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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA revises lead rule, sidestepping calls for more stringent standards | In massive energy investments, some see just a start

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA revises lead rule, sidestepping calls for more stringent standards | In massive energy investments, some see just a start
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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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Programming note: Wednesday, Dec. 23 will be the last edition of Overnight Energy this year. We’ll be back on Jan. 4, 2021. Have a great holiday season!

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UNDER WATER: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday finalized a rule that will speed notification to homeowners who are drinking lead-tainted water but does not force cities to move more quickly to replace the lead pipes that deliver it.

The agency’s new lead and copper rule was a top priority for EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew Wheeler15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule MORE, who once called water quality one of the most pressing issues for the agency given that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

“Today, the U.S. is announcing the first major update of the lead and copper rule in nearly 30 years. This historic action strengthens every aspect of the lead and copper rule, and will help accelerate reductions of lead in drinking water to better protect our children and communities,” Wheeler said at an event to roll out the rule.

The rule for the first time requires monitoring for lead at primary schools and child care centers and requires cities to notify residents of potential lead exposure within 24 hours. But it doesn’t enact the stricter limit on lead levels in water that advocates argue is necessary to protect health.

It also decreases the speed at which utilities will be on the hook to replace the lead service lines that connect homes to the water supply — a move critics say means lead-tainted pipes will remain underground for another 30 years.

“It’s a do-nothing rule,” said Betsy Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water during the Obama administration. 

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“It maintains the exact same lead actions levels we had in 1991 with definitely some improvements in monitoring and notification, but it doesn’t take action on the more substantive thing of replacing more lead service lines than if they had done nothing at all," she said.

Schools and child care centers must be tested every five years under the rule, and it also pushes utilities away from sampling methods that advocates agree may have underestimated the amount of lead present in homes.

The rule also creates a 10 parts per billion (ppb) “trigger” level, where cities would be required to reevaluate their water treatment processes and possibly add corrosion-control chemicals to city water.

But it keeps the current 15 ppb level that requires cities to begin replacing the nation's estimated 6 million lead service lines that connect homes to city water supplies — the underlying source of lead contamination. 

Cities will now be required to replace just 3 percent of lead service lines each year rather than the previous 7 percent. EPA also will require cities to do the replacements over the course of two years rather than just one. The replacements are not required until a city detects high lead levels in 90 percent of the tested taps.

EPA has argued the rule will help ensure that more pipes get replaced by requiring cities to do a census of the lead service lines within their system while also still requiring cities to replace pipes even if later testing is below the action level. 

“While the old rule, theoretically, included a 7 percent replacement rate, it was riddled with loopholes and off ramps,” Wheeler said. “We only saw 1 percent being replaced. With our new requirement of 3 percent, we'll see three times the replacement rate under the old rule.”

The rule does require cities to do full lead service line replacements, avoiding the temporary spike in lead level that can result from cutting into a lead line and replacing only the city-owned side of the line.

But critics still don’t see the replacement figure as being stringent enough.

Read more of their critiques here

IN RELATED NEWS:

— The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday tightened standards for how much lead can remain as dust on surfaces such as floors and window sills after lead removal activities, a move that environmentalists say doesn't go far enough.

The agency argued that its move will better protect children from dangerous exposure to lead, which can damage the brain and nervous system and slow growth and development.

“This overdue regulation is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s commitment to reduce sources of lead exposure and to provide a healthier environment for our children,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement.

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Opponents, however, point to agency calculations showing measurable effects on children who are exposed to lead at the level set by the new standard.

“How can EPA say this designates a safe level when kids are going to be losing IQ points if they have that level of lead in their homes?” asked Eve Gartner, the managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Toxic Exposure and Health Program.

Read more on that here.

— The Flint, Mich., City Council voted to approve its $20 million contribution to a proposed $641 million settlement over lead-contaminated water in the city on Tuesday. 

Read more on that here

 

A SPARK: Monday’s passage of a spending bill that includes a number of energy and climate provisions is a big deal to the energy industry and environmental activists, though some say this is just a starting point for enacting President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia MORE’s climate vision. 

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Included in the legislation are provisions to reduce the use of a climate-warming pollutant, spur renewable and nuclear energy development and encourage fossil fuel producers to use technology that captures carbon emissions.

Biden called the relief bill a “down payment” on multiple crises facing the U.S.

“Congress did their job this week, and I can and I must ask them to do it again next year," he said.

The $900 billion legislation invests in almost every type of energy, including the renewables that Biden has promised to expand under his plan. But it also invests significantly in nuclear energy, an emission-free source often promoted in conservative circles but sometimes opposed by environmentalists due to its expense and toxic waste.

Though in some ways the legislation is the most significant energy bill Congress has passed in some time, there are those who stress that while Biden may have the funding, he’ll still have to push to make his policies a priority.

“Not all energy funded in [the] omnibus we consider clean,” Kirin Kennedy, deputy legislative director with the Sierra Club, told The Hill, adding that the group hopes to see a strong commitment from the new administration on fossil fuels.

“When it comes to other industries, we’re going to continue to work with stakeholders to make sure mitigation things are put in place and there’s a just transition on jobs and making sure communities aren't being contaminated, whether that's with nuclear waste storage or other toxic waste," Kennedy added.

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But for industry groups, the bill ends a years-long battle to gain research and development funds, investments, and tax credits for technology they fear won’t be viable in the future without assistance in the present.  

And Republicans have vowed to follow through with the Biden administration to ensure that multiple types of energy get dedicated resources.

“A big factor in this agreement is the recognition that we have to develop a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies, so it’s important that this legislation is implemented consistently with Congressional intent," Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Lucas Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA revises lead rule, sidestepping calls for more stringent standards | In massive energy investments, some see just a start OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA revises lead rule, sidestepping calls for more stringent standards | In massive energy investments, some see just a start MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement to The Hill. "We want this work to begin immediately.

“We’ll be conducting oversight of the incoming administration to make sure the focus stays on transformational R&D to keep the U.S. the leader in clean energy technology,” he added, referring to research and development. 

Read more on the omnibus here

 

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Norway’s Supreme Court Makes Way for More Arctic Drilling, The New York Times reports

Trump welcomed climate deniers. What now for them? E&E News reports

In last-minute move, Trump administration removes nearly 475k acres from ANWR oil lease sale, Alaska Public Media reports

US businessmen are close to exploiting Ethiopia’s oil plans in a multibillion-dollar scheme, Quartz reports

 

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday and Monday night...

In massive energy investments, some see just a start

EPA tightens lead dust standards that environmentalists say don't go far enough

Canada blocks Chinese takeover of Arctic gold mine citing national security

Flint City Council approves $20M portion of settlement over lead-tainted water

EPA revises lead rule, sidestepping calls for more stringent standards