Energy & Environment — Ruling blocking climate accounting metric halted
Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here.
Today we’re looking at a court decision that restored the Biden administration’s ability to use a key climate accounting tool, a push to add a ban on Russian oil into a new trade bill and how high gasoline prices are dividing Democrats.
Let’s jump in.
Climate accounting metric ruling paused
An appeals court halted a lower court’s ruling that prevented the Biden administration from using a key climate accounting metric in regulations and other decisions.
The Biden administration uses values known as the “social costs” of planet-warming gases to quantify the costs or benefits to society of the climate change impacts of its actions.
The history: Last year, the administration temporarily reinstated interim estimates based on Obama-era figures, which gave more weight to climate impacts than Trump-era estimates. It also convened an interagency working group to calculate updated estimates.
In February, Judge James Cain, a Trump appointee, blocked the Biden administration from using the values it had imposed after several Republican-led states challenged it. The red states had argued that they would be harmed if those values resulted in less production of fossil fuels — and less revenue for the states.
So what’s new? A panel of 5th Circuit judges late Wednesday halted Cain’s preliminary injunction, saying that the states’ claims are largely hypothetical, coming from potential regulations that may happen rather than actual harm.
“Their claimed injury does not stem from the Interim Estimates themselves, it stems from any forthcoming, speculative, and unknown regulation that may place increased burdens on them and may result,” the panel wrote.
When the Biden administration appealed Cain’s injunction, which blocked it from both using the interim value and blocked the interagency group from working, it argued that Cain’s order hampered a wide range of government activity.
It had said in court that the ruling held up nearly 40 regulations and nearly 90 environmental reviews that relied on the values to figure out what harm or benefits certain actions would have on the climate.
GOP pushes to add Russian oil ban into trade bill
A key GOP senator said on Thursday that Republicans will want to add language codifying a ban on Russian oil imports into a House-passed bill to end normal trade relations with Moscow.
The House passed legislation on Thursday to give President Biden the power to impose tariffs on goods from Russia and Belarus, require the administration to push for Russia’s removal from the World Trade Organization and renew the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
But the bill doesn’t include language codifying Biden’s Russian oil ban. The House passed that as a separate bill earlier this month, which hasn’t yet been taken up in the Senate.
Asked what changes Republicans would want to make to the House bill, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Finance Committee, told The Hill that they are “working on it” but pointed to the inclusion of the Russian oil ban as something he wanted in the trade legislation.
“My understanding is that they are not going to include … the ban on Russian oil,” Crapo said. “So that’s something that we need to include in it.”
THINK YOUR GAS PRICES ARE HIGH? CHECK OUT CALIFORNIA
California has the most expensive gas in the nation, reaching an average statewide price of $5.44 per gallon early in March even as the nationwide average set a record of $4.173.
Experts say the higher prices are due to a unique combination of emission regulations, higher gas taxes and the Golden State’s status as a “fuel island.”
The U.S. has grappled with record inflation and rising oil and gas prices in recent months despite a rapid economic recovery. President Biden warned earlier this month that the issue of high fuel costs would be exacerbated after the U.S. banned oil imports from Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.
Oil prices have decreased recently, an event that suggests relief for consumers at the pump will occur in the weeks ahead. But prices have continued on an upward trend in Southern California in particular.
The gas price in Los Angeles County increased from $5.876 a gallon to $5.890 a gallon between Wednesday and Thursday, according to AAA data, marking the 23rd consecutive day of county-level cost increases.
The trend has continued across California as well, increasing statewide from an average of $5.694 a week ago to $5.785 Thursday.
A number of factors contribute to the particularly acute pain at the pump in the state, according to economics and energy policy experts.
“First, taxes are higher generally in California, so the gas tax itself is higher,” Sanjay Varshney, a professor of finance at California State University, Sacramento told The Hill. “Number two, California environmental and emission laws are tougher, so the mix required [for] gasoline tends to be more expensive.”
Another key factor is that the state is a fuel island, or a location that does not receive any fuel through interstate pipelines, according to Kevin Slagle, vice president of strategic communications at the Western States Petroleum Association. The state’s fuel supplies are either produced in-state or shipped by ship or truck, costlier methods that are passed onto consumers.
Gas prices lead to tensions within Democratic Party
Progressives are concerned that high gas prices are worsening inequalities, creating tension between activists who want Democrats to do more to condemn big oil and those trying to navigate Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine.
Some on the left are critical of their own party’s ties to fossil fuel, saying Democrats should be doing more to curb the industry’s influence and clout.
“We seem to have little or no political will to ensure accountability and to get the oil and gas industry to straighten up and fly right,” said Jeri Shepherd, a progressive Democratic National Committee member from Colorado. “Regular people are going to be feeling the pain, and we as a political system are going to be indifferent.”
The background: Liberals have often targeted oil and gas corporations, and anger is rising that such firms are entering a boom time even as their customers are hit with inflation. Gas prices have risen to well above $4 per gallon across the country.
The rising gas prices have exacerbated Biden’s political problems with inflation, which have cut into his campaign pledge to give working- and middle-class people relief in their daily lives.
The rhetoric from climate groups has also stepped up. Groups are accusing the oil companies of using the Russian war to boost profits and to take advantage of average consumers — all at the expense of the climate.
“The fossil fuel industry is really showing us their playbook,” said John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson with the grassroots-led Sunrise Movement. He argued that corporations are “looting Americans at the gas pump.”
“I think everyone’s seeing through that right now,” he said.
So what’s the deal right now? Democrats are divided over how to address the issue.
On the campaign trail, left-wing endorsers and organizers are broadly supporting candidates who reject fossil fuel contributions, including in a high-profile Democratic primary match-up in Texas. Insurgent Jessica Cisneros is headed for a runoff election against Rep. Henry Cuellar, who has taken contributions from political action committees linked to the industry.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who proudly accepts fossil fuel funding, has caught fury from progressives for holding up Biden’s Build Back Better package in the Senate.
Some on the left have also criticized Biden directly, saying he is facing a choice either to transition to clean renewable energy or to give more leverage to fossil fuel executives.
Others, however, have shied away from attacking the president, particularly one navigating the crisis in Ukraine.
“There are real villains,” said Zac Petkanas, a senior adviser to Invest in America Action, a group advocating for more public spending. “We have a mad man invading sovereign countries that is driving up not just the cost of fuel, but very likely food and other things down the line.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
Death in the forest (The Washington Post)
Citing a Chevron Tanker, Ukraine Seeks Tougher Restrictions at Russian Ports (The New York Times)
Dr. Oz’s First-Class Flip-Flop On Fracking (HuffPost)
This Timber Company Sold Millions of Dollars of Useless Carbon Offsets (Bloomberg)
And finally, something offbeat but on beat: taking a ride down memory lane?
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 Friday.