With help from Kelsey Tamborrino, Ben Lefebvre and Karl Mathiesen.
— Environmental justice rhetoric from FERC’s Democratic majority is meeting skepticism from Republicans and environmentalists over how it will be implemented and its impacts on projects.
— New Jersey’s biggest water supplier discovered a potentially carcinogenic chemical in the Delaware River, leading to a probe that found gaps in state and federal oversight.
— Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she made progress in discussing U.S. concerns about Mexico’s leftist energy proposals.
HAPPY MONDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. Bracewell’s Frank Maisano gets the trivia for knowing 15 jurors traditionally serve on a Scottish criminal jury. For today: What major Middle Eastern airport is colloquially known as “Natbag”? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected]. Find me on Twitter @matthewchoi2018.
Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast. On today’s episode: New WOTUS guidance causes confusion.
FERC’S EJ DRIVE:FERC’s Democratic majority is upping its rhetoric around the importance of environmental justice considerations when approving new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. But the path forward remains unclear, with resistance from the right over potential impacts on market certainty and skepticism from environmentalists on the administration’s progress executing its EJ goals, Pro’s Catherine Morehouse reports.
The tensions were highlighted during the commission’s open meeting last week, where the Democratic majority agreed that greater environmental justice considerations should have played a part in permitting a compressor station in Weymouth, Mass. The station is located in an area “burdened by multiple industrial facilities,” Commissioner Willie Phillips said. “And sadly, this pattern of consolidating industrial activity in such communities is neither isolated nor unique.”
Still, the project didn’t meet the legal threshold for its license to get revoked, the commission decided, disappointing advocates and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who said the people of Weymouth were “living right now in the shadow of this dangerous fossil fuel facility.”
But that doesn’t mean fossil fuel interests are resting either, with industry backers watching in earnest how the Democratic commissioners’ rhetoric will be acted on in future cases. And the partisan split is adding to the market uncertainty, with commissioners generally aiming to present a united front to offer them stability. Read more from Catherine.
WHAT’S UP STREAM: New Jersey American Water Co., the state’s largest drinking water supplier, found a toxic chemical in the Delaware River, sending alarms over contamination impacting a large, densely packed swath of the Midatlantic. The ongoing probe into the source of the 1,4-Dioxane revealed gaps in oversight that allowed the likely carcinogenic byproduct of plastic manufacturing into the river, POLITICO’s Ry Rivard reports.
Some chemicals, including 1,4-Dioxane, remain largely unregulated, though New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection is working on strict regulations on its presence in drinking water. But even still, the planned rules would be driven by detecting and removing the chemical from the drinking water, rather than keeping polluters from dumping it in the first place.
“In this case, if there are not regulations that prevent a thing from occurring, the thing can occur,” said Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey’s top environmental regulator. “I think the public has a really hard time with this, and understandably so.” Read more on the probe and its findings from Ry.
GRANHOLM’S MEXICO TRIP: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm projected progress in talks with her Mexican counterparts in addressing concerns over the country’s energy proposals. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is pushing for a significantly greater state interest in the country’s energy portfolio in a plan that has raised concerns north of the border over compliance with the USMCA agreement, overseas investor certainty in Mexico and the country’s clean energy transition.
Granholm said in a statement Friday that she raised the concerns with López Obrador and other officials, and she “was assured that Mexico is committed to supporting clean energy and resolving current disputes with energy projects within the rule of law.”
Granholm’s trip is “a good first step in addressing Mexico’s non-compliance with USMCA, and we urge the administration to consider more formal enforcement action,” American Petroleum Institute Vice President Stephen Comstock said. Read more from Pro’s Doug Palmer.
FASTER THAN TRUMP: The Biden administration approved over 900 more drilling permits on federal lands in 2021 than the Trump administration in its first year, according to DOI data compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity. CBD blasted the Interior Department, saying the permits were going against the administration’s goals for reducing emissions, Pro’s Ben Lefebvre reports. DOI said in a statement that it was simply following the law in processing the permits and that it was working on strengthening environmental protections, including factoring in the social cost of greenhouse gasses.
Still, that doesn’t necessary offer comfort to the oil and gas industry. “While permitting on lease sales from past administrations is up along with energy demand, uncertainty around the future of federal leasing and development remains,” API spokesperson Bethany Williams wrote to Ben, who has more for Pros.
PERSHING OUT: The State Department’s climate number two is heading for the door, Pro’s Zack Colman confirms. Jonathan Pershing, who was second to U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, will leave the department next month. He and Kerry worked hand in hand in climate diplomacy with China in the lead up to COP26. He’ll be returning to the Hewlett Foundation, where he worked before joining the Biden team,The New York Times reports.
FERC GETS DEADLINE ON CONNECTICUT CASE: FERC has until next Monday to respond to NTE Energy’s emergency plea to go back on a decision that the company says would spell its financial ruin. The commission approved a request from New England grid operator ISO-NE to terminate its capacity contract with NTE Energy’s proposed Connecticut power plant project, citing concerns that benchmarks hadn’t been met to have it open in time.
NTE disputed FERC had enough evidence in its decision and requested the D.C. federal appeals court to intervene. Catherine has more for Pros.
