Energy & Environment — House Dems grill PR companies on oil work

Two Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee want answers on the PR industry’s work for fossil fuel companies. Also, Congress moves closer to acting on veterans’ exposure to toxic chemicals, and a Trump appointee to the federal Chemical Safety Board resigns. 

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here. 

House Dems ask for fossil fuel campaign documents 

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) on Monday requested documents from five public relations firms and the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing their work for fossil fuel companies.  

Porter and Grijalva wrote to API, FTI Consulting, Story Partners, DDC Advocacy, Blue Advertising and Singer Associates asking for all documents pertaining to the firms’ campaigns for oil, gas and coal companies, dating back to 2013.   

The real McCoy: Grijalva, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, cited an undercover video by Greenpeace activists from summer 2021, in which Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy said the energy giant has used “shadow groups” to cast doubt on the reality of climate change.  

“Thanks to the accidental truth-telling by the former ExxonMobil lobbyist, we know there is a lot to uncover about the ways fossil fuel companies spread disinformation and lies about climate change,” Grijalva said in a statement. “If we’re going to take meaningful action against climate change, we need to be armed with facts and science, not industry propaganda. The American people deserve to know the truth and we intend to do our job to find it.”  

“Fossil fuel companies have been lying to the public for decades to cover up the damage they’re doing to the planet and our long-term economic wellbeing,” added Porter, chair of the committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee.  

The story so far: The two representatives in February requested similar documents from organizations that award PR firms. Meanwhile Porter, in her capacity as a member of the House Oversight Committee, last year questioned oil executives on their companies’ knowledge of climate change in decades past even as they publicly promoted denial of it.  

Read more about the letters here. 

WHITE HOUSE EYES GAS TAX HOLIDAY  

The White House is showing signs that it is more seriously considering a federal gas tax holiday, sources tell The Hill.  

President Biden’s economic team has discussed the gas tax holiday recently and is expected to meet later this week for further talks. 

The White House is under political pressure to do something to provide relief to Americans dealing with high inflation and rising gas prices. The economic storm has created serious headwinds for Democrats ahead of the midterms, where the party is worried about a shellacking. 

“It’s definitely an option on the table,” said one Democrat close to the White House.  

But, there’s a catch: Suspending the federal gas tax would require an act of Congress, but a public push by Biden in favor of the policy could help spur action on Capitol Hill. 

Read more here from The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant.  

Senate expected to pass bill for exposed soldiers 

Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson deployed to Iraq and Kosovo with the Ohio National Guard, but the battle didn’t end when he returned home.  

After returning to Ohio, Robinson experienced gushy nosebleeds and bleeding from his ear caused by a rare autoimmune disease. 

In 2017, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that his oncologist said only could’ve been caused by prolonged toxic exposure.  

Despite these health issues, Robinson’s family was unable to get caregiver benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) because they couldn’t prove that his illness was caused by his military service. 

Robinson’s mother-in-law, Susan Zeier, stood alongside lawmakers and advocates at a press event in Washington this past week and explained the tiring ordeal of taking care of Heath before he died of his cancer in 2020. Robinson’s ailments included spontaneous vomiting while his nose bleeds, all of which made it difficult for him to breathe.  

“Needless to say, Heath spent his final three years battling the war that followed him home,” Zeier said. “He told us that he is a soldier and soldiers don’t know how to give up.” 

Two years after Robinson’s death, Congress is poised to pass legislation in his honor to help millions of veterans like him.  

What’s next? The Senate is set to vote soon on the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act to expand healthcare and other benefits for a new generation of veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals. The bill would largely benefit those who served after 9/11 and were exposed to toxic substances during that time. 

Read more from Rachel and The Hill’s Jordan Williams. 

CHEMICAL SAFETY BOARD CHAIR RESIGNS 

The chairwoman of the Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, has resigned.  

Katherine Lemos, who was appointed under the Trump administration, has resigned, board spokesperson Shauna Lawhorne confirmed. 

Lawhorne did not respond to The Hill’s questions about why Lemos resigned.  

Bloomberg reported that Lemos cited “eroded confidence” in the board’s ability to focus on its mission based on its “recent priorities,” in a resignation letter to the White House on Friday. 

Lemos is the only Trump-appointed member of the board. After she departs, the only members remaining will be two Biden appointees. Last week, President Biden nominated a third potential board member, Catherine J.K. Sandoval. 

The Hill recently learned that Lemos changed her duty station — where she’s officially based — to San Diego, rather than Washington. The agency said that this change was to be more aligned with where she is working remotely as the agency continues to telework.  

Read more about the resignation here. 

WARMING UP TO EFFICIENCY 

The Biden administration is proposing a more stringent efficiency standard for new home heating appliances, a move it says will both lessen climate change and save consumers money. 

The proposed standard pertains to certain types of furnaces that run on natural gas and requires them to operate at 95 percent efficiency.  

In a statement, the Energy Department said that the proposed changes, which, if adopted, will go into effect in 2029 will save consumers $1.9 billion annually.  

Over a 30 year period, they will also cut planet-warming carbon emissions by 373 million metric tons and methane emissions by 5.1 million tons, the equivalent of the annual emissions from 61 million homes, according to the department. 

“These efficiency measures not only reduce carbon and methane emissions, but also provide huge material benefits to American households in the form of cleaner air, modernized technology, and cheaper energy,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.  

Read more here.

Saudi trip unlikely to drive down gas prices 

President Biden is using key political capital on a risky gamble — that a meeting with condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will convince the Kingdom to stabilize global oil markets and ease prices for Americans at the gas pump.   

But experts say it’s not guaranteed that the trip will produce lower gasoline prices and the political cost may be far greater for the president.  

“I don’t believe there’s an amount of oil the Saudis could provide that would substantially reduce U.S. gas prices. It will be difficult for Biden to come away with something he can call a win,” Samantha Gross, fellow and director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told The Hill.   

Biden’s allies, and even critics, are stressing the necessity of the president addressing areas of cooperation with Riyadh for U.S. national and global security despite revulsion at Mohamad and the Kingdom’s violations of human rights.   

Further, Saudi Arabia’s position as the world’s second largest oil producer and unofficial head of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), make it a key gatekeeper in helping to lower peak energy prices.   

Read more from Rachel and The Hill’s Laura Kelly. 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Senate Energy Committee will vote on whether to advance the nominations of David Applegate to direct United States Geological Survey, Carmen Cantor to lead Interior’s insular and international affairs and Evelyn Wang to direct the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The votes will be immediately followed by a hearing to examine short term and long terms solutions to extreme drought in the western United States. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille C. Touton will testify. 
  • The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing titled “State Perspectives on Methane Pollution.” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) will testify. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Saharan dust reaches Louisiana, dropping air quality. Here’s what children, seniors should do. (NOLA.com
  • ERCOT peak demand passes all-time record Sunday (KXAN
  • ‘We beg God for water’: Chilean lake turns to desert, sounding climate change alarm (Reuters
  • BLM OKs construction of large Calif. solar projects (E&E News

And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: The long wing of the law. 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

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