Overnight Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment — Climate activists prepare for divided Congress

The Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana

A narrow GOP House majority has activists assessing the years ahead. Meanwhile, the federal government OKs some Chevron operations in Venezuela, and Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) tough reelection fight may doom his hopes for permitting reform. 

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter?

Activists set to pressure Biden with Congress divided

The limited at best prospects for major climate legislation under a divided Congress has left many environmental advocacy groups hoping to amp up pressure on the Biden administration to advance regulations that are more protective of the environment. 

Where things stand: While there are some legislative climate issues to watch with a GOP House and Democratic Senate, activists say the best chance at progress has shifted to steps that might be taken administratively. 

  • “We do not see Congress as the avenue for major progress in the next
    12 months and we think there’s a lot more ground we can cover in implementation, executive action and states,” Holly Burke, a spokesperson for the environmental group Evergreen Action, told The Hill.  
  • “We will keep our eye on the ball with regards to Congress, but we’re not going to invest most of our time there,” she added. 

Democrats and Republicans are bitterly divided on climate change, with the GOP voting unanimously against the sweeping legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which represented the biggest steps taken by a U.S. Congress on the issue. 

So what’s next? Advocates would have sought to build on that win with a Democratic Senate and House, but now see regulation and implementation of that climate and tax bill as their next frontiers. 

“I don’t want to take our foot off the gas on Congress in terms of making sure we continue to make the modest progress that’s possible again through appropriations [and] through the farm bill, but in terms of the main focus of what the Sierra Club is looking to advance the climate agenda, it’s absolutely [Inflation Reduction Act] implementation, which goes hand-in-hand with executive action,” said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director.  

“I’m hoping we see quite a bit from the Biden administration on administrative rules that have been slowly progressing,” she added. “I think we’re going to see a whole bunch come to fruition at the end of this year and certainly next year.” 

Read more about the year ahead here. 

US to allow Chevron to sell Venezuelan oil 

The Treasury Department will loosen sanctions to allow Chevron to pump oil in Venezuela, the company confirmed Saturday.  

“Chevron confirms the receipt of General License No. 41 as published by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and which authorizes the production and lifting of petroleum or petroleum products produced by the Chevron Joint Ventures (JVs), and to conduct related maintenance, repair, or servicing of the Chevron JVs. For additional information, please see OFAC’s General License No. 41,” a Chevron spokesperson said Saturday. 

The details: The license will extend for the next six months and can be revoked early at any time. It comes as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and members of the South American nation’s opposition party have resumed talks in Mexico City.

  • Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the state-owned oil company, will not be able to receive profits from Chevron activity under the terms of the allowance.  
  • “This action reflects longstanding U.S. policy to provide targeted sanctions relief based on concrete steps that alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people and support the restoration of democracy,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.  

Reuters first reported the Treasury was prepared to grant Chevron a license last Wednesday.  

While the Treasury emphasized humanitarian rationale for the decision, it comes after months of speculation that the federal government is considering easing Venezuelan sanctions for alternative sources of energy amid OPEC nations’ reticence to increase oil production.

Chevron previously secured an exemption in 2019 for compensation for its Venezuelan crude supplies amid sanctions, but the next year the Trump administration reversed the exemption as part of a pressure campaign against Maduro’s government.  

Read more about the announcement here. 

Manchin side deal at risk as GOP seeks 2024 ouster 

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) side deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to enact permitting reform before the end of the year is on life support as Republicans look to deprive the lawmaker of a major victory that could aid his potential 2024 reelection.   

Manchin is in discussions with GOP colleagues about striking a deal on permitting reform in the lame-duck session, but Republicans say it faces an uphill path as they view his West Virginia Senate seat as a top pickup opportunity in the next election.   

“It’s a heavy lift but we’re still exchanging ideas,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the lead Republican negotiators on permitting reform.   

Passing permitting reform legislation before January, or even next year, may depend on whether Manchin runs for a fourth term. Former President Trump won West Virginia with 68.6 percent of the vote two years ago.   

Manchin, who is 75, told The Hill he’s “running every day” but declined to say when he will formally announce his decision on the 2024 election. 

  • He said he expects a tough race if he runs again.   
  • “I’ve never run unopposed. I’ve always been expecting rigorous” competition, he said. “I’m anxious to just watch the fireworks on the Republican primary side. I think there will be a lot of people in [the GOP Senate primary].”   

Manchin said he’s going to put himself “in a position to help my state and my country the best I possibly can” but doesn’t plan to make an announcement about his political future anytime soon.   

Read more from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. 

METHANE IN THE MEMBRANE 

The Interior Department on Monday issued new proposed waste-prevention rules for methane flaring, the first update in four decades. 

Flaring, or the burning of extra natural gas at wells, and venting, the release of natural gas into the atmosphere, are common steps in the oil and gas drilling process but can be kept to a minimum with certain precautions. 

  • The department estimates the proposed rule would prevent the waste of billions of cubic feet of gas and generate just under $40 million a year in royalties.
  • The updated proposed rule comes after venting and flaring has seen a dramatic surge in the last decade.
  • Venting and flaring on tribal and federal land was about 86.8 billion cubic feet per year on average from 2010-2020, more than five times the 15 billion cubic feet a year between 1990 and 2000. 

Beyond the averages, however, the waste can be even more dramatic in states with more natural gas activity. In the 13 states that conduct the most flaring activity according to Energy Department statistics, more than 3.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was flared from 2012 to 2020, or roughly $10.6 billion in revenue, according to a February analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. 

The proposed rule includes monthly restrictions on time and volume spent on royalty-free flaring, particularly the number-one cause, flaring to address pipeline capacity limits. It would also require all operators to develop a plan for leak detection and repair as well as a plan to minimize waste. The rule will be open to public comment for 60 days. 

Read more about the proposed rule here. 

ON TAP TOMORROW

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is slated to vote on advancing nominees including (the many-times-delayed nomination of) Joseph Goffman to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office, Beth Prichard Geer to be a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Shailen Bhatt to lead the Federal Highway Administration 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • It’s Public Land. But the Public Can’t Reach It. (The New York Times
  • The 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave was a climate change warning (Axios
  • As the Outdoor Industry Ditches ‘Forever Chemicals,’ REI Lags Behind (Gizmodo
  • High demand and prices for lithium send mines into overdrive (NPR
  • Gas project, EJ concerns collide in the Florida Panhandle (E&E News

ICYMI

🐈 Lighter click: Cat’s in the bag?

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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