Overnight Energy & Environment

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord | Biden nixes Keystone XL permit, halts Arctic refuge leasing | Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office

IT’S INAUGURATION DAY! 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@digital-stage.thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@digital-stage.thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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GUESS WHO’S BACK, BACK AGAIN: President Biden on Wednesday took action to have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate accord, following through on a campaign pledge to recommit to the Obama-era agreement on his first day in office.

The move reverses former President Trump’s withdrawal from the pact. For several months, the U.S. was the only country in the world that wasn’t a party to the accord.

“A cry of survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear,” Biden said in his inaugural address, listing “a climate in crisis” as one of the many challenges facing the U.S.

Biden has described the renewed commitment as a down payment on his climate plan, which calls for putting the country on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Rejoining takes little more than a letter from Biden, but the U.S. will be recommitting to the Paris agreement at a time when other countries have begun rolling out more ambitious climate goals.

Special envoy John Kerry will be leading much of the administration’s efforts, shepherding the U.S. through a United Nations conference set for November in Scotland, where countries will formally adopt more stringent climate commitments.

Ahead of the U.N. meeting, both the United Kingdom and the European Union have committed to reducing their emissions by 68 percent and 40 percent, respectively, below 1990 levels by 2030. The U.S. has not upped its commitments under the accord since former President Obama entered it in 2016.

Kerry has said reestablishing American leadership on climate change will be one of his top priorities.

Wednesday’s action puts Biden in sharp contrast with Trump, who complained the deal “disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”

Read more about the U.S. rejoining the accord here.

KEYSTONEWALLED: President Biden has signed what is expected to be a sweeping executive order that revokes a key permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, halts oil and gas leasing at a wildlife refuge in Alaska and carries out several other environmental actions. 

The move deals a devastating blow to the approximately 1,200-mile-pipeline carrying oil from Canada to the U.S. and that was opposed by several environmental and indigenous groups. 

The action reverses a decision on a project championed by President Trump, who first issued a permit allowing it to cross the border during the early months of his own presidency. 

Environmentalists have been critical of the pipeline, particularly because it’s supposed to carry oil made from tar sands, the production of which is carbon intensive.

Tribes have also expressed opposition, saying that the pipeline would cross onto their lands and violate their treaty rights. 

TC Energy, the company behind the pipeline, released a statement on Wednesday expressing disappointment in the decision, arguing that its pipeline would bolster energy security in North America and provide jobs. 

The company also said it would “review the decision, assess its implications, and consider its options” but added that the pipeline’s advancement will be suspended. 

Biden’s order is also expected to place a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), coming just one day after the Trump administration issued leases from its first sale. 

The refuge is home to grizzly bears, polar bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of birds. It contains land considered sacred by the Gwich’in people. 

A 2017 tax law requires two lease sales at the refuge by the end of 2024, and one of those occurred at the tail end of the Trump administration, in a manner that critics argued was rushed. Biden, however, opposes oil and gas leasing at ANWR, and pledged to “permanently” protect it on the campaign trail. 

The order is expected to further reestablish the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, a group formed under the Obama administration that sought to account for the harms caused by emissions in agency rule-making. 

While the Obama administration assessed a $50-per-metric-ton cost to carbon, the Trump administration used a $7-per-metric-ton figure, a move the Government Accountability Office found systematically underestimated the damage caused by carbon pollution.

It’s also expected to direct agencies to review boundaries for the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Read more about the executive order here.

PRESSING PAUSE: The Biden White House on Wednesday issued a memo that could halt Trump administration rules that had not yet gone into effect, stopping several environmental rollbacks in their tracks. 

Among the environmental rules that may be prevented from immediately going into effect are ones that weaken protections for migratory birds, prevent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions for any sector beyond the power industry, and one that slows replacement of lead-tainted water lines.

The memo from new chief of staff Ron Klain puts a “freeze” on all pending regulations that had not yet gone into effect, giving his own administration an additional 60 days to review how to proceed and whether to dismantle them. Any rules that have not been finalized will be withdrawn.

During its last few weeks, the Trump administration sped through a number of environmental rules, many of which rolled back protections.

Some of the most controversial were put into place immediately and will not be subject to the order, but several still in the hopper will likely be nixed by the Biden administration. 

One is a rule changing the implementation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 100-year-old law that protects birds. The change would mean companies would no longer be penalized for incidentally killing migratory birds. 

The administration said that this rule would prevent companies from facing charges for things that aren’t their fault, but admitted that it may prevent some companies from taking on best practices to prevent bird deaths. 

Another rule would have preempted regulations on emissions on the oil and gas sector and other polluting industries by stating that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could only impose regulations on sectors whose emissions make up at least 3 percent of the country’s total emissions. 

The EPA’s updates to its lead and copper rule would also be subject to the order. The rule would require cities to notify people who were potentially exposed to lead within 24 hours, but would reduce the speed at which utilities need to replace lead service lines, a feature critics say will likely leave lead pipes in the ground for up to 30 years.   

Additional rules that would also be halted include one that would prevent banks from excluding the fossil fuel industry from financing and another that reduces the royalties oil and gas companies pay to drill on public lands and in public waters. 

Many late-in-the-game Trump rules will not be affected by Biden’s order, however, because the Trump administration allowed some to take effect immediately. The EPA under Trump cited the “good cause” provision of regulatory law to speed approval of rules they deemed necessary.

Read more about the White House memo here.

CLOSING THE DOOR ON HIS WAY OUT:  As one of his last official acts in the Trump administration, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt rescinded an Obama-era order that directs the department to protect wilderness areas.

The order, signed in 2010, directed the Bureau of Land Management to designate wilderness areas to promote “protection of backcountry areas where Americans recreate, find solitude, and enjoy the wild,” according to a press release sent by the agency at the time.

Bernhardt’s order, signed Tuesday, rescinds it.

“That order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement,” read the document signed by Bernhardt.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group, said the order can be quickly nixed by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), whom President Biden has nominated to serve as Interior secretary.

“Secretary Bernhardt is throwing sand in the gears on his way out the door. He hates wilderness so much that he’s signing orders just so Deb Haaland can issue them again the moment she’s sworn in. This is regulatory vandalism,” Weiss said.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Another order signed by Bernhardt Tuesday redistributes money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, shifting funding from the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program.

Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association, called the move “an environmental injustice.”

“In issuing this secretarial order, they have chosen to ignore the bipartisan Congressional intent and unilaterally end the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which is a venerated grant program that helps to connect people in urban areas to crucial outdoor spaces, such as parks and playgrounds,” she said in a statement. 

“This decision takes resources away from communities most in need of parks — especially communities of color and low-income communities.”

Read more about the rescission here.


White House Website Recognizes Climate Change Is Real Again, Vice reports

Climate change blamed for a third of U.S. flood losses in past 3 decades, The Washington Post reports

Trump Revokes Lobbying Ban After Promising to ‘Drain the Swamp,’ Bloomberg reports

Federal regulators deliver potentially fatal blow to Jordan Cove LNG terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline, The Oregonian reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

Biden to rejoin Paris agreement, revoke Keystone XL permit 

Interior secretary rescinds wilderness protection order before leaving office

Macron to Biden and Harris: ‘Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!’

Biden ‘freeze’ of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks

Biden recommits US to Paris climate accord

Biden nixes Keystone XL permit, halts Arctic refuge leasing

Tags Deb Haaland Donald Trump John Kerry Ron Klain

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