Overnight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year

CHEMICAL DISASTERS: A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration over its easing of chemical plant safety regulations following a recent plant explosion in Texas that injured several people. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month finalized a rule that it said would get rid of “unnecessary and ineffective regulatory burdens,” a change that was sought by industry groups and firms.

The coalition of 13 groups challenging the rule argued in a Thursday statement, however, that the change would put millions of people who live near chemical facilities “in harm’s way.”

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“We are fighting for the lives and safety of our families and workers. Our lives are more valuable than the bottom line of a few chemical barons,” the organizations said. 

The suit comes weeks after a chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, exploded.

According to the statement, eight people were injured and about 50,000 were displaced. 

“Without the Chemical Disaster Rule, this plant won’t have to conduct an assessment of safer alternatives for the plants’ operations, be subject to an independent safety audit, apply lessons learned from this incident to prevent future problems, or even train all supervisors responsible for managing dangerous chemical processes,” the statement said. 

The administration’s side: The EPA has defended its changes, saying that they tackle security risks and improve coordination with facilities and emergency responders. 

“Accident prevention is a top priority of the EPA and this rule promotes improved coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, reduces unnecessary regulatory burdens, and addresses security risks associated with previous amendments to the RMP [risk management program] rule,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year EPA finalizes ethanol rule to chagrin of producers, oil industry Environmental groups sue Trump administration over chemical disaster prevention rollback MORE said in a statement last month. 

Who’s suing: The 13 groups suing the EPA are Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Coalition For A Safe Environment, California Communities Against Toxics, Del Amo Action Committee, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Air Alliance Houston, Community In-Power & Development Association, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Clean Air Council, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. 

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They are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice. 

“Now that Trump’s EPA has decided to try again to gut these protections, and put chemical companies’ preferences over the safety of children in danger zones, we have no choice but to go to court,” lawyer Emma Cheuse said in the statement. 

Read more about the lawsuit here. 

 

It’s the last legislative day of 2019. 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@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch and @thehill.

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NOBODY’S HAPPY: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a controversial rule on ethanol, cementing a proposal that has been heavily criticized by the nation’s ethanol producers and the petroleum industry mandated to add the corn-based substance to their fuels.

The proposal, announced with a press release headlined “EPA Fulfills Another Trump Administration Promise,” was designed to quell backlash from farmers who revolted after the EPA issued 31 waivers that exempted oil refiners from blending ethanol into their product.

But after the initial rule was proposed, each industry made clear they felt they were betrayed by an administration eager to appeal to both sides of what President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate Buttigieg, Warren square off on donors at Democratic debate Sanders, Biden spar over Medicare for All MORE views as his base.

“Agency officials had a chance to finally make things right with this final rule — but they blew it,” Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a release.

“EPA’s rule fails to deliver on President Trump’s commitment to restore integrity to the RFS, and it fails to provide the market certainty desperately needed by ethanol producers, farmers, and consumers looking for lower-cost, cleaner fuel options,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Renewable Fuel Standard policy that requires ethanol use. 

Background: Trump had promised farmers in a June meeting that he would review the waiver process used by oil companies to skirt ethanol blending. News broke in August that it was Trump himself that directed the EPA to issue more waivers.

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“The president has heard from all sides and in the end he has had enough of it. He called [EPA Administrator Andrew] Wheeler and gave him the green light,” a source familiar with the matter told Reuters at the time.

Under heavy pressure from corn growers in 2020 battleground states like Iowa, the administration again promised a fix for farmers who complained of the sting from not only shrinking ethanol markets, but an unfavorable trade market following Trump’s trade deals.

The solidified rule intends to close a key loophole in the eyes of farmers. Smaller refineries will still be allowed to obtain waivers. However, larger refineries will be obligated to blend in the gallons smaller facilities don’t, in theory maintaining a level 15 billion gallons of ethanol the oil industry as a whole must use.

But ethanol producers say the rule errs in reassigning missed gallons based on government projections rather than the actual number of gallons refineries exclude because of the waivers they receive. 

“Integrity is restored to the RFS only if the agency accurately accounts for exemptions it will grant. The rule uses an accounting formula based on Department of Energy recommendations, which EPA has a poor track record of following,” Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a group representing the ethanol industry, said in a release.

Oil companies were also miffed by the rule, arguing that companies that meet their obligation under the law should not have to add excess gallons of ethanol from companies that received a waiver.

“This misguided reallocation policy, which punishes companies for complying with the law, was not borne out of sound rulemaking that prioritizes consumer interests. We will vigorously challenge this policy in the weeks to come and continue advocating for a comprehensive legislative solution that repeals or significantly reforms the RFS,” Frank Macchiarola with the American Petroleum Institute said in a release. 

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EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler touted the policy in a letter to the Quad-City Times, a newspaper in eastern Iowa. 

“Through President Trump’s leadership, this administration continues to promote domestic ethanol and biodiesel production, supporting our nation’s farmers and providing greater energy security,” he wrote. 

Read it here. 

 

COMING UP NEXT…YEAR: House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee got together to review their priorities for the coming year. 

-Expect action on forever chemicals known as PFAS as well as asbestos now that the committee has forwarded stand alone bills. “We will pass both the PFAS action plan and the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act in the House next year if I have anything to say about it,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year Democrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 House committee advances sweeping legislation to battle ‘forever chemicals’ MORE (D-N.Y.) a sponsor of both.

-100 by 50: Lawmakers said the full package of legislation that would commit the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (or a 100 percent clean economy by 2050, if you will) can be expected in January. Tonko said members have spent the last several months meeting with a wide variety of stakeholders.

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“While we have a climate denier in office, we have the time available to put together the best product,” Tonko said.

 

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: “I am appalled, and I join with a chorus of others who demand that this midget-minded man called President Trump, that he apologizes to Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOvernight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year Democratic senators tweet photos of pile of House-passed bills ‘dead on Mitch McConnell’s desk’ CNN’s Bolduan fights tears, tells Debbie Dingell she’s ‘tired of getting emotional on air’ MORE — to the people of Michigan, to all of America — for his demeaning and ill-advised comments trying to tear down the work of an American giant. He can’t even reach the soles of John DingellJohn DingellTrump’s Dingell insults disrupt GOP unity amid impeachment Overnight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year CNN’s Bolduan fights tears, tells Debbie Dingell she’s ‘tired of getting emotional on air’ MORE‘s feet, and his words certainly are empty as he tried to demean the work of one of the finest Americans and one of the finest members of Congress that this Congress has ever seen,” Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushOvernight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension MORE (D-Ill.) said in the John Dingell Room, holding a memento of a charging bull that was once in his office.  

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

-Sage grouse slow Kanye WestKanye Omari WestOvernight Energy: Greens sue over chemical safety rollback | EPA finalizes ethanol rule in face of opposition | House Dems detail environmental priorities for next year Kanye to join Joel Osteen on tour at Yankee Stadium: report A$AP Rocky blocked from performing in Swedish prison where he was held MORE‘s Wyoming building project, the Associated Press reports.

-Australia’s New South Wales Declares State of Emergency As Wildfires Continue, the Associated Press reports.

-Burning Man Is Suing the US Government, Billboard reports.

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