Warming could open U.S. for more ‘murder hornets’

Reports of bugs nicknamed “murder hornets” in the United States generated a lot of buzz as well as new legislation this week — and climate change could make the problem worse.

Vespa mandarinia is the scientific name for the Asian giant hornet, which measures up to 2 inches long and delivers a powerful sting.

These hornets can decapitate honeybees and seize their hive in a couple of hours, and they’ve even killed humans on rare occasions, earning them their “murder” moniker.

Washington state officials confirmed two Asian giant hornet specimens locally last year. While the number of hornets throughout the country is unknown, climate change could provide the hornet a more suitable habitat in the United States.

“This hornet can exist in temperate regions anyway, simply broadening its range,” said James Carpenter, a curator of wasps at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “It would be allowed by a warming climate to do that.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced legislation today to fund Asian giant hornet eradication efforts.

The “Murder Hornet Eradication Act” would require the Interior secretary to oversee grant programs providing financial aid to communities trying to get rid of the hornet or restore bee populations.

The legislation would provide $4 million each fiscal year from 2021 through 2025.

“This bill is about getting a head start on an obvious problem before it’s too late, which is the approach we need to be taking rather than relying on denial and anti-scientific magical thinking,” Grijalva said in a statement.

‘Nerve-wracking’ for beekeepers

Previous research has found that honeybees — a main target of the hornets — are threatened by climate change as environmental stress decreases their ability to ward off infection and forage for food.

And the Asian giant hornet can more easily adjust to a changing climate than honeybees because it makes its nest underground, limiting the hornets’ exposure to extreme temperature changes.

“They essentially make their own climate in their nest,” said David Ragsdale, the chief scientific officer and associate director of AgriLife Research at Texas A&M University.

The hornets’ ability to survive in a range of temperatures makes it difficult to predict “exactly where it will be at home,” he added.

Some U.S. beekeepers are worried about how to protect their hives if the Asian giant hornet spreads across the country.

Joshua Kieliszewski and his wife, Jodie, began beekeeping about 12 years ago in Michigan. They run a small business called Bee Lovely Botanicals LLC, which sells soap, lip balm, hand cream and other honey-infused products.

The Kieliszewskis usually have 40 hives with up to 100,000 bees per hive during peak times in the summer.

“It is nerve-wracking when this is our livelihood and this is, you know, honestly, our passion,” Joshua Kieliszewski said.

Honeybees are essential to maintaining the U.S. food supply since they pollinate over 130 fruits and vegetables, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Chris Looney wears one of the Asian giant hornets on his shirt. He says calling them murder hornets is “really unhelpful” considering the low risk to humans. Washington State Department of Agriculture

In recent years, honeybee populations have declined with the invasion of parasitic varroa mites and colony collapse disorder. Now the Asian giant hornet presents another threat.

“We love bees, and we love beekeeping, and to see one more thing come and plague them is kind of heartbreaking for us, and we’re hoping that it goes away,” Kieliszewski said.

Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said the hornets aren’t going to “exterminate all honeybees,” but he is worried about beekeepers’ livelihoods.

“We don’t know what the effects will be, but we also just don’t want to find out,” Looney said.

Climate change may be expanding the habitat for the Asian giant hornet within certain regions rather than worldwide, Looney said.

He used the example of the yellow-legged hornet, which was introduced to France from Asia in the early 2000s and spread quickly across Western Europe. Some climate models in Europe show suitable habitat will expand there for the yellow-legged hornet, he said.

“There’s every reason to believe that that wasp will ultimately have or that hornet will ultimately have a wider habitat range than it will under current conditions,” Looney said.

‘Low risk’ to people

Humans should be less alarmed than honeybees about the Asian giant hornet.

Despite its nickname, Carpenter said, the hornet is “not that dangerous” to people.

“Don’t mess with the nest, but individuals flying out on their own, they aren’t going to bother you,” Carpenter said. “So don’t panic.”

While Washington state officials are acting quickly to eradicate the hornets, Looney said people “shouldn’t be afraid of them.”

“It’s pretty low risk to most people, most of the time, so that’s why the phrase ‘murder hornets’ is really unhelpful,” Looney said.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

Congress insists on returning to work, but how?

Manuel QuiñonesBev Banks and George Cahlink, E&E News reporters

The Senate is back on Capitol Hill today and the House may return next week, but leaders are still figuring out the logistics of working during the pandemic.

Senators have already scheduled a series of in-person hearings, taking advantage of larger meeting rooms to secure social distancing.

“If it’s essential for doctors, nurses, health care workers, truck drivers and grocery store workers and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations during the pandemic, then it is essential for senators to carefully man ours and support them,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Fox News.

