Energy & Environment — Feds open door to Colorado River intervention
The federal government is indicating that it may impose cuts on water allocations from the Colorado River.
Meanwhile, President Biden signed a climate treaty and plans to attend the U.N. climate conference, while at least one progressive lawmaker is pushing for a gasoline export ban.
Interior could curtail river allocations amid drought
The Interior Department signaled Friday it may take action in the next two years to reduce downstream water releases from the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams to address the ongoing Colorado River drought.
In the announcement, the department offered three options for the public to comment on between now and Dec. 20. The range of options include one in which the Bureau of Reclamation takes unilateral action on the allocation of water in the river, which serves seven states and parts of Mexico.
The other two options outlined in the Interior announcement include taking no action and leaving it to state, tribal and local policymakers to devise an alternative.
The Bureau will release a draft proposal next spring based on feedback.
- The water in the river is governed by a century-old compact which has not been updated to reflect current water levels, meaning it currently allocates more water than is actually present. The Interior Department had warned the states it could step in if they could not reach an agreement over the summer, but talks came to nothing.
- As a drought in the region enters its third decade, locals and federal officials are increasingly concerned about a potential scenario where two massive reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, drop to “dead pool” level, at which point they will be too low to provide water and hydropower.
“The Interior Department continues to pursue a collaborative and consensus-based approach to addressing the drought crisis afflicting the West. At the same time, we are committed to taking prompt and decisive action necessary to protect the Colorado River System and all those who depend on it,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
“Revising the current interim operating guidelines for Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams represents one of many critical Departmental efforts underway to better protect the System in light of rapidly changing conditions in the Basin.”
Biden to attend global climate summit
President Biden will attend a global climate change summit taking place in Egypt, the White House confirmed on Friday evening.
“On November 11th, President Biden will attend the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt,” said a statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“At COP27, he will build on the significant work the United States has undertaken to advance the global climate fight and help the most vulnerable build resilience to climate impacts, and he will highlight the need for the world to act in this decisive decade,” she said.
Every year, global leaders gather to discuss climate progress and negotiate further efforts to slow the planet’s warming. At 2015’s climate summit, leaders negotiated the Paris Agreement.
The Washington Post previously reported that Biden would attend this year’s conference, but officials pushed back at the time, saying the plans hadn’t yet been finalized.
Biden previously attended last year’s conference. At that time, questions had been raised about whether the U.S. would be able to deliver significant progress amid tense negotiations over climate legislation.
This year, he’ll have the Inflation Reduction Act — the Democrats’ climate, tax and health care bill — to tout. The administration has indicated that it is seeking to rebuild U.S. credibility on the world stage after former President Trump’s climate denial and environmental rollbacks.
BIDEN SIGNS CLIMATE TREATY AIMED AT LIMITING GREENHOUSE GASES
President Biden on Thursday signed a treaty that aims to limit the use of potent planet-warming gases that are used in refrigeration.
The treaty, known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, aims to phase down the use of gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Unlike many other climate actions, this one was relatively bipartisan, passing the Senate 69-27. It also had support from many industry players.
The background: While HFCs have been a major climate challenge, the U.S. was already on its way to limiting them — with or without the treaty.
- In 2020, Congress passed and then-President Trump signed a bipartisan energy bill that required the phase down of HFCs by 85 percent over a 15-year period. It’s a law that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already taken steps to implement.
- Therefore, on the climate front, the ratification is largely symbolic. However, it did have some trade ramifications for the few HFCs that remain.
Under the Kigali Amendment, parties to the treaty are forbidden from trading HFCs with countries that are not. Had the U.S. not signed on, it would struggle to trade the HFCs that are still on the market during the phase down.
Biden celebrated the treaty signing in a tweet — touting it as a win for both climate change and U.S. manufacturing.
“I’m proud to sign the Kigali Amendment – a historic, bipartisan win for American manufacturing and global climate action,” he wrote.
“My Administration is phasing down super-polluting chemicals so the U.S. can lead the clean technology markets of the future and unlock thousands of new jobs,” he added.
Khanna introduces bill to ban gasoline exports
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a vocal critic of large oil companies’ business practices, introduced legislation Friday that would ban the export of refined gasoline products during domestic spikes in gas prices.
The legislation would restrict exports during any seven-day period where the national average gas price is $3.12 a gallon or higher.
Khanna’s office said in a statement that the legislation will specifically apply to gasoline products, which are predominantly exported to Latin America, and will not affect diesel exports, which have become a lifeline for European nations ending the use of Russian fuel.
“While Big Oil is reporting obscene profits this week, American families are struggling to afford gas at the pump. These companies should not be allowed to profit by exporting gas to other countries while we struggle with increased prices here at home,” Khanna said in a statement shared early with The Hill. “My bill will temporarily restrict exports as long as prices are above the average price in 2019.”
- U.S. gas prices are down from their summer peak, which saw record U.S. highs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- However, the OPEC+ bloc of nations announced weeks ago that it will cut production by some one million barrels a day, which was expected to drive up prices.
- Khanna explicitly framed the legislation as a counter to any increased demand that outpaces oil production.
The measure is unlikely to pass Congress, but it may be meaningful on the messaging front: a high-profile, progressive member of Congress is calling for action that the Biden administration has not endorsed.
While the Biden administration has called on companies to reign in their exports, it has not said where it stands on imposing restrictions itself.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Exxon Rebuts Biden’s Attack on Profits, Citing Dividend Payout (Bloomberg)
- Five more nuclear plants on the horizon for Wyoming, Utah (Casper Star-Tribune)
- For top U.S. oil producers, Permian shale output is losing steam (Reuters)
- EPA closed a refinery that rained oil. Now it’s a ‘ticking time bomb.’ (The Washington Post)
- Carbon emissions from energy to peak in 2025 in ‘historic turning point’, says IEA (The Guardian)
MORE FROM THE HILL
- Climate change-fueled heat waves have cost the world’s economy trillions: study
- New Mexico League of Conservation Voters receives letter with threats, chemical substance
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 Monday.