Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — Biden calls climate an ‘emergency,’ vows action

Joe Biden
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Somerset, Mass.

President Biden stopped short of issuing a climate emergency declaration Wednesday, but is vowing action to combat global warming.

We’ll look at the president’s speech in Massachusetts. Plus: A new push for offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Postal Service is upping its electric vehicles. 

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.

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Let’s jump in.

Biden stops short of formal climate declaration

President Biden labeled climate change an “emergency” on Wednesday but stopped short of declaring a national emergency following pressure from climate advocates.

In a speech at a former coal plant in Somerset, Mass., Biden also pledged to take action to combat the threat of climate change after congressional action stalled.  

So what’s on the table? “As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that is what climate change is about,” Biden said. “This is an emergency.” 

“As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of congressional action,” he added.  

  • Biden delivered the speech less than a week after opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) derailed his sweeping climate proposal that had been stalled on Capitol Hill for months.
  • The collapse of those negotiations has led to the renewed focus on executive climate action.

Looking outward: In his speech, Biden explicitly blamed Republican lawmakers, rather than Manchin, for the lack of action on Capitol Hill.

“Not a single Republican in Congress stepped up to support my climate plan,” Biden said. 

He did not directly acknowledge Manchin’s decision to walk away from the talks. 

Democrats had tried to pass Biden’s climate and social policy vision with a simple majority through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow them to sidestep the GOP filibuster. But doing so meant garnering support from all 50 Senate Democrats, including Manchin. 

Biden delivered the speech at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, a coal-fired power plant that is being transformed into an offshore wind manufacturing facility.

Read more about Biden’s speech here.

USPS ramps up electric truck order

The U.S. Postal Service will order more than twice the number of electric vehicles initially projected for its new fleet, the agency announced Wednesday.

  • The move follows months of controversy after the Postal Service initially sought to make about 10 percent of its fleet electric. Now it plans to make at least 40 percent of its fleet electric.
  • The Postal Service said in a statement it adjusted the fleet’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to include more electric vehicles under the current contract and is targeting a purchase of at least 25,000 electric vehicles.

How’d we get here? The Postal Service said in February that its initial order to have 10 percent of its new trucks be electric included an option to adjust the percentage later, but the announcement sparked pushback from members of Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Postal Service maintains the largest vehicle fleet in the federal government, and critics argued that not including more electric vehicles in the fleet would fly in the face of President Biden’s push for the federal government to pursue carbon neutrality. 

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy argued increasing the electric vehicles in the fleet was financially unfeasible, but critics suggested DeJoy, a longtime donor to Republicans and former President Trump, was deliberately undermining the Biden administration’s climate goals.

In June, the Postal Service opened the door to increasing the number of electric trucks but maintained it was always an option and was not in response to the controversy. 

In March, Congress passed a Postal Service reform package freeing up billions in funds, while DeJoy has also reorganized mail carrier routes that make the charging process for delivery drivers more efficient.

Also significantly, however, Biden has secured a majority of appointees on the Postal Service’s board of governors, the only entity with the power to dismiss DeJoy.

Read more about the announcement here.

Biden to pursue wind energy in Gulf of Mexico

The Biden administration will pursue the development of offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House said Wednesday.

  • The new proposed offshore wind areas in the Gulf would represent the first time that wind energy is produced in the Gulf, which is typically a hub for oil and gas production.
  • According to a White House fact sheet, the areas where it is proposing offshore wind development have the potential to power 3 million homes.  

President Biden will also direct Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to advance wind energy off the mid- and Southern Atlantic Coasts and Florida’s Gulf Coast, though the White House did not announce any concrete plans to develop wind energy in these regions.

The announcement came as Biden was set to deliver his remarks on climate change in Massachusetts on Wednesday.

Biden is facing increasing pressure to act on climate change after swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) walked away from Senate climate talks recently.

But progressives are likely to be unsatisfied by Biden’s Wednesday announcements, especially as many are calling for the declaration of a climate emergency.  

Biden also made announcements aimed at tackling extreme heat, as communities in the U.S. and around the world faced high temperatures this week.

Temperatures in Texas and Oklahoma reached 115 degrees on Wednesday, and 28 states issued heat warnings.

Read more about the news here.

BIDEN ELIMINATES LAST OF TRUMP-ERA ENDANGERED SPECIES RULES

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced the repeal of the last remaining Trump-era changes to Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, reverting certain decisions on critical habitats to the Interior Department.  

Under the Trump rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to accept private landowners’ claims that including an area in a protected habitat would result in economic harm. Under the pre-Trump rule, which the regulation restores, these exclusions are at the discretion of the Interior secretary.

  • The announcement comes weeks after a federal judge vacated another Trump ESA rule, this one saying equal protections did not apply to endangered species and those classified as threatened or likely to become endangered.
  • It also comes the month after the administration revoked a separate Trump-era rule imposing stricter constraints on which areas qualify as critical habitats, limiting them to those that can currently support species rather than also those that could later support them.    

Environmental organizations praised the decision Wednesday but called on the administration to take steps building on those of the Obama administration rather than simply reverting to the pre-Trump status quo.  

“We are thrilled to see the Biden administration take this important step towards restoring Endangered Species Act protections,” Andrew Carter, senior conservation policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Our health and well-being depends on our nation’s rich biodiversity, and the Biden administration needs to keep taking every possible step to shore up the law responsible for saving it, including developing a national biodiversity strategy.” 

Read more about the decision here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • US demands talks on Mexican energy policies it calls unfair (The Associated Press)
  • How Boeing created a nature preserve that may also preserve pollution (Reuters
  • Manchin Directed Millions to Wetlands Near Vacation Condo (The Intercept
  • Watchdog: EPA botched pesticide cancer review (E&E News)

ON TAP TOMORROW

The Senate Energy Committee will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of Laura Daniel-Davis for Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management.

Lighter click: Gettin’ out the message

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 VERSION HERE

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