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The Week in Climate Hearings: Pfervasive Pferfidy

Pforever chemicals, climate drought, and climate disclosure

You can relax if your smart wife

A vintage ad for the toxic chemicals in your bloodstream.

Sharon Lerner, late of the Intercept, is out with a blazing story co-published by ProPublica and The New Yorker on the perfidy of 3M executives, who knew decades ago that their fluorochemicals, sold under brand names like Teflon and Scotchgard since the 1970s, were pervasively contaminating our bodies. Lerner details how 3M epidemiologist Kris Hansen, who discovered in the late 1990s that essentially every blood sample he tested was contaminated, was shut down repeatedly by her bosses. 3M had been covering up their scientists’ knowledge of the toxicity of these “forever chemicals” known broadly as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS) since production began, and they now committed to covering up the chemicals’ ubiquity.

Thanks to decades of work by the chemicals’ victims and environmental advocates, the past few years have finally seen serious federal action. In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have led the fight against PFAS. In the House, Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), as well as Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) have pushed legislation to fight PFAS and help the most-contaminated victims, such as soldiers and firefighters with direct exposure to flame-retardant PFAS foam.

Last year, 3M settled a lawsuit with cities and towns, agreeing to pay $10 billion to decontaminate their water supplies—but the full price tag is likely over $100 billion. In April, President Joe Biden’s administration mandated that all public drinking water supplies be decontaminated and that 3M and other PFAS manufacturers pay into the Superfund program to clean up targeted sites.

However, as Lerner notes:

“The company and its scientists have not admitted wrong­doing or faced criminal liability for producing forever chemicals or for concealing their harms.”

Unfortunately for this newsletter, this week’s hearings on the Hill will mostly not address PFAS. There will be hearings about water management in the desertifying West, the Sisyphean task of plastics recycling, and mining and offshore drilling regulations.

Tuesday, May 21

At 10 am, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) leads a hearing on opportunities, risks, and challenges associated with growth in demand for electric power in the United States. Manchin, Republicans, and witnesses like American Electric Power CEO Ben Fowke, industrial electric consumer lobbyist Karen Onaran, chip manufacturer Micron VP Scott Gatzemeier, and fossil-fuel wingnut Mark Mills will argue for the fracking to AI paperclip pipeline.

Secretary Antony Blinken is spending the day before the Senate, discussing the State Department’s $58.8 billion budget request before the Foreign Relations Committee in the morning and the Appropriations State subcommittee in the afternoon. Although the budget includes $99 million in cross-cutting climate change initiatives, and fossil-fueled global warming is driving conflict and crisis around the globe, it is not likely to be a major topic of conversation.

Wednesday, May 22

There are two excellent events for climate nerds on Wednesday:

  • At noon, the flood-risk-modeling First Street Foundation hosts a virtual panel on climate disclosure regulation with California state Senator Henry Stern and ESG attorney June M. Hu, who will discuss the new rules from California and the Securities Exchange Commission.

  • And at 6 pm, Clean Creatives, the team campaigning to decarbonize the public relations industry, is hosting a happy hour in DC at MetroBar.

The weekly climate hearing of Senate Budget chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is about water scarcity in a changing climate. Witnesses are New Mexico water policy advisor Tanya Trujillo, Southern California water manager Adel Hagekhalil, Oregon hay farmer Kevin Richards, and Iowa State soil scientist Michael Castellano. Republicans have invited the cartoonish insult artist Roger Pielke, Jr., son of climate-denier scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. and now officially a right-wing hack, as their witness.

Senate appropriators meet with the administrators of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and for the National Science Foundation at 9:30 am to discuss their FY25 budgets ($25.4 billion and $10.2 billion respectively). Each agency has dedicated about 10 percent of their budget to climate science. At 10 am, Secretary Jennifer Granholm and National Nuclear Security Administration head Jill Hruby will discuss the $51.4 billion U.S. Department of Energy budget, focusing on the nuclear arsenal.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) chairs a hearing on state and local perspectives on efforts to improve reuse and recycling with North Carolina environmental official Elizabeth Biser, Seattle trash manager Susan Fife-Ferris, and recycling lobbyist Cody Marshall, after a markup of the Water Resources Development Act and other legislation that begins at 9:45 am.

At 2:30 pm, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) chairs a hearing on mining health and safety standards with the Government Accountability Office’s Cindy Brown Barnes, director of the Stone Mountain Black Lung program Dr. Drew Harris, United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts, and mine-safety engineering professor Steven Schafrik.

On the other side of the Capitol, there are two House Natural Resources subcommittee hearings:

Thursday, May 23

At 9 am, the full House Oversight committee holds an oversight hearing of the U.S. Department of Energy.

At 10 am, the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee looks at the budget request for the agencies within the Department of Interior that manage offshore energy—the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue. The FY 2025 budget request for BOEM is $242 million, including $67.5 million for oil and gas, $52 million for offshore wind, $15 million for ocean mining, and $87 million for environmental programs. The BSEE budget request is $252.6 million, including $12 million to plug and abandon orphaned offshore wells, $12.6 million to support offshore wind projects, and $15.1 million for oil spill research.

Also at 10 am, the Senate health committee holds a markup of the East Palestine Health Impact Monitoring Act and other legislation.

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