By Anthony Adragna | 04/20/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Annie Snider, Darius Dixon and Anca Gurzu
PRUITT'S QUICK VISIT: It was tightly-controlled and fairly brief visit to a lead-tainted Superfund site in East Chicago, Ind., for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. He toured the area by car Wednesday morning, met with local groups and elected officials (very brief clip here) and delivered barely two minutes' worth of general remarks at a press conference. "The reason I'm here is because it's important that we restore confidence to people in this community that we're going to get it right going forward," Pruitt said. "It's the EPA's objective, my objective as the administrator of the EPA, to come in and make sure people's health is protected here in East Chicago." He left without responding to shouted questions about whether he was considering shutting down the regional office of the EPA.
It wasn't a warm welcome for Pruitt: Advocates and residents of a public housing project rallied ahead of Pruitt's visit to urge adequate funding to clean up the lead and arsenic-contaminated area, according to multiple local reports. Back in downtown Chicago, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Jan Schakowsky , along with local EPA union members, gathered in support of Region 5 and urged Pruitt (unsuccessfully) to meet with local agency employees. "There was no back and forth," East Chicago resident Thomas Frank told WTTW after meeting with Pruitt. "Each resident had a statement. There was no set commitment. He kind of responded to a few comments. He did say that this is not about money; it's about fixing the problem."
He'll find a friendlier crowd today: Pruitt's on the move again and will deliver remarks about his agenda to power plant workers and Missouri Electric Cooperative members at the Thomas Hill Energy Center in Clifton Hill, Mo. His visit to the coal-fired power station is expected to include discussion of ongoing efforts to roll back and reconsider the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. regulations.
GUN GOES OFF FOR WOTUS COMMENTS, ROUND 1: EPA is soliciting comments by June 19 on how to rewrite the contentious Waters of the U.S. regulation, and how changes could affect programs on the ground, agency staffers told state and local officials during a 2-hour-long meeting at EPA headquarters Wednesday. Of special interest are certain key terms from a 2006 Supreme Court opinion by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose definitions will likely form the crux of any new rule under President Donald Trump's administration. An agency presentation lays out some potential approaches to defining the terms, including "relatively permanent" waters and "continuous surface connection."
Despite the major shift in legal approach ordered by the Trump administration, groups realized after Wednesday's meeting that the job is still going to be a heavy lift, said Alexandra Dunn, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States. "There was widespread recognition that many of the perennial problems that have plagued this discussion are still there - the questions about ditches and whether ditches are waters, whether canals or irrigation channels are waters - those questions are actually still potentially at play under Justice Scalia's opinion," she said.
Stop for a breath: The June 19 deadline for the initial round of comments suggests that EPA may not move quite as quickly on the new regulations as was originally discussed. More than 25 environmental groups urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to rush the process, and ensure it is "at least as deliberate, inclusive, and protective of vital waterways," as the previous Obama administration rulemaking.
WELCOME TO THURSDAY! You're along for the ride with me, your host Anthony Adragna, and Sarah Howell of Howell Communications Strategies was first to identify Warren G. Harding as the candidate who used "Cox and Cocktails" as their campaign slogan. For today: What presidential candidate used the slogan "In your heart you know he's right"? Send your tips, energy gossip and comments to email@example.com, or follow us on Twitter @AnthonyAdragna, @Morning_Energy, and @POLITICOPro.
ANOTHER RUSSIAN TEST: Exxon Mobil still has a request pending with the U.S. government from 2015 for a sanctions waiver to drill in the Russian waters of the Black Sea, Pro's Ben Lefebvre reports . It's a politically sensitive situation given ongoing concerns about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia and the fact the State Department along with the Treasury Department would be responsible for granting any waiver for the energy company to operate in Russia while sanctions are in place. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ran Exxon before joining the administration, though he has recused himself from matters involving his former company.
