Biden and Trump officials clash at the chemical safety board, while President Biden announces new global climate initiatives as part of a meeting with major economic powers.
This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Chemical safety chair’s exit comes amid tensions
The Trump-appointed head of the government’s chemical safety board is making her way to the exits amid high tensions with her colleagues, who were appointed by President Biden.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, commonly known as the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), has been battling over a rule governing board operations that was approved by the exiting Chair Katherine Lemos, the Trump appointee.
Lemos announced her resignation on June 10, but she’s not actually leaving office for weeks and the fight with her colleagues is growing increasingly contentious.
The two sides are fighting over a rule known as Board Order 28. It was approved by Lemos when she served as the only member of the board in April 2021 — just months after Biden took office.
The two Biden nominees that now sit with her on the board, Steve Owens and Sylvia Johnson, say the rule gives too much power to the chair. They voted to get rid of some of her changes to it, but Lemos is challenging that vote on procedural grounds, her colleagues said.
One of their criticisms of the order is that it took issues that used to be subject to board approval, like the agency’s budget and expenditures of more than $50,000, and made them solely the chair’s responsibility.
“The extent to which the revisions that were made in April 2021 in Board Order 28 gave the chair … total authority over everything was unprecedented in the history of the board’s operations,” Owens said in a joint interview with The Hill alongside Johnson.
Yes, and? Another particular area of contention has been on a “misconduct” section of rules governing the board that Johnson described as “punitive.”
“There is a laundry list of offenses that we could potentially be disciplined for — and that discipline includes, but [is] not limited to, being shut out of your email, being reported to the FBI, Congress, the White House — you name it,” Johnson said.
CSB spokesperson Shauna Lawhorne said via email that Lemos did not author the order. She said it was “primarily based” on work from the board’s general counsel’s office. Lawhorne also said the changes are “narrowly tailored to our enabling legislation and track the original intent of Congress.”
Johnson and Owens wanted to make their own changes, they said, and held a vote to do so, but got into a procedural dispute with Lemos about whether their vote was valid.
The fight is still playing out, even as Lemos submitted her resignation on Friday — about halfway into her appointed five-year term. She’s expected to remain on the board for several more weeks.
Owens and Johnson said they utilized an expedited procedure in which a majority vote could approve their changes to Board Order 28. But, since Lemos has insisted on tabling the issue for a public meeting, Owens said the board members have been trying to get one such meeting scheduled.
Biden announces global climate initiatives
On Friday, President Biden met with world leaders on climate issues and announced several climate initiatives.
The meeting included 19 other countries. The participants represent 80 percent of worldwide Gross Domestic Product, population and planet-warming emissions.
In conjunction with the meeting, eight countries announced they updated or will update their 2030 climate goals, The Hill first reported on Friday.
A senior administration official told The Hill that Australia shared an enhanced target, while Chile, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam intend to strengthen their 2030 targets.
The U.S. and EU also unveiled an initiative that seeks to reduce releases of planet-warming methane from the oil and gas sector.
The new initiative specifically aims to eliminate routine flaring — a process where companies burn excess natural gas that’s a byproduct of oil production — by 2030.
They were joined by 11 other countries, who became “inaugural members” of this pledge, according to the State Department. These countries are: Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway and Oman.
Biden also unveiled another collective goal countries to make 50 percent of new cars sold electric, a target the U.S. has already set for itself.
A senior administration official told The Hill that seven countries and the European Commission will join in this initiative.
And, Biden encouraged other countries to try to collectively reach $90 billion in government investments in developing climate friendly technologies. The initiative won the support of six countries and the European Commission official said.
In addition, the U.S. and Norway launched an effort aimed at encouraging emissions reductions from the shipping sector by 2050. Nine countries indicated support, according to the official.
Democrat to Biden: Don’t suspend gas tax
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) asked President Biden to oppose a suspension of the federal gas tax in a letter Thursday, warning of “severe unintended consequences” for infrastructure.
Biden is coming under pressure from other Democrats to embrace a gas tax holiday, and The Hill reported this week that the idea is gaining steam.
So what’s the issue? Blumenauer cited a market analysis by the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center indicating that over the past decade, only about 18 percent of state gas tax cuts have been passed down to consumers, with the bulk of the changes in revenue returning to oil and gas companies themselves.
“While there is undoubtedly a need to provide American consumers relief from spiking costs, there is no guarantee a gas tax suspension would reduce prices at the pump or stem the broader inflation affecting the global economy, and it may only increase oil companies’ bottom lines,” Blumenauer wrote.
In the meantime, he argued, a suspension of the federal tax would create a “massive hole” in the infrastructure and transportation budget, in particular the Highway Trust Fund, which has already operated under a deficit for years. Suspending the federal gas tax through the end of the fiscal year would cost the fund a further $20 billion, according to budget modeling from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
HARRIS TOUTS ADMINISTRATION’S WORK ON LEAD PIPES
Vice President Harris highlighted federal action to replace lead pipes at an event in Pittsburgh on Friday.
The bipartisan infrastructure law President Biden signed in late 2021 includes more than $4 billion to replace all the nation’s lead pipes. Lead contamination of water supplies has been linked to lead poisoning and learning disabilities, most notoriously in the case of Flint, Mich., which exposed up to 12,000 children to lead.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge also announced in Pittsburgh that the administration will make $500 million available to states and local governments to address the risks of lead paint and other similar home-based environmental hazards.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February announced $20 million in grant funding to remove lead contamination in drinking water in schools and communities. In May, the EPA also announced it would make $728 billion in new grants available for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to address contaminants and natural disaster preparedness.
“We know that all people have a right to be able to drink clean water, that all people have a right to breathe clean air,” Harris said. “So we approach this from that perspective, that we as a society and certainly we as a government must ensure that that right is real and that it is protected.”
ON TAP NEXT WEEK
EPA chemicals official Michal Freedhoff will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about implementation of amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on legislation focused around energy infrastructure, efficiency and financing
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “the nature of matter, energy, space, and time.” DOE science official Asmeret Berhe will testify .
WHAT WE’RE READING
Back burner no more: Dems set Manchin talks on party-line bill to simmer (Politico)
Fossil fuel firms ‘have humanity by the throat’, says UN head in blistering attack (The Guardian)
How top coal, LNG exporter Australia ran into a power crisis (Reuters)
Virginia Senate has mixed reactions to Governor’s proposed gas tax holiday (WSLS)
And finally, something offbeat but on-beat: Maybe this will make people care about climate?
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.