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 [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.
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QUESTIONING CLIMATE SCIENCE: A HOT ACTIVITY
At the EPA: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday that there is “scientific debate” on whether hurricanes and other natural disasters are exacerbated by climate change.
In an interview with Cheddar, Wheeler said he believes in climate change, but hesitated when asked if it was connected to extreme weather events.
“You have to look at some of the causes. For example the wildfires out West, I do believe most of it is forest management issues. Because you don’t have the same problems in other parts of the country where they have better forest management issues when they have prescribed burns, and they’re able to take care of the dead trees and so forth in the forest. And with the prescribed burns – it’s very important. California has greatly limited those over the years,” Wheeler said.
He also questioned climate change’s impact on hurricanes.
“You know there’s a lot of scientific debate on the hurricanes, the number of large hurricanes have actually decreased over the last 40 to 50 years. The intensity of some of the hurricanes that we’re seeing is increasing. So we need to take a closer look at that; that’s not really within EPA purview,” he said, adding that the agency is focused on reducing emissions.
Read more about Wheeler’s comments here.
At DOE: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette questioned whether humans are causing climate change while traveling in Pennsylvania despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that the phenomenon is caused by human activity.
“We have a lot to learn about what causes changes in the climate, and we’re not there yet,” Brouillette said Monday after he was asked how the Trump administration would tackle climate, according to local news reports
He also said “no one knows that” after he was asked whether he believed that carbon emissions from human activities were causing warmer temperatures.
Told that scientists believe humans are responsible for climate change, Brouillette said: “Scientists say a lot of things. I have scientists inside of the Department of Energy that say a lot of things. Look, the bottom line is we live here, so we must have some impact. The question is, what is the exact impact that we’re having? And that’s the question that has not been resolved.”
Asked by The Hill to clarify Brouillette’s stance on climate, a spokesperson pointed to Tuesday remarks in which the nation’s top energy official discussed applying technology to challenges such as climate change.
“What can we do to learn more about the climate? What can we do to learn more about energy’s relation to the climate? We still feel very strongly there’s much research to be done and we don’t have all the answers yet and if we can use the work that’s being done in our national laboratories … to help us find better solutions and better answers in that regard, then we want to do that,” he said.
Brouillette has previously said he believes that the climate is changing and acknowledged that humans play a role, telling lawmakers in 2017 that “I believe the climate is changing. We’re all living here, so we must have some impact.”
Read more about Brouillette’s remarks here.
And at NOAA: The White House is appointing Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who has been vocal in questioning the science connecting climate change to extreme weather events, as the new chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), according to reporting from The Washington Post.
Maue, currently a meteorologist and developer at weathermodels.com, has amassed a significant twitter following by sharing maps and forecasts tracking the weather.
But his social media presence also shows he’s been critical of Democrats and claims that climate change is exacerbating natural disasters.
In a now deleted tweet from earlier this month, Maue said it “seems the Democrats have coordinated their efforts to use the devastating California fires as an opportunity to score political points in the upcoming election by blaming them solely on climate change (and Trump).”
Maue previously was a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, which shut down its Charles Koch-funded Center for the Study of Science, which also questioned man’s influence on climate change.
“The Climate Feedback clique isn’t going to like this at all,” he wrote on twitter in July in response to an opinion piece questioning the validity of “attribution” studies connecting weather events and climate change.
“If you question the efficacy of attribution science, then you risk being smeared and censored.”
If Maue joins the agency, he would be among those responsible for enforcing the NOAA’s scientific integrity policy designed to protect government scientists from censorship or other blowback tied to their work.
Part of a bigger picture?
Maue’s reported appointment comes just a week after the Trump administration appointed David Legates, an academic with a history of questioning humans’ influence on global warming, as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction.
Read more about the reported appointment here.
ROLL THE TAPES: Executives at the companies behind the proposed Pebble Mine have apparently expressed a desire to extend the mine’s lifetime beyond what they had indicated publicly, according to tapes released this week by an environmental group.
Investigators with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) pretended to be potential investors in the controversial mining project and recorded their conversations with Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen, the group said.
During those conversations, the executives told the EIA personnel that the mine could be in operation for much longer than the 20 year period they’re currently proposing, with Thiessen saying it could be in operation for 200 years.
“During that 20 years, you’re gonna make the application to continue for another 20,” he said.
“Based on 180,000 short tons a day of processing capacity, and we have 10 million tons, that’s a 180-year mine life, and we know that there’s more ore there, so it’s probably going to be more than 200 years,” Thiessen said later in the video.
“There’s not a single major mine, and there certainly isn’t a major oilfield, that didn’t start out small, smaller than it has grown. And there have been constant expansions that have been suggested and approved,” Collier was recorded saying.
“That’s what would happen here. This is a well-worn path that we’re following to build something that allows us to show the community and the state that we can do it, we can do it well, that it’s not dangerous and then we’ll come in at some point in the future and request an extension of the time and probably an expansion of how much we are producing on a daily basis,” he added.
Last year, Collier testified to Congress that Pebble “has no current plans, in this application or in any other way, for expansion.”
In one of the tapes, which EIA said were recorded in August and September, Thiessen also discusses eventually ramping up production at the mine in the future.
