A THOUGHTFUL DEBATE ON THE MERITS OF CÉLÉBRITÉ: Actor Mark Ruffalo was on Capitol Hill Tuesday, testifying in a House Oversight Committee meeting over how to handle a cancer-linked chemical that’s been leaching into the water supply.
However, much of the hearing left lawmakers squabbling over the appropriateness of having a celebrity in the hearing room.
The hearing was centered on a chemical abbreviated as PFAS. The substance is used in firefighting foam and has contaminated the water near at least 425 military sites, causing health problems for military members and their families.
But the chemical, which is widely used in a number of nonstick products, is hardly just a military problem – one study found that 99 percent of those tested had traces of PFAS in their blood.
It’s been deemed a “forever chemical” due to its persistence in both the body and the environment, and it’s been found in nearly every state in the country.
Why Ruffalo: Ruffalo’s visit coincides both with the release of his film “Dark Waters,” which focuses on lawyer Rob Bilott’s fight against PFAS manufacturers, and a busy week on the Hill as lawmakers review a major PFAS package.
Ruffalo and many Democrats used their time to talk about PFAS manufacturers’ long-held knowledge about the harms of their products.
PFAS manufacturers like 3M and DuPont “made billions upon billions of dollars producing chemicals they knew were building up in our blood and they knew they were toxic but failed to tell anyone,” Ruffalo said.
“In America, it falls to us, the ordinary people to prove that these chemicals are toxic before the chemical is regulated by our government,” he continued. “That is simply backwards.”
GOP pushback: But Ruffalo’s presence sparked irritation from some Republican lawmakers that the witness panel wasn’t more heavily stocked with scientific experts.
“Knowing no depths to how far they’ll go to show off their hypocrisy or help their allies in Hollywood, the majority has called as their star witness an actor,” said Rep. Fred Keller (R-Pa.)
“That’s right, an actor. An actor with no medical, no scientific or research expertise except for a few scenes as Dr. Bruce Banner. An actor that has a record of anti-business activism,” he said, going on to describe the Ruffalo’s latest film as attacking “private sector job creators with loose facts and hyped up emotional rhetoric.”
Geez, tell us how you really feel… Much of the rest of the hearing was spent discussing the merits of Ruffalo’s contributions.
“Let’s not be afraid of a movie; we should be afraid of the story that movie tells,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), thanking Ruffalo for also bringing attention to the Flint water crisis in his district.
“So I know it’s fun, and maybe sport for some on the other side to want to attack anyone who’s in the business of telling these important stories. But I will tell you one thing, as a guy who represents a community that was poisoned and overlooked, I’ll take help from anyone who will step up and help tell this story to the American people,” he continued.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) argued that Republicans should be less concerned about the money spent to make a movie on PFAS than the millions that have been spent lobbying Congress as they eye legislation that would restrict the substance.
Ruffalo said that while he “took some licks” during the hearing, he said he prefers to use his fame to take on independent movies and put a spotlight on important issues rather than engage in more lucrative work.
“I feel like from this blessing that I’ve been given that I want to give people the voice that don’t have a voice,” he said. “And that’s really what I’m doing here today.”
Read more about Ruffalo’s visit to the Capitol here.
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SAVING SOME GREEN: Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday released draft legislation aimed at addressing climate change by extending and expanding tax breaks for renewable energy.
“This bill will build on existing tax incentives that promote renewable energy and increase efficiency and create new models for technology and activity to reduce our carbon footprint,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee’s tax subcommittee, said in a news release.
The details: The draft legislation would extend a host of renewable energy tax breaks, including the production tax credit and the investment tax credit.
It also would expand the electric vehicle tax credit and create new tax credits for buyers of used electric cars and manufacturers of zero-emission commercial vehicles and buses.
Additionally, it would create a tax credit for colleges and universities for environmental justice programs. And it would direct the Treasury Department to analyze the feasibility of setting a price on carbon-dioxide emissions, using Environmental Protection Agency data.
The big picture: The release of the discussion draft comes amid growing interest among Democratic lawmakers to tackle climate change.
“The climate crisis requires bold action, and I’m pleased that we’re using the legislative tools at Ways and Means’ disposal to create green jobs, reduce carbon emissions, and help heal our planet,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said. “We look forward to hearing from stakeholders to ensure this bill is effective in helping improve energy efficiency and eliminating carbon emissions.”
Greens on board: The draft bill has the backing of a number of environmental groups.
“This is a critical priority that will boost jobs across the booming clean energy economy to promote economic growth and lower emissions in states across the nation,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
A BLOCK ON BLM FUNDS: A coalition of representatives largely from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is asking House appropriators to ensure that funds will not be used to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) outside of the nation’s capital.
The push comes after BLM sent letters to 159 employees informing them they would be moving to various offices across the West as the public lands agency decentralizes its D.C. office and opens a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo.
The controversial plan would leave just 61 of BLM’s 10,000 employees in D.C.
The D.C.-area lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote a letter to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the lead on the subcommittee handling the Department of the Interior’s budget, which includes BLM.
“With only a fraction of reassignment employees opting to relocate, we are extremely concerned that moving forward with the relocation would increasingly jeopardize oversight not to mention the protection of public lands from oil and gas interests,” lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
AN IMPORTANT VOTE: A key Senate panel has voted to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a move that conservation groups see as a significant victory.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee voted Tuesday morning to permanently authorize and completely fund the program, which was established in 1964 to help with outdoor projects on public lands. The bill passed with bipartisan support out of the committee and now faces a full floor vote.
The LWCF, which was permanently reauthorized this spring, receives most of its revenue from on- and offshore oil and gas drilling. The House Natural Resources Committee in June passed a bipartisan bill that, if signed into law, would dedicate $900 million of annual royalty funds to LWCF.
Members on both sides of the aisle celebrated the move, calling it an important step to continue to invest in public lands.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has played a large role in protecting Tennessee’s outdoors for over 50 years,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement.
MOVING ON: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee forwarded nominations to lead the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior Tuesday.
Dan Brouillette, currently the deputy secretary for the Department of Energy (DOE), was nominated to the post after Secretary Rick Perry announced he would leave the position in October.
Katharine MacGregor, who currently serves as the deputy chief of staff for Interior, has been nominated to be the deputy secretary for the department.
ON TAP WEDNESDAY:
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee will examine the Department of Energy’s role in battling climate change.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will review climate challenges facing front line communities.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on creating a climate resilient America.
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing on “reclaiming U.S. leadership in weather modeling and prediction.”
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Navajo Generating Station — the largest coal plant in the West — has shut down, the Arizona Republic reports.
Forest Service opposes bear-baiting ban in Idaho, Wyoming, the Associated Press reports.
Ban on hotel shampoo bottles is latest effort to curb plastic waste, Stateline reports.
Climate change could eliminate many Hawaii surf spots, Honolulu Civil Beat reports.
Federal court: Tribal water rights outrank Oregon farmers’ rights, the Associated Press reports.
ICYMI. Stories from Tuesday…
DC-area Democrats push to block funding for Bureau of Land Management relocation
Sierra Club pre-debate ad buy promotes green economy
Full funding of Land Water Conservation Fund passes key Senate hurdle
Mark Ruffalo brings fight against ‘forever chemicals‘ to Capitol Hill
EasyJet says it will become first major carrier to operate net-zero-carbon flights
House Democrats release renewable energy tax proposal
Mark Ruffalo pushes Congress for action on ‘forever chemicals’
House committee advances bill to ban asbestos