Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — Biden officials green-light car efficiency standards

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Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here and view the full edition here.

Today we’re looking at more stringent car mileage standards, a revived Obama-era EPA rule abandoned under the Trump administration and a stark prediction for post-wildfire weather patterns. 

For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com.

Let’s jump in.

Biden administration boosts mileage standards

The Transportation Department on Friday announced that it boosted car efficiency standards that had been cut by the Trump administration.  

The department finalized standards that would require automakers to produce fleets of cars and light trucks averaging 49 miles per gallon in model year 2026 

How do they compare to past rules? The new standards are more stringent than the Trump-era standards, which would have required 40 miles per gallon for the 2026 fleet.  

However, the real-world totals may look slightly different under each standard, as the department has noted that real-world fuel economy levels are typically lower than the test conditions under which the standards are applied.  

Nevertheless, the standards are expected to have both climate and consumer benefits, and officials made the case on Friday that they will also improve the country’s energy independence by decreasing its reliance on oil.  

“We cannot let families’ futures or our national economy be decided in oil company board rooms,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters. “Today’s rule is going to save 234 billion gallons of fuel by 2050 and move us into a less dependent future.” 

What does it mean for climate change? On climate change, the rule is also expected to have significant impacts. Buttigieg said that it would prevent 5.5 trillion pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere by 2050.  

And the administration said that the new regulation would save consumers almost $1,400 in fuel expenses over the lifetimes of vehicles produced during these model years. 

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to climate change in the U.S., and light duty vehicles are responsible for more than half of those emissions. 

The move comes after the Environmental Protection Agency late last year also reversed the Trump administration’s cuts to regulations on how much planet-warming carbon dioxide cars can emit through their tailpipes.  

Read more about the new standards here.

EPA revives Obama-era rule on polluters

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has resurrected an Obama-era proposal shelved during the Trump administration that would remove Clean Air Act (CAA) liability protections frequently invoked by industrial polluters. 

Under the new proposal, state and federal operating permits would no longer have the option to make a so-called emergency affirmative defense. This defense allowed sources that exceeded the Clean Air Act’s emissions limits to avoid liability by attributing the violation to “emergency” circumstances. 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan signed the rule earlier this week, with a 45-day public comment period to follow. 

“These provisions, which have never been required elements of state operating permit programs, are being removed because they are inconsistent with the enforcement structure of the CAA and court decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” the proposed rule states. 

“The removal of these provisions is consistent with other EPA actions involving affirmative defenses and would harmonize the enforcement and implementation of emission limitations across different CAA programs.” 

The story so far: The rule has been in limbo for years after it was originally introduced in 2016 by the Obama administration and later withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018. 

The Biden administration in October withdrew Trump-era guidance allowing state governments to create exemptions like those covered by the rule, which environmental groups praised but said should be followed up with the revival of the Obama-era efforts. 

Read more about the rule here. 


Extreme rainfall events in the wake of Western wildfires — on the rise due to climate change — may more than double by the end of the 21st century, posing a serious threat to human lives, a new study finds. 

When precipitation drenches an area that has just experienced a blaze, the soil is unable to easily contain the moisture — resulting in significant destruction such as debris flows, mudslides and flash floods, scientists warned in a Science Advances article on Friday 

If Americans continue to emit excessive amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, then by the end of the century, extreme rainfall will be eight times more likely to occur within a year of a Pacific Northwest wildfire, the authors found. In California, the incidence of such consecutive extreme events will more than double. 

“It’s very concerning, given the destruction that comes with these kinds of events,” lead author Danielle Touma, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said in a statement. “Clearly we need to understand the risks better, as this creates a major threat to people and infrastructure.” 

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.


President Biden’s move to release about 180 million barrels of oil from the U.S.’s strategic reserve is expected to result in a modest drop in gasoline prices.  

Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at gasoline price website GasBuddy, said that prices could drop by 10 to 20 cents per gallon as a result of Biden’s announcement that oil will be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  

But he warned that exactly where prices will land in the coming weeks is unclear, since the release isn’t happening in a vacuum and other factors may drive prices up or down.  

Read more here.



  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the benefits of challenges of electrifying the Postal Service fleet. The Postal Service’s Inspector General is slated to appear.
  • The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to examine implementation of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, focusing on stakeholders’ needs and experiences. 
  • The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on the Farm Bill and renewable energy opportunities in Rural America 
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on wildfire management, ecosystem restoration and resilient communities 


  • The House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing featuring testimony from executives of Exxon, BP, Chevron and Shell, among others, entitled “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America’s Pain at the Pump” 
  • The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to examine the President’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2023 for the Environmental Protection Agency. 
  • The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety will hold hearings to examine the nominations of Beth Pritchard Geer, Robert P. Klein, and L. Michelle Moore, to be members of the Board of Directors, and Benny R. Wagner to be Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority. 


  • The House Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing entitled “Cost-Saving Climate Solutions: Investing in Energy Efficiency to Promote Energy Security and Cut Energy Bills” 


  • Feral pigs are biological time bombs. Can California stem their ‘exponential’ damage? (The Los Angeles Times)
  • This Texas City’s Water Crisis Is Shaping A Democratic Congressional Primary (HuffPost
  • She’s Supposed to Protect Americans From Toxic Chemicals. First, She Just Has to Fix Trump’s Mess and Decades of Neglect. (ProPublica)
  • How war has upended life for climate activists in Russia (The New York Times

   And finally, something offbeat but on-beat: Rest well. 

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 Monday.  

Tags Barack Obama Biden Joe Biden Obama Pete Buttigieg

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