with Paulina Firozi

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided against placing limits on a chemical known to cause potential brain damage in fetuses and newborns and thyroid problems in adults.

The agency won't set limits on perchlorate, a chemical long detected in Americans drinking water.

“The move, which comes despite the fact that the EPA faces a court order to establish a national standard for the chemical compound by the end of June, marks the latest shift in a long-running fight over whether to curb the chemical used in rocket fuel,” write my colleagues Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin.

The chemical is also used in fireworks and other munitions, and planned restrictions on it announced by the Obama administration in 2011 were fought by the Defense Department and other military manufacturers.

“The decision by Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., appears to defy a court order that required the agency to establish a safe drinking-water standard for the chemical by the end of June,” reports the New York Times's Lisa Friedman, who first broke the story. 

“The policy, which acknowledges that exposure to high levels of perchlorate can cause I.Q. damage but opts nevertheless not to limit it, could also set a precedent for the regulation of other chemicals, people familiar with the matter said. ”

Wheeler released a statement Thursday pointing to fact that perchlorate exposures have been declining, which is largely because some states have already been regulating the chemical, according to Brady and Juliet.

“Because of steps that EPA, states and public water systems have taken to identify, monitor and mitigate perchlorate, the levels have decreased in drinking water,” Wheeler said. “This success demonstrates that EPA and states are working together to lead the world in providing safe drinking water to all Americans.”

Some activists and medical professionals have long sounded the alarm about regulating perchlorate.

Kyle Yasuda wrote to the EPA in August as then-president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the agency should crack down on the chemical.

“AAP is particularly concerned that EPA is considering withdrawing its 2011 determination to regulate perchlorate, relinquishing national oversight over a chemical with well-established health risks in drinking water,” Yasuda wrote, according to my colleagues. “This would set a precedent inconsistent with EPA’s stated mission to protect public health.”

The EPA has limited more than 90 chemicals allowed in drinking water, but there is concern about a broader class of unregulated “emerging contaminants.”

There haven't been any new restrictions on drinking water contaminants in decades, per Brady and Juliet. “Perchlorate is the only chemical to come close to regulation since the 1990s. Time and again, regulators have backed away,” they write.

Dino Grandoni will be back on Monday. Have a safe and restful weekend.

Coronavirus fallout

National parks continue to reopen. 

Grand Canyon National Park will temporarily reopen some areas for the weekend.

“Under the first phase, park officials said the South Rim entrance will reopen [Friday] through Monday from 6 to 10 a.m., and visitors will have limited day use access to viewpoints, picnic areas and some restroom facilities,” E&E News writes. “The east entrance to the South Rim will remain closed, along with the North Rim, which closes every winter. Officials said they are planning to increase access to the park for Memorial Day weekend.”

"This initial reopening phase will increase access to our public lands in a responsible way by offering the main feature of the park for the public, the view of the canyon, while reducing the potential exposure of covid-19 to our nearly 2,500 residents," Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable said in a statement.

Oil check

Oil extraction and mining small businesses reported the most success in acquiring federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey, more than half of businesses surveyed in that sector said they got PPP support, the Associated Press reports. The survey found just under half of small businesses in manufacturing said they received PPP loans. 

Global warming watch

Understanding the psychology behind our views on the climate. 

In an interview with The Post’s Chris Mooney, Shahzeen Attari, an associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, talked about the psychology behind how people view the climate crisis. 

She said that while individuals and their actions may not be enough, they are “required” in terms of climate change and energy use. “And I’m not just saying individuals decreasing their energy use, but individuals going from the personal, which is changing their energy use, to the societal,” she said. 

She also talked about changes that can be made – from individuals to organizations – as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic that can address climate change. “We have made unprecedented changes to our behavior in the past few months. This tells us that when we face a problem, we can indeed activate, even while suffering large losses,” Attari said.

A sudden pulse of warmth has hit the North Pole, a reversal from its remarkably cold winter.  

Research has pointed to more frequent warm winter events fueling sea and land ice loss in the Arctic in recent years, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports, a result of the rapidly changing climate.

“Above freezing temperatures are showing up in the Central Arctic about one month earlier than average this week, according to Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at CIRES, an atmospheric research institute operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado at Boulder,” he writes. 

The warmth could fire up the melt season for Arctic ice. “Scambos says the weather this week could cause the snowpack on top of the sea ice to ‘ripen’ early in the season, which would cause the snow to get some liquid meltwater in it, lowering its reflectivity, or albedo, and absorbing more incoming solar energy,” Freedman adds. 

Wildfires are burning in the Sunshine State. 

At least 5,000 acres have been burned by a pair of wildfires in Southwest Florida, forcing hundreds to evacuate. The fires also merged overnight into Thursday and as of the morning, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the combined blaze was 10 percent contained.

“Wildfires are no stranger to Florida, and they typically occur around this time of year. However, recent weather has been a major contributor to the active fire season,” The Post’s Matthew Cappucci reports. “The Sunshine State had its driest March on record, with parts of the Everglades not seeing a drop of rain all month… Much of Southwest Florida has seen temperatures running 3 to 4 degrees above average this year, sapping already thirsty vegetation of any remnant water they store. The warm temperatures stem in part from a record-warm Gulf of Mexico, which has also contributed to an active severe weather season across the South.”

A subtropical storm is likely to form off the Southeast coast this weekend. 

The system– which will be named Arthur if it forms – could develop east of the Carolinas this weekend. It would be the sixth straight year that a tropical or subtropical cyclone formed before the formal start of the Atlantic hurricane season. 

“There’s an outside chance the system — likely Arthur by that point — draws closer to the coastline and grazes the Outer Banks with rain squalls and gustier winds Sunday night into Monday,” Cappucci adds. “The system will not produce much in the way of significant effects farther inland.”