Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post

Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post
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TGIF! Welcome to Overnight Energy, your source for the day’s energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com . Follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin . Reach Zack Budryk at zbudryk@thehill.com or follow him at @BudrykZack

Today we’re looking at the decline of Lake Mead’s water levels, the White House doubling down against a gas tax hike, and a new Biden nominee for the USDA’s undersecretary of rural development.

DAMMED IF YOU DO: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West

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The Hoover Dam is seeing record-low water levels, a significant and scary development with major implications for water and climate in the entire American Southwest.

Amid drought conditions, Lake Mead’s level last week reached an all-time low of 1,071.56 feet above sea level, leaving it just 37 percent full.

The body of water’s level has been declining since 2000, and has fallen about 140 feet over the past two decades. It comes amid a drought in the Southwest that is the worst in two decades, according to a New York Times analysis.

How we got here: Long-standing water issues in the West are heightening the challenges posed by more recent effects of climate change.

The Colorado River, which feeds the reservoir, is severely over-allocated, with the demand for its water exceeding the actual flow of the river, according to Kathryn Sorensen, a member of the board of advisors at the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute. Scientists have projected the river’s flow may diminish by up to 25 percent in the future, she noted.

Seven states are located in the river’s basin and affected by the Colorado River Compact: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Experts say the overarching problem with water management in the Southwest, and these states in particular, is that existing systems are based on a climate that, because of warming, no longer exists.

The compact was ratified in 1922, and policymakers, including the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.), have repeatedly called for it to be updated to reflect current circumstances.

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“Politicians in the 1920s ignored science and promised more water to the cities and farms of the west than the river can deliver. So we'd be in trouble even without climate change. But warming temperatures are making the problem worse, by increasing evaporation so less water can make it downstream to users,” John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, told The Hill.

Read more about the crisis here

FOOT ON THE GAS: White House reiterates opposition to raising gas tax amid infrastructure debate

The White House has reiterated its opposition to raising the gas tax in a new statement issued Friday as lawmakers negotiate an infrastructure proposal. 

The Biden administration indicated that it considers raising the gas tax, including indexing it to inflation, a tax on low- and middle-income Americans. 

“The President has been clear throughout these negotiations: he is adamantly opposed to raising taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year. After the extraordinarily hard times that ordinary Americans endured in 2020 — job losses, shrinking incomes, squeezed budgets — he is simply not going to allow Congress to raise taxes on those who suffered the most,” said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates in a statement.

“At long last, the economy is growing at a rate not seen for almost 40 years, employment is up, and wages are up. The President is firmly against any plan to reverse these hard-won gains by taxing middle class families for simply driving to work or taking their kids to school,” he added.

The White House’s position reflects general Democratic sentiments: “When you have Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosIt's time for US to get serious about cleaning up space junk Press: Give those unemployed writers a job! Progressive group launches M ad campaign to call for tax hikes on the rich MORE making as much money as he is, it is not fair for us to then raise the gas tax,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalAngst grips America's most liberal city Congress must lower the Medicare Age to save the lives of older Americans House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate MORE (D-Wash.) told The Hill. 

Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the thinking around the issue has indeed evolved within the party.

“Over time, as we have become more and more aware of the different ways in which tax structures are regressive or progressive ... it has crystallized for progressives … that this is not the way to go,” she said.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday told congressional reporters that she rejects making “America’s working families” pay for critical infrastructure that “the rest that America’s wealthiest people and their businesses are using without paying for them.”

Read more about the White House position here and how Democrats are feeling in general here.

SECURE THE AG: Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post

President BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE on Friday announced he plans to nominate former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) for a role in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) after she lost her reelection bid last November.

If confirmed, Torres Small would serve as the undersecretary of rural development at the USDA. The White House touted her political organizing experience in rural New Mexico and her term representing the state's second congressional district, which includes large swaths of rural land.

"Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty," the White House said.

In winning her 2018 race, Torres Small became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico's 2nd District. Torres Small lost her reelection bid in 2020 by roughly 20,000 votes to Republican Yvette Herrell

Torres Small, who is 36, is the second lawmaker who lost in 2020 to get a spot in the Biden administration. Biden previously nominated former Rep. Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (D-Calif.) for an undersecretary role in the Defense department.

Read more about the nomination here

ON TAP NEXT WEEK:

On Tuesday:

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  • The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy will hold a hearing on renewable energy opportunities
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a legislative hearing

On Wednesday:

  • The Senate Energy & Commerce Committee’s National Parks Subcommittee will hold a legislative hearing
  • The Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on energy programs for rural and low-income communities
  • The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on water resources projects

On Thursday:

  • The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing on President Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request

 

WHAT WE’RE READING:

N.C. weighs joining RGGI, closing all Duke's coal plants, E&E News reports

OPEC told to expect limited U.S. oil output growth, for now, Reuters reports

PSA: If you enrolled in an energy saver program, your smart thermostat may adjust itself, The Verge reports

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Miami’s mayor looks to woo Chinese bitcoin miners with low energy prices and clean nuclear power, CNBC reports

Energy Department Seeks to Keep Grant-Backed Technology Jobs in U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports

States' feud delivers Supreme Court's first groundwater test, E&E News reports

Pelosi says she would not be open to gas tax expansion, Reuters reports

ICYMI: Stories from Friday (and Thursday night)…

White House reiterates opposition to raising gas tax amid infrastructure debate

Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post

Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West

California grid operator calls on residents to conserve electricity amid heat wave

California hydroelectric plant expected to shut down for the first time in 50 years

Wolf hunting rules being eased in Montana despite population decline

OFF BEAT AND OFF-BEAT: Plenty of fish in the sea