Supreme Court rules to EPA needs Congress approval to set standards, Gives Biden thumbs up to end ‘Remain in Mexico policy’

Important Takeaways:

  • Supreme Court Issues Final Rulings, Curbs EPA Overreach, Gives Biden the OK to End ‘Remain in Mexico’
  • The most high-profile case today was about U.S. immigration policy. The Court said President Biden has the right to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy which was a Trump administration rule that allowed asylum seekers to be deported while they waited for their cases to be heard.
    • The policy was quite effective at stemming the flood of migrants at the border. Four months after it was put in place, detentions at the border declined more than 60 percent.
  • Court Tells EPA to Back Off
    • The high court also issued a ruling about government overreach, clarifying the separation of powers
    • The justices ruled 6-3 that the Environmental Protection Agency, which is currently controlled by the Biden administration, doesn’t have the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants unless Congress gives it the clear authority to do so.
    •  “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day’”
    • But he further explained, “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”
  • And finally at the Supreme Court today, there is a changing of the guard.
    • Justice Stephen Breyer officially steps down at noon, after serving 27 years. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court’s first African-American woman, will then be sworn in.

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West Virginia v. EPA could also be huge

Exodus 18:21 “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.

Important Takeaways:

  • One more blockbuster Supreme Court decision could still be coming even after Friday’s abortion ruling
  • West Virginia vs. the EPA asks whether important policies that impact the lives of all Americans should be made by unelected D.C. bureaucrats or by Congress. This SCOTUS could well decide that ruling by executive agency fiat is no longer acceptable.
  • The case involves the Clean Power Plan, which was adopted under President Barack Obama to fight climate change; the program was estimated to cost as much as $33 billion per year and would have completely reordered our nation’s power grid. The state of West Virginia, joined by two coal companies and others, sued the EPA, arguing the plan was an abuse of power.
  • By deciding in favor of West Virginia, the court could begin to rein in the vast powers of the alphabet agencies in D.C. that run our lives and return it to legislators whom we elect to create…legislation.

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Exclusive-Farm Belt lawmakers push for biofuel investment and tax credits in new bills

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – Billions of dollars in federal investments and tax credits to boost demand for U.S. biofuels will be part of two bills that Democratic lawmakers will introduce to the U.S. Congress, two sources familiar with the plans said.

Congress members from rural states will introduce bills in coming weeks seeking federal funds to add more high-biofuel blend pumps at retail stations and tax credits for automakers that put more “flex-fuel” vehicles on the road.

President Joe Biden was expected to give an update on Monday on whether the White House will accept a pared-down infrastructure bill negotiated by bipartisan group of lawmakers. If that happens, the sources said, the biofuels bills could be rolled into a massive spending bill with economic priorities Biden omitted from the infrastructure talks. Democrats and the White House hope the spending bill will pass along party lines this fall in a process called reconciliation.

The biofuels industry, including Archer Daniels Midland and Renewable Energy Group among others, is under pressure as the administration mulls cutting biofuel mandates to help U.S. oil refiners deal with rising regulatory costs.

Farm Belt Democrats including Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representatives Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Cindy Axne of Iowa are leading the charge to support biofuels, sources said. These lawmakers often chide their party for paying too little attention to rural communities.

The lawmakers plan to seek $2 billion in funding to pay for new fuel pumps and other infrastructure for providing higher biofuel blends like ethanol and biodiesel. They are seeking a 5-cent-per-gallon tax credit for gas stations offering so-called E15, which is gasoline that contains 15% ethanol.

They also are seeking a $200 per car tax credit for automakers that make “flex fuel” vehicles that can run on virtually any blend of gasoline or ethanol.

Slim majorities in the House and Senate will embolden Democratic lawmakers to fight for pet projects and regional demands, in exchange for supporting the major spending plan. Congressional aides and White House officials have warned that those regional and special interests could swell the spending bill and complicate efforts to move ahead on a party-line vote.

BIDEN’S COMPETING PRIORITIES

While farm states want the White House to help the biofuels industry, labor groups and another group of Democratic senators have a competing demand for helping lower costs for refiners. The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard requires refiners to blend biofuels like ethanol into fuel or buy tradable credits from competitors who do.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency is weighing a nationwide general waiver exempting U.S. refiners from some obligations. This would lower the amount of renewable fuel refiners must blend in the future and create a price cap on compliance credits.

Another priority for Biden has been boosting electric vehicles. He included $174 billion to pay for charging stations in his ‘American Jobs Plan’ introduced in March.

Electric vehicles are key to Biden’s drive to get the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Environmental groups may see biofuel investments as counter to those goals.

“Investments into our electric vehicle system are necessary and good, but liquid fuel is not going to disappear overnight,” Bustos told Reuters. She acknowledged her support for the biofuels market but did not share any bill details.

