Overnight Energy: EPA declines to toughen air quality standards | Trump to rent 27M barrels of storage space to oil companies | States, green groups sue Trump over efficiency rollback

Overnight Energy: EPA declines to toughen air quality standards | Trump to rent 27M barrels of storage space to oil companies | States, green groups sue Trump over efficiency rollback
© Getty Images

HAPPY TUESDAY! 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.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

AIRING TODAY: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed making no changes to certain air quality standards even though members of its staff raised questions about whether one of the standards is adequate. 

The agency on Tuesday proposed keeping the maximum acceptable levels of both fine and coarse forms of a pollutant known as particulate matter at Obama-era levels. 

Assessments have linked long-term exposure to fine particulate matter to as many as 52,100 premature deaths and suggested that stricter standards could save thousands of lives. 

Particulate matter includes substances such as dust, dirt, soot and smoke and has been linked to heart and lung issues, according to the agency. 

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee EPA transition back to the office alarms employees OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House MORE told reporters that the decision to retain the standard was made with the consideration of scientific evidence and analysis.

"We believe that the current standard is protective of public health," he said. 

Critics on Monday blasted the EPA's decision, saying the agency should have tightened the standards. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"This administration is passing up an opportunity to make the air cleaner for millions of Americans--choosing instead to do nothing. That's indefensible--especially amid a health crisis that is hitting people who live in communities with high levels of air pollution the hardest," said a statement from Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyAzar to visit Taiwan amid tensions with China Biden campaign adopts carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan  EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer MORE, who led the agency under the Obama administration.

Members of the EPA staff said in January that new evidence has been "calling into question" whether the standard for fine particulate matter is adequate. 

"A conclusion that the current primary [fine particulate matter] standards do provide adequate public health protection would place little weight on the broad body of epidemiologic evidence reporting generally positive and statistically significant health effect associations," they wrote. 

Wheeler, however, said that such evidence contained "uncertainties" including a lack of certain evidence, possible bias and error and other limitations. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a Harvard study that determined that people who lived in areas with more exposure to fine particulate matter are more likely to die from the coronavirus pandemic.  

Wheeler told reporters Tuesday that he expects the standards to be finalized by December.

 

A group of Democrats were opposed to the EPA proposal:

A group of 18 senators wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler expressing concerns about the proposed decision. 

"Today, EPA announced its decision to maintain current national ambient air quality standards that EPA's own staff say fail to protect public health – and that research links with higher COVID-19 mortality," they wrote. 

"The Environmental Protection Agency should be taking actions that will further protect health during this crisis, not put more Americans at risk," they added. 

The letter was led by Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanHillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power Senate-passed defense spending bill includes clause giving DHS cyber agency subpoena power Lawmakers push NOAA to prevent future 'Sharpiegate' MORE (D-N.H.) and its signatories include Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressives soaring after big primary night 'Absolutely incredible': Ocasio-Cortez congratulates Cori Bush on upset victory over Lacy Clay Sanders supporters launch six-figure ad campaign explaining why they're voting for Biden MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBill from Warren, Gillibrand and Waters would make Fed fight economic racial inequalities The other reason Democrats want Biden to shun debates The Memo: Biden faces balancing act MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTwitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation Virginia mayor refuses to resign over controversial Biden, 'Aunt Jemima' post Exclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board MORE (D-Calif.). 

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHouse committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (D-Del.), who signed on to the letter to Wheeler, also released his own statement saying that the agency is "choosing polluters over public health."

"This EPA is demonstrating a dangerous level of willful ignorance whose cost will be measured in people left unprotected and, ultimately, lives lost," he said. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) also criticized the decision on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the decision to not strengthen the standards is "an insult, both to Americans and to all that EPA stands for."

 

However, the move received praise from industry groups:

The American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing chemical companies said in a statement that "with air quality improving, EPA's decision will enable further environmental progress under the current standards and emissions controls."

And Frank Macchiarola, the American Petroleum Institute's senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs said in a statement that the proposal "is a smart balance that will further reduce emissions and help protect public health while meeting America's energy needs."

Read more about the proposal here and the reactions to it here.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

NEW LEASE ON LIFE: The Department of Energy (DOE) is moving ahead with its plan to rent storage capacity to struggling oil companies that are running out of space amid a steep drop in demand due to the coronavirus.

DOE is negotiating contracts with nine oil companies that want to use space in the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The deal will use 23 million barrels of capacity in the 77 million barrel tanks.

"When producing oil you have two options -- you either use it or you store it. With the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an enormous decrease in demand as our country works to contain the virus," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.

"Providing our storage for these U.S. companies will help alleviate some of the stress on the American energy industry and its incredible workforce," he said.

The administration's efforts to fill the reserve comes as oil-producing countries have struck a deal to reduce global oil production by 10 million barrels a day, a roughly 10 percent cut in overall production.

However, experts say the production decline won't be enough to offset the 30 percent drop in demand, leaving the administration eager to fill to reserve.

Companies will pay for the rental space in oil. That payment method was decided after Congress refused to supply the $3 billion the Trump administration requested to buy oil to fill up the reserve.

ADVERTISEMENT

Read more about the plan here.

 

AN EFFICIENCY DEFICIENCY?: Thirteen states and several environmental groups filed separate lawsuits against the Trump administration on Tuesday seeking to block a rule they say will impede efforts to make a number of products more energy efficient.

The rule finalized by the Department of Energy (DOE) in January begins the lengthy process of updating standards for appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners only if the new standards provide a 10 percent improvement over existing ones.

But critics say even single-digit improvements in energy efficiency can collectively save consumers billions of dollars on utility bills while helping to avoid excess pollution.

"The Trump Administration is irresponsibly rewriting a rule that helps consumers save money and decreases pollution to our environment," California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCampaigns accuse California AG of slanted descriptions of ballot initiatives California sues Trump administration to mandate undocumented immigrants are counted for apportionment OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money MORE (D) said in a release announcing one of the lawsuits.

"Americans sheltering in place are already struggling with higher electricity bills, they shouldn't have to worry about the federal government jacking up the price by blocking standards that make lightbulbs, refrigerators, and washing machines cheaper to run."

A DOE analysis produced under the Obama administration estimated the so-called process rule now being rolled back would save 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution by 2030.

"Household and business budgets will feel the harsh blow, as will the environment, because of this DOE's relentless efforts to undermine the energy efficiency standards program and benefit industry," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. 

Read more about the lawsuits here

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Railroad Commission of Texas considers regulating oil companies to combat crashing prices, CBS Austin reports

Climate Change Won't Stop for the Coronavirus Pandemic, ProPublica reports

Saudi energy minister: pragmatic actions by producing countries will stabilize oil market, S&P Global reports 

Chicago mayor says coal plant developer acknowledged not following its demolition plan, The Chicago Tribune reports

 

ICYMI: News from Tuesday (and Monday night)...

Ukraine wildfires creep closer to Chernobyl

Amazon fires two climate organizers who criticized warehouse conditions

Trump administration to rent 27M barrels of storage space to oil companies amid falling prices

EPA retains Obama-era air quality standards despite staff questions of adequacy

13 states, green groups sue Trump administration over energy efficiency rollback

Democrats slam EPA proposal to not tighten air quality standards

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGES:

Clean energy is facing a new attack, but can evade it, says Sylwia Bialek, an economist at the Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law.