MOVING….TO COURT? A top House Democrat on Wednesday warned the Trump administration that a decision to relocate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staffers from Washington would decrease diversity and likely open the agency to discrimination lawsuits.
In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) warned that by failing to study how a forced relocation of staff could affect the agency’s diversity, the BLM was opening itself up to a legal challenge.
Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, argued the oversight was “reckless” and said the charge would already be supported by current agency staffing numbers. Office of Personnel Management data shows that black employees make up less than 3.5 percent of the agency’s workforce and of that number, 41 percent are located in D.C., Grijalva said.
With a significant portion of D.C.-based employees expected to reject the job transfer and instead leave the BLM, he argued that diversity at the agency will plummet.
“If there is a disparate impact on any protected class of employees, the agency would be exposed to significant legal liability that could rival the cost of the entire relocation,” Grijalva wrote.
“DOI [Department of the Interior] could be sued by its own employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” he continued. “Without an analysis showing the proposed reorganization would not have a disparate impact, or would serve a legitimate, non-discriminatory business need, BLM’s vulnerability to a successful lawsuit would increase dramatically.
“It would be reckless for DOI to fail to perform such an analysis,” he added.
Furthermore, Grijalva argued that those who do move to the BLM’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., or elsewhere in the West will be in less diverse communities.
“Many of the positions targeted for relocation will be moved to states and communities where the total Black/African-American population is significantly smaller,” Grijalva wrote.
“Given DOI’s persistent struggle to increase diversity in its workforce, further isolating Black/African-American employees by asking them to choose between uprooting their lives and their families and moving to areas with a spare Black/African American population or terminating their BLM employment is counterproductive and unacceptable,” he continued.
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A BIG DAY FOR COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS: A group of economists warned Wednesday that a forthcoming rule change from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not only weaken the administration’s response to mercury but could undermine the agency’s ability to regulate a wide variety of pollutants going forward.
The External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC), comprised of economists from major universities, examined the cost-benefit analysis underlying the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) proposal. Under the Trump administration, the results of the analysis shifted from saying the plan would save money due to the overall public health benefits to emphasizing the costs of pollution controls.
The group, which formed after the EPA dissolved its internal Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, says the agency isn’t rolling back the rule itself, but undermining it using a flawed cost-benefit analysis that will open up the rule to a swift legal challenge.
Under the Obama administration, the rule was projected to save between $37 billion and $90 billion dollars. Under the Trump administration, the figure ranged from $4 million to $6 million.
Matthew Kotchen, a member of the group and a professor at Yale, said the EPA’s flawed analysis essentially zeros out “co-benefits,” including the other toxins that would be removed by pollution controls at power plants that would ultimately benefit public health.
“It’s basically the value that the American public receives from this regulation that are not the main targets of the regulation,” he said.
He compared it to buying organic produce. One might choose organic products to be healthy, but those foods may also be tastier and avoid adding pesticides to the environment. The EPA is similarly required to look at the whole picture, he said.
Not doing so undermines the legal basis of the rule, as a regulation that has a greater cost than benefit may not meet the legal standard of being “appropriate and necessary.”
“The reason why it’s important is the eventual consequences of this may be obvious as a legal strategy,” Kotchen said. “A court is not likely to uphold a regulation EPA itself does not think there’s a legal basis for.”
The EPA has stated clearly since it decided to review the rule last year that it does not think regulating hazardous air pollutant emissions meets that legal standard.
“After properly evaluating the cost to coal- and oil-fired power plants of complying with the MATS rule (costs that the Obama Administration estimated range from $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) and the benefits attributable to regulating hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from these power plants (benefits that range from $4 to $6 million annually) — as EPA was directed to do by the U.S. Supreme Court — the agency proposes to determine that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate HAP emissions from power plants,” the agency said.
SWING AND A MISS: The European Union (EU) said in a report on Wednesday that it will probably miss its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The European Environment Agency said that the goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 would likely not be achieved. But it said the EU is on track to see 30 percent reductions within the next decade.
Some activists have pushed for a 55 percent reduction by 2030 in an effort to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Harmful emissions from transport and agriculture have also risen, and production and consumption of hazardous chemicals have remained stable,” the report said. “The outlook to 2030 suggests that the current rate of progress will not be sufficient to meet 2030 and 2050 climate and energy targets.”
The report also said European countries are at a “tipping point” to protect the environment and combat climate change. The agency said that “there is still a chance to meet the longer-term goals and objectives for 2030 and 2050” if nations put more effort on resolving controversial issues like fossil fuel subsidies, The Associated Press noted.
This report was released as 200 countries meet in Madrid over the next two weeks for United Nations climate discussions. The European Green Deal, a long-term plan to combat climate change, is scheduled to be presented by the EU’s new executive commission next week at the conference, according to the news service.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
All the action is in the House, where the Committee on Science, Space and Technology is asking for better advice, with a hearing titled “Experts Needed: Options for Improved Science and Technology Advice for Congress.”
The House Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing on deep decarbonization.
And the House Natural Resources will be marking up a bunch of bills.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Songbirds are shrinking in size, study finds, The Wall Street Journal reports.
New Hampshire governor signs order to prepare for offshore wind development, the Associated Press reports.
Oil rises nearly 4 percent ahead of OPEC output talks, surprise drop in US inventories, Reuters reports.
Stories from Wednesday…
House Dem: Moving BLM out of DC could result in lawsuits, decrease in diversity
Economists warn EPA analysis will undermine agency’s air protections
EU says it will probably miss greenhouse gas reduction target
Trump: I think about climate change ‘all the time‘