“The way we look at is biofuels have the potential to drive down our carbon emissions now, not 10 years from now, not by 2050, but right now,” Bustos said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Gregorio)

EPA finalizes lead contamination rule

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday finalized the first update of regulations of lead in drinking water in 30 years, a move it said strengthens federal rules but that environmental critics say is a missed opportunity to carry out the kind of regulatory overhaul needed to ensure safety.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the final rule at a virtual news conference alongside the mayor of Flint, Michigan, Sheldon Neeley, saying it strengthened “every aspect” of the existing regulation and would protect children and communities from lead exposure.

“For the first time in nearly 30 years, this action incorporates best practices and strengthens every aspect of the rule, including closing loopholes, accelerating the real world pace of lead service line replacement, and ensuring that lead pipes will be replaced in their entirety,” Wheeler said in a statement.

The update of the lead and copper rule was a response to the 2014 Flint water crisis, when the predominantly Black city of 100,000 switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money, unleashing water contamination that led to elevated lead levels in children’s blood.

The rule would require utilities to notify customers of high lead concentrations within 24 hours of detection – down from 30 days – and require testing for lead in elementary schools and childcare facilities for the first time. It would also require water systems to identify and notify the public about the locations of lead service lines.

But environmental groups criticized the final rule for failing to speed up the replacement of lead pipes, a requirement they say is crucial to protect communities’ drinking water.

The final rule says that in communities where high lead levels are found, utilities must replace 3% of lead water lines compared with the previous requirement of 7%.

“If you have the chance to make the first major revisions in 30 years, you need to really solve this problem. The EPA should speed up replacements of lead pipes, not slow them down,” said Suzanne Novak, an attorney for Earthjustice.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Researchers find elevated radiation near U.S. fracking sites

(Reuters) – Radiation levels downwind of U.S. hydraulic fracturing drilling sites tend to be significantly higher than background levels, posing a potential health risk to nearby residents, according to a study by Harvard researchers released on Tuesday.

The study, published in the journal Nature, adds to controversy over the drilling method known as fracking, which has helped the United States become the world’s biggest oil and gas producer over the past decade but which environmentalists say threatens water and air.

President Donald Trump supports fracking because of its economic benefits, and his Democratic rival Joe Biden has promised to continue to allow it if elected even though he aims to impose an ambitious plan to fight climate change.

Areas within 20 kilometers (12 miles) downwind of 100 fracking wells tend to have radiation levels that are about 7% above normal background levels, according to the study, which examined thousands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitor readings nationwide from 2011 to 2017.

The study showed readings can go much higher in areas closer to drill sites, or in areas with higher concentrations of drill sites.

“The increases are not extremely dangerous, but could raise certain health risks to people living nearby,” said the study’s lead author, Petros Koutrakis.

Radioactive particles can be inhaled and increase the risk of lung cancer.

Koutrakis said the source of the radiation is likely naturally-occurring radioactive material brought up to the surface in drilling waste fluids during fracking, a process that pumps water underground to break up shale formations.

The study found the biggest increases in radiation levels near drill sites in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio that have higher concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material beneath the surface, and lower readings in places like Texas and New Mexico that have less.

It also found less pronounced increases in particle radiation levels near conventional drilling operations.

Koutrakis said further study was needed to determine whether the radiation was being released during the drilling process, or from wastewater storage nearby.

“Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this,” he said.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Trump EPA sides with farmers over refiners in biofuel waiver decision

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Monday it rejected scores of requests from U.S. oil refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from their obligation to blend biofuels like ethanol into their fuel, delivering a win for farmers and a blow to the oil industry just ahead of the November presidential election.

Reuters had reported last week that U.S. President Donald Trump, under the advice of his allies in the Midwest, ordered his Environmental Protection Agency to deny the waivers because they had become a lightning rod of controversy in the Farm Belt, an important political constituency.

“This decision follows President Trump’s promise to promote domestic biofuel production, support our nation’s farmers, and in turn strengthen our energy independence,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement announcing the agency was denying 54 applications that the Department of Energy had reviewed.

Refiners say the waivers are crucial for reducing regulatory costs for small fuel producers and keeping them in business, but the corn lobby argues the exemptions undermine demand for corn-based ethanol at a time farmers are already suffering from the impacts of a trade war with China.

CONTENTION LAW

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners must blend some 15 billion gallons of ethanol into their gasoline each year or buy tradable credits from those that do. Small refiners have also been able to seek an exemption if they can prove financial harm from the requirements.

The Trump administration has roughly quadrupled the number of exemptions given out to refiners in a trend that had angered the biofuel industry.