The Democratic leadership has been hesitant to criticize McConnell for calling lawmakers back to Capitol Hill. Still, there is grumbling, especially considering that Washington remains under a stay-at-home order.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Sen. McConnell is making the Capitol police and groundskeepers and people who work in the food service come back in violation of that local order,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told MSNBC last week. “It’s endangering the health of many, many people.”

The Office of Attending Physician for the Capitol put out a multipage memo to address safety concerns for lawmakers and their aides. Recommendations include minimizing the number of staff, not crowding workspaces, screening visitors and wearing face coverings.

McConnell is confident the Senate can conduct business in a safe manner.

“We can modify our routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we can honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct our business in person,” he said.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Cory Booker of New Jersey said on a call with reporters last week they plan to keep their staff at home and their offices formally closed.

“I will be coming in and asking my staff to abide by the dictates of Washington, D.C.’s mayor and the governors of Virginia and Maryland, and so most of my staff — pretty much all of my staff — will be remaining working remotely,” Booker said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’s leaving it to individual senators in his caucus to decide whether or not to come back to town.

“We Democrats are going to practice good social distancing and handle the situation the best we can,” Schumer told reporters last week. “We will continue to have our weekly calls by phone.”

One area Democrats have questioned McConnell on, however, is his plan to conduct business not related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, including judicial nominations (Greenwire, April 29).

“Having hearings on a judge who is unqualified, or hearings on candidates unrelated to COVID makes no sense at all,” Schumer said. “We need these oversight hearings.”

McConnell defended the move, however.

“We have many confirmations, for example,” he said. “The Senate is a personnel business, the House is not — that have been bottled up by the Democrats even before the pandemic, so we have much work to do with the American people, and we think we can do it safely.”

Remote voting

The House may change its rules as soon as next week to allow remote voting and committee work — something McConnell has declined to endorse.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations met via videoconference Thursday to discuss proposals.

Subcommittee Chairman Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said remote voting should “never be the norm” but should be in place for times when senators cannot safely “be in the same place.”

“This is something that I think should be not looked at strictly in terms of the pandemic but the general concern that there are times when Congress either cannot physically or should not be gathering,” Portman said.

Portman and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a resolution in March to allow for temporary remote voting within the Senate rules.

Martin Gold, a partner at Capitol Counsel and a former Senate Rules Committee staffer, told the panel that Congress needs to establish “guardrails” to determine when remote voting is utilized.

“I don’t think there is anybody who really thinks that remote participation is a substitute for the actual Senate,” Gold said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voiced support for remote voting during the hearing but raised concerns about the technology “becoming a political tool” during an emergency.

“I think being able to define what is a true emergency and what would require remote voting would be something that we need to pay attention to,” Romney said.

Portman noted the video conference was the “first time we’ve been able to do this in the U.S. Congress, certainly in the Senate.”

The full committee has scheduled a video conference hearing for Wednesday on new COVID-19 information driving policy.

In the House

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent a letter to the attending physician Friday asking for advice on how the chamber could return.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week declined to weigh in on the Senate’s decision to come back but noted the House has more than four times as many members.

“It’s better to wait,” said Pelosi.

Still, there is some committee work happening. The House Appropriations Committee is meeting to discuss pandemic issues, for example.

House Democrats and Republicans have pledged to work together on remote work procedures, but it doesn’t seem as if all GOP members are on board.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) echoed other Republicans who said the House should view its work as “essential” and reconvene sooner rather than later.

“I think the American public would like to see us do our job,” McCarthy told reporters last week.

The House GOP leader said he has not been pushing to bring everyone back all at once but prefers committees return first for key markups.

McCarthy suggested committees could vote on legislation during the beginning of the week and then the entire House could return a few days later to vote on it.

“As these bills get done, you can pinpoint when they need to be voted on, and you can bring members back. So maybe all members are not back there for an entire week. They’re there for a few days to vote,” he said.

He also voiced concerns about one member being able to cast votes for large groups of lawmakers.

McCarthy this morning published his ideas for reopening Congress in a post on the platform Medium.

Pelosi did not detail the remote work plans, but the Democratic majority appears poised to move forward on its own if necessary.

“Everybody wants to open up the Congress, but we want to do it in a way that if people have to stay home, because of this [pandemic], whether it’s about themselves, a family member or the transportation, which is more difficult now, that remote voting will enable them to do that,” Pelosi said. “We just have to get enough people here to do the remote voting.”

