Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Biden administration restores infrastructure regulations requiring rigorous environmental review


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 21, 2022

President Joe Biden and his administration restored federal regulations that ensure rigorous environmental reviews of infrastructure projects on Tuesday. Pipeline, highway, and oil projects all must complete the reviews.

The Trump administration previous scaled back the regulations to fast-track projects and generate jobs. The National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions were finalized this week and take effect in May. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said restoring the community safeguards will reduce conflict and ensure projects are built properly the first time.

“Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby,” she said.

Environmental activists are touting the rule change, according to the Associated Press, for its restoration of previous regulations and keeping the environment healthy for the foreseeable future. Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club’s national director of policy, advocacy and legal affairs, said the restoration of clear runes plays a critical role in protecting the environment. Critics say the new regulations will slow down major infrastructure projects and the jobs associated with them.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions up in 2021


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 19, 2021

Greenhouse gas emissions rose more than six percent in 2021 after a nearly 10 percent drop in 2020.

Emissions rose as the economy began bouncing back from the initial economic decline from the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the U.S. As in-person work returned, in several sectors, coal plants came back. Estimates published in early January by the Rhodium Group, the emissions remain five percent below 2019 levels regardless of the increase. The 10 percent drop in 2020 was the biggest plummet on record, according to the New York Times.

Coal, the fossil fuel that pollutes the most, made a strong comeback in 2021. Last year there was 17 percent rise in emissions from coal-fired power plants. In 2020, there was a 19 percent decline.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels in the next eight years. The goal matches what most climate scientists say is needed to keep the Earth from warming more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and minimizing catastrophic climate events. As of the newest report, the U.S.’s emissions are 17.4 percent below 2005 levels.

Other reports, however, suggest the Biden administration’s efforts will not be met. The World Resources Institute reported in December 2021that the world must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions to be successful in climate cooling goals. WRI’s findings show the Biden administration’s goals are not enough.

Democrats push Biden to take stronger action regarding gas, oil policies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 7, 2021

U.S. House Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to take stronger action to restrict oil and gas production in the country.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee are split with Democrats asking for limiting production and Republicans saying the reduction of U.S. emissions will only heighten global emissions from suppliers overseas. Biden has also been asked by environmental activists to permanently ban gas and oil leasing on federal lands, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California, chairs the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. He said the proposals coming from the administration are welcome, but do not assess the entire situation regarding climate change. He said it’s a “missed opportunity” and a “critical issue” that has yet to be addressed.

The conversation in the committee came quickly after a report was released by the U.S. Interior Department asking for fiscal updates the federal gas and oil leasing programs. The recommendation from the November report was to increase fees for explorations on federal land. The report did not suggest limiting or halting leasing programs.

Biden’s policy currently is to increase the fee cost for such leases. According to the Associated Press, Biden recommended hiking up federal royalty rates for drilling. The current rate is 12.5 percent, and the rate has not changed in over a century. It is unclear if Biden will reassess his policy based on remarks from climate activists and fellow Democrats.

Biden doubles down on climate change aid promises


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 22, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to double aid aimed at helping lower income countries address climate change at a United Nations General Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

Previously, Biden pledged $5.7 billion to these countries. This pledged funding, and any additional money, will have to receive congressional approval, according to The New York Times. This new pledge would ask congress to approve more than $11 million.

Smaller countries have recently pointed out that countries with bigger economies have not delivered the billions in aid they’re promised through the United Nation and its agreements. In 2015, when the Paris climate accord was initially signed, more than $100 billion in annual aid was promised to less developed countries. Most of this aid has not been given by larger countries, including the U.S.

If the funding is passed, it would make the U.S. one of the largest climate donors in the world. Some environmental advocacy groups, however, don’t think Biden’s vow is enough funding.

Climate change is one of the most important subjects at the 2021 General Assembly meeting, garnering attention from several UN members. Biden’s initial pledge was made in April. Both funding goals have a deadline of 2024.

Biden aims to raise solar energy production from 4 to 45%


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Elizabeth Miglin | September 8, 2021

The Biden administration announced plans to produce half of the nation’s electricity through solar power by 2050, on Wednesday. 

