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The Climate 202

Democrats want to prevent new oil and gas drilling in most U.S. waters. Their plan might work.

The Climate 202

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're thankful for the beauty of the Capitol building at night, regardless of whether we're in for another government shutdown. But first:

Democrats might be able to halt most new offshore oil and gas drilling

A slew of climate provisions in Democrats' roughly $2 trillion social spending bill face an uncertain future in the Senate. But there's one big exception: limits on offshore oil and gas drilling.

Democrats, aides and environmentalists feel confident that the prevention of oil and gas drilling in most U.S. waters will survive scrutiny in the Senate, including from key centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

Under the version of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House last month, new offshore drilling would be permanently prohibited in three major regions: the Atlantic, the Pacific and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Other policies aimed at limiting oil and gas development have inspired fierce partisan divides on Capitol Hill. But coastal lawmakers of both parties have rallied around preventing drilling off their coastlines. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) earlier this year introduced the "American Shores Protection Act," which would codify a temporary moratorium on drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Manchin has not publicly expressed concerns about the offshore drilling provision — a sharp contrast to his outspoken opposition to a tax credit for union-made electric vehicles, among other things.

“Let's put it this way: I don't know anyone that represents a coastal district or a coastal state that wants more offshore drilling. So I feel there's reason for confidence that this will happen," Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a member of the Natural Resources Committee, which wrote the drilling provision, told The Climate 202.

Diane Hoskins, a campaign director at Oceana, an ocean conservation group, similarly expressed optimism. "Given the bipartisan nature of the support for this provision, the economic benefits of this provision, and the president's commitment to addressing the climate crisis, I'm very hopeful," she said. 

Hoskins said a recent oil spill off the coast of Southern California demonstrated the economic damage that offshore pipeline leaks can cause to the tourism, fishing and recreation industries. The spill of roughly 25,000 gallons closed beaches and fisheries for weeks.

Hoskins also pointed to a recent analysis from Oceana, which found that permanent offshore drilling protections for all unleased federal waters could prevent more than 19 billion tons of planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions and more than $720 billion in damage to people, property and the environment.

Industry opposition

Still, the U.S. oil and gas industry has expressed serious concerns about the limitations on offshore drilling.

In a letter to Manchin yesterday, industry groups took issue with the offshore drilling provision and other policies that they said would stifle domestic energy production.

  • "Such impacts on domestic production threaten to result in greater reliance on foreign production from nations with weaker environmental standards as compared to production from U.S. federal waters and comparable regions onshore," the groups wrote.
  • The letter was signed by industry heavyweights including the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the National Ocean Industries Association.

The Build Back Better Act “taxes American energy, restricts access to our own resources and advances the same type of 'import-more-oil' strategy that this administration has been promoting as a solution," API President Mike Sommers previously said in a statement.

Huffman said that while the fossil fuel industry has clout in Washington, he does not expect its concerns to derail the provisions.

"I think we've got to sleep with one eye open when it comes to anything opposed by the fossil fuel industry," he said. "But we have talked quite a bit with the Senate at every step of this process. So I think we're cautiously hopeful that this holds together."

Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Manchin, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Manchin-Murkowski dynamic

The House version of the bill would also repeal a provision in Republicans' 2017 tax law that opened up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to onshore oil and gas drilling.

That effort could test Manchin's close relationship with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has championed drilling in the refuge, saying it can be done safely.

But a House Democratic staffer expressed confidence that Manchin would not come out against the ANWR provision. The staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment of the situation, noted that the Congressional Budget Office has helped Democrats' economic case for the provision.

  • In 2017, the CBO projected that Republicans' tax law allowing leasing in ANWR would raise $2 billion.
  • But more recently, the CBO estimated that Democrats' plan to block drilling in the refuge would cost only $35 million.

👑 Royalty reform: The bill would also increase the onshore royalty rate — the percentage of profits that fossil fuel developers must pay to the federal government in exchange for drilling on public lands — from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. 

That provision could get a boost from a recent Interior Department report, which recommended raising the royalty rate to be more in line with the rates charged by most states and private landowners.

Asked yesterday whether he supported royalty hikes, Manchin told reporters: "I think adjustments need to be made. I’ve always thought adjustments need to be made."

On the Hill

Democrats are still haggling over an electric vehicle subsidy

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who helped craft an extra $4,500 tax credit for purchasers of union-made electric vehicles, said Wednesday that Senate Democrats were “still negotiating” over the provision amid Manchin's opposition.

“At this point, I'm not sure where this is going to land,” Stabenow told reporters.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) told reporters yesterday that beyond Manchin's concerns, there are some divisions among House Democrats regarding the bonus EV tax credit.

“In our own Democratic caucus, there's a divergence of opinion on that,” Neal said, although he declined to offer specific details.

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who served as chief of staff of President Barack Obama’s task force that bailed out the auto industry, told The Climate 202 yesterday that the subsidy is a “red line" for her.

“I voted on what we voted on in the House," she said, “and I don't want it to come back any different.”

House transportation chair Peter DeFazio will retire

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced Wednesday that he intends to retire at the end of his term. DeFazio, 74, previously served as the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, and he was often highly critical of GOP colleagues whom he felt ignored the threat of climate change. 

DeFazio’s seat representing Oregon’s 4th Congressional District is expected to remain in Democratic control, The Post’s Mariana Alfaro, Michael Laris and Marianna Sotomayor report.

Pressure points

The U.S. is the world’s leading contributor to plastic waste

The United States is deluging the world with plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated study from the National Academy of Sciences, The Post’s Tik Root reports.

“The developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades,” the study said. “The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.”

The study found that the United States produced 42 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2016 — almost twice as much as China and more than the entire European Union.

Biden is tasking the National Space Council to focus on climate change

The Biden administration yesterday released a new framework for future civil, commercial and military space activities ahead of a meeting of the National Space Council, which is chaired by Vice President Harris. The document emphasizes the importance of using satellites to collect data on how climate change is affecting the Earth.

“Data collected from space helps us improve national preparedness and reduce the impacts of extreme weather, natural disasters and climate change in a manner that better addresses the needs of vulnerable communities,” the framework states.

Extreme events

California could be the first state in the nation to rank heat waves

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and other delegates will formally introduce legislation to rate and name heat waves in Los Angeles in January. The initiative, which is being backed by the nonprofit Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, is aimed at reducing fatalities from the most lethal weather phenomenon, The Post’s Kasha Patel reports.

While the concept is similar to the rating of hurricanes, the category system for heat waves will focus on their projected impact on public health, rather than on meteorology, and the rankings will be tied to concrete government responses. A category 3 designation, the most severe, could trigger the opening of municipal pools and air-conditioned shelters, as well as bans on utility cut-offs and door-to-door checks on the elderly.

Global climate

Climate change is not the main cause of Madagascar's food crisis

The United Nations has blamed climate change for a severe drought that has devastated crops in Madagascar, leaving millions of people facing food insecurity. But new research published Wednesday found that other factors have had a bigger impact on the food crisis, including poverty, natural weather variability and the coronavirus pandemic, The Post's Rachel Pannett reports.


We were surprised to learn about a new “coal” flavor of Sour Patch Kids. The description on Amazon promises that it tastes like black raspberry and makes a good stocking stuffer for those on the “naughty” list.

Thanks for reading!