OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA finalizes rollback of coal plant wastewater regulations | Court for second time strikes down Trump admin rollback of automaker penalties
September 8, 2020
HAPPY MONDAY! 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.
FIRED UP: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a rollback of wastewater regulations from coal-fired power plants, a move critics say will allow dangerous substances including arsenic and mercury to leach into waterways.
The finalized rule loosens requirements for treating discharges of toxic pollution from power plants that were set by the Obama administration in 2015. It also delays the implementation of the requirements and exempts several plants.
The Obama EPA estimated that its requirements would annually reduce “the amount of toxic metals, nutrients, and other pollutants that steam electric power plants are allowed to discharge by 1.4 billion pounds.”
A senior Trump EPA official told reporters on Monday that the new version of the rule is expected to save the power sector $140 million annually and reduce pollution by a million pounds per year compared to the 2015 rule.
“Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation’s phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
However, Betsy Southerland, who served as director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water under the Obama administration, said that this calculation is flawed because it assumes that a certain number of facilities will voluntarily adopt more stringent standards.
“They only listen to industry, they never listen to public health specialists or environmentalists so it must be that these people told them they didn’t want it required, so that doesn’t bode well for them just voluntarily deciding to do it on their own, but it allows the EPA … to argue that their less stringent treatment option has a bigger reduction of toxics than the Obama rule,” Southerland said.
She suggested that this voluntary option, known as membrane filtration, should have been what the EPA required.
The rule, first proposed last year, weakens the regulations from dealing with residue from burning coal, called coal ash, and residue that’s rinsed off smokestack filters. Both of these types of waste are often mixed with water and stored in large pits that can leak into groundwater or be released into waterways.
In addition to weakening treatment requirements, the rule also gives power plants two additional years to implement the regulations.
Read more of the details here.
ALLOW ME TO REPEAT MYSELF: A court has for the second time struck down a Trump administration attempt to limit the penalties faced by automakers who do not meet mileage standards.
A Monday ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit found there is “no ambiguity in the statute” that requires agencies to periodically increase penalties in order to keep track with inflation.
The decision throws out a 2019 rule from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that sought to freeze penalties for automakers to levels not seen since the 1970s.
The administration finalized the rule after the same court ruled it could not delay an increase in those penalties agreed to by Congress in 2015 under the Obama administration.
“The statutory purpose of the Improvements Act is to adjust civil monetary penalties to keep pace with inflation,” the three-judge panel wrote in its decision, noting that inflation “can take the bite out of fines.”
A few dollars can make a big difference…
Penalties for automakers are charged for every tenth of a mile per gallon automakers exceed fuel economy standards, a figure that can prove substantial when applied across a company’s entire fleet of vehicles.
The Trump administration rule would have frozen the penalty to $5.50 for every tenth of a mile per gallon rather than $14, cutting by almost two-thirds the fine automakers would be expected to pay.
NHTSA said it would not comment on the lawsuit.
“Once again, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the Trump Administration cannot give away polluting passes to automakers who lag behind on meeting standards required by law,” the Sierra Club, which sued over the rule alongside other environmental groups and 13 states, wrote in a release.
“This is yet another reminder to Donald Trump’s NHTSA that the agency must comply with the law and set strong civil penalties that promote fuel economy and encourage automakers to meet the clean car standards.”
Read more on Trump’s other rollbacks for automakers here.
ON THE TRAIL:
Shot… President Trump and his allies mischaracterized Joe Biden’s energy agenda at several points during last week’s Republican National Convention.
They made statements that included saying the Democratic presidential candidate wanted to end the production of certain types of fossil fuels, to suggesting he wanted to eliminate gas-powered cars, neither of which are part of Biden’s plans.
Their comments came as part of a larger goal of painting the former vice president as extreme and amid attempts to tie the relatively centrist candidate to the farther-left wing of his party.
Speeches by Trump, Vice President Pence, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) all contained at least exaggerated suggestions about what Biden wants to do as president.
Trump, during his speech accepting the GOP nomination, said that Biden wanted to stop producing several fossil fuels.
“Biden has promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale and natural gas laying waste to the economies of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico, destroying those states,” he said.
The Trump campaign pointed The Hill to an instance on the campaign trail where Biden said “we’re going to end fossil fuel,” however, his energy plan does not call for this.
Read more of our fact check here.
Chaser… During a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Monday, Biden sharply refuted the claims.
“I am not banning fracking,” Biden said. “Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”
Biden’s climate plan calls for ending new oil and gas leases on public lands, but it would not ban oil drilling and does not bar any specific method for extracting fossil fuels.
He caused confusion during the March Democratic debate by saying he would not support “new fracking” – something his team later said was in reference to his plan to end new drilling on federal land.
Biden’s climate plan wasn’t as bold as some of his earlier Democratic challengers, but it is still the most ambitious climate plan ever put forth by a presidential nominee. Included in that plan is a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Biden reiterated Monday that he views a transition to clean energy as part of his vision for improving the nation’s economy.
“I’ve laid out an agenda for economic recovery that will restore a sense of security for working families,” he said.
“We won’t just build things back the way they were before. We’re going to build them back better with good paying jobs building our nation’s roads, bridges, solar arrays, windmills,” he said, saying the clean energy strategy has “a place for the energy workers right here in western Pennsylvania.”
Read more on that here.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Big oil is in trouble. Its plan: Flood Africa with plastic, The New York Times reports
Federal firefighter units juggle COVID-19 infection on fire lines, NBC News reports
US, South Carolina reach deal on plutonium disposal, we report
Pruitt’s phone booth revealed by E&E News
ICYMI:Stories from Monday and over the weekend…
US, South Carolina reach deal on plutonium disposal
Trump issues disaster declaration ahead of Louisiana visit
Proposed rules to protect bulk power grid from foreign targeting raise concerns
Court for second time strikes down Trump admin rollback of automaker penalties
Biden pushes back on Trump claims: ‘I am not banning fracking’
Proposal fast tracks oil development in national forests, green groups say
EPA finalizes rollback of coal plant wastewater regulations
Video: Environmental groups defend clean car plan (KARE-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul)