Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy & Environment — Youngkin nominates Trump EPA chief

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks to supporters and potential voters during a meet and greet at Manassas Park Community Center in Manassas, Va., on Saturday, October 30, 2021.
Greg Nash

Welcome to Wednesday’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 environmental position for former EPA head Andrew Wheeler, new research on how many Americans are vulnerable to climate change and Utah’s plans to address a looming water crisis. 

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. 

Let’s jump in. 

 

Incoming VA governor to nominate Wheeler

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) will name former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler as Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, a staffer with Youngkin’s transition team confirmed to The Hill Wednesday. 

Wheeler, a former energy industry lobbyist, served as EPA chief during the Trump administration from 2019 to 2021. Since leaving the position, he has worked as a visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation as well as the pro-Trump America First Policy Institute’s Center for the Environment. 

The appointment was first reported by Politico. 

Youngkin’s office said in a statement that he will also name Michael Rolband, founder of environmental consulting firm Wetland Studies and Solutions, as the state’s director of environmental quality. 

“Together, we will address Virginia’s ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay, fully funding our best management practices, solving longstanding stormwater management issues, and establishing a Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority,” Youngkin said in a statement. 

A tale of two administrators: Wheeler’s tenure was largely marked by a loosening of environmental and energy regulations, many of which his successor, current EPA Administrator Michael Regan, has taken steps to undo. 

In 2021, Regan reformed an advisory panel of scientific experts on particulate matter air pollution after Wheeler dissolved it in 2018 while he was acting administrator. Wheeler also declined to tighten the Obama administration’s air quality standards for soot, which Regan has since pledged to review. 

Pushback: Environmental groups and Virginia Democrats were sharply critical of Youngkin’s announcement, citing Wheeler’s record at the EPA. 

“As head of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make.” 

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), meanwhile, called Wheeler an “anti-environment ideologue” and noted that he was not among the Cabinet officials who resigned following the events of Jan. 6, 2021. 

Read more about the appointment here. 

 

4 in 10 lived in climate disaster areas in 2021

More than 4 in 10 Americans lived in areas that were hit by climate disasters in 2021, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.  

The analysis of federal disaster declarations showed more than 40 percent of Americans experienced a climate disaster, which killed at least 656 people.  

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recorded eight declared statewide emergencies from climate disasters, the most since 1998, according to the Post.  

However, in 2021 there were fewer climate disasters in individual counties compared to previous years. 

What kind of disasters? The climate disasters included fires, hurricanes, severe storms, landslides and floods. 

Eighty percent of Americans experienced a heatwave, while 15 percent of Americans lived in a county that was affected by a fire.  

The data follows another analysis done by the Post over the summer that showed more than 30 percent of Americans experienced a climate disaster in the summer of 2021.  

Climate disasters have cost the U.S. billions of dollars as many scientists predict the situation will get worse due to climate change. 

Read more about the study here. 

 

Utah gov proposes major water investments

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) unveiled his $25 billion budget proposal last month near what was once the shore of the Great Salt Lake. But instead of waves lapping behind him, the waterline was barely visible in the distance. 

One of the longest periods of prolonged drought in modern memory has shrunk the lake by more than 10 feet in recent decades, just one barometer in parched Western states that are feeling the increasingly dire effects of a changing climate that is sapping reservoirs, contributing to extreme fires and reducing snowpack and river flow. 

The drought is now challenging some of the fastest-growing states in America, including Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, where the future of both the urban and agricultural economy is now coming under pressure. 

“Utah’s future is directly dependent on our ability to meet the needs of our citizens, and that water need is the greatest,” Cox said in an interview. “We’ve actually had a surplus of water for generations, and for the first time since those early settlers came and started building reservoirs, that is no longer true. We no longer have surplus water.” 

Cox has proposed using $500 million in federal funding — about 2 percent of the state’s overall budget — on water conservation projects. About half of that money would go to measuring the amount of water used on agriculture, which can significantly reduce water usage. 

Read more about the proposals here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

Understaffed Chemical Unit ‘Running on Fumes,’ EPA Official Says, Bloomberg Law reports 

Climate or reliability? FERC blocks Northeast gas project, E&E News reports 

Off-season ‘cover’ crops expand as U.S. growers eye low-carbon future, Reuters reports 

Judge tosses lawsuit from F-35 opponents, says National Guard environmental review OK, The Wisconsin State-Journal reports 

ICYMI

 

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.  

Tags Andrew Wheeler Donald Trump Glenn Youngkin Michael Regan

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