Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals'

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.

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TURBOCHARGED: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says the chamber will vote next week on a more-than-900-page energy package billed as a response to climate change.

The bill, unveiled Tuesday, has not had a hearing or gone through the regular legislative progress. It would funnel money toward research and development of a number of types of energy while promoting energy efficiency for homes, schools and other buildings.

It comes as the Senate last week resolved a roadblock that halted a spring vote on a similar energy bill proposed by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Hoyer in a release said the bill "fulfills House Democrats' promise to invest in the creation of high-paying jobs by making America a global leader in clean energy. Our climate is changing, and we not only need to take dramatic steps to slow the carbon pollution that has driven this climate crisis but we must also seize the economic opportunities that this challenge presents."

Bringing the quickly drafted legislation to the floor leaves several other climate proposals from House committees by the wayside.

A bill from the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis billed as a road map for battling climate change was introduced in June. And in January, the House Energy and Commerce Committee laid out its own vision for transitioning to clean energy. Both bills would set strict timetables for decarbonizing the economy by 2050.

Tuesday's bill, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, doesn't offer any similar targets, instead focusing on assisting the industries that could help the U.S. transition to a clean energy economy while seeking to close energy efficiency gaps in buildings across the country.

"Energy is a big deal for us. We had a lot of bills that we wanted to do in the spring, that were energy bills, then obviously the spring fell apart, right? So we didn't have a spring," Hoyer told The Hill in a hallway interview, adding the measure was a result of putting "I think 40-plus bills together."

The legislation would establish more rigorous building codes and bolster energy efficiency requirements and weatherization programs. It includes research and development programs for solar, wind, advanced geothermal energy, hydroelectric power and measures that would reduce carbon pollution at fossil-fuel generated sources. 

In the transportation sector, the bill seeks to expand the use of electric vehicles, starting an electric vehicle supply equipment rebate program and reauthorizing various clean diesel programs.

It also includes aspects of an earlier environmental justice package from the House Natural Resources Committee, which would add environmental claims to the Civil Rights Act. 

Read more about the legislation here.

SOME PERSONNEL NEWS:

Make a reappointment: The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced that Administrator Andrew Wheeler is reappointing a controversial official to lead an air quality advisory committee. 

Wheeler reappointed Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox, Jr. to a second three-year term leading the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which advises the agency on the technical aspects of its national ambient air quality standards. 

Cox, who has done work for both the oil and chemical industries, was first appointed to lead CASAC in 2017.

In a statement, Wheeler praised Cox, as well as James Boylan, who he also reappointed, saying their "expertise and experience on the CASAC will continue to add value to this advisory committee, its deliberations, and its advice."

However, critics raised concerns about whether Cox was committed to considering the impacts of pollution on public health. 

"He has shown he's not interested in looking at the weight of the evidence on air pollution and health effects. He has shown...that he's uninterested in following the careful science-based process that EPA has followed for decades to set science-based and health-protective air pollution standards," said Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to E&E News, prior to joining CASAC, Cox took funding from the American Petroleum Institute, a major oil lobbying group, for his own research into a type of pollution called particulate matter and allowed the group to copy edit the research before publication. 

Cox denied to the news outlet that the oil lobby provided meaningful edits. 

He has also reportedly denied the link between particulate matter, also called soot, and mortality. 

During Cox's tenure, Wheeler disbanded a panel of scientists that was part of CASAC and tasked with reviewing how soot impacted human health. 

More recently, the EPA declined to tighten the air quality standard for soot, even though assessments have suggested that stricter standards could save lives. The agency also proposed not to tighten the standard for smog. 

Read more about the reappointment here.

Pendley pressure: Senate Democrats continued their pressure campaign on the White House Tuesday, taking to the floor to ask President Trump to immediately remove the controversial acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from his post.

The speeches were focused on William Perry Pendley, the de-facto head of the public lands agency who has long opposed federal ownership of them.

