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Congress has moved swiftly to codify the Biden administration’s ban on Russian oil, while methane levels in the atmosphere are at historic levels.

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Congress passes bills banning Russian oil imports

Congress on Thursday passed a package to end normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus and codify the administration’s ban on Russian oil imports, capping off weeks of negotiations that had stalled the legislation.  

Senators voted 100-0 on two bills. The first ends permanent normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus. The bill also reauthorizes Magnitsky Act sanctions that target human rights violations and corruption with penalties like visa bans or asset freezes. 

The second bill, which also passed 100-0, codifies the Biden administration’s ban on Russian oil imports.  

The Senate made changes to both bills before they were sent to the House, where they were passed with minimal opposition.

The bills now head to President Biden’s desk.

“No nation whose military is committing war crimes deserves free-trade status with the United States. No vile thug like Putin deserves to stand as an equal with the leaders of the free world,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the votes. 

Read more here from The Hill’s Jordain Carney. 

🎧 TUNE-IN TO RISINGnow available as a podcast. It’s politics — without the screaming.

Methane hits record levels 

Methane emissions worldwide spiked in 2021 and broke the record set the previous year, according to data released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

A preliminary analysis from NOAA indicated that measured atmospheric methane increased by 17 parts per billion (ppb) last year, surpassing the 15.3 ppb increase in 2020. 

NOAA scientists estimate, based on 2021 data, that global methane levels are around 15 percent higher than they were between 1984 and 2006.  

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement.  

“The evidence is consistent, alarming, and undeniable. We need to build a Climate Ready Nation to adapt for what’s already here and prepare for what’s to come. At the same time, we can no longer afford to delay urgent and effective action needed to address the cause of the problem – greenhouse gas pollution,” Spinrad added.   

What’s the deal with methane? Methane is the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide, but is about 25 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. In addition to fossil fuel production, it can be emitted by decaying organic matter and livestock digestion.  

Despite this, scientists see a number of opportunities to reduce methane emissions that may be logistically easier than carbon dioxide emissions. Major sources of emissions include leaks in oil and gas wells and pipelines, so upgrades and maintenance are one possible solution. 

Advocates also point methane’s relatively short life in the atmosphere, meaning a focus on reducing the gas’s atmospheric concentration could be particularly effective in curbing overall warming. 

Read more about the new data here.  

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EPA REJECTS BIOFUEL WAIVERS, APPROVES ‘ALTERNATIVE COMPLIANCE’ 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday rejected 36 requests for exemptions from biofuels blending requirements for gasoline.  

Oil refiners are required to blend a certain amount of ethanol or other biofuels into what eventually becomes gasoline. But small refiners can request exemptions if this would cause significant hardships.  

Of the 36 petitions that were denied, however, the EPA said it will allow 31 of them to meet the 2018 requirements, for which they had asked to be exempt, through an “ alternate compliance approach.” 

This means that these refineries will not have to purchase or use additional blending credits in order to meet their obligations. The agency said it would give the refineries this authority because of “extenuating circumstances” including the fact that there had previously been exemptions granted.  

The EPA’s decision on Thursday did not allow for any exceptions to move forward, but the agency said it is still considering several additional exemption requests. 

In December, the agency had proposed denying 65 petitions.  

The blending requirements were created by Congress in 2005 in what is known as the renewable fuel standard (RFS) program. It is meant to cut the releases of planet-warming gases from U.S. gasoline usage.  

However, some studies have called climate benefits from ethanol usage into question, citing emissions from changes in land that is used to grow the corn that makes the fuel. 

Read more about the EPA’s decision here.  

INTERIOR REVERSES LONGSTANDING TRIBAL WATER POLICY 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday announced she will reverse a 1975 policy giving the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) final authority over tribal water plans.  

In the 1975 memo, then-Secretary Roger B. Morton gave BIA superintendents and local authorities veto power over any new ordinances or codes regulating tribal water use. In the announcement, Haaland described the memo as an unnecessary extra procedural hurdle that has created decades of confusion in relations between tribes and the federal government.  

The majority of tribal constitutions include no requirement for secretarial approval, and those that do still have the option to amend them to remove those requirements.  

“If we are to truly support Tribal self-determination, we cannot be afraid to review and correct actions of the past that were designed to create obstacles for Tribal nations. The ‘Morton moratorium’ is inconsistent with the Department’s commitment to upholding Tribal self-determination and the federal trust responsibility to support Tribal sovereignty,” Haaland said in a statement. 

Read more about the reversal here.  

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • U.S. solar expansion stalled by rural land-use protests (Reuters)
  • To save caribou, Indigenous people confront difficult choices (National Geographic
  • In a first, wind power is second-leading U.S. source of electricity in one day (Yahoo
  • The Texas drought is the worst in years. Are we on the brink of widespread disaster? (Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • ‘It’s happening now’: how rising sea levels are causing a US migration crisis (The Guardian)

ICYMI

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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