President Biden undoes a Trump-era rollback of protections for the Tongass National Forest.
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduces a bill to eliminate a delay on restrictions on EV tax credits in the IRA, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) hits another snag in his plans to remove the state from a carbon-trading partnership.
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Protections restored for Tongass forest
The U.S. Forest Service has finalized a rule restoring protections rolled back under the Trump administration for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the largest such forest in the U.S.
“As our nation’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“Restoring roadless protections listens to the voices of Tribal Nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy,” he added.
How we got here: In early 2001 the outgoing Clinton administration added most of the forest to its Roadless Initiative, barring road development or timber harvesting in the protected areas. The forest has been of particular concern to environmentalists due to its status as the country’s biggest carbon sink, or absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“The Tongass stores about 20 percent of the total amount of carbon that’s stored in the National Forest System,” Kate Glover, an attorney for the organization Earthjustice, told The Hill. “So that’s a large amount of carbon. It’s equal to about one and a half times U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions for the year 2018.”
What’s happened since: Since the implementation of the initial Clinton rule, it has repeatedly been rolled back and restored, usually on a partisan basis, in addition to ongoing litigation.
Despite the Trump-era rollback, much of the forest loss began earlier, with about 88,000 acres transferred out of the forest to the Sealaska Corporation and the Alaska Mental Health Trust beginning in 2015. Since then, lands subject to ownership transfers have accounted for about 43 percent of forest loss between 2015 and 2020.
In July 2021, the Biden administration announced it would restore and expand protections wound back by the Trump administration, including an end to large-scale sales of timber from old-growth trees in the forest.
Manchin takes aim at Treasury over tax credit delay
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to eliminate a delay in adding new restrictions to the consumer tax credit for electric vehicles.
The legislation takes aim at a Treasury Department move in December to temporarily delay the stipulations — which are expected to pose hurdles for consumers who want to get a federal subsidy for their electric car.
Manchin’s proposal is unlikely to actually pass, given that it would require President Biden’s signature, but it is the latest flashpoint in tensions that the West Virginia senator has with the administration.
How we got here: The Democrats’ climate, tax and health care legislation signed into law last year expanded tax credits for electric vehicles — allowing consumers to get up to $7,500 split across two credits from the federal government for a new car.
But it also came with new stipulations.
By the start of this year, 50 percent of the value of the vehicle’s battery components would need to be manufactured or assembled in North America in order for it to be eligible for a $3,750 credit.
By this year, 40 percent of the value of the minerals contained in a car’s battery would need to be mined or processed in countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement in order to get the other $3,750. In lieu of being mined or processed in such countries, the minerals could instead be recycled in North America to meet the second requirement.
However, the Treasury Department in December delayed the restrictions’ effective date, pushing it off until March and drawing ire from Manchin.
The law in question, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, says that the restrictions will take effect when the Treasury issues guidance for their implementation, which was supposed to happen “not later than December 31.” But the department said the guidance is not yet ready, causing the delay.
Manchin hits back: In a written statement on his new legislation, Manchin called the Treasury Department’s move “unacceptable.”
“It is unacceptable that the U.S. Treasury has failed to issue updated guidance for the 30D electric vehicle tax credits and continues to make the full $7,500 credits available without meeting all of the clear requirements included in the Inflation Reduction Act,” he said.
Virginia bill to exit carbon-trading program blocked
A committee of the Virginia Senate on Tuesday defeated a bill backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) that would withdraw the state from a regional carbon-trading initiative.
The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted down Senate Bill 1001 in a party line 8-6 vote.
So what IS RGGI? The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Richard Stuart (R), would repeal the state Clean Energy and Flood Preparedness Act, which entered Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an interstate program that mandates that power plants buy credits for their carbon emissions. The initiative returns the proceeds of the auctions of the credits to the state.
Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont are also members of the initiative, with Pennsylvania attempting to join last year though court challenges are still pending.
Virginia joined in 2020 under Youngkin’s predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
Youngkin has vowed to pull the state from the RGGI since his election in 2021, blaming it for rate increases by the state utility, Dominion Energy.
The state Senate’s Democratic majority has countered that withdrawal would require a vote by the entire General Assembly, just as entering the initiative did.
“Senate Democrats refused to offer immediate relief to Virginians from this regressive tax which does not do anything to incentivize the reduction of pollution,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement on Wednesday. “Regardless, Virginians will see a lower energy bill in due time because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process.”
Decarbonization could triple current lithium output
Broad investment in mass transit and reduced reliance on cars could reduce the additional lithium required to transition to electric vehicles by 90 percent, according to research from the Climate and Community Project and the University of California, Davis.
The research, first shared with The Guardian, found a scenario in which current demand for EVs as projected to 2050 would require three times as much lithium as is currently produced worldwide.
The U.S. currently only has a single lithium mine, and while the domestic market is poised to expand, this projected demand would require a vast expansion of mining operations. This poses a new set of risks, including environmental degradation and disruption of affected communities, according to the report.
In contrast to relying entirely on a transition to EVs for decarbonization, the analysis found, aiming for an outcome that reduces EV battery size and overall dependence on cars could cut lithium demand between 18 and 66 percent. A scenario where car reliance stays flat but battery size is limited could reduce demand up to 42 percent.
WHAT WE’RE READING
How we saved pandas from extinction as the rest of nature collapsed (Vox)
Ecuador Moves to Expand Drilling in the Amazon (The New York Times)
Granholm ecstatic at red state surge in renewable energy: ‘That is fantastic’ (Yahoo News)
Utah Legislature to pledge $2M for ozone fight with EPA (The Salt Lake Tribune)
Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctica. Aerial view is ‘spectacular’ (The Washington Post)
🎟️ Lighter click: Swift retribution.
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.