Though his nomination was withdrawn earlier this month after a letter of opposition from the entire Democratic caucus showed Republicans they had little wiggle room for a vote, Pendley remains in office through a series of orders being challenged in two different lawsuits.

"Let's get one thing straight. This title has no basis in law. He's serving as acting BLM director under temporary appointments that the Secretary [of Interior] keeps renewing in a cynical ploy to evade the Constitution, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the judgment of the Senate," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a vocal critic of Pendley's.

"Mr. Pendley's record on conservation is so bad, so antithetical to the agency he oversees the Trump administration knew he wouldn't survive a Senate confirmation. So instead, they've concocted this shell game," Udall continued.

Pendley has come under fire for a number of comments and articles. He's compared climate change to unicorns to highlight that he doesn't believe it exists. He's criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. He has a long history fighting federal government oversight of public lands, penning books with the titles "War on the West: Government Tyranny on America's Frontier" and "Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America's Frontier." 

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said "asking someone like that to manage our public lands... is like asking somebody be Secretary of Education who doesn't believe in public education," taking a jab at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Read more about the criticism here

Saying no to NOAA: Two House Democrats wrote a letter on Tuesday criticizing the recent hiring of a professor who's questioned climate science to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

"Dr. Legates' appointment is an extreme risk to the American public and an insult to the quality science and scientists at NOAA. This is yet another example of a disturbing trend in the infusion of a political agenda into science. Dr. Legates has gone on the record in opposition to sound science strictly for personal gain and the advancement of a political agenda. Such behaviors undermine the scientific integrity at NOAA and should not have a place in your agency," wrote Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) in a letter to top NOAA official Neil Jacobs. 

They also asked whether the newly created position given to David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology, was a political one and said it was unclear if it would require Senate confirmation. 

FOREVER IS DELAYED: The coronavirus has caused a delay in researching alternatives to using cancer-linked chemicals in military firefighting foam, the director of the Defense Department's Strategic Environment Research and Development Program said Tuesday.

Director Herb Nelson referenced the delay when asked by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) about whether the possible alternatives will be safer than the currently used chemicals called PFAS. 

"It's too early to answer that question. We're just getting started. Normally, on this day, I could give you some early indicators, but like everyone else on this Earth, they've really taken a delay because of the COVID situation," Nelson said. 

"Many of the people are out of their laboratories, so maybe they're six months further behind than we would expect them to be," he added.

PFAS chemicals are a class of cancer-linked substances that are also sometimes called "forever chemicals" because of their persistence in the human body and in nature. They're found in a variety of products, including firefighting foam that's used by the military. 

However, the military will be prohibited from using foams containing PFAS after Oct. 1, 2024, due to a provision in a past National Defense Authorization Act bill.

Read more about House hearing where Nelson made the comments here. 

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: "Climate change is like a pandemic with no masks or vaccines," tweeted Andy Slavitt, acting head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Obama administration.

ON TAP TOMORROW:

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will examine the nominations of Allison Clements and Mark Christie to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • The Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to examine the Trump administration's Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which limited the scope of the federal government to regulate water pollution. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled ""Building a 100 percent clean economy: opportunities for an equitable, low-carbon recovery"
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining will hold a hearing on a series of bills

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Scientists say two major Antarctic glaciers are tearing loose from their restraints, The Washington Post reports

The Trump Team has a plan to not fight climate change, Wired reports

Smoke in D.C.'s skies today traveled thousands of miles from the West Coast, The Washington Post reports

Portland, Seattle, LA among cities with world's worst air quality as wildfires rage in Western states, we report

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

28 million Americans could experience megafires by 2070: analysis

'Potentially historic' flooding predicted from Hurricane Sally

Portland, Seattle, LA among cities with world's worst air quality as wildfires rage in Western states

Trump tells Gulf Coast residents to prepare for 'extremely dangerous' Hurricane Sally

Democrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers

Northern Hemisphere sees its hottest summer on record

As wildfires rage, Trump and Biden diverge on climate

EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee

House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week

Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals,' official says

Senate Dems demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency

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