The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee approved its first piece of Democrats’ sweeping $3.5 trillion spending blueprint on a party-line 24-13 vote last week. Among the highest priorities for President Joe Biden in the plan was addressing climate change.
The climate items are key for progressives in the House, dozens of whom have pledged not to support the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill unless a more robust climate bill also passes.
One of the massive climate bills is the Natural Resources bill. This would make changes to oil and gas that climate activists have been advocating for. For example, this would raise rates on oil and gas developers operating on public lands and waters.
The bill would also direct the Interior Department to hold lease sales for offshore windmills in U.S. territories.
$9.5 trillion would be used for Great Lakes restoration and coastal resilience. The projects would aim to increase protection from sea-level rise, flooding and storms, while also adding carbon sinks like seagrass.
The last climate aspect of the bill would be putting $3.5 billion towards climate jobs programs. Of this money, $3 billion would be for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps and $500 million for a program focused only on tribal lands.
On Wednesday, an Alaskan federal judge blocked construction permits for an oil drilling project that was supposed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. Judge Sharon L. Gleason cited climate dangers in her opinion for why the project should exist.
This massive oil drilling plan was proposed under the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups, such as Earthjustice sued, saying both the Trump and Biden administration had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and climate change. Judge Gleason took their side.
The main reason why Judge Gleason sided with the environmental groups was because of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be released with the drilling. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which then warms Earth.
Many places in the United States and the world are experiencing climate crises. Jeremy Lieb, lawyer with Earthjustice, stated that the federal government should recognize we are in a climate emergency. Lieb believes blocking this oil drilling project would be a good start.
A federal judge ruled that the Biden administration must restart regular sales of oil and gas leases.
The order forces the administration to abandon a central piece of its environmental agenda. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January that temporarily paused new oil and gas leases on public lands to give time to the administration to review leasing policies. The reviews intended to better understand the leases’ contributions to climate change. The executive order was a return to Obama-era policies.
In the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, he granted a request by Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s attorney general, and a dozen other Republican-led states and ordered the administration to hold quarterly lease sales nationally. The complaint filed by Landry and other states was introduced at the end of March. Doughty’s order will hold until there is an official decision made in the case.
The initial ruling said the “court does not favor nationwide injunctions unless absolutely necessary,” suggesting the injunction was not needed. Another concern is the monetary losses from not leasing this land.
While the decision garnered support from some republicans nationally, environmentalists are calling for the executive order’s pause to be permanent, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. A long-term ban would assist the Biden administration in meeting its goal of conserving a third of U.S. land and waters by 2030.
The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in order to take a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the region, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday.
The Refuge is a 1.6 million-acre stretch of tundra on Alaska’s North Slope and is home to endangered polar bears whose population have been in dramatic decline due to diminishing sea ice. The region also provides important calving habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.
Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The opening of the coast to drilling signified the culmination of a four-decade-long effort by the oil industry to gain access to the refuge. The lease sale on January 6, 2021 resulted in 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres according to the Department of the Interior. Imposing more restrictions on development in the region or ending the leases altogether would undo a signature policy of the Trump administration.
The suspension of the leases follows the Biden Administrations official review of the activity in the Refuge. The review found multiple defects in the Record of Decision supporting the leases, such as the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives and other legal deficiencies. The suspensions, notably, do not go as far as environmental groups might hope as they do not void the leases all together. However, the initial executive order to review the leases left open the possibility the department would establish a new environmental review process to address legal flaws in the program itself.
The Trump administration successfully opened roughly one million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling following his election defeat, but oil companies might not have any interest in buying the 10-year leases.
Today marks the deadline for submitting bids on the oil leases, so the exact number of companies that have expressed interest is unclear. However, there has previously been little indication that oil companies are interested in buying the leases for several reasons. The drilling conditions would be difficult and the cost of locating the oil is high. Many companies are also concerned about damaging their reputation by drilling on previously-protected lands as Alaska natives and environmentalists continue to oppose drilling on the refuge, and many major banks have refused to finance companies who wish to drill there. The oil industry is struggling to make money during the pandemic as global interest shifts to renewable energy sources as it is, so the state of Alaska might be forced to step in and buy the leases itself, according to a New York Times article.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned corporation, recently voted to authorize bidding up to $20 million for some of the oil leases. If the corporation succeeds in securing the leases, the state of Alaska could become the sole owner and would be left with hoping that it can sublease the tracts to someone else if interest in drilling on the refuge ever picks up. There are legal questions as to whether the corporation qualifies as a bidder and ongoing efforts by Alaska natives and environmental groups to halt the bidding and sale of the leases altogether, so it is still unclear how the sales will proceed.
