Energy & Environment — Advocates sue Biden for restarting oil leases
A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Biden administration over new oil and gas drilling. Meanwhile, a watchdog finds Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the Hatch Act, and Thursday is all hands on deck for climate regulations.
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Green groups sue Biden for resuming lease sales
A coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday sued the Biden administration over its approval of oil and gas lease sales in four Western states.
The lease sales in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Utah mark the first since the administration temporarily froze new lease sales on federal lands in January 2021.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued the sales constitute a violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, under which the Interior Department has a responsibility to prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” of public lands.
- The plaintiffs projected that the sales, as well as another series of sales scheduled in Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming, will cost billions in harms to air, water, local wildlife and public health.
- Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Dakota Resource Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Rio Grande Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians.
“In spite of this administration’s climate commitments, the Department of Interior is choosing to resume oil and gas leasing. The very least the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] could do is acknowledge the connected nature of these six lease sales and their collective impact on federal lands and the earth’s climate,” Melissa Hornbein, a senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.
“Its failure to do so is an attempt to water down the climate effects of the decision to continue leasing, and is a clear abdication of BLM’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act.”
The story so far: President Biden signed an executive order pausing new leasing on federal lands shortly after taking office. In April, the administration announced lease sales would resume following a legal battle over the order.
The lawsuit comes weeks after a similar complaint was brought by a coalition of environmental organizations against the administration over its approval of more than 3,000 drilling permits in the basins of the Permian and Powder rivers.
Despite the freeze on leasing, the administration has continued to issue individual drilling permits at a 34 percent faster pace than the Trump administration in its first year, according to federal data.
Watchdog warns Granholm for violating Hatch Act
A government watchdog found that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the Hatch Act after she made comments in support of the Democratic Party, but let her off with a warning because it said she had not received proper training.
The Hatch Act prevents government employees from using their official position to influence elections.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent government agency, dinged Granholm over comments she made during an interview with the magazine Marie Claire.
- “The good news is that that marching and that voting gave Democrats a bare majority, but a majority, in the House, in the Senate,” Granholm said during a live interview on Instagram, according to a letter sent to the complainant.
- “And again, I am using Democrats as a substitute for the policies that you believe in, the policies that you would like to see happen,” Granholm continued.
The OSC found that Granholm’s comments were political and promoted electoral success for the Democratic Party.
“Because Secretary Granholm engaged in activity directed at the success of the Democratic Party during an interview she gave in her official capacity — she violated the Hatch Act’s use of official authority prohibition,” said the OSC letter.
But it also said that at the time Granholm made the comments, she hadn’t received significant training on the matter, adding that since then, she has learned about the law’s restrictions.
The finding follows a complaint by a right-wing group called the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust.
What did DOE have to say? “The Office of Special Counsel has advised the Secretary of a single unintended and unknowing infraction and this complaint is now closed,” a DOE spokesperson said via email. “Secretary Granholm takes her ethics obligations seriously. And, she remains laser focused on delivering President Biden’s equitable clean energy agenda.”
Over 70% support temporary gas tax holiday: survey
More than 70 percent of Americans surveyed in a new poll support temporarily suspending federal and state gas taxes as the country grapples with high inflation and lingering supply chain issues.
The Politico-Morning Consult poll out on Wednesday found that 72 percent of respondents supported halting the federal gas tax of 18 cents per gallon for 90 days.
- Sixteen percent of respondents said they oppose the idea, which has been pushed by President Biden, while 11 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
- A slightly higher percentage of respondents — 74 percent — have said they would back temporarily halting state gas taxes, which average more than
26 cents per gallon of gas, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
- Sixteen percent in the new survey opposed halting state gas taxes while
10 percent said they had no opinion or did not know.
The proposal comes as consumers have suffered decades-high inflation and nagging supply chain issues driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
While Biden has called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, passing legislation remains an uphill battle given that even members of his own party have expressed hesitation or skepticism over the idea.
MAJOR COURT DECISION, DRILLING PLAN FORTHCOMING
Thursday is expected to be a major day of climate news, with moves expected out of both the Supreme Court and the Interior Department.
Tomorrow is the last day of the Supreme Court’s term, and it said in a statement that all of its remaining decisions — which include a big climate case — will drop.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has said that her department will propose its 5-year plan for the future of offshore drilling by June 30.
At SCOTUS: The case in question deals with how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can regulate power plants’ contribution to climate change.
West Virginia and others asked the high court to limit the scope of the agency’s authority to only setting climate rules for the individual power plants (like requiring efficiency improvements).
Under the Obama administration, the agency sought to use broader mechanisms that would encourage a shift away from coal power toward cleaner energy sources like natural gas or renewables.
The Biden administration hasn’t yet proposed its power plant rules, but the ruling could shape how it tries to tackle climate pollution from these plants.
At Interior: The Interior Department is expected to propose a five year plan for new leases for offshore oil and gas drilling.
Some context: Every five years the department issues a plan outlining how many auctions it may hold for the rights to drill in the ocean. The plan also includes size, timing and locations of these auctions.
This year, some climate advocates are putting pressure on the administration not to plan for any lease sales at all, arguing that this would lock in expanded fossil fuel development at a time when the world needs to shift toward cleaner energy sources.
Meanwhile, industry is hoping to see a plan involving robust sales so that it can continue to get fuel out of the ocean and would likely challenge any plan that doesn’t include sales.
It’s not currently clear how many sales, if any, the department will plan for, or how large they will be. But, it can take years for such leases to actually bring oil to market, so these decisions are not expected to impact current supply.
One more thing: Since the plan is expected by tomorrow, the department could release it this evening after this newsletter hits the presses.
Pruitt: Trump administration EPA administrator Scott Pruitt did not advance in the Oklahoma Republican primary on Tuesday, dashing his hopes of representing the state in the Senate.
Instead, U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Okla.) will advance to a runoff in August.
Mullin won the greatest share of the votes, with about 44 percent, while Shannon won about 18 percent. Pruitt placed fifth with just 5 percent of the vote.
Newman/Casten: Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) beat out Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) in a rare member-on-member primary election.
A former clean energy executive, Casten is often vocal on environmental issues. But, Newman is considered one of the House’s more progressive members overall.
ON TAP TOMORROW
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on recycling
WHAT WE’RE READING
- This Democrat Wrote a Water Recycling Law. It Could Benefit Her Financially. (Mother Jones)
- That secretive solar farm in western Colorado? It’s officially a crypto mine. (The Colorado Sun)
- Endangered red wolf populations could be revived with ‘ghost’ genes from coyotes, scientists say (ABC News)
- 1,000 acres of NY forest to be returned to Onondaga Nation in historic lake cleanup agreement (Syracuse.com)
- Liquefied Natural Gas Comes to Europe’s Rescue. But for How Long? (The New York Times)
And finally, something offbeat but on-beat: Key to the city.
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