Environment & Energy Report

Congress Comes Back • U.N. Homework Assignment • Climate/Personal-Injury Lawyer

Dec. 31, 2018, 12:41 PM

All eyes will be on the new Democratic majority that takes charge of the House on Thursday—but a Senate under tighter GOP control also will open the 116th Congress.

Despite the vast ideological gulf between the two chambers, one of the first acts could be passage of a short-term spending bill to end the shutdown of roughly one-quarter of the federal government, including the EPA and Interior Department. President Trump hasn’t relented in his demand for funding a border wall—and the end of the House GOP majority means support in Congress for the wall has eroded, raising the chances of a potential bipartisan deal.

Barring a last-minute Senate deal this week, Trump also will face a pile of nominees in 2019 that he’ll have to either resubmit to the Senate or find new candidates.

Nominees still waiting for floor votes in the last days of the current session—who would have to start from scratch if the Senate doesn’t act—include former Dow Chemical Co. attorney Peter Wright to head the EPA’s Superfund office; Daniel Simmons, tapped to head the Energy Department’s energy efficiency and renewable energy office; and Patrick Wyrick, a longtime Oklahoma protege of ex-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Dean Scott is covering; follow Dean on Twitter.

U.N. HOMEWORK: The United Nations has given countries, climate advocacy groups, and even oil companies a homework assignment.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants those interests to come to a September summit with detailed plans on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change above and beyond the pollution-cutting commitments they made as part of the 2015 Paris agreement.

“The summit is really a platform for the highest performers to stretch the furthest and open the doors to those who can move with them,” says Robert Orr, U.N. special adviser to the secretary-general on climate change.

Bobby Magill explains further in a story now out; follow Bobby on Twitter.

Other Stories We’re Covering

  • The Trump administration has opened a legal can of worms by proposing to keep the Obama-era limits on power plant releases of mercury and other toxic air pollutants. Amena H. Saiyid (@amenasaiyid) and Bloomberg News’ Jennifer Dlouhy (@jendlouhyhc) are following, with Amena providing a special Saturday explainer on why this is such a big deal.
  • The Supreme Court has asked the U.S. solicitor general to submit views by Friday on a pair of cases that get at the question of whether groundwater falls under the purview of federal clean water law. David Schultz (@davidbschultz) is watching.
  • For Europe’s environment and energy future, the 2019 wildcard is Brexit, and how the U.K.'s split from the European Union could change the continent’s equation on everything from greenhouse gases to pesticides. Jabeen Bhatti, Ali Qassim, Rick Mitchell (@rtmitchell), Natalia Suvorova, Marcus Hoy, Bryce Baschuk (@bbaschuk), Bogdan Turek, and Janna Brancolini (@jbrancolini) explain further in a 2019 Outlook article now out.
  • Brazilian lawmakers could pass bills in 2019 to ease pesticide regulations and relax environmental permitting requirements in an effort to revive struggling industries in South America’s biggest economy. Michael Kepp explores that issue as part of a 2019 Outlook story on South America with Lucien Chauvin (@lucienchauvin4). Lucien also has a separate Outlook article on Central America.
  • The California State Water Resources Control Board released its environmental impact review for a project that would remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River and its tributaries to reopen habitat for salmon. Comments will be accepted until Feb. 26. Emily C. Dooley (@eDooleyNoted) is tracking.

Quote of the Day

A French cultivator holds hemp fibers in May 2018.
Photographer: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images

“Until you plant it in the ground and grow it yourself, farmers are skeptics.”
—Wayne Richman, executive director of the California Hemp Association, discussing questions raised over production of the marijuana relative.

Legal Spotlight: Climate Change Boosts Personal-Injury Practice

Much of Houston lawyer Mo Aziz’s practice is at the intersection of climate change and personal injury law—two areas where he expects to stay busy.

“Unfortunately, with climate change and weak regulations, I expect to have plenty of work because there’s very little enforcement and few state regulations in Texas when it comes to the environment,” says Aziz, a partner in the Houston offices of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz.

His high-profile work includes representing:

  • First responders injured in Arkema Inc.’s Houston chemical plant explosion during Hurricane Harvey, as well as the company’s controlled burn of highly reactive chemicals in the storm’s aftermath;
  • A British journalist covering the hurricane who was electrocuted by a downed power line; and
  • Southeast Texas homeowners suing developers for allegedly not building flood-tolerant neighborhoods.

Aziz also represented families of first responders injured and killed in the 2013 West Fertilizer Company explosion that destroyed portions of the town of West, Texas.

The Arkema case had one notable similarity with West’s, he says: The companies weren’t required to provide first responders and citizens with detailed emergency plans for disasters and how the chemicals they handled could possibly harm their communities.

“These companies have to file emergency plans with local governments, but it’s not clear how that information gets relayed to first responders when emergencies do happen,” Aziz added. “Those plans also often don’t have enough information for the first responders.”

Before joining his current firm, Aziz worked at PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a business assurance auditor for four years. —Karn Dhingra

Around the Web

  • Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt is shuttling between Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers and other business interests. But his lawyer says he’s not violating the five-year ban on lobbying.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has filed a complaint against Holtec International, contending it adopted a new design for its steel and concrete nuclear waste storage casks without first getting federal approval.
  • Scientists are looking at whether air pollution increases autism risks.

This Week’s Events

  • Monday, 9 a.m. World Bank Group • World Bank Group’s Open Learning Campus holds online programs: demonstrating weather and climate services as a system of interconnected parts and processes; how some water management challenges can be addressed through private sector participation; designing monitoring, reporting, and verification systems for greenhouse gas emissions; planning and designing instruments for lowering those emissions; and how renewable energy and energy efficiency policies can contribute to green-growth strategies.
  • Wednesday, Noon Nuclear • Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds public teleconference on technical issues associated with NuScale Power LLC’s design certification application.
  • Thursday, 9 a.m. Nuclear • Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds public teleconference to discuss issues associated with safety review of licensing for Southern Nuclear Company’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Units 3 and 4.
  • Thursday, 10:30 a.m. Louisiana • Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group holds webinar meeting on draft plan to restore a coastal island that serves as a major nesting and breeding ground for the brown pelican, the state’s official bird.
  • Friday, 8 a.m. Climate • American Economic Association holds paper session on “Climate Change: Impacts and Opportunities for Adaptation” at annual meeting in Atlanta.
  • Sunday-Jan. 10, All Day Meteorology • American Meteorological Society holds annual meeting in Phoenix.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chuck McCutcheon in Washington at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com

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