ENERGY BRIEFING: Democrats Want Updated Water Project Guidelines
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The rules governing how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluates potential water resource development projects are from the 1980s and need to be updated as soon as possible to include more communities and to take into account the effects of climate change, a trio of Democrats told the agency in a Feb. 10 letter, Kellie Lunney reports.
The 2020 Water Resources Development Act included a measure directing the Corps within 180 days of enactment to issue final guidelines to ensure the agency maximizes sustainable development and promotes environmental justice, among other things. The agency is now seven months late in meeting the deadline to incorporate modern “principles, requirements, and guidelines” to water projects.
“Once implemented, the PR&G will allow the Corps to consider wider perspectives when evaluating projects, such as community risk, ability to pay, and long-standing environmental injustices,” wrote Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chair Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.).
“Full implementation of the PR&G will also help ensure that the important work of the Corps is accessible to all communities, ensuring that rural, Tribal, and economically-disadvantaged areas can benefit from the Corps’ expertise to address local water resource challenges.”
The lawmakers also sent the letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. CEQ previously led an effort to update such guidelines for water agencies across the government prior to WRDA 2020. “It is our understanding that every federal water resource agency, other than the Corps, has formally adopted the PR&G,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Army Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Happening on the Hill
Lawmakers Urge Bigger LWCF Budget Request: A bipartisan, bicameral group of twelve lawmakers is asking the Biden administration to request $450 million in discretionary spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the next budget, Kellie Lunney reports. The 2020 Great American Outdoors Act made funding mandatory for the program at $900 million per year, but the group said that chronic under-funding for conservation and recreation projects, as well as a hefty backlog, requires extra investment for the program.
“This year, the Biden Administration submitted nearly $1.1 billion in LWCF needs in its budget request (including $192 million on the ready-to-go supplemental project lists), and hundreds of millions more were identified during the budget process but left off the final submission lists,” the lawmakers—including Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)—wrote in a Feb. 11 letter to several administration officials.
The White House’s fiscal 2023 budget request is expected to be released in early March.
Lummis Maintains EPA Holds Ahead of Vote: Holds by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) on EPA nominees remains in place, according to an aide to the senator, even though Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have scheduled a Wednesday vote to approve David Uhlmann as enforcement chief and Carlton Waterhouse to lead the office of solid waste, Stephen Lee reports.
Lummis’ ongoing holds mean that the full Senate can’t quickly confirm Uhlmann or Waterhouse without at least a lengthy voting process, even if they clear the committee, as is broadly expected. Lummis in January said she would block EPA nominees over the agency’s disapproval of Wyoming’s revised plan to control regional haze at the Jim Bridger Power Plant, a coal facility in the southwestern corner of the state. Lummis at the time called the EPA’s decision “blatantly political” and “a complete reversal from that of career EPA employees during the previous administration.”
White House Shifts to Deficit Reduction to Get Manchin’s Vote: The White House is considering reworking Biden’s economic and social spending plan to emphasize deficit reduction in a bid to secure support from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a person familiar with the administration’s discussions said. Top congressional Democrats have also in recent days discussed adding deficit reduction measures. While Biden’s administration has insisted that the president’s agenda would be fully paid for, Manchin has stalled the $2 trillion package of climate, tax and social spending initiatives, citing his concern about the effect on federal debt as well as inflation. Read more from Jennifer Epstein, Erik Wasson and Laura Davison.
Energy & Natural Resources
DOE Announces Clean Energy Tech Project Funds: The Department of Energy today is announcing $175 million for 68 clean energy research and development projects. The effort, led by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the OPEN 2021 program, is targeting projects to advance technology for electric vehicles, offshore wind, storage, and nuclear recycling. “DOE’s investments show our commitment to empowering innovators to develop bold plans to help America achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, create clean energy good-paying jobs and strengthen our energy independence,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
DOE Announces Nuclear, Batteries Plans: The Energy Department is taking the initial steps on a program that would provide $6 billion in credits to struggling nuclear reactors, Ari Natter reports. The department Friday issued a notice of intent and request for information on the execution of the program, which was funded in the bipartisan infrastructure law.
DOE also intents to provide $2.91 billion to boost production of advanced batteries, according to a statement from agency, Kasia Klimasinka reports. The batteries are critical to electric vehicles and energy storage. The investment was also directed by the infrastructure law.
Nuclear Waste Storage Ban Debated to Halt New Mexico Project: A New Mexico bill to block high-level nuclear waste in the state aims to stymie Holtec International’s plans to consolidate radioactive material from commercial U.S. power plants in the state’s southeastern corner. The measure (H.B. 127) is a move by state lawmakers to leverage the New Mexico permits needed to open a temporary storage facility against the company’s proposal. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and other state leaders oppose Holtec’s license application before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They filed a lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico alleging that it’s beyond NRC’s authority to license such facilities. Read more form Brenna Goth.
Sticking With Gas-Guzzlers Over EVs Could Delay Postal Upgrade: The U.S. Postal Service is expected in the coming days to reaffirm its plan to pay Oshkosh as much as $6 billion over 10 years to replace an aging fleet of red-white-and blue delivery vans with mostly gasoline-powered models instead of climate-friendly electric vehicles.
The service insists it’s the cheapest alternative. But its analysis is based on assumptions that critics and even other government agencies say are unrealistic, such as gasoline at $2.19 a gallon and charging stations that cost roughly $20,000 per facility. And those assumptions will form the bullseye of expected legal challenges that could stop Oshkosh’s assembly lines before they even start. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.
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Environment & Chemicals
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States Win Bid to Freeze Social Cost of Carbon Plan: A federal judge in Louisiana shot down Biden’s interim estimates on the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions, dealing another judicial blow to the White House climate agenda. A 2021 order directed agencies to use an interim metric that estimated the cost to society that would come from burning carbon in environmental permitting and regulatory decisions. But Louisiana, Alabama and eight other states “identified the kinds of harms” needed to block the metric’s use, a court ruled on Friday. Jennifer Hijazi has more.
Green Groups Want Offsets Included as Part of SEC’s Climate Rule: Environmental groups have called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to make offset purchases part of a wider climate rule that would force companies to disclose greenhouse-gas emissions. Many had expected the SEC to unveil its climate rule by the end of last year. That timeline has now slipped to March, or even later. In a letter Thursday, Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund said disclosures about the offsets markets are a key part of this because they have “significant environmental, accounting and social integrity problems” that jeopardize the climate pledges that companies have been making. Read more from Natasha White and Akshat Rathi.
Trump-Era Effort to Lift Gray Wolf Protections Rejected by Judge: The Trump administration’s last-minute move to rescind all environmental protections for gray wolves violated the Endangered Species Act, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., ruled, striking down a regulation that had cleared the way for wolf hunting without federal restrictions. Judge Jeffrey S. White granted summary judgment for the environmental groups that led the challenge, saying the Interior Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in determining that wolves nationwide are no longer endangered thanks to the “purported recovery” of regional subpopulations. Read more from Mike Leonard.
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With assistance from Stephen Lee and Ari Natter
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