Two sources with knowledge of the issue tell Ben the Obama administration never granted the waiver to Exxon, but it was never officially denied, and it was not clear whether Exxon was still actively pursuing it. The Obama administration did grant Exxon's request to keep a small administrative office in Russia to ensure it would not lose its rights to drill and explore in the Black Sea. A company spokesman declined to comment "on ongoing issues."
INTERIOR HIRING FREEZE (PARTIALLY) MARCHES ON: There are some exceptions, but a memo obtained by Pro's Esther Whieldon shows the Interior Department's hiring freeze will go on in its offices in the Washington and Denver. Offices and bureaus outside of those two can proceed with hiring for all open positions of GS-11 and lower, though priority should be given to filing positions that involve field work over office roles.
ICYMI: EPA told the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups who submitted petitions that it would reconsider key parts of a 2016 Obama administration rule governing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, Pro's Alex Guillén reports.
HAPPY YUCCA GAMES - MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR: A real debate over the future of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project may finally kick off in earnest next week. After years of angry statements from all sides, tense hearings, several government studies and lots of material for the press, House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans have released draft nuclear waste legislation and scheduled a hearing on it for April 26. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act hasn't been amended in 30 years, when Yucca was designated at the nation's sole waste repository, and we've all seen how well that went!
There are some noteworthy takeaways right off the bat: The bill would authorize DOE to explore agreements to create interim storage facilities or build them itself (an olive branch to the Senate); hold off on restarting the nuclear waste fee until after the NRC makes a decision about Yucca (an olive branch to the states); and bar DOE from doing anything related to a defense waste-only repository until the NRC officially approves or disapproves of Yucca. It also urges DOE to avoid Las Vegas "to the extent practicable" when transporting waste, and authorizes annual still-unspecified payments to Nevada for hosting the waste. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Rayburn 2123.
NOT SO FAST - ER, SLOW: Environmental groups and the drinking water industry are urging the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals not to put their litigation on hold while Pruitt's EPA reconsiders a 2015 rule limiting toxic discharges from coal-fired power plants. The Obama administration rule is being challenged from both sides - with coal interests opposing it as too stringent and environmental groups and water utilities as too weak. The latter groups want to make sure the court hears their arguments, including concerns from the drinking water industry about power plants' releases of bromide into waterways which, when treated by utilities, creates carcinogenic disinfection by-products in drinking water.
WE NEED MORE (WIND) POWER! Three additional areas in the Atlantic Ocean are under consideration for offshore wind energy development - the Long Bay area of South Carolina and broad swaths stretching from Nantucket, Mass., to New York and from New Jersey to Virginia, Pro's Esther Whieldon reports. "We think that there's much potential for additional areas in the Atlantic," Jim Bennett, BOEM's renewable energy program manager, said at a listening session attended by about 100 people at the site of an offshore wind conference.
GENERATIONS OF MONTANA WATER NEGOTIATIONS COME DOWN TO TODAY: After more than three decades of negotiations and seven years working to get congressional approval, members of the Blackfeet Tribe vote today on whether to approve a more than $400 million settlement with the federal government related to their water rights. The Blackfeet settlement was the largest of a handful to make it into last year's Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act - the first significant settlements approved since Congress imposed the earmark ban. Before it can take effect, Blackfeet tribal members must approve the final deal, which tribal leaders strongly support. But a deep current of distrust runs among tribal members, thanks to a long history of unilateral federal decisions, some of which shipped water off the reservation. Jerry Lunak, the tribe's water resources manager said today's vote has been a long time coming: "This thing has been in people's hearts and minds, I think, since the arrival of the settlers here."
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UNION PUSHES BACK ON BUYOUTS: Plans to offer early retirements and buyouts to EPA's workforce received little enthusiasm from the agency's top union. "There are no surplus positions in the US EPA," John O'Grady, president of AFGE Council 238, said in a statement. "That was taken care of when the Agency was reduced from 18,110 FTEs in 1999, to under 15,000 in 2016...Any further cuts will absolutely cripple the Agency." He said conducting workforce and workload analysis would show political staff that the agency is already "woefully underfunded and understaffed today."
