arctic's special places."

"The final [environmental impact statement] will take into account public input and stakeholder participation from Alaska Natives, and it will incorporate the most current information and lay out management goals and objectives that are environmentally responsible, respect traditional uses of the land and maintain access to subsistence resources," an Interior Department spokesperson told The Hill in an email. 

Read more here

 

COOPERATING WITH EUROPE: Speaking in Washington D.C. on Thursday, European Commission Director-General for Energy H.E. Ditte Juul Jørgensen identified places for transatlantic cooperation. She specifically mentioned "technology, innovation and research" and the supply of raw materials to make wind turbines, batteries and more as areas for possible collaboration.

Her discussion on the European Green Deal also characterized gas as a transitional fuel, and described U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) as important to Europe's energy diversification. 

"U.S. LNG exports have been an extremely important component of our diversification strategy and a very good example of good results," Juul Jørgensen said. 

The Green Deal aims to make the European Union an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Oil and gas may be a far bigger climate threat than we knew, The New York Times reports.

Washington considers banning disposable plastics in restaurants and grocery stores, Crosscut reports.

Could utilities face a carbon capture mandate soon in Wyoming? the Casper Star Tribune reports.

Maryland environmental advocates seek more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals, The Baltimore Sun reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday...

House Democrats urge banks to not fund drilling in Arctic refuge

DOD sued for alleged improper incineration of 'forever chemicals'

Democratic senators criticize plan to expand Arctic oil and gas development

Climate change a rising concern for Western voters, poll finds

Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role

Trump budget calls for slashing funds to climate science centers

USDA hopes to cut farms' environmental footprint in half by 2050