Energy & Environment — Gas prices on voters’ minds as midterms arrive

It’s Election Day! Meanwhile, a draft of the Fifth National Climate Assessment has stark warnings about the changing climate.

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?

Thank you for signing up!

Subscribe to more newsletters here

The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter

Gas prices expected to be major factor in midterms

The country’s relatively high gasoline prices are expected to be a major factor in Wednesday’s election contests.

Prices averaged $3.80 per gallon on Tuesday. That’s down from a national average of more than $5 a gallon over the summer, but is also still nearly 40 cents more than a year ago.

The prices don’t exist in a vacuum, but are part of a larger inflation issue plaguing the country. And this problem is expected to be bad news for the Democrats in particular.

In a new survey from The Associated Press half of voters said that inflation was driving their vote.

The background: 

  • While the Democrats’ stimulus plan contributed to inflation, the phenomenon is largely related to pandemic-related supply issues, policies coming from the Federal Reserve, and other stimulus — including Trump-era legislation and legislation from other countries.  

  • On gasoline and energy prices in particular, pandemic recovery and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been main drivers. Refining issues have also contributed to some recent fluctuations.

The politics:

  • The party in power often takes the blame for high gasoline prices, and Republicans have repeatedly sought to point the finger at Biden for both gas prices and inflation broadly.

  • Meanwhile, Democrats have accused companies of price gouging even though analysts have said that market forces, rather than individual companies, are behind the high prices.

Some Republicans included messages about inflation and energy prices in their closing messages:

  • Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt tweeted critically today of opponent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), writing “Vote today to put an end to her rubber-stamp support for Biden’s high gas prices.” 

  • In New Hampshire, candidate Don Bolduc (R) tweeted that “Granite Staters are choosing between heating and eating” in his bid.

Meanwhile, Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly (D) also recently tweeted about gasoline prices, pitching himself as “someone who will focus on the issues Arizonans face every day.”

Follow along with The Hill’s live coverage of the midterms here.

Federal draft report warns of climate threats

The impacts of climate change threaten “the things Americans value most,” according a draft of the federal interagency National Climate Assessment (NCA).

The draft warns that “more intense extreme events and long-term climate changes make it harder to maintain safe homes and healthy families, reliable public services, a sustainable economy, thriving ecosystems, and strong communities.”

The report adds that many of those extreme impacts are already reality and poised to worsen in parts of the country. For example, parts of the country have seen intensified rainfall and flooding in regions like the Northeast and the Midwest, according to the NCA. These phenomena have consequences beyond immediate damages, the report notes — they can also result in runoff that damages crops and water supplies.

For example: Between 1981 and 2016, excess precipitation cost the U.S. about as much in maize crop yields as extreme drought would have.

Droughts, meanwhile, have caused nearly $300 billion in damages over the last four decades, and their impact is likely to intensify in the future, particularly in the Southwest, which has already seen a drought lasting most of this century. 

  • Another emerging threat is that of so-called compound events, or multiple extreme weather events that hit a single area consecutively or concurrently. These events strain local supply chains and emergency services, as well as causing side effects like mass die-offs of wildlife that can be a major local food source. 

  • The impact of climate change also exacerbates, and will exacerbate, existing social inequalities. Historical discrimination patterns mean minority neighborhoods are more likely to be in low-lying, flood-prone areas and those vulnerable to industrial pollution.

  • They also have fewer trees and more pavement, creating so-called heat islands that make them more susceptible to extreme heat — in some cases, up to
    12.6 degrees Fahrenheit than richer, whiter neighborhoods during heat waves.

The last National Climate Assessment, the fourth iteration, came out in 2018, during the Trump administration. It was infamously released on Black Friday.

Read more about the latest draft here.

ZELENSKY SAYS RUSSIA’S WAR IS DESTROYING THE CLIMATE

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday condemned Russia’s invasion of his country for exacerbating the “catastrophic” effects of climate change.