PARKS BRING IN THE BIG BUCKS: A peer-reviewed economics report released Wednesday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke found visitors to the national parks generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016. Spending from the record 331 million visitors to National Park Service sites also supported 318,000 jobs in 2016, according to the report.
Speaking of Zinke, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he's met with rangers at five national parks while traveling in California this week on a West Coast swing and said he'd visit Shenandoah National Park outside Charlottesville, Va., next week (which ME can attest is well worth the trip).
REPORT: AIR QUALITY IMPROVES BUT RISKS PERSIST: Nearly four in ten Americans lived in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution in 2013-2015, according to an American Lung Association annual report out Wednesday. Measured high ozone days and year-round particle pollution hit their lowest levels in the 18 years of the report, but many cities also reported the highest average number of days when particle levels spiked. "Even with the ongoing improvements, too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe," Harold Wimmer, the group's president, said in a statement.
BEARS EARS, ECONOMIC BOOSTER? Public Land Solutions is out with a new white paper this morning arguing the newly-created (and controversial) Bears Ears National Monument could provide a major boost to the economy in San Juan County, Utah through additional cultural tourism. "This expanded economic sector will not displace existing multiple uses of the area's public land; indeed, the economic growth from cultural tourism will allow many local families and residents the option for local jobs instead of having to leave the area for work," the paper concludes.
MOVER, SHAKER: Kate Colwell has moved to the Georgetown University Office of Advancement as their new communications staff writer/editor; she previously worked as communications manager for Friends of the Earth.
Former Pennslyvania Senate candidate and former White House CEQ chairwoman Katie McGinty has joined Militia Hill Ventures as a partner; the company helps grow life science companies in the Philadelphia region.
TWEETED: Her husband Tom Brady may have missed the New England Patriots celebration Wednesday at the White House due to "some personal family matters," but supermodel Gisele Bündchen was tweeting about the Peoples Climate March. "To change everything, we need everyone," she wrote. The tweet was later deleted, but ME snagged a screenshot.
CONGRATS: Dutch scientist Guus Velders has been named one of the 100 most influential people for 2017 by Time magazine for his research that 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming could be avoided by reducing hydrofluorocarbons. That work helped pave the way for a global agreement in October 2016 to phase down the use of the potent greenhouse gases in air conditioners and other cooling equipment.
TWO MORE JOIN: The Advanced Biofuels Association and Murphy USA have joined the Main Street Energy Alliance, which aims to prevent the Trump administration from changing the point of obligation requirement under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
THE NEXT FRENCH PRESIDENT'S NUCLEAR PROBLEM: France's next president is in for a big nuclear headache, POLITICO Europe's Marion Solletty and Sara Stefanini report . He or she will have to figure out how to either extend the life of or shut down 58 reactors fast approaching retirement age and keep the country's energy supply flowing at the same time. All the options risk being complicated and costly - financially and politically - and require savvy planning to encourage France's dominant electricity company EDF to shift away from an energy source that has long been the core of its business. The top candidates going into the April 23-May 7 election have widely varying nuclear energy policies, from a far-left push to get rid of it entirely to a far-right call to hang on to the country's biggest energy source and a decades-old source of pride in the country's industrial prowess.
- Retired Miners Lament Trump's Silence on Imperiled Health Plan. The New York Times.
- Walmart wants to cut 1 billion tons of emissions from it supply chain. Fast Company.
- Mnuchin's New Hollywood Partner Made Billions in Russian Oil. Bloomberg.
- Chevron Not Interested in Access to Arctic Drilling. Morning Consult.
- Climate change will fuel terrorism recruitment, report for German foreign office says. The Guardian.
- Last stand: Nebraska farmers could derail Keystone XL pipeline. Reuters.
THAT'S ALL FOR ME!
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