Overnight Energy & Environment — New York Democrats go after 'peaker' plants

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Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we're looking at a call for a government watchdog to investigate power plants they say disproportionately pollute low-income neighborhoods, a new office within the Energy Department and a major earthquake in northern California.

For The Hill, we're Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let's jump in.

Trio of Democrats demand watchdog probe

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) makes an opening statement during a hearing on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 to discuss combating ransomware attacks.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) makes an opening statement during a hearing on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 to discuss combating ransomware attacks.

Three House Democrats from New York on Tuesday called on a federal watchdog to investigate pollution generated by "peaker" power plants, or those that only generate electricity during periods of high demand.

House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) joined Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) in calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the effects of such plants on local communities.

The background: The lawmakers noted that the plants are both less energy-efficient than standard power plants and are frequently located in lower-income or predominantly minority neighborhoods.

"Addressing the use of peaker plants, which can emit twice the carbon and up to 20 times the nitrous oxides of a typical plant while operating significantly less efficiently, represents a high-impact opportunity to reduce climate risks and tackle a life-threatening environmental justice issue," they wrote. "We request GAO's assistance in reporting on key data to assess damage, uncover health burdens, calculate economic costs, and identify alternative solutions to the use of peaker power plants."

Close to home: There are 89 peaker plants in New York City alone, including 28 in or near Maloney's district and 16 in Ocasio-Cortez's district. An area in western Queens with a number of such plants has become known as "Asthma Alley" due to its disproportionate rates of the respiratory condition.

Earlier this year, Clarke joined three other New York Democrats - Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand - in introducing bicameral legislation to replace and upgrade the plants. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee in May but no action on it has been taken since.

Read more about the letter here.

New office for renewable energy projects

Department of Energy
Department of Energy

The Energy Department on Tuesday announced a new office devoted to renewable energy demonstration projects, funded by the recently signed bipartisan infrastructure law.

The law, which Biden signed in November, provides $20 billion for the creation of the office, which will fund demonstration projects for technologies like carbon capture and renewable hydrogen. The funds come from a broader $62 billion pot to speed renewable energy development within the department.

"Thanks to the investments Congress made in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations will move clean energy technologies out of the lab and into local and regional economies across the country, proving the value of technologies that can deliver for communities, businesses, and markets," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

What's the breakdown? According to a fact sheet released by the Energy Department in November, the renewable funds in the infrastructure law include $8 billion for renewable hydrogen, $10 billion for carbon capture and direct air capture, $2.5 billion for nuclear technology and $1 billion for demonstration projects in rural communities.

"This new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations reflects President Biden's commitment to help Americans turn on the lights in their homes, drive to work, and power their businesses using clean, affordable, and sustainable energy. This office will make life easier and safer for Americans all across the country," said Mitch Landrieu, the White House's coordinator for implementation of the infrastructure bill.

Read more about the announcement here.

Northern California rocked by earthquake

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake rattled northern California on Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake, which occurred off of Cape Mendocino near Humboldt County, could be felt in nearly 270 miles away in San Francisco as well as in Chico, according to CNN.

The 4,000-square-mile county that was struck by the quake has a sparse population of 135,000 residents, CNN added.

Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal told CNN that the county had not "had a shake like this since 2010."

The sheriff added that emergency responders were surveying the damage and there had not been any catastrophic damages reported, nor was he aware of any injuries.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office announced via Twitter that "numerous smaller aftershocks" had been recorded, but there was not a threat of tsunami at the time.

Read more here.

WHAT WE'RE READING

And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: Chewed out.

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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