  • “There are still many for whom climate change is just rhetoric or marketing or political ritual,” Zelensky said in a video address to the United Nations climate change conference (COP27). 

  • “They are the ones who start wars of aggression when the planet cannot afford a single gunshot because it needs global joint actions,” the president continued.

Slamming Russia for its attempts to “destroy the independence” of Ukraine, Zelensky described a situation in which dozens of countries have now had to resume coal-fired power generation to reduce energy prices following Moscow’s invasion.

He also blamed the Russian war for triggering “an acute food crisis” that has stricken countries that were already enduring “the existing manifestations of climate change, catastrophic drought, large-scale floods.” Russian shelling, the president added, ravaged 5 million acres of forest in Ukraine in less than six months.

  • Zelensky likewise accused Russia of turning the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “de facto into a military training ground. 

  • “They are constantly playing with connecting and disconnecting their plant and nuclear reactors from their power grid,” the president said, warning “there is direct risk of a radiation disaster.”

A call to action: Zelensky called upon world leaders to “tell those who do not take the climate agenda seriously that they are making a catastrophic mistake.”

Russia’s “insane and illegal war,” he continued, is “destroying the world’s ability to work united for a common goal.”

Read more here, from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

Blowback shows coal still has sway in US politics

The backlash to President Biden’s comments last week about shutting down coal plants illustrates that the declining industry still has influence on American politics.

On Friday, Biden said “we’re going to be shutting these plants down all across America and having wind and solar.”

  • In response, key Senate swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the remarks “offensive and disgusting,” accusing the president of taking job losses lightly.  

  • “President Biden’s comments are not only outrageous and divorced from reality, they ignore the severe economic pain the American people are feeling because of rising energy costs,” he said, while calling on Biden to apologize.

The big picture: 

Although coal is on the decline, thousands of workers still work at coal mines and power plants in West Virginia and parts of Wyoming, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, which is a key state in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

West Virginia, Manchin’s home state, produces nearly 13 percent of the country’s coal — making it the second largest producer behind Wyoming. Manchin himself also holds significant investments in coal.

In the 50-50 divided Senate, Manchin is a key swing vote, and Democrats courted him for about a year in order to pass their climate, tax and health care bill.

During that time, Manchin was able to eliminate a proposal that would have used incentives and penalties to shift the country’s electricity generation away from fossil fuels like coal and gas and toward greener energy sources. In ultimately agreeing to a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), he also voted in favor of bolstering funds for miners suffering from black lung disease.

  • “Sen. Manchin certainly has a great deal of influence on both sides of the aisle and in the White House and elsewhere within Washington,” said Phil Smith, executive assistant to the president of the United Mine Workers of America. 

  • He suggested that the dynamics that gave Manchin particular sway may have “created room for people to pay attention” to issues impacting coal miners.

Meanwhile…One key Senate race is in Pennsylvania, which is responsible for about 7 percent of the country’s coal. Coal workers occupied 4,300 jobs in the state last year.

But, the influence of coal on local, statewide and even national politics may extend beyond just the number of jobs. Smith called these jobs the “drivers of the economies in these communities,” adding that “the taxes that these employers pay drive the community’s ability to provide services.”

Read more about the politics here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • In New Jersey, another capital city struggles to provide safe water (Politico)

  • Amazon destruction woes overshadow Brazil’s farming advances (The Financial Times)

  • The World Is Falling Short of Its Climate Goals. Four Big Emitters Show Why. (The New York Times)

  • Scientists Are Uncovering Ominous Waters Under Antarctic Ice (WIRED)

  • How N.M. governor’s race may shift coal, CCS (E&E News)

ICYMI

  • Government failing to protect US forests most critical to fighting climate change, activists say

  • Thunberg calls on Egypt to release political prisoners amid climate summit

  • UN experts call for standards to prevent ‘greenwashing’ in climate pledges

❓ Lighter clickTomato/Tomahto

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.