Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy & Environment — EPA advisers back tighter soot standards

Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: digital-stage.thehill.com/newsletter-signup.  

Today we’re looking at proposed new soot air quality standards from the EPA, the Agriculture Department’s latest proposal on green farming, and how “bomb cyclones” may become more common.

For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@digital-stage.thehill.com and zbudryk@digital-stage.thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let’s jump in.

 

Draft pushes for tighter air quality standards 

A flag of the Environmental Protection Agency is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 3

In a new draft document, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) science advisers recommended that the agency tighten its air quality standards for soot pollution after the Trump administration declined to make such a move.  

The new draft released Friday by the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) says “all CASAC members agree that the current level of the annual standard is not sufficiently protective of public health and should be lowered.” 

The story so far: In late 2020, the Trump administration declined to tighten the standard for soot pollution, leaving it at the level finalized under the Obama administration.  

But in June 2021, the Biden administration said that it would reconsider that decision.  

In October, the agency identified evidence for tightening the standard, saying in a draft assessment that air quality analyses and risk can “reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the … standards.” 

The Trump administration’s decision was controversial, as critics noted that findings reviewed by the agency have linked exposure to the pollution to as many as 52,100 premature deaths and suggested that stricter standards could save thousands of people.  

Soot pollution has been linked to heart attacks, aggravated asthma and decreased lung function, as well as premature deaths.  

This type of pollution comes from sources including fires, smokestacks and construction sites, as well as from pollution released by power plants and cars.  

So what’s new? The new draft from the CASAC bolsters the EPA’s plans, and it is expected to propose a rule that reevaluates the current standards this summer and finalizes the rule next year. 

The document said that the majority of CASAC members said the standard should be lowered significantly, from allowing concentrations of 12 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air to allowing between 8 and 10 micrograms. 

A minority of the members preferred a less stringent standard of between 10 and 11 micrograms per cubic meter. 

Read more about the proposal here.

USDA pledges $1B for climate-friendly farming

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest up to $1 billion in pilot projects that reduce planet-warming emissions or store carbon to prevent them from being released into the air. 

The department announced its new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative on Monday, saying it will aim to support “climate-smart” farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.  

What’s eligible? Practices that can receive funding under the initiative include reforestation and sustainable forest management, and feed management for animals to cut the amount of planet-warming glasses they belch.  

Funding for the project will come from the Commodity Credit Corporation, a government-owned corporation whose funds are used to implement programs established by Congress. 

“USDA will provide targeted funding to meet national and global demand and expand market opportunities for climate-smart commodities to increase the competitive advantage of American producers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement on the program. 

It was met with some Republican pushback, as Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) accused the department of trying to get around Congress.  

“While I am a staunch supporter of conservation and believe farmers are the original conservationists, I write today with concerns that the USDA is using the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) account in an attempt to circumvent the Farm Bill process where programs are established by and with congressional consent,” he wrote in a letter to Vilsack on Monday. 

Read more about the announcement here.

BLIZZARD ‘BOMB CYCLONES’ GET WARM OCEAN BOOST

The warming of ocean waters through climate change creates ideal conditions for more “bomb cyclone” events like the one that battered the Northeast with extreme winter weather in late January, experts say. 

The storm brought 23.6 inches of snow to the Boston area, tying its single-day snowfall record, and led to at least four deaths on Long Island, N.Y. Across Massachusetts, nearly 9,000 customers were left without power for the remainder of the weekend.  

A bomb cyclone, also known as explosive cyclogenesis, is formed by air close to the surface of the planet rising rapidly, causing barometric pressure to plunge. The lower pressure is usually directly proportional to the storm’s intensity. 

Climatologists say that while it’s unclear whether climate change is leading to more storms and hurricanes, it likely correlates with more intense storms. Barry Keim, a climatologist at the University of Louisiana who also serves as the state climatologist, said there is likely a similar dynamic with bomb cyclones. 

“It’s sort of like rapid intensification of a hurricane. It’s the same basic kind of phenomenon, except we’re not dealing with hurricanes. In this case, we’re not dealing with tropical cyclones, but we’re dealing with what we call extra-tropical cyclones,” Keim told The Hill. 

The direct relationship between climate change and explosive cyclogenesis merits further study, Keim said, but by definition increasing ocean temperatures heighten conditions for more intense bomb cyclones. 

“By and large … the oceans are getting warmer,” Keim said, adding warming surface temperatures can fuel bomb cyclones in the form of the “Arctic intrusion of air spilling out of Canada across the eastern United States, and [you] have that gradually drift off to East Coast” where it “start[s] interacting with this incredibly warm moist air.” 

Read more about the phenomenon here.

BIDEN WARNS RUSSIA OVER PIPELINE

President Biden insisted Monday that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany would be brought to an end if the Kremlin chose to launch a renewed military invasion of Ukraine. 

“If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it,” Biden said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “I promise you we will be able to do that.” 

Biden did not expand on his conversations with Scholz about the pipeline, nor did he explain how the U.S. would ensure the pipeline would be halted given that it is under Germany’s control. Scholz also insisted there would be no daylight between the United States, Germany and other European partners but declined to directly address the pipeline project, which has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Germany. 

“We have intensively prepared everything to be ready with the necessary sanctions if there is military aggression against Ukraine,” Scholz said, adding in English, “We will be united. We will act together and we will take all the necessary steps and all the necessary steps will be taken by us together.”  

Scholz said that Russia would face “severe” consequences if it invades Ukraine but declined to elaborate on the specific sanctions on the table. 

Read more from The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant.

 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will reexamine the nomination of Laura Daniel-Davis to be Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, and will also look at Biden’s picks to lead the Energy Information Administration and the Energy Department’s Office of Electricity  
  • The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing examining Big Oil’s climate pledges  
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing titled “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Environmental Policy Making: The Role of Environmental Organizations and Grantmaking Foundations”

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Documents show major gaps in Texas gas inspections (E&E News
  • Climate Change Enters the Therapy Room (The New York Times
  • Protecting wildlife to stop viruses jumping to humans would save far more than it costs, analysis shows (The Guardian
  • Biden’s top science adviser bullied and demeaned subordinates, according to White House investigation (Politico)
  • Greg Abbott, Texas electricity grid passes first test, but power system remains far from fixed (The Dallas Morning News

 

ICYMI

And finally, something off-beat and offbeat: Peak Peacock 

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 Tuesday.

Tags Greg Abbott Joe Biden Roger Marshall Tom Vilsack

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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