Last year, solar energy provided less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity, now the administration aims to raise production to 45 percent. A new report by the Department of Energy argues the U.S. must quadruple annual solar installations by 2025 in order to reach the administrations’ goal of decarbonizing the power sector. 

Pressure to expedite the transition off of fossil fuels has increased due to recent natural disasters across the country, including Hurricane Ida in New Jeresy and New York, which have highlighted weaknesses in the current energy system. 

With the cost of solar panels dropping over the last decade, solar has become one of the cheapest sources of energy for much of the U.S. The reduced costs has boosted the solar and wind energy market where growth has exceeded government and independent analysts predictions. In culmination, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report projects renewable energy sources will share 42% of the U.S. electricity mix by 2050 at our current growth rate. 

Additionally, the administration hopes to reduce net emission from the power sector to zero by 2035, add hundreds of offshore wind turbines and ensure half of all new cars sold are electric by 2030. 

Oil, gas leasing to restart in United States


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 26, 2021

The temporary halt of onshore and offshore gas and oil development created by the Biden administration could see a restart in coming weeks.

The Interior Department is planning to make significant steps to begin leasing opportunities again, a court filing said on Tuesday. The decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty ordered the pause to end in June 2021. The pause started when President Joe Biden began a halt at the very beginning of his time in office. The case Doughty ruled on had a few Republican state attorneys general as plaintiffs. The group, led by Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry, complained to the district court judge that the Biden administration and federal government were not moving fast enough to comply with the order.

In response to the plaintiffs’ concerns, the Interior Department said it would take “the programs’ documented deficiencies” into account, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The department is also expected to announce recommendations for how reform of the programs can meet the Biden administration’s climate change goals.

NPR called the original executive order that halted leasing to slow down the United States’ contribution to climate change “much-anticipated.” The move began as one of many efforts to address the worsening climate issues. During press conferences regarding the executive action, Biden reiterated that he does not plan to ban fracking during his presidency.

The Senate passes a major infrastructure bill, turning focus to anti-poverty and climate plans


Elizabeth Miglin | August 11, 2021

The U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which would provide funding for climate related infrastructure resiliency if passed by the House.  

After previous weeks of intense debate over one of the largest federal investments into the nation’s outdated public works system, the Senate voted 69 in favor with 30 opposed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation has the possibility of impacting nearly every aspect of the American economy with projects ensuring rural access to broadband and clean drinking water, modernizing roadways and environmental sustainability projects, according to the New York Times. Regarding the climate, the bill focuses on investmenting in clean energy, environmental clean-up projects and making infrastructure more resilient, according to The White House

Alongside the infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats agreed to an outline of an $3.5 trillion antipoverty and climate plan, on Monday. The climate legislation aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fund research focused on climate change’s effect on agriculture, create a Civilian Climate Corps to enact climate-based public works projects and improve the durability of coastlines. Funding for both the antipoverty and the climate plan are expected to come from tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is expected to be debate by the House at the end of August, with the antipoverty and climate plan expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of this week.

Biden pushes to expand electric vehicles market


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 6, 2021

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday that aims to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 electric.

The administration has been looking at ways to decrease the United States greenhouse gas emissions since her entered office in January. The executive order is part of the administration’s goals to fight climate change. Alongside increasing the amount of electric vehicles on the road, Biden announced a proposal for new vehicle emission standards with increased stringency beginning in the 2023 model year.

While the executive order’s target is not legally binding, Reuters reported that Chrysler parent Stellantis NV, Ford Motors, and General Motors are planning to achieve 40 or 50% sales on electric vehicles by 2030.

Other brands intend to move to only electric vehicles by the 2030 deadline, like Volvo. According to CNBC, other companies, like General Motors, are aspiring to similar goals in the next 20 years.

During the Obama administration, a previous goal was set regarding the number of electric vehicles to be sold by 2015. The goal of 1 million vehicles fell short with only 400,000 sold.

Some elected officials from Iowa are asking Biden to consider prioritizing biofuels instead of electric vehicles. Senator Joni Ernst tweeted that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50%. The Biden administration has not responded to any biofuels inquiries since the executive order’s announcement.