Energy & Environment — Gearing up for COP27

A look at what’s on the table for the coming COP27 conference, the costs of threats to Rocky Mountain snowpack, and the Supreme Court will weigh in the Navajo Nation’s access to the Colorado River.

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.

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Global climate summit kicks off this weekend

A global climate summit known as COP27 will kick off this weekend. Over the next two weeks or so, world leaders, companies, climate advocates and more will gather in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, to discuss the climate crisis.

From the U.S., President Biden, as well as several lawmakers, are expected to attend. But, some of the biggest issues this year will be global.

For one, there is a question as to how countries will balance tackling climate change while dealing with an energy crisis

  • Since Russia was a major supplier of Europe’s natural gas prior to its invasion of Ukraine, changes caused by that invasion meant some countries would have to turn to high-emission fuels to keep the lights on.

  • Still, countries that have struggled to replace Russian fuel have also looked to clean energy. Earlier this year, the European Union said it would try to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds, and said it would pursue more rooftop solar, energy efficient heat pumps and faster approvals for renewable energy projects.

Another item expected to generate discussion is the calls for wealthy countries to pay reparations for climate damage.

  • Developing countries say that they want richer nations to pay for the “loss and damage” they have caused to less affluent countries due to the significant harm they caused through their historic use of fossil fuels.

  • Special climate envoy John Kerry recently told reporters that the U.S. supports a loss and damage dialogue, though he rejected the term “reparations.”

And then there is the extent of China’s efforts amid tensions with the U.S.

The conference is also expected to get into how countries (and corporations) will carry out their emissions promises.

  • Studies and other analyses have shown that while many countries and companies have made promises to cut their emissions, few have the actual policies in place to achieve them.

  • “This year has to be implementation plus. The test this year is will countries put commitment into action,” Kerry recently said at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Check out TheHill.com this weekend for more on coming conference.

SEVEN SENATE DEMS CALL FOR BIDEN TO BACK LOSS, DAMAGES FUNDS

Seven Democratic senators called on President Biden to strengthen American climate commitments at the COP27 United Nations climate summit next week.

In a letter released on Friday, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on the U.S. to back so-called loss and damages, or funds to cover the damage from climate change to developing nations.

Representatives of affected countries typically push for loss and damages ahead of the conference but the U.S. has never backed it, although U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry did not rule it out this year.

“No one is exempt from the effects of the climate crisis, but the most vulnerable nations at the frontline of the climate crisis have endured and are enduring disproportionate suffering, while contributing the least to global carbon emissions,” the senators wrote. “The United States, by contrast, is responsible for around one-quarter of historic carbon emissions, more than any other nation or the European Union.”

Biden says he’ll discuss gas prices with oil giants

President Biden said Friday he will have a direct conservation with oil companies soon, following his warning to oil giants earlier this week that they may face a “higher tax” on excess profits.

“I’m working like hell to deal with the energy prices,” Biden said in San Diego, Calif. “I’m going to have a little — as they say — come to the lord talk with the oil companies pretty soon.”

  • The president on Monday threatened to push Congress to impose a windfall tax on oil companies. His comments came after ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell reported high third-quarter earnings. BP, Marathon Petroleum and Phillips 66 later reported high earnings too.

  • “What are the bills people have to pay every month, a lot of people? Well, guess what, every month a lot of people have prescription bills they have to pay on a regular basis, every month they have health care premiums, energy costs, cost of heating their homes,” Biden said on Friday. “And how much of that is critical to working- and middle-class families? What can you do about it?”

While analysts say the global oil market, not individual companies, set large portions of the price, Biden has ramped up his focus on record profits by oil companies ahead of Election Day, seeking to go on offense over an issue that polls have shown is a major topic for voters this fall.

Read more here, from The Hill’s Alex Gangitano.

Supreme Court to hear Navajo water rights case

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will weigh in on a dispute between the Navajo Nation and state and federal governments over the tribe’s claim on Colorado River waters.

The tribe has argued the U.S. is failing to fulfill its obligations regarding the river under the terms of an 1849 treaty.

  • In a filing, lawyers for the tribe wrote that “[w]hen the government creates an Indian reservation, it reserves then-unappropriated water sufficient to fulfill the reservation’s purposes.” The Navajo Nation, which first sued over access to the river in 2003, has asked for access to the main branch of the river, rather than to the San Juan River, the tributary where it gets most of its water.

  • Meanwhile, the federal government and the states of Arizona, Colorado and Nevada argued in an October filing that the river’s water is not an explicitly enumerated responsibility of the government regarding reservations. The case law “has made clear that Indian tribes may sue to enforce only those trust responsibilities that the United States has ‘expressly accept[ed],’” they wrote.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona had earlier dismissed the Navajo Nation’s claims, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived the complaint last year, citing the “fierce” competition in the West for the river’s over-allocated waters.

Access to the river’s waters is governed by a century-old compact, which does not account for the drought that has plagued the region for over two decades. The state governments themselves have also been at odds over their respective claims to the water.

Read more about the case here.

How snowpack threats pose risks far downslope

As unseasonable fall warmth bakes the Rocky Mountain hillsides, veteran snowmaker Tony Wrone has come to terms with the fact that these are no longer the winters of his youth.

“Last year, we had a real hard time because it was so warm in November,” Wrone, who began making snow in Keystone, Colo., in 1996, told The Hill.

“Back then, I think we opened one year there around Oct. 18 or something like that,” said Wrone, a snowmaking manager at the Aspen Snowmass resort. “Now, we seem to be struggling for temps in November.”

Wrone said he is concerned that these conditions may repeat themselves, particularly because meteorologists have once again predicted a hot, dry fall. And what will happen this winter is anyone’s guess.

As climate change shakes up weather systems worldwide, a region known for its snow has become increasingly uncertain just how much longer its mountainsides will be coated in white.

Like the rest of the Western U.S., the Rocky Mountains are at the mercy of an unforgiving drought, the region’s worst in more than 1,000 years. At the literal top of the water cycle, the lack of snow threatens both the livelihoods that depend on it and the water needs of those hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

‘Uncertainty around water planning’: “We can think about the Western snowpack as kind of the ultimate reservoir of water for us in the West,” said Sam Collentine, chief operating officer and a meteorologist at OpenSnow, a snow forecasting service geared toward skiers.

When Wrone starts making snow this season in Aspen — less than 200 miles southeast of the Colorado River’s headwaters — he’ll be contributing to that river system’s core: the snowpack on which 40 million people across seven states depend.

As snowfall has become more unpredictable, so has the amount — and timing — of runoff that feeds the Colorado River each spring.

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

G7 AGREES TO SET FIXED, NOT VARIABLE, PRICE CAP FOR RUSSIAN OIL

The G-7’s efforts to put a price cap on Russian oil will come as a fixed price, not as a moving target that’s indexed to economic factors, a source familiar told The Hill.

The source said that the group opted for a fixed price that will be regularly reviewed rather than a price pegged to an index in order to increase market stability and reduce the burden on companies.

The price has not yet been set.

Reuters first reported the fixed price plan.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • City of Jackson awarded $35.6M in water infrastructure grant (WAPT)

  • Democratic lawmakers want Biden to sign global EV memorandum at COP27 (Reuters)

  • The EPA is underwriting citizen scientists who want to know what’s in the air in southwestern Pa. (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • Brazil supreme court ruling to reactivate Amazon Fund gives hope in fight to save rainforest (The Guardian)

  • How the Hulk took EPA to task over ‘forever chemicals’ (E&E News)

🕷 Lighter click: Ah, democracy.

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 next week!

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