In January, an appeals court handling a case initiated by the biofuel industry cast a cloud of doubt over the EPA’s waiver program, ruling that waivers granted to small refineries after 2010 should only be approved as extensions. Most recipients of waivers in recent years have not continuously received them.

That triggered a wave of requests for retroactive relief by refiners seeking to comply with the court decision. Since March, 17 small refineries in 14 states submitted 68 petitions, Wheeler said in a memo. The Department of Energy, which advises EPA on the waiver requests, had transmitted its findings on 54 of the petitions.

“(T)hese small refineries did not demonstrate disproportionate economic hardship from compliance with the RFS program for those RFS compliance years,” Wheeler said.

It is unclear what will happen to refining facilities that had benefited from waivers in recent years that are non-compliant with the court’s ruling. But sources told Reuters the administration may seek to offer them another form of financial relief to compensate.

It was also not immediately clear how this would affect 28 pending waiver applications for 2019 and three pending applications for 2020.

The Trump administration’s decision on Monday is a major victory for biofuel advocates in the long-standing battle between the deep-pocketed Corn and Oil lobbies.

“This is outstanding news for biofuels producers, farmers, and RFS integrity,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw. “With gap year waivers denied, the number of refiners eligible to even apply for – let alone receive – an RFS exemption going forward is reduced to single digits.”

Some in the oil industry criticized the decision. “EPA has turned a blind eye to merchant refineries and their workers in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas,” said the Fueling American Jobs Coalition, a group that includes union workers and independent refiners.

Trump over the weekend also tweeted that he would allow states to permit fuel retailers to use their current pumps to sell gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, or E15, a move that could help lift ethanol sales.

“Today’s announcements will help provide more certainty to our biofuel producers, who have for too-long been yanked around by the EPA, and help increase access to E15, which drives up demand for corn and ethanol,” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Dan Grebler and Marguerita Choy)

EPA approves a virus-killing coating for American Airlines, studies use by schools

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday it has granted emergency approval for American Airlines to use a disinfectant against the coronavirus on certain surfaces that lasts for up to seven days, and is studying whether it could be effective in places like schools.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a news briefing that SurfaceWise2, made by Allied BioScience Inc, is the first long-lasting product approved by the agency to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

American Airlines will begin spraying its airplane cabins with the disinfectant in its home base of Texas after the state filed the request for emergency approval. The carrier hopes to eventually use it across its entire fleet, including its American Eagle regional partners.

The spray does not eliminate the need for cleaning, officials said.

Southwest Airlines, also based in Texas, has been using a two-step process in its cabins that involves an EPA-approved disinfectant spray followed by a separate antimicrobial spray that coats surfaces for at least 30 days.

Reuters first reported on Sunday emergency approval of SurfaceWise2 for use by American and by Texas-based Total Orthopedics Sports & Spine’s two clinics for up to a year.

Airlines have rolled out deeper cleaning and disinfecting of airplanes and airport facilities in an effort to convince people that it is safe to resume flying during the pandemic.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Trump executive order to boost U.S. drug manufacturing: Navarro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday will sign an executive order aimed at boosting American drug manufacturing and lowering drug prices, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said as the administration continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The order, first reported by USA Today, “establishes Buy American rules for government agencies, strips away regulatory barriers to domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing, and catalyzes the Advanced Manufacturing technologies needed to keep drug prices low,” Navarro tweeted.

It will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to use a 1950 law to procure certain “essential” medicines and other equipment from U.S. companies, although it does not list specific products, USA Today reported, citing the White House.

The order also directs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to give priority status to U.S. drug ingredient manufacturers during their regulatory review process, and addresses counterfeit medicines sold by third-party sellers, according to the report.

So far, more than 157,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 – about 1,000 each day – with 4.8 million known COVID-19 cases.

Trump is expected to sign the order later on Thursday, USA Today said. The Republican president is scheduled to travel to Ohio to visit a Whirlpool manufacturing plant and hold a fundraiser for his re-election campaign before traveling to his New Jersey golf resort for the weekend, according to the White House.

Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. EPA proposing first-ever airplane emissions standards

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday announced it was proposing the first U.S. emissions standards for commercial aircraft.

In 2016, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on global airplane emissions standards aimed at makers of small and large planes, including Airbus SE and Boeing Co, which both backed the standards.

The EPA-proposed regulation seeks to align the United States with the ICAO standards, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “We are implementing the ICAO recommendations, ICAO standards,” Wheeler told reporters.

The proposal would apply to new type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting in 2028. They would not apply to airplanes currently in use.

Aircraft account for 12% of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total such U.S. emissions. They are the largest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions not subject to standards.

Wheeler said it was critical the U.S. adopt the standards, because countries could ban U.S.-assembled airplanes if they do not meet ICAO standards.

