Line 5 pipeline, as seen from an aboveground section at Mackinaw City
Associated Press - John Flesher

With Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) dashing Democratic hopes for major climate change and environmental legislation, pressure is increasing on the Biden administration to take significant regulatory action. 

The administration was already poised to impose stricter environmental rules, and has made progress reversing a number of Trump-era environmental rollbacks.  

But, with the apparent end of the climate and social spending bill, these regulations will carry even greater weight as the administration seeks to live up to its climate commitments. 

And they’re sure to be closely watched by potential critics on both sides of the aisle. 

Here are four environmental fights to watch next year:

Drilling for oil and gas on federal lands and waters

One of the biggest environmental fights of 2021 is expected to spill over into 2022 — whether and how to restrict leasing and permitting for oil and gas drilling on federally owned lands and in federally owned waters. 

The first drilling lease sale held under the Biden administration, which offered up 80 million acres for auction in the Gulf of Mexico, was at the center of several major battles.

The Biden administration delayed that lease sale as part of its moratorium on new oil and gas leasing. But after a court halted that moratorium, the Biden administration went through with the sale, much to the chagrin of environmental groups.

Now, these groups are poised to oppose future sales, including a proposal to auction off ocean parcels near Alaska’s coast and an expected onshore lease sale in New Mexico. 

Which waters get federal protections?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected next year to propose a rule governing which waters are regulated in the U.S.

The issue over which waters should be regulated has been a tense partisan fight for years. 

In 2015, the Obama administration expanded protections from pollution for small bodies of water, a move that proponents said provided important health and environmental safeguards.

But Republicans have described an Obama administration move to expand regulated waters as a burdensome overreach and moved to roll it back during the Trump administration. 

The Biden administration is expected to propose regulating more waters than the Trump administration, but its specific course of action isn’t totally clear. 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan has pledged to not return “verbatim” to the Obama-era rule, saying that both it and the Trump rule “did not necessarily listen to the will of the people.”

But, opponents of the rules are likely to sue. A challenge could come from Republicans; and if environmentalists don’t think the rule goes far enough, they could challenge them as well. 

How much will power plant emissions be regulated?

The battle playing out over power plant emissions will likely play out through regulations and at the Supreme Court.

The EPA is expected to propose rules next year regulating emission from new and existing power plants, with both rules slated to be finalized in 2023. 

The rules are anticipated to be controversial, with Republicans and industry expected to lament the cost of compliance. 

The EPA was expected to have a relatively blank slate after a lower court in January struck down a Trump-era rule.

That rule was expected to give states more time and authority compared to the Obama administration’s rule to decide how to implement technology to ease emissions from coal plants.

But in October, the Supreme Court said it would take up that case after requests from coal companies and Republican-led states. It is expected to review what tools the EPA can use to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. 

Petitioners have asked the court to review the ruling, with North Dakota arguing in a recent document that the court should reinstate the Trump-era rule. 

Will countries increase their climate commitments? 

The Glasgow Climate Pact, agreed to at the 2021 COP26 climate summit, asks countries to revisit their short-term climate commitments by the end of 2022.

It requested that the countries strengthen their 2030 targets “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal … taking into account different national circumstances.” 

Recent analyses have found that climate pledges currently put the Paris climate agreement targets out of reach. That agreement calls for limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius when compared to pre-industrial levels, with the further goal of keeping warming beneath 1.5 degrees. 

Some countries that observers hope to see raise their ambition include China, Australia and Brazil. 

But it’s unclear which countries, if any, will actually increase their targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). The U.S., for one, has already indicated that it may not.

“You don’t automatically have to come back with a new NDC,” climate envoy John Kerry told reporters in November. “You have to review it, and, as necessary, you make a judgment about it.”

Tags Climate change Joe Manchin John Kerry Michael Regan Offshore drilling

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