Reporter Nick Sobczyk contributed.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

Virus worries halt curbside recycling programs

Dozens of towns and cities across the country have suspended parts of their recycling programs in response to the pandemic.

Curbside pickup and electronics recycling have halted in several municipalities as the novel coronavirus has made working conditions less safe and companies have prioritized regular trash pickup.

Centre County, Pa., temporarily stopped curbside recycling services March 30 for about 28,000 households to limit the spread of the virus, said Joanne Shafer, deputy director of the county’s Recycling & Refuse Authority.

Normally, residents place their recyclables into a bin and crews hand-sort the items at the curb, but that could heighten the risk of viral transmission.

Potentially, a worker could “sort recycling at a house, get back into the truck and then touch their face,” Shafer said.

Officials in Fayetteville, Ark., suspended curbside recycling out of similar worry for employees.

“We had real concerns of whether we were going to be exposing our workers to materials that, you know, that people in the community had contaminated through sneezing or coughing or handling,” said Brian Pugh, Fayetteville’s waste reduction coordinator.

Pugh said the city was alarmed by a March study in The New England Journal of Medicine that found the coronavirus survives on plastic for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

Both Centre County and Fayetteville have added more recycling drop-off locations to make up for the loss of curbside service.

Centre County’s Shafer predicts only a slight decrease in recycling, but Pugh said Fayetteville has seen a big drop in collections.

“We’re losing about 45 tons a week of recyclables right now, and that’s another reason we’re anxious to get back to the program and get it going again,” Pugh said.

From recycling bin to landfill

For municipalities that contract out their recycling pickup and processing services, some choices are out of their hands during the pandemic.

In Jefferson City, Mo., waste collection company Republic Services announced the suspension of curbside recycling on March 23.

Republic Services “decided it was best to just make sure that we can service the trash, and if the recycling has to go into the landfill temporarily, it will,” said Sonny Sanders, Jefferson City’s director of planning and protective services.

With the exception of glass, there are no city-affiliated or Republic Services drop-off locations in Jefferson City. Sanders worried that residents might get used to not doing things like “rinsing out your milk jug and putting it into the recycling.”

“That’s a hard habit to break,” Sanders said. “So now we’re encouraging people to break that habit, so, you know, it’s almost like we’re taking two steps back.”

Mount Pleasant, Mich., had to halt its curbside collection because the materials recovery facility that sorts its recycling shut down due to social distancing concerns, said Jason Moore, interim director of public works.

The electronics recycling program in Chatham County, N.C., ceased when a local vocational program stopped processing recyclables, since it was not deemed an essential service.

“Our recycling company, Synergy, they’re still open and operating,” said Shannon Culpepper, the county’s recycling and education specialist. “We just don’t have a way to get the materials to them because we use this middleman.”

Market for plastic

Recycling programs were already struggling after China — where the United States was accustomed to sending its contaminated recyclables — banned most solid waste imports in 2018.

So the virus that causes COVID-19, Sanders said, was “the straw that sort of broke the camel’s back.”

When China stopped accepting scrap materials like plastic and paper from U.S. companies, recyclables piled up at waste facilities. Sanders explained that China’s increased production of recycled materials has decreased the need for imported items from the United States.

“The market has just kind of gone down on the monetary value of a lot of those goods,” Sanders said.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

Food Dumped During Pandemic Comes with an Emissions Price Tag

Ryan Eble and his father, Chris, talked in their milk house while fresh milk gushed down a drain at their farm near West Bend, Wis., earlier this month. USA Today USPW/via Reuters/Newscom

Videos showing floods of milk rushing down the drain circulated on social media this month, vividly illustrating the agriculture industry’s losses during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

After businesses and schools closed in response to social distancing measures, large-scale farms lost their normal customers and many had to throw out food. The breakdown of those dumped crops can create emissions that heat up the climate.

When food like a tomato is dumped into a landfill or piled up as waste, anaerobic processes break down the crop and release methane.

“That’s the kind of food waste I think that is most alarming to people — is just seeing it dumped, and it, you know, just putrefying and then releasing more methane,” said Sean Pessarra, a 32-year-old farmer and horticulturist in Perryville, Ark.

Growing those crops in the first place generated its own emissions, so adding further emissions from waste is like “burning the candle on both ends,” said Pessarra, who works with Heifer USA, a nonprofit focused on teaching farmers how to make a living wage through sustainable agriculture.

Pessarra’s small-scale vegetable farm composts food that isn’t sold, which limits waste compared with a large conventional farm. But it has still sustained economic losses, including $4,000 worth of spinach and lettuce he expected to sell.

EPA estimates that the U.S. agriculture industry as a whole contributed 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, including nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide.

