Energy & Environment — Flint water crisis charges tossed

Charges have been dropped against seven people who had been implicated in the Flint water crisis. Meanwhile, a group of major oil producing countries considers a supply cut.

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Charges against seven people over Flint dismissed

A Michigan judge on Tuesday dismissed criminal charges against seven former government officials who were accused of misconduct in the Flint water crisis.

Judge Elizabeth Kelly in the Genesee County Circuit Court ruled the charges were invalid against the officials, including two former state employees accused of involuntary manslaughter after some Flint residents died from Legionnaires’ Disease following the water crisis.

The ruling comes about three months after the Michigan Supreme Court said a one-judge grand jury that indicted the former government officials did not have the authority to do so.

Criminal charges are now wiped out against several state government officials, including Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and former chief medical executive Eden Wells.

Lyon and Wells were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of nine people and had faced up to 15 years in prison.

  • Charges against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) were not impacted by Tuesday’s dismissal, but the state’s Supreme Court has also cast the charges against him into doubt.

  • Charges against Richard Baird, a former senior adviser to Snyder, as well as Jarrod Agen, the former chief of staff and communications director for the governor, and Nancy Peeler, a former manager of the Early Childhood Section at MDHHS, were dismissed.

  • At the local level, former Flint emergency managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley also had their charges dismissed.

The background: Flint’s drinking water was contaminated after the source of their water supply was shifted from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. The water wasn’t adequately treated and this caused lead from pipes to leach into the city’s drinking water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this exposed approximately 99,000 residents to lead. Lead exposure can cause kidney and brain damage and has greater impacts on children than adults.

The water source switch has also been linked to a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

Prosecutors, in a statement on Wednesday, condemned the dismissal, which they described as courts siding  “in favor of well-connected, wealthy individuals with political power and influence.”

“The prosecution has pledged to exhaust all available legal options to pursue this case and that pledge remains.  The team will review today’s ruling and continue its pursuit of justice for Flint,” the statement said.   

Read more here, from The Hill’s Brad Dress.

OPEC+ to consider cutting oil production

OPEC+ is set to hold a critical meeting on Wednesday in Vienna to decide whether to cut production, a move that would drive up the price of oil.

Energy industry analysts say the cut could be as much as 2 million barrels per day, a move that would likely contribute to higher gas prices in the United States and inflation more generally. 

It would also serve as a diplomatic blow to the White House, which has sought to get Saudi Arabia and other producers to keep production up as sanctions on Russia raise energy prices around the world. 

Over the summer, President Biden encouraged OPEC+ to increase production to bring down prices. Following a visit from Biden to Saudi Arabia in July, the group raised its output levels by a slender margin of 100,000 barrels a day starting in September. 

  • Any increase in U.S. gas prices could have an impact on the upcoming midterm elections, which Republicans want focused on inflation and the economy.    

  • Oil prices have been declining since June from above $120 a barrel to just above $80 a barrel. Some economists see this as a sign of declining demand as forecasters fear a global recession. 

A possible explanation: Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the decreases in demand for energy associated with a slowing global economy were top of mind for OPEC+.

“I’m not surprised that OPEC+ is contemplating a cut; they’re defending against downside risk,” he said. 

“I think [OPEC+ countries] are signaling to the market that they want to regain control of the narrative,” he added. He pointed to August remarks by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman complaining about volatility in the market.

Read more about the impending decision here, from Zack and The Hill’s Tobias Burns.

SENATORS CALL FOR CLIMATE EMERGENCY DECLARATION

A group of eight Democratic senators are renewing a push for President Biden to declare a national climate emergency, saying the idea would “build off” recent legislative victories.

President Biden had been weighing the declaration of a climate emergency, which would unlock additional powers to address the problem, when it appeared that talks for the climate bill had fallen through earlier this year.

But he never took the step, and swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) eventually came around to supporting the Democrats’ climate agenda — with some changes added to make the bill more friendly to the oil and gas industry.

In their new letter, the Democratic senators said they still want Biden to declare the emergency, saying it would further the progress that was achieved by the legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

  • Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) noted that while the bill is expected to help the country make significant climate progress, it’s not expected to get the country all the way to reaching Biden’s goal of cutting emissions down to half of their 2005 levels.  

  • “We will only achieve these targets if you build off the momentum of the IRA with strong executive action. We urge you to take the important next step of declaring a climate emergency and unlocking the full tools at your disposal to address this crisis,” they wrote.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question from The Hill about whether a climate emergency declaration was still on the table.

Read more about the letter here.

DRYING LAKE POWELL FOREBODES SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

If Lake Powell recedes much further, one of the nation’s largest reservoirs could be at risk of no longer generating hydropower for the region.

Lake Powell was just under 24 percent full as of last week, and had lost 16 feet in the last year. Its depth level currently stands at around 3,530 feet.

How much power does it generate?  

  • Northern Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the lake, has a full capacity of 1,320 megawatts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. However, the receding water levels have already greatly reduced the reservoir’s generating capacity, to about 800 megawatts—about 60 percent.

How many people rely on it?  

  • Lake Powell generates power for about 5.8 million households and businesses in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. 
     

  • In addition to the power the lake generates directly, it is a major source of grid resilience when full, serving as a quick backup source in cases where solar or wind power can’t meet demand.  

  • On top of the hydropower the lake generates, it’s the source of drinking water for the 7,500 residents of Page, Ariz., and the 1,443 members of the LeChee chapter of the Navajo Nation. 

If allocations from the Colorado River dip below the levels necessary for some customers to receive hydropower, “the real question [becomes] what can our grid accommodate from a hydropower perspective in terms of compensating production losses from Glen Canyon?” said Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College.

“In the abstract, people seem to think that hydropower can be compensated from other sources, [but] in practical terms, no one really seems to have that figured out,” said Mankin, who co-wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Drought Task Force’s annual report in 2021.

Read more about the potential consequences here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • He survived Ian on Pine Island. Then his granddaughter lost contact (Tampa Bay Times)

  • ‘Always check the label’: ESG funds not as green as they seem – study (Reuters)

  • Like Manchin, Obama tried to fast-track transmission. Nope. (E&E News)

  • Baton Rouge unveils electric vehicle strategy, hopes to attract federal funding (The Advocate)

  • Can Invasive Species Ever Be Good? (The Atlantic)

ICYMI

🐻 Lighter click: Democracy at work!

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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