EPA is expected to finalize the rules next spring. The Federal Aviation Administration will then issue separate rules to enforce the standards.

Some environmentalists argue the ICAO rules and EPA did not go far enough.

Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday, “this toothless proposal does nothing to meaningfully address the serious problem of airplanes’ planet-warming pollution.” She noted EPA was not estimating any emissions reductions as a result of the proposal.

Wheeler said the proposal is based on “where the technology is today … You can’t really set the standard that can’t be met.”

Boeing said the EPA proposal “is a major step forward for protecting the environment and supporting sustainable growth of commercial aviation and the United States economy.”

Airlines for America, a trade group, said the rules will help U.S. airlines “achieve carbon neutral growth in the near term and to cut net carbon emissions in half in 2050 relative to 2005 levels.”

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA in 2016 declared aircraft emissions posed a public health danger. In January, environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue EPA for failing to regulate aircraft emissions.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Zieminski)

Exclusive: Lonza expects EPA approval coming ‘very soon’ to make COVID-killing claims for disinfectants on surfaces

By Siddharth Cavale and Richa Naidu

(Reuters) – Lonza Group AG is in the “last step” of discussions with U.S. regulators for approval to claim that its formulation is effective in killing the novel Coronavirus on surfaces, an executive at the pharmaceutical and chemical giant told Reuters.

Earlier this week, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc became the first company to win the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval to market two of its Lysol disinfectant sprays as household COVID-19 killers.

Reuters previously reported that Reckitt had procured a strain of the virus from an independent lab, for testing. The EPA’s approval allows Reckitt to claim that Lysol can kill the novel coronavirus, or the SARS-CoV-2, on surfaces.

Ernesto Lippert, Lonza’s vice president of strategic development and advocacy, told Reuters Thursday that it, too, obtained a strain of SARS-CoV-2 and had tested a range of its formulations in approved EPA labs. He said data shows that the products could indeed kill SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.

“We are probably be going to be the second one after Reckitt Benckiser to have a range of our products with the actual claim against SARS-CoV-2,” Lippert said, adding that Lonza is in the “last step” of the process and that “EPA’s approval is going to be very soon.”

Reuters could not independently verify Lonza’s discussions with the EPA or the timing on a possible decision by the agency.

An EPA spokesperson said on Friday Lonza was one of several companies to have submitted laboratory data against SARS-CoV-2, but declined to elaborate on the approval timeline.

Lonza is one of a few big chemical companies, along with U.S.-based Stepan Co and Pilot Chemicals, which own chemical formulations that go into many household products. The formulations typically have been pre-tested and EPA- approved for use against a variety of pathogens. Lonza’s current clients include 3M and the maker of Pine Glo kitchen and bathroom cleaner.

The EPA in March issued new guidelines, allowing hundreds of smaller companies to quickly gain regulatory approval without subjecting their products to time-consuming testing.

Applicants with data showing their products are effective against “non-enveloped” viruses won expedited approval to market their products as potentially effective against SARS-CoV-2. The EPA considers “non-enveloped” viruses to be harder-to-kill than even SARS-CoV-2, which is an “enveloped” virus.

That easing of the rules coupled with the licensing means companies can go through an accelerated EPA vetting process than the previous time frame of six months to one year for approval.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement late March that the move would allow the EPA to better protect public health by assuring the availability of surface disinfectants to use against the novel coronavirus.

“Supplemental registration is by far the easiest and quickest mechanism to get a product into the market,” said regulatory consultant Kevin Kutcel. “You just send a notification to the EPA and you can immediately get into the marketplace very, very quickly.”

Lonza’s Lippert said the company had a more than 110% spike in supplemental registrations of its formulations in the second quarter compared to the first quarter of the year. It also is currently reviewing 62 applications to license its formulas, most of which already are EPA-approved as effective against “non-enveloped” viruses.

“Normally regulators are pretty dogmatic about these things – they insist on all the testing and are pretty rigid,” said Michael Reynen, the former research head of Procter & Gamble’s surface care business in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “But now the situation out there is pretty desperate.”

Consumer demand for cleaning and disinfecting products continues to soar.

“The Pope couldn’t have bought a bottle of Lysol last week if he wanted to, and now because of the EPA’s approval [of Lysol] it’ll be even harder,” said Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences at consumer advocacy group American Council of Science and Health (ACSH).

Over the past five months, the EPA has approved nearly 750 products that license formulations as potentially effective against COVID, according to a list compiled by the American Chemistry Council trade group.

In late February, the list had only about 100 products, almost all from Lysol and Clorox. By June, the ACC list was comprised mostly of other brands licensing formulations from primary registrants Lonza, Pilot and Stepan, according to a Reuters analysis.

Stepan and Pilot were not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru and Richa Naidu in Chicago; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Edward Tobin)