Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Spending bill aims to reduce emissions, spur energy development | Biden assembles team to enact ambitious climate agenda | CDC questioned EPA rule declining to impose tougher soot regulations

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IT’S MONDAY!!! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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Programming note: Wednesday, December 23 will be the last edition of Overnight Energy this year. We’ll be back on January 4, 2021! Have a great holiday season!!! 

CATCHING A RIDE ON THE (OMNI)BUS: The spending package Congress is poised to vote on Monday includes investments in clean energy and provisions to capture carbon pollution and reduce the use of powerful greenhouse gasses. 

HFCs: In what supporters are hailing as a win in the battle against climate change, the legislation would aim to phase down the use of the greenhouse gases, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), over the next 15 years.

The gases would be reduced by 85 percent during this period when compared to a baseline level. 

And states would be prevented from setting their own, stricter regulations for at least five years. 

Nukes, wind and solar: The bill seeks to further the availability of nuclear fuel through a program to support the availability of uranium that can be used in advanced reactors. Nuclear energy is somewhat controversial as it is emission-free but produces toxic waste. 

The bill could boost renewables by requiring the Interior Department to set goals for wind, solar and geothermal energy production on federal lands. It also says the department should aim to give permits for at least 25 gigawatts of energy from these sources by 2025.

The bill would extend certain industrial tax credits for renewable energy production, and it creates a program to research energy storage technology, which proponents say could help the deployment of renewable energy because it would aid in its usage during times when it’s not being produced. 

Gotta catch ‘em all: The legislation would have the government research carbon capture and sequestration technology that’s used to capture and store carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are produced. 

It would also extend the use of a tax credit that incentivizes the use of this technology by two years.

The technology is still developing. It’s praised by supporters as a greener way to get fuel, although critics argue that investing in it ultimately supports fossil fuel production and that emissions from their consumption will still contribute to climate change.

Read more about the bill here.  

CLIMATE TEAM: ASSEMBLE! President-elect Joe Biden has assembled his climate cabinet, the officials who will be responsible for enacting the most ambitious plan to fight global warming ever proposed by a U.S. administration.

The agency heads and Cabinet secretaries will be in charge of implementing Biden’s proposal, which calls for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and a carbon neutral power sector by 2035, as well as incorporating union jobs and racial equality into the solutions.  

To get that done, he’s put former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) in charge of the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) veteran Michael Regan in charge of that agency, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) in charge of public lands and former 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg in charge of transportation.

And at the White House, he’s tapped former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, former Obama staffer Ali Zaidi, environmental lawyer and former staffer Brenda Mallory and former Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate domestic and foreign climate policy.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” Biden said in a statement announcing several of the picks.

“They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms,” he added.  

The team combines progressives such as Haaland with environmental heavy hitters like McCarthy with those with deep experience in the agencies they’ll cover, like Regan, though each is being asked to do their part for a singular mission — and to do so quickly.

“There’s a little bit of this process that focuses a little too much on who these people are instead of what they’re going to do, and I will praise them as a dream team if they act quickly once they get into the Biden administration and a position of authority to aggressively take action. That’s what we need more than anything is actual action,” said Brett Hartl with the Center for Biological Diversity, a left-leaning environmental group, adding that he thought all the picks were good choices.

“For every terrible thing Donald Trump did over the last four years, they aggressively came in and implemented their agenda, as terrible it was, they wasted no time.”

One big task for Biden’s climate team will be putting forth policies that reduce emissions and reversing numerous Trump administration rollbacks.

Read more on their roles and responsibilities here

LET ME GIVE YOU A FEW POINTERS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rationale for freezing air quality regulations were “not scientifically defensible” before the agency finalized the rule earlier this month.

The EPA opted to keep Obama-era standards on particulate matter, or soot, in a move critics argued failed to take into account a growing body of evidence showing even low levels of air pollution can be harmful to human health.

An interagency review of the EPA rule released late Friday shows the CDC shared those concerns, saying the agency “has not provided sufficient justification” for failing to sufficiently weigh epidemiological studies showing the harm from air pollution at levels lower than the current standards.

“The CDC comments expose EPA’s strategy of downplaying and ignoring these studies of harmful health impacts from air pollution,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at left-leaning advocacy group Public Citizen.

“One of the primary arguments that EPA has been making in not strengthening air pollution standards is studies that show a strong connection between air pollution and health impacts show those at higher concentrations and can’t be extrapolated to claim those harmful health impacts also occur at lower concentration.”

But the CDC pushed back on that, arguing the EPA erred in not relying on research positing that even low levels of particulate matter can be damaging.

“Results from these studies can, and should, be used to directly inform the health effects of pollutant exposures and are invaluable for proper interpretation of epidemiologic findings. As written, the rationale is not scientifically defensible and is inconsistent with established practice within the EPA and other scientific agencies and organizations,” the CDC wrote in its comments. 

There isn’t as large a body of lab studies on how low levels of particulate matter pollution impact health, said Gretchen Goldman, a research director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in part because such studies would require “a long time and a lot of rats.”

But newer epidemiological research has found health impacts for humans for levels of air pollution below the current Obama-era standards, including premature death.

Read more on the feedback here

EMINENTLY QUOTABLE: In a video showcasing his plans for the Department of Transportation, secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg listed climate change among the priorities for the department.

“When it comes to transportation, we have a huge opportunity. It’s about jobs. It’s about climate. It’s about equity. And all of these things need to be at the heart of our transportation and infrastructure vision,” he said


A Plan by Eastern States to Cap Tailpipe Emissions Gets Off to a Slow Start, The New York Times reports

Wood burners triple harmful indoor air pollution, study finds, The Guardian reports

Biden CEQ pick signals NEPA changes, E&E News reports 

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and the weekend…

Biden rolls out diverse climate and energy team to enact ‘ambitious’ plan

Biden assembles team to enact ambitious climate agenda

Spending bill aims to reduce emissions, spur energy development

Omnibus doesn’t block Trump order allowing burrowing of political appointees

Tags Deb Haaland Donald Trump Gina McCarthy Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden John Kerry Pete Buttigieg

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