A Natural Resources Defense Council report in 2017 found that food waste accounts for at least 2.6% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, equal to the emissions from more than 37 million cars.

No one knows the exact impact of the recent dumping. EPA has said in the past that organic material discharged from dairy farms can break down into microorganisms that deplete oxygen in the water. That can harm marine life and, if it consumes all the oxygen, cause decay that releases its own methane.

Elizabeth Balkan, director of NRDC’s food waste, food and agriculture program, said the major climate impacts from food waste happen before that food is actually thrown out: “From the energy, the water and the resources that are used in the growing and manufacturing, distribution, storage and transportation of foods.”

Balkan used waste at a dairy farm as an example.

As milk is poured down a drain because it “couldn’t get to the consumer in time,” the wasted energy used during pasteurization and bottling leaves an “enormous greenhouse gas emissions footprint,” Balkan said.

One of the videos highlighted on social media came from Nikki Boxler of Boxler Dairy Farm in western New York.

“This week we got the call to start dumping milk because processing plants are full & there is no place for it to go due to the closure of restaurants, schools, and food services,” Boxler wrote in a tweet April 5.

‘Waste at a massive scale’

Many large-scale farms couldn’t adapt to the supply chain disruption in time to avoid tossing out their products.

“They can’t really retool quickly to turn those onions into 10-pound bags to send to a grocery store,” said Jennifer Kaplan, a food systems instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif.

Large farms’ inability to get their products to consumers could lead to unprecedented waste, she said.

“There’s going to be a kind of food waste at a massive scale that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, to be honest,” Kaplan said.

Although it would seem to be an obvious solution to send those crops somewhere like a food bank, that’s difficult, too, in the long term when there’s limited refrigeration capacity and labor shortages.

Pessarra said sustainable farming practices such as composting could help farms reduce both food waste and their climate impact, but that may take a long time.

“To set up that system this quickly … it would just take too long,” Pessarra said.

Published in conjunction with E&E News and Scientific American

Firefighters: Is our chemically treated gear making us sick?

After he retired from decades of work as a firefighter, Air Force veteran Jeffrey Hermes received devastating news: He had an “aggressive” form of prostate cancer, despite no family history of the disease.

Now he’s worried about his exposure to harmful chemicals from both the firefighting foam he used and the very gear he wore to protect himself.

That firefighting foam, known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, contained chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS in the foam have been linked to an increased risk of some cancers, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Hermes, 54, of Burlington, Ky., worries that those chemicals are also found in the turnout gear he and his colleagues wore. Several of his former co-workers have died of cancer, he said, including at least four who died of prostate cancer — which nationally has a five-year survival rate of 98%.

“We never knew foam was killing us, and we didn’t know that our own gear was killing us, and to me, that’s criminal,” Hermes said. “Sooner or later, somebody will prove it.”

It’s an emerging area of research, with few conclusions to offer. But scientists are starting to investigate the issue.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, along with the University of Arizona, the University of Miami, firefighter organizations and members of the fire service, has begun the Firefighter Cancer Cohort Study, which focuses on the connections between firefighters’ exposure to chemicals and rates of cancer.

Miriam Calkins, a research industrial hygienist at NIOSH, said an analysis of PFAS in turnout gear was added to the study within the past year as a potential pathway of exposure.

“We have to be careful with how we describe that relationship, because I don’t think we know enough to say to what extent that turnout gear is contributing to a firefighter’s exposure,” Calkins said.

Calkins added that there is a “big research gap” and not “a lot of data” on PFAS exposure from turnout gear yet.

‘Gloves, everybody’

Paul Cotter, who spent 28 years as a firefighter, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His wife, Diane, had some of his gear tested for PFAS. Diane Cotter

One scientist who is conducting research on the issue is Graham Peaslee, an experimental nuclear physics professor at the University of Notre Dame, who uses a particle accelerator to identify markers of PFAS in turnout gear. He found signs of the chemicals in water-resistant components of the gear.

Peaslee’s research is set for publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, he said.

Peaslee, who began testing chemicals and flame retardants about 10 years ago, had his students help handle the gear and measure the chemicals. “Gloves, everybody,” he told them — “measurable amounts” of PFAS come off when people handle the gear, he said.

“We’ve taken 30 or 40 sets of gear and we’ve measured them, and we see loss with time,” Peaslee said. “The older the gear, the more it’s come off.”

Peaslee began analyzing gear for PFAS levels after receiving an email from Diane Cotter, the wife of a former civilian firefighter in Worcester, Mass. Cotter’s husband, Paul, retired from firefighting at age 55 after 28 years, when he received a prostate cancer diagnosis.

