Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in $2T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law

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PLAN ON IT: Former Vice President Joe Biden will aim to make electricity generation carbon free by 2035 as part of a $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan should he win the White House in November.

The plan, unveiled Tuesday, comes as an addition to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s existing climate plan, which calls for a $1.7 million federal investment, as the left wing of the party has sought to push him farther on environmental issues.

Biden’s new proposal also includes investing in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, creating a new climate research agency and halving the carbon footprint of buildings by 2035, including by upgrading 4 million buildings. 

Some of the ideas in the plan, notably the 2035 carbon-free power target, echo recommendations set by a task force made up of supporters of both Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a former progressive rival for the Democratic nomination. 

The two co-chairs of that panel were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who had endorsed Sanders, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State John Kerry. 

In infrastructure, the plan calls for all U.S.-made buses to be zero-emission by 2030 and endorses “ambitious” fuel economy standards, although it does not specify what those will be. 

Biden also wants to create a “Civilian Climate Corps” that will take on a variety of jobs, including conserving public lands, planting trees, repairing irrigation systems and protecting coastal ecosystems. His plan also aims to create 250,000 jobs to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. 

And his new plans calls for creating an Environmental and Climate Justice Division to “hold polluters accountable.” The plan credits Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), another former presidential candidate, with this idea. 

The plan has a significant environmental justice component to it…

Speaking from a gymnasium in his home state of Delaware, Biden made the case that communities of color have been especially victimized by corporate polluters. 

He said those communities have borne “the environmental and health burdens but shared none of the profits.”

“As we do this work, we need to be mindful of the historical wrongs and damage that American industries have done in the 21st century inflicting environmental harm on poor and vulnerable communities, so often Black and brown and Native American communities,” Biden said.

“Included here are polluted water, toxins pouring down on communities that bore the environmental and health burdens but shared none of the profits. Growing up and breathing that each and every day, it’s poison,” he added.

Biden said that poor communities and communities of color would receive 40 percent of the investments he’s proposing to build new sustainable houses, reduce pollution and invest in clean energy workforce development and transportation.

Read more on Biden’s plan here and here

THE COST OF CLIMATE CHANGE: The Trump administration has been systematically underestimating the damage caused by carbon pollution, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), slashing figures used under the Obama administration to weigh the impacts of policy.

The reduced figure, known as the social cost of carbon, has been used by the Trump administration to justify a host of environmental rollbacks.  

While the Obama administration assessed a $50 per metric ton cost to carbon, the Trump administration uses a $7 per metric ton figure, nixing consideration of any international impacts carbon pollution from the U.S. might have.

“The current federal estimates, based on domestic climate damages, are about 7 times lower than the prior federal estimates,” the GAO wrote in its report.

Numerous government agencies weighing any policy with an environmental angle use the social cost of carbon to calculate the impact of its policies. A lower cost of carbon can make less restrictive environmental regulations appear more favorable. 

Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen, called the changes to the social cost of carbon “crucial to the Trump administration trying to sell its rollback agenda.”

“It’s just a straight chain. You plug in the rigged social cost of carbon that allows EPA to say the costs to polluters is greater than the cost of climate change, and then that’s the only way they can make it look like their agenda of rolling back climate change regulations makes sense,” Narang said.

Read more on the report here

THE CUMULATIVE IMPACTS OF WEAKENING NEPA: President Trump is expected to finalize a rollback to one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws Wednesday in a move critics say will be particularly harmful to minority communities.

The changes to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates environmental reviews of major construction projects and pipelines, are being pitched by the Trump administration as a way to cut regulations, expedite energy and infrastructure projects and give a boost to the economy.

The rollback, first proposed in January, is moving forward amid heightened tensions over racial injustice stemming from police brutality and health disparities laid bare by the coronavirus. Critics argue that Trump’s erosion of 50-year-old protections will hit minority communities the hardest, since polluting industries are disproportionately likely to be located in neighborhoods with large nonwhite populations.

