Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues | More than 60 Democrats ask feds to reconsider Tongass logging plan | EPA faces decision on chemical linked to brain damage in children

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The offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

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TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is turning its oversight of a number of environmental issues on tribal lands over to the state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma requested the authority in July using a little known provision of a 2005 law carved out especially for the state. In a seven-page letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler lists a number of Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act authorities that will now be overseen by Oklahoma.

The move will give the state more oversight over environmental issues for Oklahoma’s 38 federally-recognized tribes, something the Cherokee Nation called a “knee-jerk reaction to curtail tribal jurisdiction [that] is not productive.”

Stitt’s request is the first-ever use of the Oklahoma-only provision in a 2005 transportation bill that was sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhoffe (R-Okla.) which allows Oklahoma to oversee environmental issues “in the areas of the state that are in Indian country, without any further demonstration of authority by the state.”

“EPA’s letter grants Oklahoma’s request to administer the State’s EPA-approved environmental regulatory programs in certain areas of Indian country. EPA’s letter resolves ambiguity and essentially preserves the regulatory status quo in Oklahoma,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in a statement, adding that existing exemptions would still stand and the agency would implement federal environmental programs.

“Additionally, if any tribe wants to apply for regulatory oversight of these environmental programs, then they can apply through EPA’s Treatment as a State process.”

The Oct. 1 letter was first reported by The Young Turks, a left-wing news outlet, on Monday.

The move raised alarm with those who see the potential for a loss of tribal sovereignty as well as for the state to greenlight polluting projects on trivial land over objections from Natives.

“It’s disappointing the Cherokee Nation’s request that EPA consult individually with affected Oklahoma tribes was ignored,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement to The Hill.  

“Unfortunately, the governor’s decision to invoke a 2005 federal law ignores the longstanding relationships between state agencies and the Cherokee Nation. All Oklahomans benefit when the Tribes and state work together in the spirit of mutual respect and this knee-jerk reaction to curtail tribal jurisdiction is not productive.”

EPA’s own summary report after consulting with tribes notes that many in Indian Country were opposed to the decision.

Read more on the letter here

TONGASS: More than 60 Democrats are asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reconsider a plan that would open up previously protected parts of the Tongass National Forest to logging. 

The Forest Service issued a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) last month laying out its intention to open up more than 9 million Tongass acres to the timber industry. 

The move doesn’t allow logging at this time in the Alaska forest, which scientists say mitigates climate change by storing more carbon than any other forest in the country, but it brings the administration one step closer to an official approval. 

In their letter, the 60 lawmakers from both the House and the Senate said that the Forest Service didn’t properly consult with tribes that live in the forest. 

“The United States Forest Service (USFS) denied native Tribes in Southeast Alaska their requests for the agency to hold face-to-face, government-to-government consultations and subsistence hearings prior to finalizing the FEIS,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“In consideration of the health and welfare concerns of tribal villages the agency should have postponed work on the Final Environmental Impact Statement until it was safe to hold such meetings,” they added. 

The FEIS lists nearly 30 native tribes and corporations as part of a section titled “List of Document Recipients and Those Notified or Consulted” but later says that just six tribes worked with the Forest Service and provided input. 

An Agriculture Department spokesperson said in an email to the The Hill that the Forest Service and department “have heard from a wide variety of individuals and groups and understand that opinions and preferences vary regarding how roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest should be managed and conserved.” 

“The required 30-day waiting period will provide time for the Secretary to consider the purpose and need, weigh the alternatives, balance objectives, and issue a record of decision on the application of a Final Rule to the Tongass National Forest,” the spokesperson said. 

Read more on the letter here

A FEAR FOR FARMWORKERS: When Claudia Angulo was pregnant with her son, she often felt nauseated and experienced vomiting and headaches. 

She didn’t think much of it, until after she learned her son had Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder and difficulties with language and learning. 

Angulo said she later discovered that a chemical she had been exposed to through her job — which involved taste-testing produce before it was washed — has been associated with health risks including brain damage in children. 

“At the time that I was pregnant, in the company there were like 10 women that were pregnant and of those 10 women, seven of their kids were born with [health] problems,” she told The Hill in an interview conducted in Spanish. 

And they’re not alone. 

Studies have linked prenatal exposure to the chemical, called chlorpyrifos, to neurodevelopmental issues including lower IQ and impaired working memory. 

Chlorpyrifos is used to prevent insects from affecting a variety of crops like berries, citrus fruits, vegetables and nuts. It’s currently banned for most residential uses but is still used in agriculture and there are several ways farmworkers can be exposed to it including through handling and applying it as well as experiencing drift from other nearby farms. 

In 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning its use on food and crops. However, in 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course, saying that further study was warranted. 

“We are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results,” he said at the time.

The EPA now is weighing whether to propose a ban. 

Last week, in assessing risks presented by the chemical, the EPA said that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”

Advocates fear that this is a signal that the agency won’t ban the substance.

Read more on chlorpyrifos here

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has expressed confidence that the court-mandated ouster of William Perry Pendley from the leading role at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) won’t result in his actions being undone. 

“I think we’ll find any action Perry took was consistent with the law,” Bernhardt told Colorado Politics on Friday. “I know there are advocacy groups that have hypothesized about how things will happen. What I would say to them is their hopes and dreams are about to be crushed.”

When he ordered Pendley removed from his role atop the bureau, Judge Brian Morris said certain decisions made by Pendley  including the issuance of some resource management plans, “would have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.”

Since the decision, others have questioned whether other decisions made by non-Senate confirmed officials before Pendley could also be subject to scrutiny. Interior is appealing the court ruling, but Bernhardt himself will lead the BLM in the meantime. 


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Tags Andrew Wheeler Scott Pruitt Sonny Perdue

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