Democrats release details of their Green New Deal. A Senate committee approved Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to helm the EPA, while President Trump nominated David Bernhardt to lead the Department of the Interior. President Trump mentions infrastructure in the State of the Union. Illinois senators ask for Legionnaires’ disease help. New York senators ask Andrew Wheeler to set a federal drinking water standard for PFAS chemicals. Federal scientists propose a Richter scale for atmospheric rivers. Energy regulators propose to speed up hydropower permitting at dams that do not currently produce electricity. The Army Corps asks for proposals for private-sector involvement in water infrastructure projects. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record. The EPA and Army Corps reschedule their WOTUS public hearing. And lastly, the BLM had a record-setting year for oil and gas leases.
“And part of what the #GreenNewDeal says, at last, is that Flint wasn’t an accident. The folks dying in West Virginia aren’t an accident. The Bronx having one of the highest child asthma rates isn’t an accident. It’s a structural failure to care, & treat these communities fairly.” — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in a tweet about the principles that underlie the Green New Deal, a resolution to combat inequality and injustice alongside a transformation of the American energy system.
By the Numbers
4th: Warmest year on record, in 2018. The four hottest years have been the last four. (NOAA)
$1.1 billion: Revenue in 2018 from oil and gas leases. It was the highest annual leasing revenue on record, nearly tripling the previous high of $408 million, in 2008. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels produced on federally managed lands accounted for 23 percent of national emissions in 2014. (Bureau of Land Management)
Wheeler Nomination Vote
Andrew Wheeler moved a step closer to becoming the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when a Senate committee voted to send his confirmation to the full Senate.
The vote, which was 11 in favor and 10 opposed, went forward despite a request from Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) to take more time to vet Wheeler.
John Barrasso (R-WY), the committee chair, said that Wheeler “has done an outstanding job leading the Environmental Protection Agency these past six month.”
The committee also approved, by the same margin, Peter Wright to lead the EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management. Carper requested that Wright appear before the committee to discuss Superfund cleanups.
Interior Secretary Nomination
President Trump, meanwhile, nominated David Bernhardt to lead the Interior Department.
Bernhardt has been the acting secretary since December, when Ryan Zinke stepped down. He is a former lawyer for farm districts, water interests, oil and gas firms, mining companies, and other groups that are affected by Interior Department decisions.
Bernhardt was also the department’s top lawyer during the George W. Bush administration.
Green New Deal
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a resolution in Congress to address climate change and inequality that would transform the assumptions and structure of America’s economy and society.
The Democrats call this resolution a Green New Deal, taking a cue from FDR’s history-making legislation during the Great Depression that introduced social security, banking regulation, and jobs programs.
The Green New Deal resolution has similarly ambitious scope, linking the transition to a net-zero economy with rectifying wage and wealth gaps, extending healthcare coverage, protecting land, water, and air, and providing for more inclusive decision-making.
Ocasio-Cortez said the resolution is a starting line, not an end point. Think of it as a “request for proposals,” she tweeted. “We’ve defined the scope and where we want to go. Now let’s assess + collab on projects.”
A policy memo from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), chair of the House Republican Conference, called the resolution “a trojan [sic] horse for socialism.”
State of the Union
President Trump, as expected, mentioned infrastructure during last week’s State of the Union speech.
But there were no details about what a bill might include and how it would differ from a proposal that sputtered last session of Congress.
“Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” Trump said. “I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity.”
Congress members viewed the speech as a cue to start work on an infrastructure package.
“Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate want to get something done, and the President’s leadership and eagerness for bipartisanship on this effort gives us the green light to move forward,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on February 7.
Illinois Senators Request Legionnaires’ Disease Help
Illinois senators sent a letter to the leaders of three health-related agencies — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the EPA — asking for their help in responding to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a state-run veterans home, in Manteno.
A Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at an Illinois veterans home in Quincy killed 14 people since 2015.
Illinois’ new governor has established a Legionnaires’ disease task force, and the senators also requested that the three federal agencies participate.
New York senators sent a letter to Andrew Wheeler, nominee to helm the EPA, asking him to regulate PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
Politico reported earlier this month that the agency will likely decide not to regulate the two most well-known PFAS: PFOA and PFOS. That decision is still in interagency review and has not been made public.
Quicker Hydropower Permitting
Energy regulators propose to speed up the permitting process for installing electrical generators at dams that do not currently produce power.
A water infrastructure act signed last October by President Trump requires the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to set up such a process.
FERC’s draft proposal says that it will issue a final decision within two years of a completed application.
The Department of Energy, meanwhile, is facilitating a working group to examine the hydropower licensing process for existing dams. John Horst, a department press officer, told Circle of Blue that the working group will compile data on licensing costs and length.
Studies and Reports
California Water Struggle
The Bureau of Reclamation published a draft document that would shake loose as much water as possible for farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
The document is a biological assessment of water conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the vulnerable ecosystem that doubles as a switchyard for massive pumping stations that feed canals that move water to farms and cities to the south.
The proposal to maximize water deliveries is “one of the most aggressive steps to date” by the Trump administration to draw more water out of the delta, according to the Sacramento Bee.
A Richter Scale for Atmospheric Rivers
A group of academic and government scientists propose a five-point scale for rating the severity of atmospheric rivers.
Atmospheric rivers that hit the U.S. west coast, typically during winter, transport large amounts of moisture from the tropics. They are responsible for the heaviest rainfall, most damaging floods, and a large share of annual precipitation.
The proposed scale is based on intensity, as measured by water vapor content, and duration of the event. Category 1 storms are primarily beneficial, providing enough precipitation to increase snowpack or moisten the ground but not enough to cause flooding. Category 5 storms are a danger because of intense, long-lasting precipitation.
Army Corps Solicits Proposals on Private Sector Collaboration
The leadership of the Army Corps has ordered the military’s civil engineering unit to begin a pilot program to test the involvement of the private sector in financing, managing, designing, and operating water infrastructure projects.
Up to 10 projects will be selected. The Army is soliciting outlines for what the program might look like in practice for specific projects.
Proposals are due April 2. Information required to be include in the proposal is listed in the link above.
On the Radar
Budget Deadline Approaches
The recent government shutdown, record-setting in its length, ended with a bandage solution: lawmakers agreed to fund certain agencies, including the EPA and Interior Department, through February 15. The hope was that a deal could be reached on border security funding, which is holding up the budget approval.
February 15 is Friday.
WOTUS Hearing Rescheduled
The EPA and the Army Corps will hold a public meeting to discuss the Trump administration’s proposal to reduce the number of water bodies protected by the Clean Water Act.
The meeting, rescheduled because of the government shutdown, is now set for February 27 and 28 in Kansas City, Kansas. It is the only public meeting the agencies will hold. There will also be a webinar on February 14.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton