Energy & Environment — Biden administration announces new oceans moves

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The Biden administration outlines new steps on ocean conservation, a new report from House Democrats faults the fossil fuel industry’s handling of methane leaks, and Democrats must strike a balance on promoting electric vehicles.

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Subscribe here.

Biden announces new marine sanctuary

The Biden administration announced a raft of ocean-related conservation efforts on Wednesday, World Oceans Day, including ending the use of single-use plastics on federal lands and a proposed marine sanctuary off the coast of New York.

In its announcement, the administration proposed a new sanctuary in the Hudson Canyon, a 7.5-mile-wide underwater canyon off the mouth of the Hudson River.

The announcement is part of a broader plan by the administration to preserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters. However, it was first nominated for sanctuary protections in 2016. The proposal does not unilaterally establish protections for the area and details of the protections will be determined during a public comment period, during which the local fishing and offshore energy industries will be allowed to comment.

The administration also announced a plan to phase out single-use plastics in national parks and on public lands by 2032. In a secretarial order Wednesday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also directed department staff to find biodegradable or compostable alternatives for such products.

“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” Haaland said in a statement.

“As the steward of the nation’s public lands, including national parks and national wildlife refuges, and as the agency responsible for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, we are uniquely positioned to do better for our Earth.”

Conservationist groups praised Haaland’s order, with marine preservation group Oceana calling it “meaningful action to keep this persistent pollutant out of our oceans and communities.”

Read more about the initiatives here.

Democrats walk tightrope in push for electric vehicles

High gasoline prices are bolstering Democrats’ calls for increased electric vehicle adoption — but the party will have to contend with accusations of elitism as they make their case.

Electric vehicles can both cut the country’s dependence on foreign oil and help combat climate change.

But they often come with a hefty starting price tag — and Republicans have sought to frame their opponents’ support for clean cars as a boon for the rich.

What’s the problem? “This sort of elitism problem is real because these things are very high priced right now, so Democrats should also be creating some sort of an environment through many different channels to make these much more accessible,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish.

Announcing in March that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to bolster the country’s mineral supply chain as part of a plan for reducing gasoline prices, President Biden has touted the consumer benefits of electric vehicles.’

“A typical driver will save about $80 a month from not having to pay [for] gas at the pump,” he said at the time.

Republicans take aim: But, as Democrats have tried to promote electric vehicle adoption, Republicans have tried to paint them as out of touch.

After Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in March touted savings on gasoline that can come from driving an electric vehicle, his remarks were seized on by Republicans like Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).

“Tell me you’re a liberal elite without telling me you’re a liberal elite,” Cruz tweeted.

“ ‘Just buy an electric car’ is not a solution to Biden’s energy crisis for many Americans,” added Capito. “Comments like this show the stark disparity between the Biden administration and the American people.”

And the criticism has been ongoing. Republicans made similar comments as Democrats tried to push for electric vehicle tax credits in their ill-fated Build Back Better agenda.

“I just don’t understand why in the world we are subsidizing the wealthiest people in America to buy something they consider a trinket,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) during a hearing last year, according to The Detroit News.

Among the general population, policies that promote electric vehicles are popular, but they’re less popular than certain policies in support of other clean energy technologies.

Read more about the tightrope here.

TOO CLOSE TO CALL

At press time, the results of a primary race between Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others remained too close to call.

On Tuesday, Republicans in Montana’s first congressional district went to the polls to decide whether they’d like Zinke or a different Republican to be the party’s candidate in November.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Zinke held a slight lead of about 41 percent to 40 percent over former state Sen. Al “Doc” Olszewski with 92 percent of precincts reporting.

Dems say oil, gas industry ‘failing’ to address leaks

The oil and gas industry is “failing” to address leaks of a planet-warming gas called methane, House Democrats said in a new report on Wednesday.

report from Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee found that the industry is not using the latest science to inform its approaches to tackle leaks of the greenhouse gas.

