Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government predicts busy hurricane season | Report: BLM says oil and gas operators should set their own royalty rates for public lands drilling | Michigan flooding risks damage to hazardous waste sites: report

HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@digital-stage.thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@digital-stage.thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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ROCK YOU LIKE HURRICANE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday predicted that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will be a busy one. 

There’s a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 percent chance of a near-normal season and only a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season, according to the NOAA. 

The administration also predicted there could be between 13 to 19 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes, three to six of which will be major storms.

Major hurricanes are those that fall into categories 3, 4 or 5. 

A typical Atlantic hurricane season, which falls between June 1 and Nov. 30, has about 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. 

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement. 

The projection follows a study published this week that found that storms such as hurricanes and typhoons are becoming more intense as the Earth warms. 

The story is here

STEP ON THE GAS: State offices for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were instructed to allow oil and gas operators to set their own rates for royalties they pay to the government as part of their leases for public lands drilling, High Country News reported on Thursday. 

High Country News reported that state BLM directors were emailed a document in which the national office said they should let oil and gas firms make those determinations. The document reportedly suggests a rate of 0.5 percent as opposed to the 12.5 percent fees typically paid by companies for oil and gas extracted from public lands. 

The BLM did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill about this document. 

The report comes as some in the industry have been requesting that the Trump administration lower the fees for public lands. 

Asked last month whether they would be implementing widespread royalty cuts, an Interior spokesperson told The Hill that companies that want such measures should apply for it through “established processes.”

“Entities who believe such relief may be appropriate to promote continued energy production and development can submit an application for relief to the appropriate bureau program,” the spokesperson said.

Based on the data that’s available so far, it looks as if every request sent to the government for royalty relief — 75, all of them in Utah — was granted.

Critics have argued that this demonstrated a lack of rigor in the vetting process and will harm taxpayers since the royalty money goes to the government. 

A BLM spokesperson previously defended the rate cuts, telling The Hill that they were only being done “when it is in the best interest of conservation to do so or when it would encourage the greatest ultimate recovery of our natural resources.”

Read more about the rates here.

FLOOD RISKS: Floodwaters that tore through two Michigan dams Tuesday now pose a larger environmental risk as they encroach on hazardous waste sites owned by chemical giant Dow, according to The New York Times.

Water from the Tittabawassee River near Midland, Mich., has already reached retaining ponds full of brine at the company’s complex where it still produces plastic and other chemicals.

“The material from the brine pond does not create any risk to residents or the environment,” the company wrote in a notice to residents. 

But further downriver lie the results of decades of Dow pollution being dumped into the Tittabawassee, and a surge of water could stir up contaminated sediment, further spreading the pollution. Designated a federal Superfund site, the project to clean the river was set to be completed next year.

The dioxins emitted while producing a number of Dow products are linked with cancer, immune system damage and developmental problems. 

Dow told the Times the company had implemented its flood management plan and that staff remained on site to manage any issues as a result of the flooding.

“Dow has also been and remains in close communication with EPA and state agencies and is working with them on a plan for immediate action following this flood event,” the company told The Hill by email. 

“This plan includes an inspection of each remediation project along the Tittabawassee River as flood waters recede. We will continue to follow sampling protocols to ensure the proper operation of our environmental facilities.”

Read more about the issue here

In other Superfund news… Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works are asking the EPA to turn over more robust data on Superfund sites contaminated with the chemicals known as PFAS. 

“While it is helpful to know where these substances have been found, EPA did not include information as to which specific PFAS chemicals were found at each site, or the amount of those chemicals present,” lawmakers wrote in a letter. “This information is critical to the continued response to PFAS contamination, as well as to efforts to ensure the public health and safety of the 53 million Americans that live within three miles of a Superfund site.”

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE:  Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee caught headlines this week after creating a Facebook group titled “Hypothetical: Draft Neil Chatterjee for Virginia Governor 2021” over the weekend. 

Asked about it Thursday, he said, “I was joking around with my friends on my personal social media…Maybe I should have spent more time building pillow forts. There’s only so many pillow forts you can build. I was goofing around.”

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

First piece of disputed Keystone XL pipeline finished, The Associated Press reports

Maine loon killed bald eagle by stabbing its heart, officials say, according to WGME

US critics of stay-at-home orders tied to fossil fuel funding, The Guardian reports

Rains spark fears that Va. dam will fail, The Associated Press reports

ON TAP IN…JUNE: The Senate will vote on a bill that offers permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund when it returns from recess in June, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) tweeted Thursday.

The popular bipartisan legislation would permanently direct $900 million in oil and gas revenue toward a program President Trump has repeatedly proposed gutting.

Before the pandemic, the bill looked ready for speedy passage, with a rollout of the legislation boasting at least a dozen senators.

Gardner has argued the bill “will provide billions for new jobs” tied to recreation. 

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:

Trump wants stronger oversight on China, except when it comes to climate change, writes Andrew Light, a former senior adviser to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change during the Obama administration

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Neil Chatterjee Wilbur Ross

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