After examining her husband’s gear, Cotter started to notice “big quarters of missing fabric” in areas surrounding the groin. She wondered whether toxins were “getting right in through … the degradation of the fibers.”

Paul Cotter’s turnout gear. Diane Cotter

Cotter sent Peaslee a set of unused 2004 turnout gear, and $10,000 worth of testing turned up high levels of PFAS.

“All the chemicals we thought were there, were there,” Peaslee said.

Calkins of NIOSH and Peaslee both said firefighters should still wear their turnout gear to stay safe in a fire.

Peaslee said a fluorine-free water-resistant compound should be manufactured for all coats in the future.

A spokesperson for 3M said the chemical company doesn’t make or sell PFAS-containing turnout gear, but “our PFAS materials may be used by other companies in the manufacture of firefighter turnout gear.” A DuPont spokesperson said the company manufactures “mostly fibers” for turnout gear and PFAS are not used in the fiber-spinning process.

A Department of Defense spokesman said he was not aware of any analysis by the agency on PFAS exposure from military firefighter turnout gear.

‘It was downhill from there’

Jeffrey Hermes was a firefighter in the Air Force and at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Jeffrey Hermes

Firefighters are exposed to many toxins on the job, and a multiyear study involving NIOSH found a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths among firefighters compared with the general population.

The Department of Defense began using AFFF in the 1970s for training exercises and to put out fires. The military now uses AFFF only in emergency situations, and the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020 mandates that it stop using the foam altogether by October 2024.

Hermes was a senior airman and sergeant in the Air Force, where he served until 1987. After that, he became a firefighter paramedic at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

He received his cancer diagnosis in December 2016, at age 51.

“I’ve been in the business since I was 18 years old, and suddenly I was diagnosed with cancer,” Hermes said.

Illness has struck his colleagues, as well.

“Just here at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, during my 20 years of time there, you know, there’s at least six people that are dead from cancer,” Hermes said.

Frederick Hoffman. Sarah Hoffman

One of those co-workers was Frederick Hoffman

“I got the call that he had lung cancer, and from the lung cancer, it spread, and then it spread to his brain, and then it was downhill from there,” said Sarah Hoffman, 43, Frederick Hoffman’s daughter.

He died last April at age 72.

Hoffman was a firefighter in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Later, he worked at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport for over 20 years and retired in the early 1990s, Sarah Hoffman said.

He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2006 but recovered after the kidney was removed. His daughter said the lung cancer appeared a couple of years ago and then “metastasized into the brain.”

After talking to Hermes about PFAS exposure tied to firefighting, Sarah Hoffman brought it up with her father. But at that point, she said, “he wasn’t asking the whys.”

“When the lung cancer happened, there was no — I couldn’t have him looking for answers that may take a long time to find, because he didn’t have a long time,” she said.

‘Nobody will test it’

Former military and civilian firefighters think their protective turnout gear may contain per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Many different types of cancer have been linked to prolonged PFAS exposure. Retired Air Force firefighter Kevin Ferrara shared his experiencing learning about his turnout gear with E&E News. Footage provided by: US Department of Defense, Beverly Banks. Edited by: Chris Farmer

The fiscal 2020 NDAA requires DOD to test each military firefighter’s blood for PFAS starting Oct. 1 of this year. The provision does not include firefighters who have left military service.

“I’ve never had my blood tested; nobody will test it,” Hermes said. “It costs a lot of money.”

Former Air Force firefighter Kevin Ferrara, 47, of Woolrich, Pa., said it would cost him $750 to have a blood test done.

Ferrara said recently retired firefighters like him shouldn’t be overlooked. “We need our blood tested, as well.”

Over 20 House lawmakers from the PFAS Task Force pledged their support yesterday for expanding blood testing in the fiscal 2021 NDAA (E&E News PM, April 2).

The proposed provision calls for testing the blood of all active DOD personnel and their dependents as well as retired personnel and their dependents.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

How lawmakers use technology to reach constituents

Social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic has transformed how congressional lawmakers connect with constituencies.

Senate and House offices are discovering different ways to stay in touch with community leaders and other voters.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is hosting conference calls with different constituencies and changing how his office addresses casework.

“Obviously moving our offices to full telework complicates things from a casework standpoint,” said Geoffrey Nolan, the lawmaker’s communications director, “but we have actually switched all of our casework operations online.”

Constituents can download assistance forms on Grijalva’s website, and then a caseworker will give them a call.

Nolan said one of the biggest challenges is meeting the needs of older constituents who may not have an intimate knowledge of the internet. Still, people can submit forms via fax or U.S. mail.