“Existing oil and gas sector [leak detection and repair] programs are failing to mitigate methane emissions from super-emitting leaks. The principal cause of this failure is the unwillingness of oil and gas companies to prioritize super-emitting leaks,” the Democrats wrote.

What are they saying? In particular, the committee found that all of the 10 companies it surveyed do not track, identify or maintain records on super-emitting leaks “in any organized manner.”

The committee also found that innovative leak detection and repair technologies were being used in pilot programs but were not yet being used at a wider-scale, limiting how effective it would be.

In particular, it cited one case where company researchers supported permanently deploying the technology, but it was rejected by management.

It notes that in this case, company researchers described greater awareness of emissions and leaks as one of the “risks” of deployment.

The report also suggested that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measurements undercount methane emissions from oil and gas.

It cited a leak from one company in 2020 that it said could be equivalent to more than 80 percent of the total methane emissions the company reported to the EPA from all of its Permian Basin oil and gas activities for that year.

Read more about the report here.

MAJOR LOAN ALERT

The Energy Department announced on Wednesday that it will make a major loan to a facility that would create and store clean hydrogen energy.

It will loan $504.4 million dollars to the Advanced Clean Energy Storage Project, which would be located in Delta, Utah.

What is hydrogen energy…? Hydrogen energy involves causing chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen in a battery-like cell to produce electricity and water. This process requires energy to complete, and different types of energy including renewables and fossil fuels can be used to make it happen.

It is considered clean when sources like solar and wind that don’t emit planet-warming gases are used.

…and why does it matter? Since hydrogen energy can be stored, it is considered a method of advancing the deployment of renewable energies that can only be produced during certain times of the day, like when the wind blows.

The newly announced loan is the first loan guarantee for a new clean energy project that the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office has issued since 2014.

Other DOE loan recipients: Probably the most high-profile successful recipient of an Energy Department loan is electric-car maker Tesla.However, the department also loaned money to Solyndra, a solar energy start-up that eventually went bankrupt.

The latest news comes as part of a push from the Biden administration to expand renewable energy and fight climate change.

“Accelerating the commercial deployment of clean hydrogen as a zero-emission, long-term energy storage solution is the first step in harnessing its potential to decarbonize our economy, create good paying clean energy jobs and enable more renewables to be added to the grid,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Read more here.

GETTING PUMPED 

The national average price for a gallon of gas neared $5 on Wednesday, according to AAA.

After weeks of soaring gas prices, Wednesday’s numbers showed the national average at $4.955.

Several states, including Nevada, Arizona and Illinois, saw average prices significantly higher than $5 per gallon. In California, which had the highest price among all 50 states, the average price per gallon of gas climbed to $6.39 on Wednesday.

Even in Southern states, where gas is typically cheaper, prices were up to an average of $4.485 per gallon in Mississippi and $4.598 per gallon in Alabama.

Some states in the Midwest saw similar prices, with Kansas having an average price per gallon of $4.563 and Oklahoma $4.54 per gallon.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact on oil markets and gas prices worldwide.

“Given the global nature of these markets, it’s virtually impossible for us to insulate ourselves from shocks like the ones that are occurring in Russia that move global oil prices,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Read more from The Hill’s Monique Beals.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Aerosols from burning fossil fuels are masking global warming, UW researchers find (The Seattle Times)

  • EU lawmakers back ban on new fossil-fuel cars from 2035 (Reuters)

  • Cruise liners try to rewrite climate rules despite vows (The Associated Press)

  • Warned of ‘massive’ climate-led extinction, a US energy firm funded crisis denial ads (The Guardian)

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • State Department energy security adviser Amos Hochstein will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing on European energy security

  • Forest Service Chief Randy Moore will testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on his agency’s budget

  • NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad and State Department official Monica Medina will appear before the House Climate Crisis committee to discuss oceans

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on bill to prohibit asbestos manufacturing processing and distribution

ICYMI

And finally, something offbeat and off-beatMillion-dollar puppy.

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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