Disasters and Superfund Sites • Clean Air Bills Moving • EPA to Get Earful at Hearing

By Chuck McCutcheon

Senators will talk today about toxic waste sites and what to do after natural disasters inflict damage on them.

The Senate Environment and Public Works’ subcommittee on Superfund and waste management will look not only at the impact on toxic-waste sites from the recent hurricanes in the southeastern U.S., but also how California’s record-setting wildfires affected toxic sites.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, told David Schultz she’ll be highlighting the need for greater accountability at Superfund sites from both the EPA and the companies that are responsible for dumping waste on them. But South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds, the subcommittee chairman, emphasized he wants to avoid a “gotcha” hearing, in which lawmakers seek only to make federal officials look bad.

The problem of natural disasters affecting Superfund sites predates this year’s hurricane and wildfire season. In 2011, floods caused by Hurricane Irene threatened berms for benzene-laden lagoons at a New Jersey Superfund site, requiring reinforcement of the structures to withstand similar floods.

It’s a productive day for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will mark up seven bills for eventual House floor action.

Four of those bills are meant to relax clean air rules for industry. One throws a lifeline to plants powered by coal waste that can’t conform to EPA’s mercury rule; another extends the date by which brick makers have to control hazardous air pollution from their kilns.

A third clean-air bill gives manufacturers three more years before their heaters have to meet more stringent emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. A final one excludes cars made or modified for racing from being regulated as motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. Stephen Lee is tracking.

The EPA is likely to get an earful from all sides today when it discusses at a public meeting how it’s changed its reviews of new chemicals following changes Congress made last year to the primary U.S. chemicals law.

Chemical manufacturers remain frustrated with how long it takes the EPA to review chemicals they’d like to bring to market. Meanwhile, environmental and health advocates are frustrated the agency isn’t being more rigorous or transparent. Steve Gibb is covering.

Other Stories We’re Covering
  • The Senate’s environment committee holds a hearing on the nomination of R.D. James, an engineer for the Mississippi River Commission, to lead the Army Corps of Engineers. David Schultz is covering.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative holds a hearing on a pending solar panel trade case. The International Trade Commission in September decided that the solar industry is being hurt by cheap solar panel imports, recommending that President Trump take action.
  • A host of agencies are expected to meet Dec. 13 at Energy Department-sponsored talks to discuss plans for the future of Puerto Rico’s storm-ravaged electricity grid, Deputy Energy Secretary Mark Menezes tells Rebecca Kern. Likely participants include FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, New York Power Authority, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, and the Energy Department’s national labs.
Pope Francis appears with Cardinal Peter Turkson at the Vatican in November 2016.
Photographer: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Quote of the Day

“America First. America can be first, only you have to ask the question of who must be number two? What does it take for one to be first and for another one to be number two?”
—Cardinal Peter Turkson, who led the drafting of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical letter on climate change and the environment, in calling for the European Union or China to fill the void left by the U.S. after President Trump’s decision to pull the country out of the Paris Agreement.

Around the Web
  • FERC Acting Chairman Neil Chatterjee has gotten into a spat with actor/environmental activist James Cromwell, known for his roles in “Babe” and “L.A. Confidential,” following Cromwell’s participation in recent pipeline protests. Cromwell’s criticism of Chatterjee and FERC led Chatterjee to refer to the actor as a “C-list movie star,” then—following further barbs from the actor—posted “Come at me bro!” above a screenshot on Cromwell’s Facebook page.
  • The Texas county that’s home to Houston has adopted regulations that will, for the first time in two decades, increase the amount that new homes must be elevated to avoid floodwaters.
  • Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse and six other Senate Democrats want Congress’ watchdog arm to analyze the social cost of carbon—an influential figure used to weigh the value of efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions—after Trump administration agencies used lower values in a recent regulatory analysis.
Today’s Events
  • 10 a.m.Endangered Fish • House Natural Resources panel holds hearing on a bill to extend endangered fish recovery programs.
  • 12:30 p.m.Agriculture/Environment • American Enterprise Institute sponsors talk with agricultural economists on conservation programs, Renewable Fuel Standard, and Clean Water Rule.
  • 3 p.m.Water Infrastructure • Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut will host a discussion on water infrastructure at the Capitol as part of Kildee’s “Future of America’s Cities and Towns” initiative.
  • All DayElectricity • gridCONNEXT conference brings together business, utility, and policymakers to explore topics affecting the electricity grid at the national, regional, state, and local levels. Scheduled speakers include Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate’s energy committee, and Bruce Walker, assistant energy secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability.