Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — What you need to know about Hurricane Ian

(AP Photo/Mary Martin)
Visitors to the Southernmost Point buoy brave the high waves from Hurricane Ian crash for photos, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Key West, Fla. Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) as it approaches the Florida’s southwest coast.

What are the most important things to know about the storm slamming western Florida? We’ll also look at how permitting reform fell through, as well as President Biden warning oil companies not to panic over Hurricane Ian. 

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. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here. 

Hurricane Ian hits Florida

Hurricane Ian slammed into the southwestern coast of Florida as a major Category 4 storm, bringing intense winds, heavy rain and a high risk of flooding.

The storm made landfall on Wednesday between Sarasota and Fort Myers and is expected to move across the state toward the Atlantic Ocean before coming back to land. The hurricane has grown stronger and slowed down as it’s approached Florida, and more than 2 million people are under evacuation orders in the central part of the state. 

Here’s what you need to know about Hurricane Ian:  

One of the most powerful storms to hit continental U.S.  

  • Hurricane Ian was recorded to have maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour as of Wednesday morning, just 2 miles per hour slower than that of a Category 5 storm.  
  • By the time the hurricane made landfall, it was at 150 mph. Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach tweeted on Wednesday that the last hurricane to make landfall with wind speeds above 155 miles per hour was Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on the Florida Panhandle in 2018. Michael’s winds clocked in at a maximum of 160 miles per hour.  
  • Klotzbach said the first was the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which holds the record among hurricanes in the contiguous U.S. for highest maximum sustained winds at 185 miles per hour. The other two were Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. 

Life-threatening storm surge up to 18 feet  

  • Officials have consistently warned in recent days that storm surge could be deadly in coastal areas. The National Hurricane Center projected Wednesday that storm surge 12 to 18 feet above ground, along with “destructive” waves, could occur on the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood, near Sarasota, to Bonita Beach, near Fort Myers.  
  • Storm surge occurs when strong winds from a storm like a hurricane push water to the shore, according to National Geographic. Water can rise rapidly and has caused large death tolls in past hurricanes.  
  • At least 1,500 people were killed from storm surge during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to the hurricane center. 

Read more from The Hill’s Jared Gans. 

What is the Manchin permitting reform fight about?

The last several weeks of news in Congress have been dominated by a fight over Sen. Joe Manchin’s push for permitting reforms — which took a severe blow Tuesday when the West Virginia Democrat acknowledged his proposal lacked the support to get through the Senate.  

Manchin’s request that his permitting reform proposal be removed from a must-pass government spending measure leaves a long-standing issue on the approval process for energy and infrastructure projects with an unclear future.  

Powerful people — President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — had promised to make Manchin’s proposal law after he backed the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act last month, giving a huge victory to the White House that has elevated Democratic midterm prospects.   

So what went wrong? The proposal itself ran into deep opposition from progressives, who believe Manchin’s measure would have contributed to climate change and pollution.   

  • In the end, however, it was really Republicans in the Senate who doomed it. The GOP senators have long griped about the length of environmental reviews in the permitting process, but they argued Manchin’s measure didn’t go far enough.   
  • They also felt burned by the passage of the summer legislative package, which passed under an arcane budgetary process that prevented a GOP filibuster. Its passage was made possible by Manchin, who represents an otherwise deep-red state, and many in the GOP wanted revenge.   

It was an unusual storyline in Washington. Republicans angered by a centrist Democrat provided a political gift to House progressives, who would have faced a tough decision if Manchin’s bill had cleared the Senate on a must-pass measure to prevent a government shutdown.   

Permitting reform has long been an issue the GOP has wanted to do work on.  

The administration of former President Trump estimated that it can take an average of 4.5 years for an environmental review to wrap up, something that Manchin and many Republicans have said is much too long.  

Read more about the fight here. 

Biden warns industry not to hike prices over Ian

President Biden warned U.S. energy companies against using the impacts of Hurricane Ian to hike gas prices in remarks Wednesday morning.  

“Do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people,” Biden said at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. “The price of oil has stayed relatively low and kept going down; the price of gas should be going down as well.”   

  • The president went on to cite projections from White House experts that the hurricane has only disrupted the production of about 190,000 barrels of oil per day, or under 2 percent of domestic daily production. 
  • “This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse for price increases at the pump,” he added, vowing to ask for an investigation of potential price gouging if gas prices do not reflect that.  

Analysis by Patrick De Haan of GasBuddy Tuesday night indicated that about
20 percent of gas stations
 in Tampa, where the storm is projected to hit, are without fuel. 

  • However, De Haan said average prices throughout the Sunshine State are holding steady, as the storm has not affected Gulf of Mexico refinery operations overall.
  • Those operations are not in the storm’s forecasted path as of Wednesday morning. But, should the storm veer west, it could threaten refining operations off Louisiana and Texas.  

While gas prices rose an average of five cents a gallon over the past week, AAA attributed this increase to planned maintenance at refining facilities as well as a fire at an Ohio BP refinery. 

Read more about the remarks here.

ON TAP TOMORROW 

  • The House Select Climate Crisis Committee will hold a hearing on climate investments in the Inflation Reduction Act 
  • The Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on abandoned mine cleanup 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Hurricane Ian killed at least 2 people in Cuba and wiped out power to the entire island (CNN
  • Texas to use federal money to install electric vehicle charging locations (The Texas Tribune
  • Why tackling climate change means a stronger economy — according to Janet Yellen (NPR
  • Italy’s plan to save Venice from sinking (BBC

ICYMI

💞 Lighter click: Ah, love

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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