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Pruitt’s Glider Moves • Mercury to Arise at Hearing • Jurors and Jell-O

March 18, 2019, 11:41 AM

Not long after Scott Pruitt became EPA chief, his office swiftly went to work trying to comply with a Republican House member’s request to ease air pollution limits on trucks with rebuilt engines, Abby Smith reports this morning in an exclusive story.

In 2017, then-Tennessee Rep. Diane Black urged Pruitt to undo limits on “glider kits"—new truck chassis and cab assemblies built for used engines and transmissions. Her office heard back from an EPA official within a week saying Pruitt “wants to be helpful,” according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The agency’s move drew widespread opposition. But it had support from the glider kit makers it would benefit—including Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the largest U.S. maker of the equipment, and headquartered in the district Black represented until January.

The EPA didn’t initially publicly release Pruitt’s calendar, shielding from the public his meetings with companies such as Fitzgerald.

“What strikes me here is the total lack of transparency,” says Steven Silverman, a former attorney who worked in EPA’s Office of General Counsel from 1980 to 2017.

MERCURY HEARING: The EPA holds what promises to be a raucous daylong public hearing today on its proposal to retain 2012 mercury and air toxic standards despite undoing the legal basis for the rule.

Although the agency wants to leave the rule in place, it is also taking comment on the option of repealing it, claiming that the direct benefits of reducing mercury pollution aren’t justified by the high costs of meeting the 2012 limits. That option has managed to unite the power industry—as represented by the Edison Electric Institute. But public health scientists, Obama EPA officials, and environmental engineers in crying foul.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate’s environment committee, has expressed concern that a court would toss out the standards because of the way the EPA has proposed to undo the legal basis. He has signed up to speak at the hearing.

But coal giant Murray Energy Corp., which challenged the mercury standards in federal court, praised the EPA’s action. Coal-fired power plants are the largest U.S. source of mercury pollution.

Other Stories We’re Covering

  • Companies at risk of fueling war and human rights abuses when buying metals are exploring the use of blockchain. They want to reduce the likelihood that unethically mined minerals will enter their supply chains.
  • The deadline to comment on the EPA’s plans to rewrite Obama-era carbon limits for new coal plants closes today. The EPA proposed in December to lift requirements for new facilities to install partial carbon capture technology and instead put in place softer limits for coal plants based on how efficiently they burn.
  • This week’s Association for Environmental Health and Sciences Foundation’s annual West Coast conference on remediation and sustainability in San Diego will cover fluorinated chemicals, environmental forensics, and local regulations in addition to other topics.
  • The EPA’s internal watchdog plans to release an audit of the fiscal year 2017 financial statements for the agency’s electronic manifest system for tracking hazardous waste.
  • The Climate Leadership Conference in Baltimore on Wednesday through Friday features New York Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko, Exelon Corp. President and CEO Chris Crane, and Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.

Quote of the Day

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“This is a smash-and-grab job on our environment.”
—House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), reacting to rule changes allowing oil and gas drilling, mining, and other development activities in greater sage grouse habitat areas that were previously off-limits.

Legal Spotlight: Philadelphia Jury Consultant Uses Unusual Props

Of all the props Mark Calzaretta has used to help juries understand environmental contamination, his favorite was Jell-O in a fish tank.

As founding partner and director of litigation consulting at Magna Legal Services, a Philadelphia-based company that provides legal support and jury consulting, Calzaretta works with attorneys to do jury research, develop case strategies, prepare witnesses, and create visual aids to help tell the stories behind a case in easy-to-understand terms.

“We create the visual strategy to go along with the story,” he said.

Calzaretta, who has a degree in psychology and anthropology, has worked in litigation consulting for more than 15 years. He wouldn’t discuss his clients, though his website says he’s worked on “numerous asbestos cases” and “numerous toxic tort cases.”

Complex environmental cases often need visuals to explain to juries how contaminants from one place move to another. Magna sometimes flies planes over a site and uses lasers to map out terrain, or drills into bedrock below contaminated sites to get samples of what lies underneath.

The Jell-O was used to help explain the term “DNAPL.” Short for “dense nonaqueous-phase liquids,” environmental engineers use the acronym to describe toxic contaminants that are both denser than water and don’t dissolve.

Chlorinated solvents such as tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene are examples of DNAPLs that linger in the soil and water around old manufacturing sites.

A company tried to convince the jury it was impossible that residual chemicals from its product could have fallen to the bottom of a pond and seeped into groundwater. Calzaretta’s team brought in a five-gallon fish tank into the court room, dumped a dessert cup of green Jell-O in the tank, and let the jury watch it sink to the rocks on the bottom.

If they waited long enough, the team explained, the Jell-O would ooze down into the rocks to layer underneath.

“That’s what happens when you put contaminants into the water system,” Calzaretta said. “And all the jurors were like, ‘That’s awesome. I totally get it! How could it not get in the groundwater?’” —Leslie A. Pappas

Around the Web

  • Kentucky homeowners who install solar panels will likely get less credit for the power they generate as a result of state lawmakers’ approval of a bill that drew criticism from the solar industry.
  • A group of senators reintroduced a bill that would ban seismic airgun blasting—blasting compressed air toward the ocean floor in search of oil and gas—in the North Atlantic, Mid Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Straits of Florida.
  • Christopher Guith is becoming acting president and CEO of U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute following Karen Harbert’s departure for the American Gas Association. Guith has been senior vice president of policy.

This Week’s Events (all times Eastern):

  • Monday-Wednesday, All Day Microgrids • Microgrid Global Innovation Forum-North America brings together utilities, energy providers, and others on technological developments, design, implementation and operation of hybrid renewable energy microgrids.
  • Monday-Tuesday, All Day Fuel/Petrochemicals • American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers holds annual meeting in San Antonio featuring Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • Monday, 5 p.m. Pollution • California Assembly Committee on Natural Resources holds hearing about Air Resources Board efforts to reduce emissions in polluted communities.
  • Monday, 8 p.m. PG&E • Environmental Law Institute holds forum in San Francisco on PG&E’s bankruptcy and implications for California’s clean-energy future.
  • Tuesday, All Day Decarbonization • Global CCS Institute holds forum on the realities of decarbonizing the U.S. economy to fight climate change.
  • Tuesday, All Day Climate • National Geographic hosts interactive summit to explore global climate change through the lens of human behavior.
  • Tuesday, Noon Nuclear • Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds luncheon on “Nuclear Energy 101.”
  • Tuesday, 12:30 p.m. Salton Sea • California State Water Resources Control Board holds workshop about Salton Sea restoration efforts.
  • Tuesday, 12:45 p.m. Chu • Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu discusses climate and energy policy at the University of Chicago.
  • Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. Arctic • Wilson Center holds webcast forum on a new report on the Arctic from Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.
  • Tuesday, 3 p.m. Environmental Health • EPA holds webinar on environmental health literacy.
  • Wednesday-Friday, All Day Climate • The Climate Leadership Conference in Baltimore features New York Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko, Exelon Corp. President and CEO Chris Crane, and Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan.
  • Wednesday, All Day Renewables • American Council on Renewable Energy’s Renewable Energy Policy Forum features Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Bernard McNamee.
  • Wednesday, 9 a.m. Water • Wilson Center holds webcast forum on implementing the U.S. Global Water Strategy.
  • Wednesday, 10 a.m. Nuclear • Nuclear Regulatory Commission meets with the Organization of Agreement States and the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors.
  • Wednesday, 10 a.m. Transportation • Bipartisan Policy Center holds forum on sustainable funding for transportation.
  • Wednesday, 11 a.m. U.S.-Japan • Atlantic Council holds discussion on geopolitics, energy security, and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
  • Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. Africa • World Resources Institute holds forum on challenges and possible solutions that African businesses can implement to prosper in the face of climate change.
  • Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. Plastic Pollution • California Senate committees on Environmental Quality and Natural Resources and Water hold joint hearing about plastic pollution in ocean waters.
  • Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. Nuclear Waste • Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds public meeting on its review of the license for Interim Storage Partners’ proposed high-level commercial nuclear waste storage site in Andrews County, Texas.
  • Wednesday, 4 p.m. Chevron Doctrine • Cato Institute holds forum on the “Chevron Doctrine,” which says courts should defer to executive agencies’ interpretations on ambiguous statutes.
  • Thursday, 10 a.m. FERC • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds monthly meeting.
  • Thursday, 10 a.m. Forest Crime • Environmental Law Institute, National Whistleblower Center, and International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement hold seminar on the role of citizens in fighting forest crime.
  • Thursday, Noon Energy Storage • University of Pennsylvania’s energy policy center holds forum on energy storage in Philadelphia.
  • Thursday, Noon Air • California Air Resources Board holds monthly meeting to discuss community air monitoring efforts and health effects from freight traffic.
  • Thursday, 4 p.m. Heat Waves • U.S. Agency for International Development’s Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project holds forum on understanding and responding to increasingly frequent and severe heat waves and their health impacts.
  • Friday, All Day WaterWorld Water Day features events in the U.S. and other countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chuck McCutcheon in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Susan Bruninga at; Rob Tricchinelli at