SPONSORED:

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate
© iStock

TGIF! 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

UNDER-LINED? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water.

Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge.

Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak.

“These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination," EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds EPA allows use of radioactive material in some road construction MORE said in a release. "This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions." 

There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. 

An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities.

And when they aren’t leaching into groundwater, the contaminants risk spilling over the sides of the pond any time there is a heavy rain.

ADVERTISEMENT

“When ponds without lining leak, it’s often more aggressive, faster and harder to control,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, which will fight the rule in court. “Utilities are asking for favors and exemptions and EPA is willing to give them and is willing to rush to provide these exemptions."

A 2018 order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit required the EPA to shut down all coal ash ponds that do not have a plastic liner. The ruling said a 2015 Obama-era coal ash rule violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act dealing with hazardous waste “in failing to require the closure of unlined surface impoundments.”

EPA did not answer a question from The Hill seeking an explanation of how the rule complies with the court order. The agency instead wrote in a statement the new rule would "accurately reflect the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals."

Read more about the EPA’s rule here.

 

FIRE FIGHT: President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE late Friday reversed course on providing assistance for California’s wildfires, granting the request just hours after denying it.

California has had its most devastating wildfire season in history, currently battling 12 major fires that have burned through more than 4 million acres, according to figures released by the state yesterday. 

The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initially said California hadn’t made a strong enough case for assistance with the September fires that cost the state more than $229 million.

The White House credited House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader Conservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE (R-Calif.) along with Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia plans to review coronavirus vaccine independently OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires MORE (D) for changing the president’s mind.

“The governor and Leader McCarthy spoke and presented a convincing case and additional on-the-ground perspective for reconsideration leading the president to approve the declaration,” the White House said in a statement.

Earlier Friday, White House spokesman Judd DeereJudd DeereOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires Trump administration rejects California request for wildfire disaster assistance MORE told The Hill that California’s submission was “was not supported by the relevant data” states must provide to be considered for a disaster declaration, adding that the president’s decision concurred with that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator. 

Lizzie Litzow, a spokesperson for FEMA, told The Hill that damage assessments of the early September wildfires “were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.” 

A White House disaster declaration grant is a huge help to states, allowing for reimbursement of 75 percent of firefighting, evacuation and sheltering costs.

In a Sept. 28 letter to the White House, Newsom said the funds were especially needed as the COVID-19 pandemic has already “significantly damaged” the state’s economy.

“Federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities,” Newsom wrote. “The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating and irreversible the economic impacts will be.”

Read more about the decision here. 

 

PRIME CLIME: The second and final presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE will focus on topics including the coronavirus pandemic, race in America and climate change, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Friday.

NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker will moderate the debate in Nashville, Tenn. The selected six topics for the event are: fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

  • The inclusion of climate in the Oct. 22 event means that the topic will have come up at both presidential debates and the vice presidential debate. 

The two candidates will meet on stage next Thursday for just the second time, but it will mark the last debate before Election Day. The two were slated to have a town hall-style debate this week, but the event was canceled after Trump balked at having it take place virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Instead, Biden and Trump held competing town halls at the same time on Thursday night hosted by ABC and NBC, respectively.

ADVERTISEMENT
  • And at that ABC town hall, Biden tried to separate his climate plan from the Green New Deal.

Biden distanced himself from the Green New Deal at Thursday night’s town hall, telling the audience “my deal is the crucial framework.”

Biden’s comments came in response to ABC host George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Pelosi: White House made 'unacceptable changes' to testing language during negotiations on coronavirus stimulus Infectious disease expert calls White House advisers herd immunity claims 'pseudoscience' MORE, who pointed to a line in Biden’s climate plan that calls the progressive 2017 resolution “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.”

“My deal is the crucial framework, not the New Green Deal,” Biden said. “The New Green Deal calls for the elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030 — you can't get there. You’re going to need to be able to transition.”

Biden’s plan does depart from the Green New Deal in a few key ways, including reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, with the electric sector reaching that goal first, by 2035.

Green New Deal co-sponsor Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Ocasio-Cortez rolls out Twitch channel to urge voting MORE (D-N.Y.) and other progressives have said the U.S. should reach net-zero emissions by 2030, though the resolution itself calls on all countries to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

And while Biden sees his climate plan as part of a larger economic vision — investing in the technology needed to reduce emissions will spur jobs and growth, he said — the former vice president does not call for a job guarantee or government-provided health care for all. 

"When Biden laid out his own climate plan, he acknowledged that the Green New Deal is a crucial framework — or structure — to arrange thinking on climate because it includes two truths that he carried into his own plan: 1) the urgent need for action, and 2) a recognition of the interconnectedness of our environment and economy,” a Biden campaign official said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You can see those truths in his plan. But his plan is very much the Biden plan," they added.

Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally Overnight Defense: US, Russia closer on nuclear treaty extension after Moscow accepts warhead freeze | Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince | Biden nets hundreds more national security endorsements Democrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll MORE (D-Calif.), did embrace the Green New Deal during her own presidential run and introduced legislation to begin implementing certain aspects of the resolution. 

Biden’s plan also does not call for an end to fracking, as those on the left like Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez rolls out Twitch channel to urge voting Calls grow for Democrats to ramp up spending in Texas The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters MORE (I-Vt.) have sought. 

But he would bar any new drilling on public lands, which would include any new fracking permits, and a transition away from fossil fuels would undoubtedly limit the industry.

Read more about Thursday’s town hall here and about the upcoming debate topics here

 

BROUILLETTE SECURITY STAFFERS TEST POSITIVE: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette will return to Washington, D.C., after two members of his security detail tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Brouillette tested negative and is not showing symptoms, but he and his staff will return to the city by car “out of an abundance of caution,” Energy Department spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement late Thursday. 

Hynes said that Brouillette will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The department did not immediately respond to The Hill’s question about specific precautions the secretary would take. 

According to the CDC, people who come into close contact with those who test positive should stay home for 14 days and keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times. 

The Energy secretary was slated to be in Ohio on Friday for a roundtable with industry leaders on the future of energy jobs in the region. 

He was also expected to meet with stakeholders regarding a proposed petrochemical complex. 

Earlier this week, Brouillette attended an event in Tennessee with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R). A member of Lee’s security detail has also tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The story is here. 

 

OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:

Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant closes for good, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports

Taxpayers, not company, will pay for massive Exide toxic cleanup, under plan OK’d by court, The Los Angeles Times reports

U.S. oil majors pitch more campaign cash to Democrats as frack battle looms, Reuters reports

 

ICYMI:

Biden distances himself from Green New Deal during town hall

Park Police officers charged with involuntary manslaughter in fatal 2017 shooting

Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate

EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds

Energy secretary returns to DC after security staffers test positive for coronavirus 

Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires