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Energy & Environment — Regulatory delays frustrate green groups

Environmental activists are frustrated with timelines for environmental regulations. Meanwhile, the FDA is proposing new guidelines for lead in baby food, and the debate rages on over an upcoming bill regarding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  

This is Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk.

Advocates want faster action on environmental rules

Environmental advocates, generally strong supporters of the Biden administration, are expressing frustration at what they describe as too-lengthy delays for important regulations.   

Their frustration follows the administration’s recent release of its semiannual regulatory agenda, which pushed back timelines for a range of rules governing planet-warming emissions and other pollution coming from power plants, drinking water limits for toxic chemicals and stipulations for fossil fuel leasing on public lands.   

“We in the advocacy community have seen this film before where a nominally progressive president comes in with grand promises about leveraging the administrative state to advance progressive policy goals and then just waits until the last minute,” said James Goodwin, senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform.   

“It is a total unforced error. It is points left on the field,” Goodwin added. 

Asked about the delays and frustration from environmental groups, a White House spokesperson cited the accomplishments that President Biden has achieved on climate.   

  • “President Biden has done more than any president in U.S. history to tackle the climate crisis, and has no intention of slowing down now,” said spokesperson Abdullah Hasan.   
  • “He will keep using all the tools available to him to advance his clean energy agenda, which is already creating good-paying jobs, lowering costs, revitalizing American manufacturing, and putting the United States back on track to reach its climate goals,” he added.   

Give me an example: Climate advocacy group Evergreen recently released a report saying that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was falling “further behind” on power plant regulations.   

It pointed to regulations for the power plants’ contributions for climate change, which the EPA said in a fall 2021 edition of its regulatory schedule that it had hoped to propose by July 2022. Last year, the administration pushed those proposals back to March 2023, and it now says they’ll be proposed even later in April.  

Jamal Raad, Evergreen’s executive director, called the delays “deeply troubling.”  

  • “They threaten the administration’s ability to finalize these rules in the first term and those that they do complete may be vulnerable to be blocked altogether by Republicans,” Raad said.   
  • If Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2024, they could move forward with a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that could enable them to ax any rules put forward during the last 60 legislative days of the Biden administration in which Congress was in session.   

Read more about the tensions here.  

FDA drafts limits for lead in baby food

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released new proposed guidelines for the amount of lead that can be in processed food for babies and small children under the age of 2, a move the agency says would result in significant reductions in the exposure to the toxic metal. 

The new guidance includes a limit of 10 parts per billion of lead in fruits, some vegetables and yogurts and 20 parts per billion in root vegetables and dry cereals. FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said the new standards could result in a 24 percent to 27 percent reduction in exposure to lead from the foods. 

“The proposed action levels announced today, along with our continued work with our state and federal partners, and with industry and growers to identify mitigation strategies, will result in long-term, meaningful and sustainable reductions in the exposure to this contaminant from foods,” Califf said in a statement announcing the new regulations. 

  • These foods absorb vital nutrients from the environment, which also means they absorb toxins such as lead that can be harmful to people when consumed, the agency explained in the announcement. It is not possible to entirely eliminate such contaminants from the food supply. 
  • Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe level for lead exposure. The substance is particularly harmful to children and can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and evelopment, and problems with learning, behavior, hearing and speech.  

Read more here, from The Hill’s Stephen Neukam.  

DESPITE RAINS, THE WEST STILL FACES DROUGHT 

A series of storms that pummeled the U.S. West recently brought a much-needed boost to local reservoirs, but federal meteorologists warned on Tuesday that long-term drought still plagues the region. 

Nine storm systems known as “atmospheric rivers” began battering California and other Western areas with significant precipitation over a three-week period starting in late December, according to an update from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). 

During these storms, 80 percent of full seasonal snowpack was deposited in California, the report found. Statewide, the precipitation accumulated over those three weeks amounted to 11.2 inches, or 46 percent of a full year. 

On the other hand: Because it is still early in the snow accumulation season, water totals could end up being moderate if the rest of the winter is dry or relatively high if this influx of precipitation continues, meteorologists explained. 

Read more here, from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.  

Debate rages ahead of SPR vote

Democrats are continuing to make noise in opposition to a forthcoming bill from Republicans that would restrict withdrawals from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).  

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijlava (D-Az.) joined Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), former chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, in speaking out against the measure. 

Castor called the limitations in the bill, which would require the government to increase the land leased for oil and gas development to make further oil withdrawals from the SPR, “not smart.” 

  • “There are too many contingencies in the world today, whether it’s war, supply chain problems, [or] natural disasters to irrationally tie the hands of our commander in chief,” Castor said. “This Republican bill also would open up areas to drilling and pollution that should be off limits” such as the eastern Gulf of Mexico, she added. 
  • Pallone blasted the measure as “reckless” and “not serious,” adding “it’s hypocritical because releasing oil from this probe has been done by presidents of both parties for decades. I’ve been here for 30 years and they’ve done it on both sides. So Republicans had no problems with it when they went there.” 

On the other side: “There are no restrictions on DOE’s [the Department of Energy] emergency authorities included in H.R. 21. This bill would prevent one of our most important strategic assets from being abused by President Biden as an election-year gimmick to temporarily and artificially manipulate prices,” Sean Kelly, a spokesperson for Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), told The Hill in an email.

“If the President declares an emergency resulting from an energy supply disruption, the Secretary has full authority to utilize the SPR—HR 21 will not change or hamper that.” 

Read more about the discussions surrounding the bill here.  

GEOTHERMAL COULD BE BIGGER IN TEXAS? 

Four years of drilling for energy deep underground would be enough to build Texas a carbon-free state electric grid, a new study by an alliance of state universities has found.  

The state’s flagship universities — including the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University and Texas A&M University — collaborated with the International Energy Agency to produce the landmark report.   

It depicts the Texas geothermal industry as a potential partner to the state’s enormous oil and gas sector — or an ultimate escape hatch.   

In the best case, the industry represents “an accelerating trend” that could replicate — or surpass — the fracking boom, said Jamie Beard of the Texas Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas. 

“Instead of aiming for a 2050 moonshot that we have to achieve some scientific breakthrough for — geothermal is deployable now,” Beard said. “We can be building power plants now.” 

Read more here, from The Hill’s Saul Elbein. 

🔌 EVENT PLUG

Rachel and Hill editor-in-chief Bob Cusack will moderate a virtual event on electric and autonomous vehicles in February. Sign up here.  

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • A Plan for Blowing Up U.S. Climate Politics (Politico Magazine) 
  • The Sierra Club Tries to Move Past John Muir, George Floyd and #MeToo (The New York Times) 
  • The ‘carbon pirates’ preying on Amazon’s Indigenous communities (The Guardian) 
  • The Federal Reserve is starting a climate experiment (Vox) 
  • How the White House found EJ areas without using race (E&E News) 

📺 Lighter click: Everyone’s favorite parks officials

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.  

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