Overnight Energy: Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards | Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 | Study finds shutdown of coal plants saved 26K lives

HEAVY DUTY TRUCKS, LIGHT SKEPTICISM: The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest plans to overhaul trucking regulations are being met with some skepticism from environmental and health groups who worry the agency’s track could undermine tougher state regulations that are in the works.

Flanked by trucking association leaders near Interstate-66 in Virginia, EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards | Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 | Study finds shutdown of coal plants saved 26K lives Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards Trump EPA has largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years MORE announced the agency’s intention to regulate nitrogen oxide, a byproduct of vehicle emissions tied with a host of health problems. 

“The trucking industry touches nearly every part of our economy. A strong and resilient trucking industry is imperative to maintaining a strong and resilient economy. Through this initiative, we will modernize heavy-duty truck engines, improving their efficiency and reducing their emissions, which will lead to a healthier environment,” Wheeler said.

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A big deal for EPA: The so-called Cleaner Trucks Initiative proposal is expected later this year, with Monday’s event kicking off a period for stakeholders to offer feedback on just how the EPA should regulate nitrogen oxide, updating regulations for the first time since 2000.

Trucking groups have asked for updates to the regulations, along with a host of environmental groups. 

An update to the rules could be a major achievement for an agency often chided — and sued — for rolling back environmental regulations rather than boosting them. 

 

Why some groups are skeptical: But environmental and health groups expressed concern Monday the EPA regulations may not be as stringent as they could or should be, while stymying efforts in California to set ambitious nitrogen oxide standards of their own.

“There’s a fear that there’s an attempt by the truck engine manufacturers to undermine or weaken what California is pursuing by going through EPA,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. 

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Messaging from the American Trucking Association (ATA) shows a clear desire to avoid the dueling standards that could result once California finalizes its own proposal.

“ATA is committed to continuing to work closely with EPA on developing the next generation of low-[nitrogen oxide] emitting trucks through the Cleaner Trucks Initiative. To this end, the trucking industry seeks one national, harmonized [nitrogen oxide] emissions standard that will result in positive environmental progress while not compromising truck performance and delivery of the nation’s goods,” Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy, said in a statement.

 

The big picture: California and the EPA have been in a long battle over another set of regulations dealing with emissions from cars. The state and agency are locked in a legal battle after the EPA revokes its waiver for setting tougher tailpipe emission standards that are in turn adopted by many other states over the federal ones. 

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Billings said when it comes to trucking regulations, groups don’t fear the same rollback the EPA has proposed for cars.

“What’s different here is that the EPA is not just trying to blow up and destroy effective regulations. This is an attempt by EPA to actually improve on the status quo. The question is will

they improve it in ways that are meaningful and significantly reduce pollution and protect public health or will they take modest, limited steps?” he asked.

Read more about the initiative here.

 

AND WE’RE BACK. 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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THE YEAR AHEAD: 2020 is shaping up to be a busy year on the energy and environmental front.

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Here are the five biggest fights we’ll be watching in the year ahead (streamlined edition).

 

EPA’s regulatory rollback

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said he is often asked how the agency can protect the environment by rolling back regulations.

“This question assumes that regulation is the only path to environmental protection,” Wheeler told the Detroit Economic Club in October. “Innovation and technology have led to remarkable environmental progress and often deregulation is necessary to spur on that innovation. Furthermore, deregulation does not always mean rolling back rules. More often than not it means modernizing or simplifying or streamlining regulations.”

But the flood of lawsuits against the agency and the Interior Department make it clear not everyone shares that view.

In 2019 alone, states or environmental groups, often together, have sued over rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act, tailpipe emissions rules, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. rule, offshore drilling safety regulations, and the easing of efficiency standards for lightbulbs, just to name lawsuits working their way through the courts. 

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The Supreme Court will be hearing two cases, one a lawsuit from the Sierra Club challenging President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump offers Australian PM assistance in fighting widespread fires Trump administration officials begin drafting potential Iraq sanctions after Trump threat: report Pence to focus on US Iran policy in speech MORE‘s border wall and another case involving a challenge to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

And there are more controversial regulations coming down that are likely to spur lawsuits.

 

Climate change

The Democratic House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to roll out legislation to reach a 100 percent clean economy by 2050, commonly known as “100 by 50.”

Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards | Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 | Study finds shutdown of coal plants saved 26K lives Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 Lawmakers back to square one on ‘forever chemicals’ MORE (D-N.Y.) and others have been tinkering away on the plan for some time, meeting with a wide variety of stakeholders, including those who might normally oppose sweeping climate legislation.

“While we have a climate denier in office, we have the time available to put together the best product,” Tonko said at a press conference before Congress left for recess.

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California lawsuits 

Sure, a lot of states like to sue over Trump’s environmental rollbacks, but perhaps none have been as litigious as California — or been targeted by the administration.

One of the biggest points of contention between the White House and the most populous state in the nation has centered on efforts to roll back fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions standards for vehicles. 

California hasn’t just been fighting to preserve its right to maintain tougher standards than the federal government. They also brokered a deal with some automakers to continue to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles — something the Department of Justice decided to investigate.

The court battles are only expected to escalate in 2020. California has sued the Trump administration over environmental rules 34 times, and many of those cases are still working their way through court. 

 

Forever chemicals

The class of chemicals abbreviated as PFAS and commonly known as “forever chemicals” are used in products as diverse as nonstick cookware to firefighting foam, but the problem is their spread into the water supply, and from there, into human bodies.

Efforts to regulate the cancer-linked chemical were stripped from the most likely vehicle: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Some funding to address PFAS was placed in a House appropriations bill, but the policy effort now rests squarely on a stand-alone bill being pushed by House Democrats over objections from Republicans that it may be too far-reaching. Expect that legislation to come to the floor in January. 

 

Oversight

The long simmering battle between Congress and environmental agencies may finally boil over in the new year.

2019 brought new faces to the Department of Interior and EPA — two agencies whose leaders had dominated headlines for alleged conflicts of interest and ethical lapses. 

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has been inching toward a subpoena of Interior for some time, holding a hearing on the agency’s refusal to turn over documents on a number of inquiries and threatening a subpoena over plans to relocate the Bureau of Land Management.

Read our full preview of what to watch in 2020 here.

 

REPORT ROUNDUP: The decline of coal could be saving thousands of lives as power plants reduce air pollution by switching to natural gas, according to a study published Monday.

More than 26,000 lives in the U.S. were saved over the course of a decade as a result of a drop in carbon emissions, along with smog and other pollutants tied with asthma and other ailments, according to a University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature.

Coal has been losing ground to both natural gas and renewable forms of energy like wind and solar, despite efforts by the Trump administration to bolster the industry.

From 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down, while 612 new natural gas-fired units came online across the U.S.

The study found the health benefits from the decrease in pollution were almost immediate and corresponded with a drop in the mortality rate.

Natural gas, however, is “not entirely benign,” the study noted, as the fossil fuel is a major source of methane — a heat-trapping gas more potent than carbon.

Read the full story here.

 

PERRY’S NEW GIG: Former Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards | Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 | Study finds shutdown of coal plants saved 26K lives Rick Perry rejoins pipeline company God did not elect Trump, people did MORE was appointed to the board of the general partner that controls pipeline company Energy Transfer LP following his exit from the Trump administration.

Perry was appointed as a director of LE GP LLC, the general partner of the company Energy Transfer, on Jan. 1, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. 

The filing says that Perry will be eligible for “cash compensation” for his work on the board.

He previously sat on the board of Energy Transfer until the end of 2016, according to ethics paperwork. 

Energy Transfer is known for building pipelines, including the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which was protested by Native American groups and others. 

Read more about Perry’s plans here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

-Loons could be declining in population in northern Wisconsin. Is it the fish? the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks.

-To fight climate change, one city may ban heating homes with natural gas, The New York Times reports. 

-Australian wildfires are turning the New Zealand sky an apocalyptic orange, The Washington Post reports.

-Alaska tribal groups condemn federal plan to open up millions of acres to mining interests, the Anchorage Daily News reports.

 

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and over the weekend…

Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards

Greta Thunberg dismisses Meat Loaf’s claims that she’s ‘brainwashed’: ‘It’s all about scientific facts’

Shuttering of coal plants has saved 26K lives in US: study

Puerto Rico hit by magnitude 5.8 earthquake

Puerto Rico earthquake destroys iconic natural landmark

Rick Perry rejoins pipeline company

Australia reservists called up to fight growing wildfires

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