PELOSI’S ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT AGENDA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outlined her four top bipartisan legislative priorities in the coming weeks, all of which have major stakes in the energy and environment space. In a dear colleague letter Friday, Pelosi urged her chamber to send through an omnibus spending package, microchip competitiveness bill, sanctions package relating to the Ukraine situation and legislation caring for veterans exposed to toxic substances in burn pits.
The omnibus package would finish a trail of continuing resolutions that have kept the federal government open into FY 2022 at levels approved under the Trump administration. Environmental groups and Democrats say failure to pass a new appropriations agreement would starve the federal government of the money needed to carry out the Biden administration’s climate and environmental objectives.
CLEAN ENERGY COMPANIES PRESS FOR BBB: More than 260 companies that employ workers in the clean energy industry are making the economic case for passage of the stalled Build Back Better Act. In a letter to Democratic leaders today, the companies argued that each month of delay on the bill is an estimated $2 billion in lost economic activity. “That means missed economic opportunities in energy transition communities. That means fewer jobs in domestic mills producing steel for solar and wind projects,” the letter said. “And it means a delay in building the American manufacturing base and workforce into a global clean energy powerhouse.”
Democrats are open to breaking up the bill, sparing the climate provisions that could muster the 50 votes necessary to pass under budget reconciliation.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT CLIMATE FROM DAVOS: It wasn’t the normal glamorous and clamorous affair in the mountains, but the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum served to highlight how leaders of some of the biggest economies are shifting their views on climate change. POLITICO Europe’s Karl Mathiesen watched the 2022 editions of speeches by India’s Narendra Modi (21/22), China’s Xi Jinping (21/22), Germany’s Olaf Schloz (21/22) and the European Union’s Ursula von der Leyen (21/22) and compared them with their speeches (or their predecessors in the case of Scholz) from last year.
It’s a crude tool but a quick count of the number of mentions of “climate” and “carbon” in the speeches by Xi and the two German leaders roughly doubled compared with 2021. Modi barely raised last year, but this time dropped climate bombs 7 times. Only von der Leyen mentioned it fewer times.
No COP26 hangover (yet): Contrary to fears that after a year at the very height of global affairs climate change would slip down leaders’ priority lists, they appeared instead to be doubling down. That could signal they are truly keen to build from November’s COP26, or just that it gave them something to show off.
Climate goes from theory to practice: In 2021, leaders were obsessed with setting targets. Across the board in 2022 the speeches were far more focused on the actions they want to take. Scholz wants to use the G7 to set up an international klimaclub, to spur cooperation on trade and technology. Von der Leyan vaunted €300 billion being made available for green projects. In a major shift since last January, Xi was talking about “an orderly phase-down of traditional energy.” Modi said he wanted to build a “circular economy.”
It’s an international icebreaker: The world isn’t a happy place — that much was clear from the amount of time the leaders spent railing against “fanning ideological antagonism” (Xi) or “familiar patterns of autocratic behavior” (von der Leyen). But with climate there’s a veneer of cooperation — at least everyone can agree on broadly going in the same direction.
A COP27 PREVIEW: Kerry and some of his Egyptian counterparts will discuss private-public partnerships in combating climate change at a conference organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt today and Tuesday. Egypt will be the host of the next U.N. climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh, and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry will be speaking. Shoukry also serves as COP27 president designate.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS: A significant amount of the methane flowing out of the Permian Basin oil region in West Texas is coming from a relatively small number of producers — who happened to be emitting the greenhouse gas nearly uninterrupted for the past three years, according to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund. The environmental group used three years of data from methane-detecting drones over the course of 2019-2021 to find that 30 facilities — including pipelines, well pads, compressor stations and processing facilities — spewed out a combined 100,000 metric tons of methane per year into the air almost uninterrupted.
Those facilities — which are only a small drop in the huge bucket of companies operating in the Permian — accounted for nearly four percent of the estimated 2.7 million tons per year of methane coming out of the region. The fly-overs found larger emissions coming from other companies, but most of those were shorter in duration, the study found.
The findings suggested the type of frequent monitoringthe EPA is calling for in its proposed methane rule to pinpoint “super emitters” as being critical for cutting emissions, EDF said.
“Three years of methane monitoring across the nation’s largest oilfield makes clear this is a Texas-sized problem only comprehensive federal action will address. We need strong standards in place for all oil and gas sites to prevent this kind of unchecked pollution and waste from continuing to harm communities and damage our climate.” Jon Goldstein, EDF’s senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs, told Ben in an email.
The good news, if any: Modern technology makes methane leaks easier than ever to find and fix, EDF said. Plugging the holes in the 30 sites the drones flagged would prevent from entering the atmosphere 100,000 tons of the gas, equivalent to half a million passenger vehicles by the group’s estimate.
— “Germany blasts Commission’s nuclear plans, calls for softer rules on gas,” via POLITICO.
— ”Hunter Biden and the cobalt mine, explained,” via E&E News.
— “Chevron, Total to exit Myanmar over human rights abuses,” via The Associated Press.
— “Biden Weighs Deploying Thousands of Troops to Eastern Europe and Baltics,” via The New York Times.
— ”After decades, Biden plans to make mobile homes greener, sparking a fierce debate,” via The Washington Post.
THAT’S ALL FOR ME!