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Energy & Environment — Biden projects optimism on Earth Day

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Happy Earth Day! This is 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. Subscribe here and view the full edition here.

President casts crisis as ‘opportunity’ on Earth Day

President Biden struck an optimistic tone about the planet’s future during a speech on Earth Day, despite setbacks his administration is facing on its climate agenda.

Biden characterized the environmental challenges as “a genuine opportunity, an opportunity to do things we’ve wanted to do that only now have become so apparent.”

“We’ve reached the point that the crisis on the environment has become so obvious, with the notable exception of the former president, that we really have an opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done two, five, 10 years ago” — Biden during a speech at Seattle’s Seward Park on Friday.  

Biden in his speech called on Congress to pass his long-stalled climate legislation.

  • Democrats’ inability to pass significant climate change legislation — amid opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — has cast a shadow over Biden’s climate goals. 
  • Biden lightly jabbed at Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another centrist, without naming them: “There’s only two senators who occasionally don’t vote with me…There’s virtually no split in the Democratic Party.”  

Biden said that because of the narrow margins in the Senate, Democrats effectively have “50 presidents.”  

“Anyone can change the dynamic,” he said.

Read more about Biden’s Earth Day speech here.

Bonus: A quote for the toxics watchers…Biden in his speech Friday also touted some environmental provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure law — and pledged to get rid of contamination from toxic “forever chemicals.”  

“This bipartisan infrastructure law gives communities the money they need to get forever chemicals, PFAS, out of the water, they’re deadly, deadly, and a lot of it’s responsible because we the government and the military has engaged in activities that we didn’t realize that were dangerous over the years, but we’re going to get rid of it all,” he said. 

SPEAKING FOR THE TREES

At the Seattle Earth Day event, Biden also signed an executive order aimed at protecting old-growth forests, those that have older trees and store a significant amount of carbon dioxide.   

  • The executive order will require the Agriculture and Interior departments to inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands by next year and analyze threats facing them such as wildfires.   
  • It will also require the departments to develop new policies to implement “climate-smart” management to address the threats, according to the White House. And the administration will develop 2030 reforestation targets.   

During a call with reports to preview the order, a White House official said that preserving old-growth forests “will reduce the trajectory of wildfire risk to communities and natural resources, including mature and old growth forests.” 

“At the end of the day, nature is one of our best and most cost-effective defenses we have against climate change,” the official said.

The order will also direct agencies to carry out the country’s first-ever nature assessment that looks at how nature could change in the future.

Read more about Biden’s executive order here.  

VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE

The Hill’s Sustainability Imperative—Wednesday, April 27 & Thursday, April 28—2:00 PM ET/11:00 AM PT daily

Sustainability is not optional—it’s imperative, and everyone has a role to play. On April 27 and 28, The Hill will host its second annual festival convening policy leaders and practitioners in the sustainability ecosystem, featuring interviews with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, actress Sigourney Weaver and moreRSVP today to save your spot.

US off track from Biden’s climate goals, experts say

A year after President Biden announced the goal of significantly cutting planet-warming emissions by the end of the decade, experts are warning the nation is not on track to meet them.  

  • The biggest hurdle, they say, is Congress’s failure to pass Biden’s climate and social spending agenda, as the provisions approved in the House version of the bill would likely have put the country on target.  
  • “There is not a clear path without new legislation, such as the low carbon energy tax incentives that were proposed as part of the Build Back Better bill,” Michael Greenstone, a former Obama advisor who is now a University of Chicago professor, said in a statement.  

Is there any chance left? Some of the president’s allies are holding out hope that a package with climate provisions will still be passed by this Congress. 

But there’s a ticking clock: The GOP stands a good chance of winning back the House and Senate in the midterms, and that could put a final stake in those hopes. 

