Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — Canceled leases leave Biden admin at crossroads

The cancellation of three oil lease sales injects uncertainty into the Biden administration’s energy strategy, a solar investigation makes strange bedfellows, and a study says reducing air pollution could save hundreds of thousands of lives. 

This is Overnight 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. 

Nixed sales raise new questions for offshore drilling

The cancellation of three offshore drilling lease sales this week has injected a degree of uncertainty into the future of offshore drilling.

The canceled auctions mean there are no sales now scheduled, and it’s unclear precisely when that will change. The Interior Department is working on a new leasing plan, but it has not said when that will be issued.  

The decision to cancel the sales comes as the nation is focused on high gasoline prices. Republicans, who hope to win back congressional majorities this fall, have seized on the price hikes to blast the administration for its energy policies. 

Where does that leave the White House? The administration is conscious of those political attacks, even as it separately gets the squeeze from the left to uphold President Biden’s campaign pledge to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and in public waters.  

It’s all created an uncertain outlook for energy firms, which don’t feel positive about the future of lease sales under the Biden administration.  

“It’s clearly not very optimistic as we look to the near term,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, an energy trade group. 

How we got here: The administration announced late Wednesday that it was canceling the three scheduled auctions that would have opened up space in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico for drilling. 

Spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said in an email that the sale near Alaska was being canceled because of a “lack of industry interest,” while the Gulf of Mexico sales would not be held because of factors including “conflicting court rulings.” 

This cancellations don’t impact any activities related to current oil production, but they do block the industry from getting new leases, which kick off the lengthy process for getting fuel out of the ocean. 

The announcement erased the only offshore sales the department had on its agenda. The Interior Department is now putting together a new five-year plan.  

Asked for an update, Schwartz said that the department is “actively developing its five-year plan for the offshore program” and noted that the industry is already leasing 10.9 million acres in federal waters.  

The law governing the offshore leasing requires the Interior secretary to “prepare and periodically revise, and maintain an oil and gas leasing program.” 

Read more about the dilemma here. 

Lawmakers battle over Commerce’s solar tariff probe

Lawmakers are battling over a Commerce Department investigation into solar panel imports that could lead to heavy tariffs on Chinese imports that are critical to the solar panel industry. 

The issue is not a partisan one: Democrats and Republicans stand on both sides of the issue, with one bipartisan group arguing the investigation itself and the tariffs that could eventually come would devastate the solar sector. 

In an interview with The Hill, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said that both the investigation and the tariffs themselves are “causing massive disruption” in the solar industry, particularly Nevada, which has the most per capita solar jobs of any state. 

“We are only able to supply about 15 percent domestically of the demand for solar panels. So we don’t have the capacity here right now to fulfill all the orders there are and even finish the projects that are already bid out,” Rosen said.     

Meanwhile, on the other side: Other Republicans and Democrats say Commerce was right to launch the investigation to protect U.S. jobs and prevent Chinese companies from circumventing existing laws meant to prevent the dumping of cheap products. 

“A strong commitment to American manufacturing must be paired with proper trade enforcement so that investments in American production, workers, and innovation are not undermined by unfair trade practices,” Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in March asking that the petition for the investigation be accepted. 

Brown and Portman framed the investigation in terms of American jobs at stake, writing, “if legitimate circumvention allegations go unaddressed, entire domestic industries and thousands of American manufacturing jobs are at risk.” 

Commerce accepted the petition from Auxin Solar, a San Jose, Calif.-based solar company, in March. It is investigating whether several solar panel part companies in Southeast Asia are using those companies as fronts to circumvent U.S. tariffs in place on Chinese companies.

Read more about the fight here.

CURBING POLLUTANTS COULD SAVE THOUSANDS OF LIVES: STUDY

Eliminating air pollutants generated by energy-related activities in the U.S. could prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths and save the economy more than $600 billion each year, a new study has found.

The study, published in GeoHealth on Monday, explored the potential gains of removing the fine particles that are emitted into the atmosphere through electricity generation, transportation, industrial operations, heating and cooking. These activities, the authors noted, are also major contributors to climate change, since they burn fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases — in addition to generating fine particulate matter. 

Exposure to fine particulate matter — particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less — can contribute to health issues like heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infections that can shorten life expectancy, according to the study. 

The scientists determined that cutting these pollutants would save about 53,200 lives annually, while boosting the economy with about $608 billion from avoided health care costs and loss of life. 

“Our work provides a sense of the scale of the air quality health benefits that could accompany deep decarbonization of the U.S. energy system,” lead author Nick Mailloux, a graduate student at University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, said in a statement. 

“Shifting to clean energy sources can provide enormous benefit for public health in the near term while mitigating climate change in the longer term,” he added. 

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold hearings to examine ways to strengthen the energy and mineral partnership between the U.S. and Canada to address energy security and climate objectives. 
  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the agency’s budget request for fiscal year 2023.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Buffalo shooting suspect embraced ‘eco-fascist’ label (E&E News
  • Texans asked to limit electricity use after six power plants go down ahead of a hot weekend (The Texas Tribune
  • Newsom wants billions for electric grid to avoid CA blackouts (The Sacramento Bee)
  • 1 in 6 Americans live in areas with significant wildfire risk (The Washington Post

 And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: Much-needed advice.

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.  

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE

Tags Biden Jacky Rosen Oil drilling solar panels

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