Environment

Energy & Environment — Are the feds closing the door on climate action?

The federal government may be running out of time for meaningful action on climate change, green groups want action on a key EPA enforcement official and Texas’ grid operator advises energy conservation.

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US climate efforts face major hurdles

A 6-3 ruling by the Supreme Court restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to limit power plant emissions is the latest blow to US efforts to fight climate change, contributing to a renewed sense of pessimism that the US political system will address the issue at the federal level.

  • While the decision backed by the conservative majority on the court does not negate efforts by state governments to take action for the planet, it puts a new limitation on the EPA.
  • It also signals the Supreme Court’s openness to limiting the administration’s authority at the EPA and beyond going forward. The three conservative justices nominated by former President Trump have shifted the court sharply to the right — a change that could shadow the court for decades.

Republican officeholders also remain resistant to taking action to address climate change and appear poised to win back the House majority this fall and possibly the Senate as well.

And even if Democrats retain the Senate, they have been unable thus far to push through major legislation to address climate change because of opposition from one of their own — Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.).

What options does the government have? The Biden administration has set a number of ambitious targets related to climate change, including halving the country’s emissions by 2030. President Biden also signed an executive order that would make the federal government carbon neutral by 2050.

But decisions such as the one handed down by the Supreme Court recently as well as gridlock in Congress threaten those targets, as does the prospect of a presidential bid by Trump, who withdrew the US from the Paris climate accord and expressed doubt about science on climate change.

Barry Rabe, a professor of environmental policy in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, called the conservative Supreme Court and sharply divided Congress a “serious set of constraints on the executive branch.”

What about states? Democratic-run states can pick up some of the slack on environmental policy. California has enacted the strictest vehicle emissions standards in the nation, and a dozen others have since adopted them, resulting in a patchwork approach across the US

“Given gridlock in Congress, action at the state level is essential,” said Jason Smerdon, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Still, experts say that action at the state level cannot supplant that at the federal level.

“Climate policy is environmental policy, and it’s economic policy, and it’s going to require, most likely, the development of many different policy levers and actions over time to meaningfully address the issue,” said Sasha Mackler, executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s energy program.

Read more about the quandary here.

⛽️ Gas price drop

Gas prices across the country have fallen over the past several weeks, with the national average dropping about 34 cents from nearly $5.02 last month, according to an analysis from The Hill of data from the American Automobile Association.

  • Prices in Indiana and Florida have dropped 48 cents per gallon since the middle of last month, followed by 47 cent drops in Ohio and Wisconsin and a 46 cent drop in Texas.
  • South Carolina experienced a 43 cent drop, while Michigan and Kentucky saw prices drop by 42 cents, and Delaware, Illinois and Virginia saw prices drop by 41 cents on average.

The drops in prices at the pump, which experts have linked to factors such as lower oil prices that come with recession fears and reduced demand, haven’t spread uniformly across the country.

Read more times.

Biden weighs options for massive drilling project

The Biden administration is weighing several options for the future of a major proposed drilling project in Alaska that could produce massive quantities of oil and significantly contribute to climate change.

  • The administration released an environmental review that said that at its peak, the project could produce more than 180,000 barrels of oil per day and produce a total of 629 million barrels overall over the course of a 30-year duration.
  • It found that the project could contribute between 278 million and nearly 287 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to climate change over the same time period. That’s the equivalent of the carbon dioxide contribution of between about 59.9 million and 61.8 million cars that are driven for a year.

The options: The review contains several “alternatives” for the ultimate decision that the administration may make on the project including blocking it, allowing it to proceed as sponsor ConocoPhillips proposed and shrinking the project.

The document does not list a “preferred” option, and a spokesperson for the department confirmed that all of them would be given equal consideration.

The background story: The document’s release comes after a court tossed the Trump-era approval of the project, known as the Willow Project, last year.

A judge argued that the analysis behind that approval was flawed for environmental reasons, including a lack of consideration of climate impacts. The judge ordered the Biden administration, which initially backed the Trump-era decision, to redo it.

Read more about the environmental review here.

Green groups push Senate to confirm official EPA

Environmental groups are pushing for the confirmation of a leader for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement team, arguing that filling the vacancy will help mitigate climate change.

  • In a statement issued on Monday, leaders from the Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council called on the Senate to prioritize the confirmation of David Uhlmann to be the EPA’s enforcement chief.
  • What they’re saying: “As leaders of the largest environmental groups in the United States, we join together to urge the United States Senate to prioritize floor time to confirm David M. Uhlmann to serve as the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA,” they said.

The leaders of the groups also invoked climate change, saying that confirming Uhlmann will enable the agency to better enforce existing climate rules after the Supreme Court recently took away a major regulatory tool to prevent power plant emissions.

“His confirmation will also allow EPA to increase its efforts to enforce existing climate regulations, an immediate step that the Senate can take in the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA is curtailing the Agency’s ability to address climate change,” said the statement, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Read more about the push here.

Texas grid operator calls on users to conserve power

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Lone Star State’s self-contained power grid, called on residents to voluntarily conserve power amid a heat wave Monday.

  • In an advisory Sunday, ERCOT appealed to residents and businesses to conserve power between 2 and 8 pm Monday.
  • The operator warned of shortages in reserve power capacity during the same period, but said it did not expect any system-wide outages.

ERCOT projected a total of more than 79 gigawatts’ worth of demand over the course of the day, a new record.

Compounding the demand, low winds are likely to place further strain on the grid, with wind power generation at less than 10 percent of capacity. Solar power, meanwhile, is far closer to full capacity, at 81 percent, according to ERCOT.

Meanwhile, parts of the state saw average temperatures of 110 to 114 degrees as much of the southern US has seen the impact of a “heat dome” in recent days.

This has been acutely felt in South Central Texas. The National Weather Service projected “dangerous heat” in the Austin-San Antonio region over the course of the day, appealing to locals to regularly check in on elderly family members and neighbors.

The advisory from ERCOT comes two months after the grid operator called on customers to conserve power over the weekend of May 13-15. Six power plants unexpectedly went down that Friday in the state, causing the loss of some 2.9 megawatts of power.

Read more about the advisory here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Pennsylvania judge blocks governor’s signature play to continue the fight against climate change (PennLive)
  • Biggest CCS failure clouds Supreme Court ruling (E&E News)
  • Forever chemicals found in drinking water throughout Illinois (The Chicago Tribune)
  • California cities ban new gas stations in battle to combat climate change (The Los Angeles Times)

🗳 Lighter click: More civic engagement is always a good thing

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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