Grijalva’s personal office is also exploring more opportunities for video outreach on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, said Nolan.

Dingell’s blog

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell has also used social media to her advantage during the pandemic.

The congresswoman’s Twitter account sends out updates on telephone town halls and links to a webpage called Debbie’s Blog.

“It’s hard for me too, I love being out and talking to people,” Dingell wrote in a blog post this week. “We have a personal responsibility to protect others more vulnerable in our community.”

Dingell — a member of the Energy & Commerce and Natural Resources committees — has written a blog post about the pandemic almost every day since March 12.

Other lawmakers, like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), have also created a page on their website for information solely related to the coronavirus.

Town halls

Lobbyists and advocacy groups have turned to technology to reach out to lawmakers and aides amid social distancing (E&E Daily, March 20).

House members and senators have similarly turned to telephone and video town halls to speak with constituents about the pandemic.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) tweeted a video of himself in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday informing the public about his upcoming event.

“If you want to see details throughout the day, please check my website curtis.house.gov,” Curtis said. “We’re going to have a tele-town hall meeting tonight, and the details are on the website.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) made the audio from his past three telephone town halls available on his website.

“On the [personal protective equipment], we do have additional masks coming online from private industry,” Gardner said in response to a caller during his March 21 session.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) hosted telephone town halls in the past week and a half.

New Hampshire Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan hosted a joint conference call last night.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is directing all COVID-19 inquiries to the phone number 304-342-5855 and email address common_sense@manchin.senate.gov.

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) invited his constituents to a virtual fireside chat on Zoom yesterday afternoon.

The video call featured a discussion on economic disruptions to small businesses and restaurants from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

'Into the unknown': Navy plans PFAS tests at Md. base

LEXINGTON PARK, Md. — Despite the Navy’s assurances, residents near an air base by the Chesapeake Bay are worried about whether chemicals are contaminating their water.

The military looms large in St. Mary’s County, where Navy, Marine Corps and Army banners hang in a cafe near Naval Air Station Patuxent River and residents rely on the base for jobs.

But they are also concerned about chemicals known as PFAS found in firefighting foam that have caused drinking water contamination near other military sites across the country (E&E Daily, Mary 4).

NAS Patuxent River, located at the mouth of the Patuxent River in Lexington Park, is the county’s largest employer, providing about 25,000 jobs, according to Maryland’s Department of Commerce.

“What happens at the base impacts everybody one way or the other,” said Bill Hunt, 68, of Leonardtown.

Map credit: Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News

[+] Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News

The Navy no longer uses firefighting foam, which contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, during training, but it is used in the event of an emergency fire.

Traces of cancer-causing pollutants have been found in Clovis, N.M.’s drinking water, linked to PFAS use at Cannon Air Force Base. Contamination was also found in Coupeville, Wash., near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Outlying Field Coupeville. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said addressing PFAS pollution at these and other military sites is a priority (E&E News PM, Feb. 27).

A public meeting Tuesday night that drew over 250 people to Lexington Park Library addressed the Navy’s progress in identifying possible contamination around NAS Patuxent River.

Officials from the Navy, EPA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the St. Mary’s County Health Department, and the Maryland Department of the Environment were there to answer questions, as community members crowded around poster boards that showed known and suspected areas on the installation where PFAS-containing foam was used.

“What were they doing to clean it up? How did they clean it up? Where were they taking it?” asked Geri Lloyd, 59, of Lusby, Md. She lives in Calvert County, about 15 miles from the installation. Her husband works on the base, and her sister lives nearby.

David Steckler, the remedial project manager who runs the environmental restoration program for NAS Patuxent River, said that the installation sampled its own water and that the local water supplier for residents outside the base tested its water. Both were found to be free of PFAS.

“There is no drinking water exposure in the area, surrounding the base or at the base itself,” he said.

Patrick Gordon, public affairs officer at NAS Patuxent River, said the Navy does plan to conduct PFAS sampling at 18 sites at the installation.

Steckler said the Navy is “extremely early in the process” of testing the sites for potential contamination. It’s a lengthy process, he said.

“If we come to the end, and we find a site that needs to be cleaned up to protect human health and the environment, we will do so,” Steckler said.

PFAS awareness

Geri Lloyd at PFAS meeting. Photo credit: Bev Banks/E&E News

Geri Lloyd, 59, lives about 15 miles from the installation, and her husband works on base. “What were they doing to clean it up?” she asked Tuesday about PFAS. Bev Banks/E&E News

Lloyd said she first learned about PFAS when her sister “read an article in the paper and told me about it.” Before then, Lloyd said, she “didn’t have a clue.”