Biden marked last year’s Earth Day by announcing a national goal of cutting climate-warming emissions by 50 to 52 percent compared to where they were in 2005. In the months since, he has endorsed several policies aimed at getting the country there, many of which were incorporated into the Build Back Better bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Where things stand: “Build Back Better… would have been the major piece that would have helped us almost get to our at least 2030 targets,” said Erin Mayfield, an engineering professor at Dartmouth who has worked on modeling the potential emissions cuts from the bill. 

“As of right now, we are not on track,” said Robbie Orvis, the senior director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation, an energy and climate policy think tank. “We need legislation and standards and some additional state actions. 

Read more about the ongoing situation here. 

EU URGES CITIZENS TO CUT ENERGY USE 

The European Union is encouraging its citizens to work from home, use public transit and turn off heaters in an effort reduce the bloc’s reliance on Russian fuel. 

If EU residents adopt a prescribed list of energy-saving steps, they can together “save enough oil to fill 120 super tankers and enough natural gas to heat almost 20 million homes,” according to an outline published by the European Commission and the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Thursday.

  • The outline, called “Playing my Part,” aims to slash the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a news release accompanying the plan explained. 
  • “The Russian war in Ukraine is a human tragedy and a humanitarian disaster, and we’re all looking at what can we do ourselves — what can we do professionally and what can we do personally,” European Commission Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen said at a virtual summit on Thursday. 

Jørgensen said everyone taking part to reduce their energy consumption will enable Europeans to save on their energy bills, improve climate conditions as a whole and help Ukraine.

The EU imports about 150 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia per year. However, Jørgensen explained that the implementation of European Green Deal policy initiatives could cut about 100 billion cubic meters by 2030 by accelerating and scaling up renewable energy. 

“But the most effective measure, and the absolutely necessary measure, is energy savings,” Jørgensen said. “We can cut immediately.” 

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

PFAS MOVES THIS WEEK

The governors of two New England states have approved key pieces of legislation that transform their relationships with cancer-linked “forever chemicals.”

  • Maine — Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed into law on Wednesday a bill that will ban the application of biosolids — also known as “sludge” — that contain so-called forever chemicals on farmland.
  • Vermont — Gov. Phil Scott (R) approved a bill the next day enabling plaintiffs to sue for medical monitoring following exposure to toxins, including these compounds.  

Forever chemicals — or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are an umbrella group for thousands of compounds known for their ability to linger in the human body and the environment. PFAS are linked to kidney cancer, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and other illnesses.

PFAS-laden biosolids have been a widespread source of contamination on agricultural land across Maine, leading several farmers to close shop after finding that their milk was tainted by the compounds. Such sludge is usually a product of paper mills.

Wednesday’s new law will prevent residents from spreading sludge to farmlands, unless they receive “written determination” that the sludge is PFAS-free from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, according to the bill.   

In neighboring Vermont, the bill signed by Scott enables plaintiffs to sue polluters for medical screenings following exposure to toxic substances, including PFAS.  

This is not the first version of the bill, which the governor previously vetoed in 2019. That veto occurred after an official in his office coordinated with a lobbyist in “watering down” the bill’s text, as reported by The Hill

Read more here from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

Thursday:

  • Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will appear before the House Appropriations Committee for a hearing on Interior’s budget 
  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will testify before the House Appropriations Committee about DOE’s budget. The House Energy & Commerce Committee will also hold a hearing on the department’s budget, but witnesses were not listed at press time
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on the nomination of Kathryn Huff to be an assistant secretary of Energy for nuclear energy. It will also hold a hearing on the nominations of David Applegate to be Director of the United States Geological Survey, and Carmen Cantor to be an assistant secretary, both of the Department of the Interior, and Evelyn Wang to be director of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

Friday: 

  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the agency’s budget 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • How Nebraska’s Governor Became A General In A Right-Wing War Against Biden’s Conservation Goal (HuffPost)  
  • Five charts that show why our food is not ready for the climate crisis (The Guardian
  • Megadrought out West expected to intensify, expand east: NOAA (ABC News)
  • ‘The sound of money’: Wind energy is booming in deep-red Republican states (CNN

And finally, something offbeat but on-beat: Happy Earth Day

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 Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema

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