Energy & Environment — Election in Brazil brings new hope for the Amazon

A transfer of power in South America’s biggest country could renew the Amazon’s chances. Meanwhile, the White House announces low-income heating funding, and the U.K.’s prime minister does a 180 on COP27.

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. Someone forward you this newsletter?

Brazilian election could mean reprieve for Amazon

Brazil’s ouster of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro this week is giving environmentalists hope for the future of the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon — considered of major importance to combating climate change — faced increased logging and clearing under Bolsonaro, whose administration openly deprioritized environmental laws.

The state of play: On Sunday, Brazilians elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known colloquially as “Lula,” to replace Bolsonaro. Da Silva, who was also the country’s president from 2003 through 2010, has pledged to protect the precious rainforest.

  • “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” he said after winning the election.  

  • “Brazil will fight for a living Amazon; a standing tree is worth more than thousands of logs — that is why we will resume the surveillance of the entire Amazon and any illegal activity, and at the same time we will promote sustainable development,” he added.

Here’s where it gets complicated: But there could still be challenges ahead, including with the country’s more conservative National Congress.

  • Preserving the Amazon is vital to fighting climate change because of the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide that the massive forest can absorb: around 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

  • The forest’s carbon storage is “absolutely necessary to fight the climate emergency,” said Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre.  

  • The Amazon is also home to hundreds of Indigenous groups and a vast trove of animal and plant species.

During da Silva’s prior two terms, his administration tackled land-clearing in the Amazon with a multilayered strategy that expanded the scope and number of protected areas, tackled illegal logging and funded new means of remote satellite surveillance to identify areas where forest was being lost.

Da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff also targeted root causes of deforestation — such as the easy credit available to agricultural interests clearing new lands. They incentivized new sustainable supply chains and investment into making Amazonian agriculture more productive so that economic growth could take place through more intensive cultivation of existing parcels, rather than clearing new ones.

But Rousseff was impeached in 2017 in what she called a “parliamentary coup” orchestrated by the rising members of Brazil’s “ruralist” faction of large agricultural landholders and mining interests.

After a right-wing anti-corruption campaign saw the still-popular da Silva imprisoned, Bolsonaro swept to power in 2018 on a platform that included scaling up development of the Amazon.

Under Bolsonaro, deforestation began trending sharply upward. The first half of 2022 saw record deforestation rates, according to Mongabay. Last month, INPE, Brazil’s space agency, found that deforestation was up nearly 50 percent from a year ago.

Read more from Rachel and The Hill’s Saul Elbein.

Officials providing $13B to help lower energy bills

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced $13 billion in funds to provide winter heating assistance for low-income Americans, including $4.5 billion through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

In addition to the LIHEAP funding, provided through the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House announced $9 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funds for energy efficiency upgrades to low-income households.

What’s included? This includes enough funds to install 500,000 heat pumps and provide upgrades to 500,000 homes, according to a White House call with reporters Tuesday evening. The White House said this would include separate rebate programs for whole-home upgrades and appliances. White House officials said the initiatives are part of a broader goal to deploy at least 12 million heat pumps by the end of the decade.

Vice President Harris formally announced the funds Wednesday in Boston, part of a broader trip through the U.S. seeking to tout the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act.

  • “As energy prices remain high, this Administration is working to cut costs for working families and businesses through historic investments for consumer rebates for more efficient home improvements and energy-efficient appliances nationwide,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. 

  • “President Biden’s agenda means states will have greater resources to meet their consumers’ needs and more rapidly achieve home electrification on the path to a net zero emissions economy,” she continued.

Read more about the announcement here.

PM reverses stance, will attend UN climate summit

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed Wednesday that he will attend next week’s COP27 United Nations climate conference, less than a week after his office said domestic priorities would force him to skip it.

“There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change. There is no energy security without investing in renewables. That is why I will attend @COP27P next week: to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure and sustainable future,” Sunak tweeted Wednesday.

Days after Sunak took office last week, a spokesperson for his office said the prime minister would not attend the summit, set to begin Sunday in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Sunak’s office had cited “pressing domestic commitments,” including an upcoming budget deadline, for the prime minister’s absence.

Following pushback, however, Sunak’s office told the BBC earlier this week his potential attendance remained under review. Appearing on British TV earlier this week, Minister for Food Mark Spencer said “the U.K.’s very keen to play its part,” adding “if [Sunak’s] diary allows, he would want to go” to COP27. But he was noncommittal on whether the prime minister was making a full “U-turn.”

The United Kingdom currently holds the COP presidency after hosting the 2021 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, with then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in attendance.

Both Johnson and President Biden are set to attend the 2022 conference. Critics of Sunak’s announcement that he would not attend included COP26 President Alok Sharma, who said Sunday that he was “disappointed” by the decision, adding that “going to COP27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders. I think it does send a signal — if the PM were to go — about our renewed commitment on this issue.”

Read more about Sunak’s reversal here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Democrats pressure EPA to ease off on chemical regulation (E&E News)

  • As Climate Change Worsens, US Weighs Which Communities to Save (The New York Times)

  • After Ian, Florida’s waterways could remain polluted for months (The Washington Post)

  • As more drivers go electric, Georgia may replace gas tax with mileage-based user fee (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • ‘Everybody’s contaminated:’ Maine hunters worried about PFAS contamination in animals (WGME)

🐸 Lighter clickAll hail the Hypnotoad!

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.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.