Energy & Environment — Schumer eyes ‘NOPEC’ bill after oil cuts
OPEC’s production cuts are both renewing interest in a bill that would make the cartel’s oil companies subject to lawsuits and prompting calls to reevaluate the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Meanwhile, President Biden is expected to designate a new national monument in Colorado next week.
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.
Schumer considers anti-OPEC bill
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Saudi Arabia will wind up paying the price for what he called its “deeply cynical action” of supporting a 2 million-barrel cut in oil supplies, which will put more pressure on the American economy.
OPEC+, which is led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, announced this week it would cut oil production to prop up falling prices, offsetting President Biden’s decision earlier this year to tap the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices amid reduced supply because of the war in Ukraine.
“What Saudi Arabia did to help [Russian President Vladimir] Putin continue to wage his despicable, vicious war against Ukraine will long be remembered by Americans. We are looking at all the legislative tools to best deal with this appalling and deeply cynical action, including the NOPEC bill,” Schumer said in a statement.
Wait, what’s NOPEC? The NOPEC bill, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, would change U.S. antitrust law to expose OPEC+ member countries and their oil companies to lawsuits.
It would allow the attorney general to sue companies such as Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Lukoil in federal court.
OPEC+ announced its plans to slash production despite an intense press by the Biden administration to keep supplies flowing at high capacity.
OPEC MOVE PROMPTS CALLS TO REEVALUATE US-SAUDI TIES
…speaking of OPEC:
The decision by OPEC+ nations to reduce oil production is a foreign policy black eye for President Biden after his July visit to Saudi Arabia. It’s also prompting calls from congressional Democrats to rethink the Washington-Riyadh alliance, particularly on the subject of weapons and defense technology sales.
Human rights advocates have long criticized what is sometimes a rocky relationship between the U.S. and Saudi royals, particularly after the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
- When Biden met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in July, it was viewed by many as a necessary evil that could potentially lead to increased OPEC output and lower gas prices. Since Wednesday’s announcement, however, a number of Democratic lawmakers have called for the U.S. to respond by ending arms sales and military assistance to the kingdom.
- “From unanswered questions about 9/11 & the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, to conspiring w/ [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to punish the US w/ higher oil prices, the royal Saudi family has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation. It’s time for our foreign policy to imagine a world without their alliance,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, tweeted Thursday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, called the cutback “a blatant attempt to increase gas prices at the pump” and called for an end to military assistance to Saudi Arabia.
On the House side, Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Susan Wild (D-Pa.) have introduced legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from the kingdom, calling the cutback “a turning point in our relationship with our Gulf partners.”
- Another vocal House critic of the Saudis, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif,), has also called for the nation to be dealt with “harshly” and for an end to weapons sales.
- “The Saudis need us more for weapons than we need them. President Biden should make it clear that we will cut off weapons if OPEC+ doesn’t reverse the decision to make drastic cuts in production,” Khanna said in a statement to The Hill. “In Congress, we should also explore ways to rein in OPEC+’s control over energy prices worldwide.”
But, it may not be bipartisan: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a vocal critic of Biden’s energy policies, told The Hill that critics of the Saudi government are “upset because having consciously made ourselves dependent upon them, they’re not bending to our will” despite Biden taking office “promising an adversarial relationship.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the nonprofit Democracy for the Arab World Now, was skeptical that the cuts would lead to a lasting schism in the relationship. In an interview with The Hill, Whitson said much of the public anger at Saudi Arabia was likely “performative,” but added that “some of it is real, because publicly, this is so humiliating to Biden.”
Biden to designate Camp Hale a national monument
President Biden will designate Camp Hale, an area in Colorado that was used to train soldiers in World War II, as a national monument next week, a source familiar with the move told The Hill on Friday.
The Los Angeles Times first reported that the national monument designation, slated to take place next Wednesday, was forthcoming.
While Biden has widened the boundaries and advanced protections for other monuments during his time in office, the Camp Hale designation will be the first new monument designation of his presidency.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
At Camp Hale, which is located in the Rocky Mountains, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division learned ski and mountaineering techniques.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is expected to join Biden. Bennet, who is up for reelection this year, wrote a letter to Biden in favor of the monument designation, along with Colorado’s Sen. John Hickenlooper (D), Gov. Jared Polis (D) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D).
And while the senators, alongside some veterans and environmental advocates, have pushed for the designation, it also has opponents.
Some Republicans have pushed back against the idea, saying a designation would be a “land grab.”
EPA PROPOSES FINDING LEAD FUEL A HEALTH THREAT
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed declaring lead in aviation fuel a public health danger, taking a step toward regulating this type of pollution from planes.
- Exposure to lead can cause kidney and brain damage and is particularly harmful to children.
- Lead is used in fuel for piston-engine aircraft, which are usually small planes that carry between two and 10 people. As of 2014, there were about 140,000 of those in the U.S. Commercial planes use fuel that doesn’t contain lead.
Air around some airports has been found to have unsafe levels of lead, according to the EPA.
The agency has also found that about 5 million people live within 500 meters of an airport runway, and 163,000 children attend schools within 500 meters of a runway.
Friday’s proposal is not a regulation of these aircraft or the fuel. Instead, it is a finding that, if finalized, would set the EPA on a path toward regulation, which would require additional steps.
Nevertheless, EPA Administrator Michael Regan called the proposal an important step forward as we work to reduce lead exposure and protect children’s health.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
- ‘Steam loops’ under many cities could be a climate change solution (NPR)
- UK risks ending Cop26 presidency in disarray over Truss climate policy (The Guardian)
- ‘Do not eat’: High levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in deer and fish (USA Today)
- Solar and wind farms can hurt the environment. A new study offers solutions (The Los Angeles Times)
🐦 Lighter click: Birds rescued from Ian
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 next week.