Feds continue environmental rollbacks with new methane emissions rule

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups are slamming a move by the Trump administration to weaken rules on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The new rule, proposed on Tuesday, would allow companies to inspect their lines for leaks less often, and take longer to fix issues that arise. Industry has long claimed the Obama-era rules are too expensive and burdensome. However, Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program, said methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas that merits a strong federal standard. “Over 20 years, it’s more than 80 times more powerful than C02 [carbon dioxide] at trapping heat.

Trump administration neuters nuclear safety board

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows. An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board. The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves. For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings.

New EPA head has long history of ties to mining interests

Andrew Wheeler, a former coal and uranium mining lobbyist, has been named the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after the abrupt resignation of Scott Pruitt. Pruitt announced his decision on Thursday, amid a series of ethics investigations into his improper use of taxpayer money and penchant for using employees to conduct personal errands. Wheeler has made a career out of representing fossil fuel interests and rolling back environmental regulations. His relationships with senior officials from the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy, his lobbying background and deep ties to polluting industries have some people worried that his influence could extend beyond the parameters of the EPA. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.

Scott Pruitt’s ethics violations haven’t stopped his rollbacks

Kevin Chmielewski knew when he was out at the Environmental Protection Agency. As he told Democratic members of Congress, it was when the former deputy chief of staff refused to retroactively approve a staff member’s first-class travel from Morocco to the United States. Chmielewski, a 38-year-old former Coast Guard member, was placed on administrative leave without pay, later learning from news reports that he had been fired. A staunch Trump supporter, Chmielewski had tangled with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over spending before: He’d previously dissuaded Pruitt from using EPA funds to contract with a private jet company for $100,000 per month. After his firing, Chmielewski turned whistleblower, meeting with congressional Democrats to detail EPA behaviors that he found to be unethical.

Heinrich, Udall: EPA head Pruitt should resign

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall said Thursday that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. The two Democrats are the latest elected official to say the scandal-ridden administrator should not be in charge of the agency. “Scott Pruitt has been surrounded by ethical problems and has failed to take the core mission of the Environmental Protection Agency seriously,” Heinrich said in a statement. “He has been plagued by conflicts of interest and built a long track record that is antithetical to the EPA’s responsibility to keep our nation’s land, air, and water clean. And perhaps most damning of all, Mr. Pruitt has a willful disregard for data-driven science when it comes to tackling climate change.”

It isn’t Pruitt’s stance on climate change, however, that has led to even some Republicans to call for him to resign.

Trump’s Labor Department eviscerates workplace safety panels

Last October, Gregory Junemann received a brief email from an official at the U.S. Department of Labor effectively firing him and 15 others from a volunteer gig helping the government reduce hazards to workers. “Thank you again for your continuing service in providing exceptional guidance on improving the health and safety of our federal workforce,” the email said. Junemann, a labor union president, was a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, first established by President Richard Nixon. It is one of five panels created by law to advise the labor secretary on how to improve health, safety and whistleblower protections in nearly every facet of the workforce. But under President Donald Trump, the boards have been mothballed or outright killed.

Environmental groups sue over EPA’s move to weaken Clean Air Act

ALBUQUERQUE — Clean-air advocates want the federal courts to stop a new rule that would allow major polluters to turn their pollution controls off. Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required major sources of pollution to reduce their emissions by the maximum amount possible. However, according to Tomas Carbonell, director of regulatory policy and lead attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, a new rule issued in January, with no opportunity for public comment, allows those major polluters to reclassify themselves as smaller sources. “In doing so,” he said, “they avoid complying with the most protective emission standards that EPA has issued to reduce emissions of pollutants like mercury, benzene, arsenic and other dangerous compounds.” The Environmental Protection Agency has claimed the rule is required by its new interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s waters and jobs, plus climate change and Cape Town’s dwindling water supplies

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the “Waters of the United States” applicability date. Last March, President Donald Trump directed the agencies to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act. The rule applies to navigable waterways and their tributaries. Under the rule, a tributary doesn’t need to be a continuously flowing body of water. But it must have flowing water—marked by a bed, bank and high water mark—to warrant protection.

For endangered species, politics replace science

Prairie dogs are complicated creatures. In addition to confounding property owners by burrowing on land slated for shopping malls or horse pastures, they sometimes defy accepted biological principles. Unlike many social animals, instead of dispersing as they age, prairie dogs stick close to home, preferring to live cooperatively with relatives. In fact, prairie dogs are actually more likely to immigrate after their kin disappear. And at least one prairie dog expert thinks the socially complex animals speak a real language.

What it’s like inside the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback at the EPA

Betsy Southerland knew something was wrong the moment she walked into her office at the Environmental Protection Agency. It was 8 a.m. on a Thursday in April and already, her team was waiting at her door, computer printouts in hand. For months, staffers in the Office of Water had been in help-desk mode, fielding calls from states implementing a federal rule that set new limits on water-borne pollution released by coal-fired power plants. The rule on what is known as “effluent” had been hammered out over a decade of scientific study and intense negotiations involving utility companies, White House officials and environmental advocates. The EPA had checked and rechecked its calculations to make sure the benefits of the proposed change outweighed the cost to the economy.