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INTERFERENCE CALL: EPA alleges political modifications

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday asserted that political appointees from the Trump administration interfered with a safety assessment for a chemical linked to health issues.

The agency said in a statement that it was removing from its website a toxicity assessment for a compound known as PFBS due to the alleged interference.

Expert insight: Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, a career agency scientist, told The Hill in an interview that the interference resulted in a range of values being given for PFBS’s toxicity, as opposed to just one value that was in an initial assessment from career scientists.

“We had a document that was, in our eyes final, it had gone through a pretty rigorous process of review,” said Orme-Zavaleta, who serves as acting assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development. “All of that information had been incorporated into a document that we had been ready to go final with and then the document was modified.”

“What was posted provided different values that could be used by other parties rather than a clear conclusion, a clear assessment from the scientists’ perspective,” she added. 

What’s at stake? The EPA official raised concerns that a range of numbers would allow those who use the toxicity assessments, like those participating in hazardous waste cleanup, to “cherry pick” whichever number they wanted to use.

“Historically the agency has not put out a range. We put out a reference value that can then be applied in decisions,” Orme-Zavaleta said. “In the case of Superfund, this would help inform a cleanup level and if you give them a range of numbers, then whoever has to do that cleanup, they could pick a number that best suited their purposes.”

PFBS is part of a class of toxic chemicals called PFAS and has been estimated to be in the drinking water of 862,000 people. 

A Trump official argues it’s not about integrity:  David Dunlap, a Trump administration official who had been serving as deputy assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, disagreed that the incident was a scientific integrity issue, arguing instead that the use of multiple values was a “compromise” amid disagreements. 

“There’s scientists in ORD who want to do it one way and there’s scientists in [the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention who] believe that it should be done better another and this disagreement was evident months ago,” Dunlap said.

Read more about the EPA’s removal of the assessment here. 

FREEZING IN THE ARCTIC: Biden wants delay on Arctic drilling

The Biden administration is seeking a two-month delay on cases challenging the Trump administration’s plans to open the Arctic to drilling.

On his first day in office, President BidenJoe BidenPostal Service posts profits after surge in holiday deliveries Overnight Defense: Pentagon pushes to root out extremism in ranks | Top admiral condemns extremism after noose, hate speech discovered GOP senators send clear signal: Trump’s getting acquitted MORE ordered a moratorium of drilling activity in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) “in light of the alleged legal deficiencies underlying the program, including the inadequacy of the environmental review.”

Backstory: Four different groups, including environmentalists, the Gwich’in people and several state attorneys general had sued over environmental analysis used by the Trump administration to justify opening the area to drilling.

“Defendants request a stay of 60 days so that new Administration officials may evaluate the litigation and determine whether and how the executive order and the policy direction described therein may impact the government’s position in this case,” the Department of the Interior wrote in its brief.

The Trump administration approved leases for drilling in ANWR on its last full day in office. That followed a rushed lease sale that raised just over $14 million, well below the billion-dollar figure lawmakers projected from two sales in the area when authorization to drill in ANWR was included in the 2017 tax reform bill. 

Read more about the stay request here.

GIVE ME A SECOND (IN COMMAND): Biden names pick for deputy Energy chief

President Biden on Wednesday named former Obama administration official David Turk as his choice for the No. 2 role at the Department of Energy.

He’ll have to be confirmed by the Senate before taking on the new role. 

Turk will serve as second-in-command to Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate committee advances Granholm nomination to lead Energy | EPA nominee Regan pledges ‘urgency’ on climate change at confirmation hearing | Omar calls on Biden to block pipeline being built in Minnesota Senate committee advances Granholm nomination to lead Energy Overnight Energy:  Automakers withdraw from litigation over California vehicle emissions standard |Senate confirms Buttigieg as Transportation secretary | Republicans introduce long shot bill to circumvent Biden on Keystone XL MORE, the former Democratic governor of Michigan, if both officials are confirmed. 

His credentials: Turk has been working at the International Energy Agency, which aims to help countries with energy security and sustainability, since 2016. 

Prior to that, he held roles such as deputy assistant secretary for international climate and technology at the Department of Energy and deputy special envoy for climate change at the State Department. He has also served on the National Security Council. 

What does the WH have to say? A White House statement announcing the nominees described Turk and Julie Su, Biden’s pick to be second-in-command at the Labor Department, as “tested and experienced leaders.”

The potential deputy’s thoughts:“Growing up in a small Midwestern town, I saw up close our community struggle when the local steel mill downsized and laid off more and more workers,” Turk told The Washington Post in a statement. 

“If confirmed, I’ll carry this experience to my work at the Department of Energy to make sure we listen to the voices of workers and families impacted by changing economic conditions so the clean energy future we build creates good-paying jobs in all corners of our country,” he added.

Read more about Biden’s selection here

WHAT WE’RE READING:

‘I’m really scared’: Neighbors sound off after 600-gallon oil spill near Richmond’s Chevron refinery, KGO-TV reports

Facing A Reckoning, Wyoming Wrestles With A Transition From Fossil Fuels, NPR reports

‘It’s just a free-for-all’: As water declines in rural Arizona, oversight faces resistance, The Arizona Republic reports

ICYMIStories from Wednesday (and Tuesday night)

Biden names pick for deputy Energy chief

Biden seeks delays on Arctic drilling challenges

EPA alleges political interference by Trump officials over toxic chemical

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:

Ezra Silk and Margaret Klein Salamon, co-founders The Climate Mobilization opine on five things Biden should do to tackle the climate emergency.

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