“To increase the size of the mill from 160,000 metric tons per day, we can go to 220, we can go to 320,” he noted, saying that some of these things would require additional permitting.
Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole told The Hill in an email that the company isn’t currently planning additional development, but that it could decide to do more development in the future.
“The Pebble mine development proposal currently being evaluated by the US Army Corps of Engineers provides for 20 years of mining operations and an average mill throughput of 180,000 tons per day,” Heatwole said.
“At this time, there is no definitive plan for subsequent phases of development, although the Pebble deposit would certainly support a longer mine life,” he added. “What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ you mention, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but that no such formal plan or intention to do so exists today.”
Heatwole also noted that future developments would have to go through a “comprehensive, multi-year federal and state permitting process.”
Read more about the conversations here.
‘UNRESOLVED’: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday diminished studies linking a widely used pesticide associated with brain damage in children, a move that could enable years of continued use of controversial chlorpyrifos.
In a Tuesday risk assessment released by the agency, the EPA argued that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”
Critics see it as the agency laying the groundwork to deny a petition filed by environmental groups years ago to ban the substance in the wake of a reversal under the Trump administration.
In 2016, agency scientists recommended banning chlorpyrifos, citing the health effects on farmworkers and children.
Scientists worry that it affects the human nervous system much like it attacks those of insects.
“There are all these studies that have been done of kids showing that chlorpyrifos harms their brains especially as they’re young or fetuses as they’re developing. The very young are at much greater susceptibility than older people, and also more exposed,” said Erik Olsen with the Natural Resource Defense Council, one of the groups pursuing a ban.
The substance was banned for household use in 2000 after studies found children who had been exposed to it had lower IQs than those who were not. The pesticide has also been linked to learning and memory issues and prolonged nerve and muscle stimulation.
However, it is still used on a wide range of crops, including corn, soybeans and wheat and at orchards.
Tuesday’s risk assessment was spurred by litigation from environmental groups, and a judge ordered the EPA to make a decision on whether to ban it.
“They kicked the decision back to scientists and said they’re reanalyzing it so that’s how they got around the courts telling them to decide whether to ban it or not,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The final decision from the agency will come later, but Donley said the risk assessment shows they are unlikely to ban the substance. He suspects the agency will instead offer to limit its uses, a measure he said would be insufficient.
“With how toxic it is you can’t mitigate the harm enough to make sure not really impacting people’s lives and health and the environment,” he said.
Read more about the EPA’s assessment here.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL: North Carolina will be added to President Trump’s moratorium preventing oil and gas drilling off its coast until mid 2032, joining Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said late Monday.
“This morning, I spoke with President Trump and I asked him to extend the offshore drilling moratorium to North Carolina. I’m pleased to announce that the president will be doing just that,” Tillis said in a video posted to YouTube.
“Our coastal communities and our tourism are vital to our state’s economy, and I’m thankful to President Trump,” added Tillis, who is facing a tough reelection fight this November.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on whether North Carolina would be added to the moratorium, which Trump originally announced while speaking in Florida this month.
At the time, he signed a presidential order barring drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina until June 2032, 10 years longer than a congressional moratorium that halts drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The move was largely seen as a political one, as offshore drilling is unpopular in the crucial swing state of Florida after it faced significant economic impacts from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
Like Florida, North Carolina is also an important swing state, where not only Trump, but also Tillis, will have to battle for reelection this year. The Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, has rated Tillis’s race as a “toss up.”
Read more about the addition of North Carolina here.
NEPA IN THE HOUSE: House Republicans are seeking to advance a bill that would legislatively cement many of President Trump’s controversial changes to a bedrock environmental law while adding additional provisions that would make it tougher to sue over major construction projects.
The bill follows the White House’s July rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for 50 years has required the government to weigh environmental and community concerns before approving pipelines, highways, drilling permits or any major action on federal lands.
While that rollback has spurred suits from a number of environmental groups and states, lawmakers are doubling down with a similar effort.
“I applaud the administration’s monumental steps to produce a new final NEPA rule that’s going to have some advantages, but it needs to be codified,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“Congress got it wrong when they wrote it and has refused to change it, and now’s the time for Congress to get it right,” he added later.
Read more about the bill here.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
- The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Green Recovery Plans for the COVID-19 Crisis.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would make changes to the Endangered Species Act
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Oxfam: World’s richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, The Guardian reports
Vermont senate overrides veto of Global Warming Solutions Act, making it law, VTDigger reports
From LA to Oslo, 12 cities pledge to divest from fossil fuel, The Associated Press reports
Facebook suspends environmental groups despite vow to fight misinformation, The Guardian reports
ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday (and Monday night)…
Prince Charles calls for ‘new Marshall-like plan’ on climate change
Trump to include North Carolina in offshore drilling moratorium, senator says
Arctic sea ice shrinks to second-smallest amount on record
EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters
Climate to reduce GDP by 1 percent in 2050: government analysis
EPA questions science linking widely used pesticide to brain damage in children
Pebble Mine executives eye future expansion in recorded conversations
China pledges to become carbon neutral by 2060
House GOP seeks to cement Trump rollback of bedrock environmental law
Energy secretary questions consensus that humans cause climate change
Trump NOAA pick questions ties between climate change and extreme weather
Video: Trump expands ban on new offshore drilling sites (USA TODAY)