The National Arctic Wildlife Refuge was protected for decades by Democrats in Congress. It provides a sanctuary for polar bears, caribou, migrating waterfowl and other wildlife, and the Trump administration was the first to successfully push a bill through that allowed for drilling on 1.5 million acres of protected land. The Bureau of Land Management was able to remove about half a million acres from the bidding after citing concerns about disturbing caribou calving areas and other wildlife, but about a million acres across 22 tracts are still available. The Bureau of Land Management will reveal the number of bids received once the bids are opened after the submission deadline.
With 55 days until the election, President Donald Trump signed an order to expand a ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida with hopes of winning support for the 2020 election, according to Reuters.
The ban was originally set to expire in 2022 but has now been expanded to 2027 with backing by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. This ban has heavy support from tourism, real estate, and environmental interests.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said in his climate plan, that he will ban oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, and plans to uphold and create legislation that lowers pollution along with curbing the effects of climate change.
Oil and gas operations, farms, and thousands of similar operations have been granted permission to bypass environmental rules that are intended to protect health and the environment, according to the Associated Press.
On March 26, the Trump administration waived enforcement of EPA regulations, stating that industries would have difficulty complying with them because of COVID-19. This move came after letters were sent to President Donald Trump and later the EPA from The American Petroleum Institute stating that worker shortages and staff issues would make monitoring, reporting, and fixing hazardous air emissions difficult.
The Associated Press found the EPA granted 3,000 waivers with the majority citing the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Oil and gas companies received a green light to skip dozens of scheduled tests and inspections critical for ensuring safe operations, such as temporarily halting or delaying tests for leaks or checking on tank seals, flare stacks, emissions monitoring systems or engine performance, which could raise the risk of explosions,” the Associated Press said.
More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.
The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.
Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”
The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.
Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.
This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.
TransCanada, the company that owns both pipelines, shut down the Keystone Pipeline last Thursday morning at 6 am after detecting a drop in pressure, indicating a leak. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled onto privately owned land roughly 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company is still investigating the cause of the pipeline’s rupture.
Just three days after the oil spill, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through Nebraska. Caving to pressure from Nebraska’s conservative legislators as well as industry and labor groups, the five-person commission agreed to allow the pipeline to cross through Nebraska. However, the pipeline must follow an alternative route. While the pipeline will enter and exit the state in the originally proposed locations, the commission will require its route to follow an existing pipeline’s path. This change will make responding to leaks more efficient according to regulators.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 10-25 million gallons of oil spill each year. Not only do oil spills destroy habitat, kill plants and animals, and compromise agriculture, they also threaten public heath by contaminating drinking water and degrading air quality.
The pipeline, located in north-central Worth County, was first discovered to have ruptured on Wednesday morning. Since then, clean up crews have managed to remove roughly 18 percent of the petroleum product despite high winds and heavy snowfall, according to a Thursday morning interview with Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Jeff Vansteenburg. Vansteenburg said that the diesel fuel and contaminated snow are being taken to a facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil will be moved to a landfill near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Vansteenburg reported that the diesel fuel did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.
Magellan Midstream Partners, an Oklahoma-based company, owns the pipeline, which stretches through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Last October, another pipeline operated by Magellen Midstream Partners ruptured and released anhydrous ammonia, resulting in the evacuation of 23 homes and the death of one person near Decatur, Nebraska. The company was also fined over $45,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after roughly 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a Milford, Iowa creek.
The Worth County spill is the largest diesel fuel spill since 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported to the administration causing an estimated $342 million in property damages and spewing 3 million gallons of refined oil products into the environment.
President Trump signed executive actions on Tuesday reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Ed Fallon is the director of Bold Iowa, an organization fighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects. Fallon said, “We’ve been saying all along it’s not a question of if a pipeline will leak, it’s a question of when and where and how bad it will be.”
“According to PHMSA, the agency has 533 inspectors on its payroll. That works out to around one inspector for every 5,000 miles of pipe. A government audit in October  found that that PHMSA is behind on implementing new rules. It has 41 mandates and recommendations related to pipeline safety that await rulemaking.”