Energy & Environment — Biden officials push to label two PFAS as ‘hazardous’

The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on cancer-linked “forever chemicals,” Democrats are bracing for a clash over permitting — which could end up impacting government funding — and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is asking fuel refiners to rein in their exports.

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EPA: More clean up, liability for toxic contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to designate two types of “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances, aiming to expand both cleanup and accountability for this pollution.

  • “Forever chemicals,” also called PFAS, have been linked to illnesses including kidney and testicular cancer and thyroid disease. They’re also notorious for lingering for decades in the environment and human body instead of breaking down over time.
  • PFAS contamination has become widespread across the US as it has been discharged over the years by both industrial facilities and military bases, the latter of which used it in firefighting foam. The compounds can be found in a number of household products including nonstick pans, cosmetics and waterproof apparel.

The new proposal from the Biden administration seeks to help impacted communities clean up this waste. If it’s finalized, declaring these substances as “hazardous” under the Superfund law is expected to both speed up the cleanup process and hold polluters responsible.

Melanie Benesh, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said that the proposal would “jumpstart the cleanup process at a lot of contaminated sites and help the EPA hold polluters accountable for the mess that they have been making over decades.”

On the hook: The hazardous substance designation would allow the EPA to put either the military or a private company that contaminated a given area with these substances on the hook to clean it up, and, if they refuse to do so, would give the EPA the power to recoup the costs.

“Both private parties and [the] Department of Defense will really be incentivized to move out on cleanup when they’re responsible for this now that this designation is going to take place,” said Betsy Southerland, former director of the Office of Science and Technology in the EPA’s Office of Water.

The designation would also require the reporting of releases of the substances, which is expected to give communities information on where these chemicals are being discharged.

The two types in focus: While there are thousands of types of PFAS — an acronym that refers to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — the EPA’s proposal only addresses the two most notorious types, called PFOA and PFOS.

Recently, the agency said that these two substances are dangerous to drink, even in miniscule amounts.

An industry perspective: A chemical industry trade group pushed back on the EPA’s latest proposal, arguing that it would impose significant costs on businesses.

“A proposed [hazardous substance] designation would impose tremendous costs on these parties without defined cleanup standards,” the organization said.

Read more about the proposal here.

Dems set for permitting clash, raising shutdown risk

Liberal lawmakers are pressing Democratic leaders in the House to not include a side deal undercutting environmental reviews worked out with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) in a short-term measure funding the government.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is circulating a letter asking leadership to separate the Manchin deal out from a continuing resolution that would temporarily avert a government shutdown.

“Don’t attach it to a budget, to a CR, must-pass legislation and therefore take this essential Republican agenda and have Democrats pass it,” he told The Hill earlier this month.

The issue is expected to come to a head in September, when lawmakers return from recess, as Democrats try to secure funding for the government and prevent a shutdown.

A refresher: The deal was part of the agreement Manchin made with Democratic leaders as they won his support for their now-passed climate, tax and health care bill.

  • Under the deal with Manchin, worked out by President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the trio agreed “to pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation before the end of this fiscal year,” which ends on Oct. One.
  • The provisions are designed to expedite energy and infrastructure projects subject to environmental reviews.

That sets up a potential shutdown crisis if progressives block a funding bill over the inclusion of the permitting reform language and Democrats can’t find the votes elsewhere.

Between the lines: An actual shutdown is highly unlikely, as Democrats don’t want to shutter the government months before the midterm elections.

While Grijalva’s office declined to say Thursday how many lawmakers are signing his letter, at least a few others have signaled resistance to the deal.

A potential wrinkle: If progressives do make a stand, it will complicate life for House Democratic leaders.

Democrats enjoy a very narrow majority in the House, meaning even a handful of progressive votes could block a measure to fund the government — if there’s not the Republican support to make up the difference. The more signatures on the Grijalva letter, the more leverage progressives could have.

Democratic leaders would face a difficult choice between passing a clean continuing resolution, or “CR,” funding stopgap and potentially angering Manchin; convincing their own members to shed their environmental concerns and back the Manchin side deal; or leaning on GOP votes to prevent a shutdown.

A number of GOP members support the permitting changes advanced by Manchin. Whether they’ll want to back a Democratic funding measure that includes them — or allow Democrats to fight it out internally ahead of the elections — is another question.

And some Republicans are skeptical of the way it came about: Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) has pledged to vote against the permitting deal on principle, even if he may actually like the policies included in it.

“I will not vote for a continuing resolution that is part of a political payback scheme,” Graham said in a press conference this month. “Senator Manchin, if you think you’re going to get 60 votes to get the sweeteners that can’t be done in reconciliation, you need to think long and hard about what you’re doing.”

Read more about the tensions here.

GRANHOLM TO REFINERS: CUT EXPORTS

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called on major US oil refiners to build up capacity and reduce exports of refined products ahead of the winter in a letter shared with The Hill.

  • In the letter, written last week, Granholm noted the reduced availability of diesel inventories along the East Coast, which are nearly 50 percent below the five-year average. Refined product exports are at a record high.
  • A likely above-average hurricane season, followed shortly by the winter heating season, is likely to compound demand in the northeast.

“Given the historic level of US refined product exports, I again urge you to focus in the near term on building inventories in the United States, rather than selling down current stocks and further increasing exports,” Granholm wrote, saying that such a buildup would be an alternative to emergency measures such as releases from the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve.

The letter was reported first by The Wall Street Journal. The paper accused Granholm in a Wednesday editorial of attempting to strong-arm the energy industry and abandoning European nations weaning themselves off Russian imports.

An Energy Department official sharply disputed this characterization, saying “as we get closer and closer to peak hurricane season right now, and we’re running our internal models, we are calling on [the industry] to be more proactive.”

Read more here.

COLORADO DEMS ASK BIDEN TO PROTECT LOCAL LAND

Colorado Democrats urged President Biden in a letter on Friday to use his executive powers to preserve the historical legacy of key Rocky Mountain landscapes and ban new oil and gas leasing in certain spaces.

The politicians — Rep. Joe Neguse, Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Gov. Jared Polis — asked the president to protect the public spaces included in the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act, the progress of which has stalled in Congress, despite strong local support.

Chief among their requests is the designation of Colorado’s Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range as the “Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument,” by means of the Antiquities Act.

This area, they explained, was instrumental “in preparing the 10th Mountain Division for some of the most difficult moments of World War II,” while many veterans returned to establish Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy.

The politicians also urged the president to protect Colorado’s Thompson Divide through a Federal Lands Policy and Management Act mineral withdrawal, which would ban new oil and gas leasing, as well as mining, in the region.

Read more about their request here, from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Environmental groups sue to stop federal approval of exploration at Alaska oil project (Anchorage Daily News)
  • Drought threatens coal plant operations — and electricity — across the West (NPR)
  • Fears of a radiation leak mount near Ukrainian nuclear plant (The Associated Press)
  • St. Louis, Death Valley and now Dallas: Why ‘1,000-year’ floods suddenly seem so common (NBC News)
  • Ukraine Reconnects Power to Nuclear Plant Amid Pressure for UN Inspection (The Wall Street Journal)
  • How Fracking Billionaires, Ben Shapiro, and PragerU Built a Climate Crisis–Denial Empire (Vice)

ICYMI

🦎 Lighter click: Take off your shoes.

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 next week!

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