OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic
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IT’S MONDAY!  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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THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday did not propose more ambitious standards for reducing smog despite pressure from environmental groups and even some courts that had urged the agency to set more restrictive regulations on the pollutant.

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The Monday proposal would retain the 70 part per billion (ppb) standard for ozone, commonly referred to as smog, set under the Obama administration. That standard has faced numerous lawsuits from environmental and health groups.

“Based on a review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisors, we are proposing to retain existing ozone standards which will ensure the continued protection of both public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA, employee union sign contract after years of disputes OVERNIGHT 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 MORE said in a release.

That group of science advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), faced heavy scrutiny in the first two years of the Trump administration after all its original members were replaced by either Wheeler or his predecessor Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic MORE.

“The cherry-picked CASAC gave the Administrator the answer he wanted to hear,” Chris Frey, a former director of CASAC, wrote on Twitter, saying the later review done by CASAC was “hamstrung/undermined.”

Ozone helps create a protective layer in the stratosphere to protect the earth from the sun’s ultraviolet light, but when it is at ground-level it can contribute to asthma attacks and other respiratory issues. 

Critics say the EPA’s latest proposal falls short of what is needed to protect health, and health and environmental groups have suggested a more restrictive standard of 60 ppb.

“EPA is effectively saying, ‘If it was good enough for Obama it’s good enough for us,’ but that was basically their goal from Day 1,” said John Walke, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Walke said the agency is ignoring a growing body of evidence that shows ozone pollution is still harmful to health when present in concentrations higher than 60 ppb.

A court on Friday found the EPA erred when it found five different states were meeting ozone regulations, while other cases from late last year found the EPA hasn’t done enough to limit cross-state air pollution.

“The agency is supposed to be answering a very simple question — what level of air pollution harms health?” Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association, said of both the court rulings and the opportunity to update the standards.

Read more about the proposal here. 

SPLIT DECISION: Democratic lawmakers are split over a Trump administration proposal that would allow international development funds to be used for overseas nuclear projects.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC), a fledgling government fund with an aim to alleviate poverty, has proposed lifting the longtime ban it inherited from its predecessor that bars funding for any nuclear projects.

Proponents say nixing the ban, originally conceived to limit the risks of nuclear proliferation, will allow the U.S. to help provide nuclear power to countries that will need more energy to grow their economies.

But opponents of removing the prohibition see a number of issues arising if the ban is lifted, including how to handle spent nuclear fuel, the potential for money to be funneled away from poorer nations and the challenge of dealing with risky and expensive projects.

“International nuclear power projects described by DFC are not a cost-competitive form of zero-carbon energy, remain unproven, will divert funds from higher-priority low-income countries, and are not supported by other development banks," Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election Warren urges investment in child care workers amid pandemic MORE (I-Vt.) wrote in a letter to the DFC on Friday.

"DFC financing of overseas nuclear reactors may offshore the physical risks associated [with] nuclear power, but they would keep U.S. taxpayers on the hook for the steep financial ones,” the senators added.

The Trump administration sees the removal of the ban as a way to combat the growing influence of China and Russia, which have sold nuclear technology to other countries.

“America’s broad strategy of energy dominance has a gaping vulnerability,” the administration’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group wrote in an April report. “This reality threatens American energy security, narrows or eliminates foreign policy options and erodes American international influence” in the nuclear market.

Democrats who support lifting the ban argue it could help develop small modular reactors, a form of nuclear energy that is not yet commercially available but promises to be safer and more scalable than traditional large reactors.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) along with seven other Democratic lawmakers, called the ban “outdated because of advances in nuclear technology.”

“This work can help establish the United States as a world leader in transformative energy projects that help address climate change. The DFC can provide financial alternatives to state-directed nuclear investment offered by countries like China and Russia that may leave developing countries burdened with debt,” they wrote in a separate letter to DFC on Friday, arguing the two countries show “less concern about security and non-proliferation.”

Read more about the various opinions on the proposal here. 

FEELS LIKE DÉJÀ VU: A Russian mining giant reported another fuel spill in the Arctic on Sunday as the company faces an ongoing dispute with authorities over an oil spill from earlier this year. 

MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC reported a leak in a pipeline that occurred Sunday during a transfer of aviation field in the area of the settlement of Tukhard. 

The company said in statement that about 44.5 tons of fuel spilled as a result of depressurization that lasted about 15 minutes, according to preliminary data. 

The mining company said there are no threats to life and health of people in the territory and it would be conducting an internal investigation in connection with the incident. 

The company last week rejected a Russian watchdog’s estimate that an oil spill from earlier this year caused $2.1 billion in damage, Bloomberg reported

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The company said it disagreed with the Federal Service for Supervision and its use of the highest damage coefficient, which assumes that the company did nothing to mitigate the spill

Read more about the spill here

ON TAP TOMORROW:

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the Energy Department titled “Oversight of DOE During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette is expected to appear
  • The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing titled “Energy Infrastructure and Environmental Justice: Lessons for a Sustainable Future.” 
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled “Sweltering in Place: COVID-19, Extreme Heat, and Environmental Justice.”

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears, The New York Times reports

Energy secretary: Oil and gas will ‘come back very, very strong,’ The Houston Chronicle reports

Will COVID-19 Spell the End of Outdoor and Environmental Education?, asks Smithsonian Magazine 

Giveaways created a poverty sinkhole. Then the virus hit, E&E News reports

Brazil sacks official after soaring June deforestation data, The Associated Press reports