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Politics OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior ends endangered species protections for gray wolves | Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says | EPA limits enforcement of pesticide application boundaries

00:20  30 october  2020
00:20  30 october  2020 Source:   thehill.com

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HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

a dog standing in front of a wolf: gray wolves © Getty Images gray wolves

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THROWN TO THE WOLVES: The Trump administration removed endangered species protections for the gray wolf Thursday, paving the way for hunting of the species even as environmentalists argue it has not yet recovered.

The rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) lifts protections for the wolves in the continental U.S., except for a small band of Mexican gray wolves present in Arizona and New Mexico.

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities | Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire | Trump order strips workplace protections from civil servants

  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities | Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire | Trump order strips workplace protections from civil servants HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.CHANGING THE CALCULUS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a rule that eases the permitting process for modifications made to polluting facilities.

The move ends more than 45 years of protections for the species - something that has been opposed by conservation groups and members of Congress.

"After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today's announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law," Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

Environmentalists have already said they will challenge the rule in court.

"This is no 'Mission Accomplished' moment for wolf recovery," Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement.

"Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy - and it's illegal, so we will see them in court."

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The gray wolf population was around 1,000 when the species was first listed, and the FWS now says those figures are now closer to 6,000.

A peer review commissioned by the government largely opposed the delisting proposal.

"The proposed rule did not build on the assembled scientific information to provide coherent factual support or logical explanation for the agency's conclusions," one reviewer wrote, arguing that it led Interior "to reach an erroneous conclusion" in delisting the species.

Read more about the delisting decision here.

SURVEYING THE INCIDENT: The leader of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) retaliated against an employee who filed a complaint against him, according to an internal watchdog.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Interior Department said in a new report that USGS Director James Reilly had agency personnel reassign someone who had complained about him to a different job and concluded that the reassignment "qualified as personnel action under the [Whistleblower Protection Act]."

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The report also found that evidence "strongly indicates that he had a motive to retaliate" after the person filed a complaint about him to the OIG.

Interior Department spokesperson Nicholas Goodwin said in an email that the report was "wrong in its legal and factual conclusions."

"The report attempts to turn the USGS human resources department's reassignment of an administrative employee into a prohibited personnel practice, which is fundamentally inaccurate given the employee requested to be reassigned multiple times before a complaint was issued, was moved with no reduction in pay or grade level and still reported to a senior GS-15 supervisor," Goodwin said. "Given the circumstances, this was unquestionably the appropriate action to take."

The OIG report's said, however, that the complainant "did not request this reassignment," which had different responsibilities and working conditions.

The report said that Reilly claimed that the reassignment was based on the person's inability to get along with another staff member and that they were a "negative influence" on the office

Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says

  Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says The leader of the U.S. Geological Survey retaliated against an employee who filed a complaint against him, according to an internal watchdog. © Greg Nash Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Interior Department said in a new report that USGS Director James Reilly had agency personnel reassign someone who had complained about him to a different job and concluded that the reassignment "qualified as personnel action under the [Whistleblower Protection Act].

However, the other staff member told the inspector general that there were tensions during a certain period but also said they had a cordial working relationship with the person. Two people that Reilly said would corroborate his "negative influence" assertion did not say that the person's behavior was disruptive, the report said.

Witnesses also told the OIG that Reilly said that the complainant had "weaponized the IG process" against him and that Reilly said the person was "evil."

Reilly told the OIG that he had said that the person had an "evil streak," or something similar, and said it was a "very poor choice of words."

He also said that he did not specifically remember saying that the complainant weaponized the process, but said, "I would have made the comment to the fact that it can be weaponized ... and that when it's weaponized, there's no consequence."

Read more about the report here.

GET OFF MY PROPERTY! The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday finalized a rule that narrows the areas where farmers are required to limit human presence during the application of pesticides.

The agency's new regulation makes it so that rules governing areas surrounding pesticide application are only enforceable on a farmer's property and not in surrounding "off-farm" areas.

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People besides handlers aren't supposed to be within these so-called application exclusion zones (AEZ) for safety reasons.

Critics say that this risks exposing more people, including those working on nearby farms, to potentially harmful chemicals.

"Pesticides don't respect property boundaries," said Iris Figueroa, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, adding that there are many areas where schools, hospitals, hotels and homes are near fields.

"The real life application is going to involve a lot of scenarios where that radius might not be in the agricultural establishment," Figueroa added. "If the idea is to protect people, and we know that there might be people in that area, then it seems arbitrary to end it at the establishment."

However, the EPA argued that regulations on areas beyond the farm's property are difficult to enforce.

"The changes to the AEZ requirements make it easier to ensure people near our nation's farms are protected, while simultaneously enhancing the workability of these provisions for farm owners and protecting the environment," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

The new rule also reduces the size of the AEZ needed for some pesticide applications.

Under a prior rule, a 100-foot AEZ, the largest option, was required for certain methods of spraying pesticides as well as applications where very fine droplet sizes were used. The 100-foot AEZ is still needed for these specific methods, but the agency will no longer also use droplet size in determining AEZ size.

Trump administration removes gray wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection

  Trump administration removes gray wolves from federal Endangered Species Act protection Environmentalists decried the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision as 'bad science' that will endanger gray wolves across the lower 48 states.Interior Secretary David Bernhardt declared the gray wolf's recovery “a milestone of success" during an announcement attended by several dozen people at a national wildlife refuge overlooking the Minnesota River in a rural area outside Minneapolis.

Read more about the rule here.

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Graves of enslaved people pose hurdle for La. chemical plant, E&E News reports

Feds look to approve helium well inside new wilderness area as opponents decry political 'mischief,' The Salt Lake Tribune reports

Wisconsin DNR board approves firefighting foam regulations, The Associated Press reports

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday (and Wednesday night) ...

Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia partnering on offshore wind energy development

Exxon to lay off 1,900 employees amid pandemic downturn

Lawsuit seeks updated standards for industrial pollution controls

EPA limits enforcement of pesticide application boundaries

Interior ends endangered species protections for gray wolves

Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says

Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 storm

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGES:

Trump still has time to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, writes Bob Ward, the policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Trump rolled back more than 125 environmental safeguards. Here’s how. .
President Trump has weakened or wiped out more than 125 rules and policies aimed at protecting the nation’s air, water and land since taking office, with nearly 40 more rollbacks underway, according to a Washington Post analysis. But over the course of nearly four years, his administration has steadily loosened oversight of polluting industries, eroded protections for endangered wildlife and stymied Obama-era efforts to address the globe’s most daunting environmental threat: climate change.

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