Hunt said he didn’t know until the Navy’s meeting that PFAS were “used so widely on the base” to put out fires in the airplane hangars.

One St. Mary’s City resident has been especially outspoken about potential contamination, conducting his own sampling that residents brought up at the meeting.

Pat Elder, 64, collected water samples from St. Inigoes Creek near his home and sent it to the nonprofit Freshwater Future, which issued a report that showed the presence of PFAS above EPA advisory levels. Elder published the results online.

He argued that the creek is contaminated due to its proximity to the Naval Outlying Field Webster, an extension of NAS Patuxent River about 12 miles from the base.

“It’s not good enough to say, ‘Well, we trust the Navy to do the job, we trust the Navy to protect the health of people in Maryland.’ No, that’s what I’m about right now,” Elder said.

Julianna Parreco, a 22-year-old student at St. Mary’s College, read online about the St. Inigoes Creek testing. She was worried about PFAS levels because “Inigoes Creek is like five minutes away from my house.”

Gordon, the NAS Patuxent River public affairs officer, cast doubt on the test results and said the Navy has cautioned against misinformation.

“While they can do testing at home, it’s important to understand that there are very few labs in the United States that are actually certified to test for PFAS,” Gordon said.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 70 years old and friends with Elder, traveled from Baltimore to protest outside the Navy’s forum. She held a cutout of an oyster in front of her face to show her distress over possible PFAS contamination in seafood.

“I am concerned for pregnant women, for children, for all of us, because the, you know, the oysters, the fish, the water, all of that needs to be pure and clear,” Sevre-Duszynska said.

‘More questions than answers’

Residents attend PFAS meeting in Maryland. Photo credit: Bev Banks/E&E News

More than 250 southern Maryland residents attended the Navy’s forum on PFAS on Tuesday night in Lexington Park, Md. Bev Banks/E&E News

Some people still had questions after attending the Navy’s meeting.

“I definitely walked away with a lot more questions than answers,” said Rosa Hance, 31, of Great Mills, Md., who asked about how frequently the Navy tests for water contamination.

As the chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter executive committee, Hance has received questions from the community about PFAS. She said the Navy’s answers made it difficult for her to understand the path forward.

“I’m walking into the unknown here,” Hance said. “I don’t, I’m not sure what the plan is and what citizens should be expected to know or what we should do.”

St. Mary’s County resident Bob Lewis, 64, executive director of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, said the Navy “did a fairly good job” assuring people there was not a threat to their drinking water, but he also left the meeting without a sense of clarity.

“It seemed like the questions that I want answered, that my organization needs answered, didn’t get answered and are not going to be answered anytime in the near future,” Lewis said.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

Veterans lobby Congress to fully fund conservation program

Veterans asked for full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in meetings with congressional offices yesterday.

As volunteers from the Vet Voice Foundation popped in and out, some lawmakers decided to sign on to the LWCF bill.

“I met with Sen. Martha McSally, who’s my senator from the great state of Arizona,” said former Army 1st Lt. Corey Harris, a volunteer. “She’s also a veteran, and we found out at the meeting that she signed on to it while we were sitting there in the meeting to support the LWCF as a co-sponsor.”

McSally, a Republican, signed on yesterday as a co-sponsor of S. 1081, the “Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act,” her office confirmed.

Harris, 44, of Phoenix, was elated. “To have my home senator jump on board, it just felt, felt powerful,” Harris said. “It felt like we were able to make a difference, and that’s what all of us veterans want to do anyway.”

Volunteers also met with Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who introduced the LWCF bill last April.

On the House side, Democrats last month asked chamber leaders to schedule a vote on companion legislation (E&E Daily, Jan. 27).

Congress approved $495 million for LWCF in the fiscal 2020 spending compromise, but the authorized level is much higher — $900 million.

LWCF boosters say full funding would provide veterans a greater opportunity to reconnect with society after returning from the battlefield.

Former Michigan Army National Guard Sgt. Kristina Lodovisi, 39, said access to public lands is “a mental health issue.”

“We go into the wilderness to bring ourselves back together,” Lodovisi said. “There’s a lot of people who are working with, through PTSD, and that’s exactly what they need.”

Lodovisi said she visited the offices of Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats. She said she was sure they would sign on to the bill.

Retired Army Col. Steve Ball visited Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an original co-sponsor of the bill. Ball said the LWCF was a “critical vehicle for veterans to reconnect.”

“It is essential to not just recovery but really identity for many, many veterans coming home,” Ball said.

