Overnight Energy & Environment — California lawmakers clash over oil spill

Overnight Energy & Environment — California lawmakers clash over oil spill
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Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we’re looking at California Democrats’ response to a major weekend oil spill, the political implications of Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinMajor climate program likely to be nixed from spending package: reports Sanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan MORE’s pro-gas stance and the latest in border wall litigation.

For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let’s jump in.

California Democrats blast offshore drilling in oil spill's wake

A major oil spill hits Southern California coast

Several California Democrats are calling for limiting or halting offshore drilling in the wake of a major oil spill off the state’s coast this weekend.

The 126,000 gallon spill prompted beach closures and reached coastal wetlands that are home to migratory birds. 

“The oil spill off the coast of Orange County reiterates the perils of offshore drilling,” Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinJane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

The state’s junior senator, Alex PadillaAlex PadillaPelosi on addressing climate through reconciliation package: 'This is our moment' Top Latino group endorses Padilla for full Senate term Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted that the practice should end. 

“We’ve seen time and time again how damaging offshore oil spills are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our economy. We have the power to prevent future spills—that’s why I’m committed to ending offshore oil drilling,” Padilla wrote. 

And it all comes back to reconciliation...The Democrats’ calls come as the House is weighing a proposal that would limit offshore drilling. 

The portion of the party’s $3.5 trillion spending bill that was put together by the House Natural Resources Committee would ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. 

And Democrats are also criticizing...Republicans! The spill falls near a district represented by Republican Rep. Michelle Steel, who last year flipped a seat that was previously held by Democrat Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaOvernight Energy & Environment — California lawmakers clash over oil spill California Democrats blast offshore drilling in oil spill's wake 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released a statement criticizing Steel in the wake of the spill, with spokesperson Adrian Eng-Gastelum saying, “Michelle Steel’s toxic relationship with the fossil fuel industry is harming tourism, killing local wildlife, and endangering OC beachgoers.” 

But her team pushed back: "While Michelle has spent the weekend engaged with local leaders, keeping the public informed on this crisis, and requesting a major disaster declaration from a silent Biden Administration, DCCC staffers inside the Beltway are doing what they do best — sending political emails just to score points off of a tragedy in Orange County — pathetic," said spokesperson Danielle Stewart. 

Asked whether the Biden administration is considering an emergency declaration, press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Buttigieg hits back after parental leave criticism: 'Really strange' Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE deferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), saying, “That would really be something typically that is requested by the governor and granted by FEMA, so I don’t have any updates on that.” 

Read more about the situation here

Manchin flexes muscle with fossil fuel demands

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) pauses during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office building in Washington on Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) insistence that natural gas be allowed to have a central role in President BidenJoe BidenJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Fill the Eastern District of Virginia  Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE’s clean energy agenda puts him on a collision course with Democratic lawmakers who worry he will have the power to water down what they see as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address climate change.

The backstory: He is flexing his muscle by calling for natural gas to be part of Biden’s clean energy solution even though the House Energy and Commerce Committee specifically excluded natural gas from the clean energy program by defining clean energy as having a carbon intensity of less than 0.10 metric tons of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

Asked by The Hill on Thursday whether he would insist on natural gas being part of Biden’s clean energy standard, Manchin said “it has to be.”

“I’m all for all of the above, I’m all for clean energy, but I’m also for producing the amount of energy that we need to make sure that we have reliability and I’m concerned about that,” he said.

Manchin also confirmed what he has communicated to colleagues in recent weeks that he does not think that utilities should be pressured to purchase electricity generated from natural gas produced with carbon capture technology.

“I’d love to have carbon capture — we don’t have the technology because we haven’t really gotten to that point and it’s so darn expensive that it makes it almost improbable,” he added.

Other Democrats didn’t like that very much. It’s setting off alarm bells among Democratic senators who want to enact energy reforms to limit climate change. 

“Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Natural gas is a terrible global warming gas ... and it has no place in such a program, otherwise it becomes a bill to subsidize fossil fuel when we want to subsidize renewable energy,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act Democrats call on White House to explore sharing Moderna technology abroad Lawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings MORE (D-Ore.), a leading proponent of putting strong measures in the reconciliation bill to address climate change.

Merkley said natural gas is acceptable as a clean energy source if it’s paired with carbon capture technology.

He’s not the only one who feels that way: Others also say the reconciliation bill must make landmark reforms to address global warming, and environmental policy experts allied with them warn that subsidizing natural gas without carbon capture technology would be counterproductive to that goal.

“The fate of the planet is at stake. Without a strong reconciliation bill there will be no serious effort to cut carbon emissions & transform our energy system away from fossil fuel,” Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan Briahna Joy Gray: Proposals favored by Black voters 'first at the chopping block' in spending talks MORE Sanders tweeted Friday.

Read more about the discord here.

Supreme Court remands border wall challenge following 'changed circumstances' under Biden 

The Supreme Court has directed lower courts to reconsider earlier rulings freezing funding for building former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE's border wall in light of President Biden’s efforts to block its construction. 

The remand punts challenges to the border wall from the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others who previously scored court victories determining that Trump inappropriately designated military funding for construction of the wall.

The high court vacated the earlier rulings “in light of the changed circumstances in this case,” siding with a Biden administration request that noted that the president on his inauguration day signed an order prohibiting border wall construction.

So what was the case actually about? At issue was some $3.6 billion in funding that the Biden administration has since designated for 66 different military construction projects that had been deferred. Groups had challenged Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to divert the funds — something both a district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found improper.

But the decision tees up another stage of the battle for border wall challengers who argue Biden must remediate the damage from the construction of the wall. 

That ranges from removing the wall, which environmentalists argue disrupts wildlife corridors, to addressing damage from its construction, which saw builders plow through federal lands, including bulldozing protected Arizona saguaro cacti. 

Read more about the decision here.


The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments over a dispute in which Mississippi claims that Tennessee is invading its property rights by pumping water near the border from an aquifer that spans both states, drawing water that’s located under Mississippi into Tennessee. 

Mississippi is seeking more than $600 million in damages and has rejected the notion of equitably apportioning the water as a solution. 

The state's arguments were met with some skepticism from the justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts.

Meanwhile, attorney David Frederick, representing Tennessee, argued that Mississippi wasn’t suffering any harm. 

Read more about the hearing here.


Exposure to fatal levels of heat and humidity has tripled for city residents in recent decades, a new study found.

The dangerous combination of heat and humidity, which impacts almost a quarter of the world’s population, is the result of rising temperatures and urban population growth, according to the study "Global urban population exposure to extreme heat" published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have migrated in recent decades from rural areas to cities, which now contain more than half of the global population. In those settings, researchers observed, sparse vegetation and abundant concrete tend to trap and concentrate heat, generating an “urban heat island effect.”

“It increases morbidity and mortality,” lead author Cascade Tuholske, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said in a statement. “It impacts people’s ability to work, and results in lower economic output. It exacerbates pre-existing health conditions.” 

Read more about what the study said about cities and heat here.


  • FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will testify before the House Oversight Committee during a hearing titled Hurricane Ida and Beyond: Readiness, Recovery, and Resilience
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on potential updates to the Mining Law of 1872




And finally, something we’re watching: John Oliver talks PFAS.


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.