Energy & Environment — Watchdog faults VA over water contamination claims

An internal government watchdog has found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prematurely denied thousands of claims related to water contamination at the Camp Lejeune military base.

Meanwhile, California has approved a ban on gas-powered cars, and Utah is suing the Biden administration over restored boundaries for national monuments.  

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 BudrykSubscribe here.

Thousands of victims’ claims mishandled: watchdog

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mishandled up to 1 in 3 veterans’ claims relating to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, according to a report released Thursday by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

  • Some 1 million people may have been exposed to contaminated water at the training facility between August 1953 and December 1987, according to the OIG report. OIG investigators found that the department prematurely denied more than 17,000 of the claims before sending the claimants’ letters asking for further documentation of exposure.
  • In another 2,300 cases, the department recorded incorrect effective dates for benefit eligibility, according to the report. Not all the mishandled cases would necessarily have resulted in benefit payouts, but veterans were underpaid by at least $13.8 million over a four-year period due to failure to assign the earliest effective date, according to the watchdog.

The big problem: The contaminants in question are associated with a number of medical conditions and complications, including kidney cancer, liver cancer, Parkinson’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The VA has also expanded eligibility for disability payments to people who have a different condition than the eight listed that they can prove is connected to exposure to contaminated water.

“The OIG found that errors were less likely to occur at the Louisville Regional Office, which processes most Camp Lejeune-related claims; staff from other VA regional offices lacked experience processing these claims,” the report states.

The watchdog recommended the Veterans Benefits Administration either develop a plan to reduce the processing errors at regional offices or centralize Camp Lejeune-related claims at the Louisville office.  

Read more here.

California approves 2035 sales ban for gas cars 

The California Air Resources Board voted on Thursday to ban the sale of gas-powered cars starting in 2035. 

  • The state’s Advanced Clean Cars II rule would ratchet up the proportion of electric or non-emitting cars required to be sold in the state annually, until new sales must be 100 percent electric starting in 2035.
  • The rule is expected to have impacts beyond California’s borders, as other states can also adopt the standards. Officials from New York, Oregon, Washington state and Rhode Island told CNN that they plan to adopt California’s rule.  

The measure is aimed at both limiting the state’s contribution to climate change and bettering public health by exposing fewer people to pollution like smog. 

“California now has a groundbreaking, world-leading plan to achieve 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035. It’s ambitious, it’s innovative, it’s the action we must take if we’re serious about leaving this planet better off for future generations,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement shared with The Hill. 

The Air Resources Board found that battery-electric vehicles are likely to be about even cost-wise with gas-powered vehicles by 2030, and it estimated that by 2035, consumers are likely to save $7,900 in maintenance and operational costs over the first 10 years of electric vehicle ownership. 

Read more about the rule here.  

UTAH SUES BIDEN OVER MONUMENT BOUNDARIES

The state of Utah is suing the Biden administration over its decision to restore the size of two national monuments that were shrunk by then-President Trump.

  • The size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments, both located in Utah, were cut by nearly half and about 85 percent, respectively, during the Trump administration. 
  • These monuments were initially designated under the Clinton and Obama administrations.

In deciding to restore the monuments’ original sizes, Biden invoked tribal rights, calling Bears Ears “a place of healing … a place of reverence, a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.” 

But, the state of Utah and two of its counties argued in court that the monuments are too big and a violation of the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the right to protect historic landmarks and other areas of significance.   

They specifically argued that Biden’s move was not compatible with the part of the law that says parcels put aside for protections “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” 

And they said that Biden’s move would “stifle local economic activity, impact local culture and tradition, lock up potentially critical minerals, destroy jobs, and impose exasperating and costly burdens on local and state governments.” 

Read more about the lawsuit here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • The EPA Just Quietly Got Stronger (The Atlantic)
  • Texas grid avoids summer blackouts with $1 billion in extra spending (Reuters
  • Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board (The New York Times)
  • Dinosaur tracks from 113 million years ago uncovered due to severe drought conditions at Dinosaur Valley State Park (CNN)
  • Appalachian, Indigenous pipeline foes say climate deal ‘left us to burn’ (The Washington Post)

ICYMI

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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