Overnight Energy & Environment — Land agency move hurt diversity: watchdog

Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signUp.

Today we’re looking at a new report on effects of the Bureau of Land Management move, an international agreement on plastics, 

For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

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Let’s jump in.

 

Headquarters move hit performance: report 

The Trump administration’s decision to move Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., led to a sharp reduction in the number of Black employees and a surge in vacancies, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday.

The move, which President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE announced in September he would reverse, led to a vacancy increase of about 169 percent, and the departure of decisionmakers at the agency delayed new guidance or policy. The bureau also lacked a workforce strategy to address the issues created by the move, which the GAO recommended it create.

Vacancies saw a particularly sharp spike in July 2019, when the bureau announced it would relocate, the watchdog found. Between the announcement and the following March, they more than doubled at headquarters, from 121 to 326. As of May 2021, the bureau had reduced those to 142, which still stood at 17 percent higher than the time of the relocation announcement.

The relocation also led to an increase in details, or temporary reassignments to fill vacancies, according to the report, but senior officials at the bureau told GAO they were not fully briefed on its use of details.

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Some Bureau of Land Management staff blamed increased use of details for negative impacts on their office’s performance, according to the report, citing effects such as reduced capacity at state offices.

“Without complete and reliable data on vacancies and details across the agency, BLM officials cannot make informed decisions about filling vacancies and initiating details to help the agency achieve its mission and goals,” the report states.

The move also led to a marked decrease in Black employees among the bureau's already overwhelmingly white workforce, according to the report. Black headquarters staff declined by half between the 2019 announcement and January 2021, when it was complete. The report found a similar decrease in employees of Asian descent during the same period.

Read more about the findings here

 

US backs international plastic pollution effort

 

The U.S. will back international talks to develop a treaty curbing plastic pollution, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenEcuador's security crisis warrants US assistance At least 20 Sudan troops dead after clash on Ethiopia border Germany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report MORE announced in Kenya Thursday.

“[T]oday, we are stepping up and stepping up our efforts to tackle another pollutant that threatens our planet, plastic, by announcing the United States support for multilateral negotiations on a global agreement to combat ocean plastic pollution,” Blinken said Thursday at the United Nations Environment Program in Nairobi.

“By launching these negotiations at the UN Environmental Assembly in February 2022, our goal is to create a tool that we can use to protect our oceans and all of the life that they sustain from growing global harms of plastic pollution,” he added.

The secretary of state noted that human activity is estimated to add up to 14 million tons of plastic pollution to the ocean annually, some of which can take millions of years to fully degrade.

A similar approach to climate: Blinken called on any international agreement to provide for countries to develop independent national action plans on plastic pollution.

Read more about the effort here.

EPA reversing Trump water regulation rollback 

The Environmental Protection Agency headquarters is seen in Washington, D.C., on June 3

The Biden administration is taking a step towards reversing Trump-era rollbacks to water regulations, proposing a rule to restore the pre-Obama definition that outlines which waters it will seek to protect from pollution.

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In a press release, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that it, alongside the Army Corps of Engineers, proposed returning to the pre-Obama definition of what constitutes a "Water of the United States."

These waters are those that get protections under the Clean Water Act, which makes it illegal to release pollutants into them without permits, which can set limits and specifications on how much pollution is allowed into the bodies of water.

But...this is kinda already what’s happening. The new proposal notes that the department was already using the pre-Obama interpretation after a judge in August vacated the Trump-era rule. But it argues that completing the proposal is "vital" because the Trump rule could return based on developments in the litigation.

The administration previously announced its intent to return to the protections that were in place for decades in July, saying it would take a two-track approach that first restores pre-Obama water regulations and then later put forward a new definition.

The backstory: Last year, the Trump administration put forward a rule that both undermined Obama-era protections and also rolled back some pre-Obama ones that had been in place for decades. 

The new proposal argues that the Trump rule is "inconsistent" with the objectives of the Clean Water Act.  

Read more about the proposal here.

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IS IT YOUR BBB-DAY?

A House vote on the Democrats' social and climate spending bill is getting closer, and could happen on Thursday. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOmar, Boebert blast one another after tense call Maryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme GOP leader's marathon speech forces House Democrats to push vote MORE (D-Md.), who formally sets the floor schedule, announced the plan Thursday afternoon, just hours after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.) had signaled an intent to race the bill to the floor by day's end.

"It is my hope that we will complete this legislation today so that this would be the last legislative day prior to the Thanksgiving work period," Hoyer said on the House floor.

 

 

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THE WHITE HOUSE AND YOUR HOUSE

The White House is encouraging states to quickly distribute assistance that was included in President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March to lessen the burden of higher energy bills this winter.

The White House distributed a fact sheet Thursday emphasizing that the coronavirus relief law, known as the American Rescue Plan, added $4.5 billion in funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, that is available through September 2022. The average annual funding for the program is between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to the White House.

The Biden administration is urging state, local and tribal governments to “prepare early” to distribute the expanded assistance to more families to offset the higher heating costs due to rising gas prices

According to the fact sheet, the administration is offering technical assistance to state and local governments receiving the funds from the program in order to speed up planning to distribute the assistance ahead of the winter season.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also encouraging grantees to expedite payments to households that have received LIHEAP funding in the past and to simplify the process through which low-income households are deemed eligible for the assistance.

Read more about the push here.

 

WHAT WE'RE READING

Rights of nature’ tribal case may upend pipeline law, E&E News reports

Shopping online surged during Covid. Now the environmental costs are becoming clearer, Politico reports

California has a new battle plan against environmental injustice. The nation is watching, The Los Angeles Times reports

ICYMI

Hundreds participate in electric grid cyberattack simulation amid increasing threats

Watchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership

GOP seeks oversight hearing with Kerry on climate diplomacy

US asks Asia's largest economies to consider releasing oil reserves: report

And finally, something offbeat and offbeat:  Beep beep.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s energy & environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.