“The Trump administration’s NEPA rollback will further endanger those bearing the greatest burden of legacy environmental injustice and structural racism,” said Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) on a press call.

Trump is expected to announce implementation of the NEPA changes during a visit to the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta. According to a White House official, the president will discuss his actions to get rid of what the administration describes as burdensome regulations.

NEPA requires the government to review how pipelines, highways and certain oil and gas projects impact the environment and nearby residential communities.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality in January proposed limiting the law’s scope to exclude some projects from undergoing review, such as those receiving little federal funding. The proposal, which is slated to be finalized Wednesday, is expected to also allow for more industry involvement in those environmental impact reviews.

The changes also would no longer require consideration of “cumulative” effects of new projects, something the courts have largely interpreted as weighing the climate effects of a project and how a new project interacts with existing sources of nearby pollution.

Instead, officials would only need to consider the “reasonably foreseeable” effects of a project.

More than 100 Democratic lawmakers wrote to the administration last week opposing the upcoming NEPA changes.

“Historically, EJ communities have been targeted for projects, and, in turn, continue to experience negative environmental and health impacts,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to environmental justice communities, or those who have faced environmental inequality.

“NEPA was created to give a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless and has successfully allowed impacted populations to challenge projects that negatively affect their water quality, air quality, economic prosperity, and overall health and safety,” they added, arguing Trump’s changes would “halt this progress and careen in the opposite direction, threatening to undermine years of hard-fought progress.”

Read more on the expected rollback here

FOIA CONFESSIONAL: Records confirm it was former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief of staff Ryan Jackson who corresponded with Assistant Interior Secretary Douglas Domenech as Domenech sought to secure a job at the EPA for his son-in-law.

A May report from Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found Domenech wrongly used government resources by reaching out to an unnamed high-ranking former EPA official both in person and by email about the job.

Emails obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request show that high-ranking official was Jackson, a controversial EPA figure who left the agency early this year to work for the National Mining Association, the nation’s top coal lobby.

Domenech and Jackson first connected at what records show was a Dashboard Confessional concert at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

Wolf Trap, located outside of Washington, D.C., is affiliated with the National Park Service, and OIG has repeatedly suggested Interior stop accepting free tickets in order to avoid ethical issues.

At the concert, Domenech told Jackson his son-in-law had recently applied for a job at the EPA, and the two later connected by email.

Jackson responded favorably to Domenech’s email, telling him, “We could use the help frankly so I’m going to get [on] this.”

Domenech’s son-in-law was ultimately offered the job, and accepted, leaving his position working for an unnamed senator.

The OIG report, which refers to Domenech’s son-in-law only as Family Member 1, found Domenech’s behavior “implicate[s] a variety of federal ethics regulations,” including misuse of his office and of his government email.

Domenech told OIG, “Well, when I think of influencing … I guess you’re right. I was trying to influence the process to move along. That’s different than influencing the process to hire [Family Member 1].” 

Jackson left the EPA in January amid ethics investigations into his behavior.

The EPA’s OIG was reviewing Jackson’s suspected involvement in the destruction of important documents related to a number of issues that should have been retained. Another investigation centered around whether Jackson interfered with testimony another EPA employee was set to give Congress. 

The investigation concluded in December, with OIG concluding that EPA’s ethics training “does not address interfering with or intimidating individuals who communicate with or testify before Congress.” 


Health officials: No COVID-19 cases traced back to July 3 event at Mount Rushmore, The Billings Gazette reports

15 states pledge emissions-free truck sales by 2050, we report

America’s great outdoors is showing its age. Congress is proposing a face lift, The Washington Post reports

BlackRock cast tougher climate votes, environmentalists want more, Reuters reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…

Energy secretary says pipeline setbacks pose national security issue

15 states pledge emissions-free truck sales by 2050

EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution

Republicans say Biden energy plan will help GOP in rust belt states


A bipartisan energy infrastructure bill is still possible, writes Sasha Mackler, director of the Energy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Arun Majumdar, co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.  

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Donald McEachin Donald Trump Jay Inslee Joe Biden John Kerry
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