The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: GOP opposition to Haaland as interior secretary grows

with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Frustration among Republicans with President Biden's climate policies has coalesced around one of his most historic Cabinet picks — Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).

Biden's pick to be interior secretary will be tasked with carrying out Biden's moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, a move that has rankled Republicans from states in the fossil fuel business who are now coming out in opposition to her nomination. 

But advocates for Haaland point to her record of reaching across the aisle — and to her landmark selection as first Native American to run the highest levels of federal land management. She almost certainly has the votes to join Biden's Cabinet. 

That hasn't stopped Republicans from objecting to what they call “radical” views on energy policy.

The latest is Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The lawmaker from Wyoming, a top oil-producing state, said her opposition to issuing more leases to drill for oil and gas on federal lands and waters is “squarely at odds with the responsible management of our nation's energy resources” and “will only encourage President Biden along the illegal and reckless path that he has begun,” according to a statement Monday.

Barrasso added that Haaland “must demonstrate that she will follow the law," or he will oppose her nomination. 

Shortly after taking office, Biden paused the sale of drilling rights on federal lands. Though that moratorium does not stop oil and gas producers from working on lands they have already leased from the government, the move has been met with a lawsuit from the oil industry.

Going a step further, Sen. Steve Daines is threatening to try to block her nomination. 

After meeting with Haaland, the GOP senator from Montana said Friday he is “deeply concerned with the Congresswoman's support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America,” noting her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that cuts through his state in addition to the leasing ban.

“I'm not convinced the Congresswoman can divorce her radical views and represent what's best for Montana and all stakeholders in the West,” added Daines, who also is on the energy panel. 

On the other side of the Capitol, 15 House Republicans urged Biden to withdraw Haaland's nomination, arguing his nominee was a “direct threat to working men and women” because of her previous support for the Green New Deal, a vague but sweeping resolution calling for rapidly cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

Haaland's allies object to the idea she doesn't understand the West and what rural constituents need.

Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at the liberal advocacy group Data for Progress, notes that Haaland grew up in New Mexico and representing a top oil and gas producing state in Congress.

“She's representative of the first people of the West,” NoiseCat said of Haaland, a member of Pueblo of Laguna, adding that the Republican opposition is “out of touch with the facts and designed to score political points.”

Montana Conservation Voters urged Daines to reconsider, contrasting his opposition to Haaland with the senator's initial support for William Perry Pendley to run the Bureau of Land Management. The green group called Pendley's endorsement of selling off public lands “radical” and “anti-Western.”

The interior secretary nominee is encountering more resistance than Biden's other environmental picks.

GOP senators did put holds on some other Biden nominees to voice their objections. But Michael Regan, the nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jennifer Granholm, the pick for energy secretary, are moving swiftly through the confirmation process. One reason why: Those officials have less to do with Biden's plan to curtail oil and gas leasing. 

Granholm's nomination sailed through the Senate energy panel in a 13-to-4 vote, with Daines voting for her and Barrasso voting against. Regan is expected to be approved in a Senate Environment and Public Work Committee vote Tuesday.

In the end, Democrats likely have the votes to circumvent a hold — and approve Haaland for the post. 

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D) from the coal- and gas-producing state of West Virginia signaled his support for Haaland, saying “I've always been deferential” to presidents picking members of their Cabinet.

Just to make sure, EDF Action and the coalition of other green groups are running a digital ad campaign urging the Senate to quickly confirm Haaland and the other environmental picks.

Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of political affairs at EDF Action, said Haaland “is a very strong candidate.” She added Senate Republicans “can throw some sand into the gears, but he can't derail this effort.”

Power plays

Countries must ramp up climate pledges by 80 percent to reach a key Paris target.

Pledges made by countries to reduce emissions as part of the 2015 Paris agreement are inadequate to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, according to a study published in Communications Earth & Environment.

"The study found that even if countries were to meet their existing pledges, the world has only about a 5 percent chance to limit the Earth’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels — a key aim of the international agreement," our colleague Brady Dennis reports.

Many world leaders and scientists always stressed that the original Paris accord pledges would be insufficient to limit global warming, but the expectation was that the commitments would grow more ambitious with time. Instead, countries have failed to hit even modest targets, aside from last year when the coronavirus pandemic led to falling emissions around the globe. 

A court paused litigation over California’s emissions standards.

The federal appeals court in Washington agreed to put a hold on cases related to the issue of whether California can set its own emissions standards, following a request from the Biden administration, the Hill reports. 

The Biden administration has said it is reviewing the Trump-era rule that gave the federal government the sole authority to set emissions standards, undercutting efforts by California and other states to tackle climate change.

Major automakers that had intervened to support the Trump administration in the litigation have withdrawn their support since Biden’s election.

A court order will delay construction at a ConocoPhillips oil project on Alaska’s North Slope.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued an injunction on gravel road construction at ConocoPhillips’s Willow Project in response to an environmental lawsuit claiming that the Trump administration didn't properly consider wildlife and climate effects from the project, Reuters reports. 

Per Reuters: “With an estimated 590 million barrels of oil and the potential to produce 160,000 barrels per day, Willow would be the westernmost operating oil field in Arctic Alaska. First oil is planned as early as 2024, according to ConocoPhillips.”

The plaintiffs noted that the Biden administration is reviewing Trump’s oil policies, including the approval of the Willow project.

Electric vehicles may get less road time than their gas counterparts.

A new study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that electric vehicles in California logged around half the miles of gas-powered cars during a three-year period ending in 2017. Researchers found that electric vehicles used far less electricity than grid planners had projected, E&E News reports.

“It could be that the drivers, encountering few public charging stations and suffering range anxiety, didn't trust their EVs for longer trips. It could be that households with more than one car look at their EV as an auxiliary. Or it could be that California's electricity rates, among the highest in the country, made fueling too expensive,” E&E News writes.

Notably, Tesla owners consumed almost twice the kilowatt-hours of other electric brands, a fact that the researchers say may be attributable to the brand’s larger batteries and increased driving range.

The Fed will weave climate change risk into bank oversight.

The Federal Reserve is incorporating climate risk into its oversight of banks and incorporating tools to measure the banking system’s vulnerability to climate related risks, according to a paper published by the San Francisco Fed, Reuters reports.

“The effects of climate change are inescapable and include far-reaching economic and financial consequences for many households and businesses,” San Francisco Fed economist Glenn Rudebusch wrote in the regional Fed bank’s latest Economic Letter.

Extra mileage

Why Sunday’s snowstorm featured such fat snowflakes

The quick hitting snowstorm dropped up more than a foot of snow in parts of southern New England. “The showstopper wasn’t the totals though, but rather the snowflakes themselves. Some were compared to icy pancakes or waffles,” our colleague Matthew Cappucci reports.

The gigantic snowflakes were, in part, the result of temperatures in the lower to mid-30s, which caused the edges of individual snowflakes to melt and then stick together with other flakes before refreezing.