Economic benefits

In addition to providing veterans spaces to decompress, fully funding the LWCF would yield economic gains, volunteers said.

Retired Army Capt. Donald Martinez, 40, of Colorado, said the funding was “critical” for the state’s local economy.

“There’s two major industries that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is relying on,” Martinez said. “That’s why we need to secure these funds because it’s better for our local economy.”

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last year that outdoor recreation constituted 2.2% of the U.S. gross domestic product in 2017 (Greenwire, Sept. 20, 2019).

For retired Air Force Master Sgt. Brent Lindstrom, 52, the revenue in his home state of Minnesota has skyrocketed for the outdoor industry.

“It’s an economic issue too, that if we don’t have these public lands, you don’t have people leaving their homes to go out and do this,” Lindstrom said.

All volunteers wanted lawmakers to commit to the permanent funding for future generations of veterans and civilians.

Former Marine Corps member Scott Mulvaney, 62, of Los Angeles, said he hoped that lawmakers would preserve the lands that veterans “fought to defend.”

“The improvement of these areas is something that any senator, any representative can be proud of,” Mulvaney said.

Reporter Kellie Lunney contributed.

Published in conjunction with E&E News

Conservative activists look to embolden GOP allies on climate

Nearly 100 conservative activists visited 76 Republican congressional offices yesterday to discuss a topic that some GOP members often avoid — climate change solutions.

Volunteers from Citizens’ Climate Lobby spent a day on Capitol Hill to highlight the importance of climate action from Republicans.

“It would mean a lot to hear that leadership coming from both the executive branch as well as our elected representatives in Congress,” said volunteer Andrea Zink. “I think we need all of them on board engaging in a solution.”

Zink, 34, of Jefferson City, Tenn., visited offices from her state’s delegation, including Reps. Tim Burchett and Phil Roe.

She also went to the Tennessee Tuesday event in the Capitol, where Sen. Marsha Blackburn was in attendance. Zink said her conversations were positive, and she saw serious interest in solutions.

CCL’s conservative lobbying day came amid a shifting landscape for congressional Republicans, particularly since Democrats took the House last year.

Most have done away with climate science denial, instead talking up clean energy innovation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without drastically scaling back fossil fuels.

Still, Daniel Palken, co-leader for Colorado’s CCL chapter, said he would like to see Republicans speak louder and be more muscular on the issue.

Palken, 28, of Boulder, spoke with staffers for Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho.

“We’re in this room not to berate the politician but to try to work together to try to push nonetheless for more aggressive climate solutions than we’re currently seeing from many but not all Republican offices,” Palken said.

‘Take a lead role’

Tyler Gillette, 24, of Columbus, Ohio, also witnessed a shift in discussions with Republican legislators on climate issues. Gillette visited the offices of Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and of Ohio Reps. Brad Wenstrup and Troy Balderson.

“They definitely want to take a lead role in climate,” Gillette said. “They’re trying to find climate-related solutions that everyone can support, whether it be our bill or [other] climate-related bills, because we need something.”

Gillette spoke with GOP members about a carbon fee-and-dividend bill known as the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act,” H.R. 763, which CCL has long lobbied for in Congress.

Florida Reps. Ted Deutch (D) and Francis Rooney (R) introduced the legislation in 2019.

‘Missing an opportunity’

CCL conservatives said GOP leaders, including President Trump, are losing out on expanding their base by not addressing climate head-on.

Trump has made skeptical comments about climate science over the years — at one point calling climate change a “hoax” — but CCL conservatives said they wish the commander in chief would do more.

During last night’s State of the Union address, the president touched on energy and some environmental concerns but didn’t mention climate.

“The president is missing an opportunity on the climate issue to do something which is in line with conservative values and to make our nation stronger and better,” Palken said.

Gillette added that Trump “should touch on it,” but “he’s probably too busy with everything else.” If the GOP continues to downplay climate issues, Gillette said, it will see the consequences in future election cycles.

“If conservatives don’t take a lead, they’re going to start losing conservative voters, as well,” Gillette said.

‘Our voice should be heard’

In November 2019, the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that higher percentages of millennial Republicans believe the federal government is not doing enough on climate.

It’s one of many studies in recent months showing that younger voters are concerned about man-made climate change, and Republican lawmakers have started to take notice.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) noted the results of several such surveys in a private presentation he gave to other House Republicans last month urging them to develop a climate message (E&E Daily, Jan. 17).

“I certainly feel very strongly that our voice should be heard and represented on this issue, because our generation is really going to be affected by inaction if we don’t address these issues now,” Zink said.

Published in conjunction with E&E News