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The first offshore wind lease sale under Biden is coming soon. Will the fishing industry intervene?

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! If you were on Capitol Hill yesterday, we hope you managed to avoid the mouse spotted off the House floor. 🐭 But first:

The Biden administration is set to hold its first offshore wind lease sale

The Interior Department is expected to greenlight the first offshore wind lease sale under President Biden as soon as this week, a move that would lower the nation's reliance on the fossil fuels that are dangerously warming the planet.

But the effort has sparked concern from the fishing industry, which contends that towering turbines in the waters off New England could harm fishermen's catches and livelihoods. It's the latest sign of tensions between Biden's ambitious clean-energy agenda and industry interests concerned about its economic impact.

The details: Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is poised to issue a final sale notice for the New York Bight, a nearly 800,000-acre area of the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island. 

  • Multiple industry observers predicted the notice would come this week, although Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz declined to comment on a potential regulatory decision.
  • More than 7 gigawatts of carbon-free electricity could be produced in the New York Bight, enough to power roughly 2.6 million homes, according to the agency. That would bring the nation much closer to meeting Biden's goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore wind energy by 2030.

“Offshore wind is large-scale clean energy, and getting it online as fast as we can is our best strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Liz Burdock, president and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, told The Climate 202.

BOEM released an environmental assessment for the New York Bight in late December, finding that wind turbines would have “no significant impact” on the local environment. The final sale notice would clear the way for the area to be auctioned off to wind developers.

  • Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for Ørsted, a Danish renewable energy company and a potential bidder, said in an email that the company “looks forward” to the final sale notice for the New York Bight.
  • Mary Streett, head of U.S. advocacy for BP, which formed a strategic partnership last year with Equinor ​​​​​​to pursue U.S. offshore wind investments​, said in a statement that “we are encouraged by and support BOEM’s leadership and efforts to increase opportunities for offshore wind development.”

Headwinds ahead

However, the Biden administration faces challenges in reaching its clean energy targets by the end of this decade. 

  • At the moment, the United States only has seven commercial turbines — five in Rhode Island and two in Virginia. By contrast, Europe has already deployed more than 5,000 offshore turbines.
  • Opposition to new offshore wind projects in the United States has come from “coastal homeowners worried about spoiled seaside views; fishermen concerned about the impact on their catch; and conservationists concerned about the impact on endangered whales,” The Washington Post's Dino Grandoni previously reported.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance has emerged as the fishing industry's main voice in disputes over offshore wind. The group has argued that fishermen should receive compensation for losses caused by turbines in commercial fishing grounds.

Annie Hawkins, executive director of the alliance, told The Climate 202 that the group remains concerned about offshore wind development in the New York Bight. She said the turbines could prevent fishing altogether if they are spaced less than a mile apart.

'A little more complicated'

There is some irony to the fishing industry's concerns with offshore wind, which could slash the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. After all, fishermen have seen firsthand the devastating effects of global warming, such as rising water temperatures and ocean acidification, on fish populations. 

But Hawkins said there is a misconception that fishermen do not care about climate change. They do care, she said — they just want to make sure that climate action does not have unintended consequences for their livelihoods.

You hear a lot that fishermen are uneducated, that they're climate deniers, Hawkins said. And that's just not true. It's a little more complicated than that.

Hawkins added that while the alliance has asked a federal appeals court to review the government's approval of Vineyard Wind, a 62-turbine project under construction off Martha's Vineyard, the group has no plans for litigation over the New York Bight.

A long process

Ultimately, the lease sale in the New York Bight would be the first step in a years-long process to erect wind turbines in the area. 

The developers that won the leases would still need to conduct environmental impact assessments for their projects under the National Environmental Policy Act. And any litigation could cause further delays, pushing up against Biden's 2030 target.

“I think of leases in the energy field, whether it's oil and gas or wind, like signing a lease for your apartment,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

“The next stage is, how are you going to design it? What furniture are you going to put in it?” he said. “All that then gets evaluated. And the whole time you're paying rent.”

Agency alert

Biden will revert to an Obama-era plan for management of drilling in the Arctic

Interior's Bureau of Land Management yesterday reverted to Obama-era plans for management of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, reversing a move by President Donald Trump that would have opened up 82 percent of the reserve to oil and gas drilling.

The decision, which the agency revealed in a status report filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, will effectively prevent future oil and gas leasing on nearly 7 million acres in the reserve, which is home to caribou, polar bears, migratory birds and other wildlife.

“This is an important reversal of one of the most damaging decisions to come out of the Trump administration’s final days,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the ​​​​​​Center​ for Western Priorities​​​​​​, ​said in a statement.

But Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Biden administration “needs to do much more to protect the Arctic from the oil industry,” including halting all oil and gas leasing on public lands.

Katherine Calvin will join NASA as chief climate scientist and senior climate adviser

Calvin previously worked as an Earth scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md. 

Calvin is taking over from Jim Green, who served as chief climate scientist at NASA for more than 40 years, and Gavin Schmidt, who has served as senior climate adviser in an acting capacity since the role was created in February and who will continue on in his role as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

On the Hill

Mine workers want Manchin to support the Build Back Better Act

Few would have predicted that coal miners could become one of the most influential forces pushing for Democrats’ signature climate and social spending bill. But as Sen. Joe Manchin III's (D-W.Va.) skepticism over the Build Back Better Act threatens to derail his party’s marquee legislation, a division has emerged between coal miners who support the bill and coal owners who oppose it, Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times reports.

Just before Christmas, the United Mine Workers Union and the West Virginia AFL-CIO came out with strong statements of support for Build Back Better, hours after Manchin said he was a no on the legislation. That support for the bill could be influential to a senator who has always prided himself on his ties to mine workers.

The coal industry has already seen declining employment for years, and the bill includes many provisions favored by unions in West Virginia, including an extension of a tax to support miners coping with black lung disease. Many miners also seem to have embraced the reality that coal is dying and support the bill's policies aimed at helping regions transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Here’s what else we’re watching on the Hill:

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing today on the future of hydropower.
  • Also today, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell will testify before the Senate Banking Committee, where he could face questions on climate-related financial risk.
  • The Senate this week is also expected to take a vote on sanctions against Nord Stream 2, a pipeline meant to carry natural gas between Russia and Germany. Our colleague Olivier Knox writes in the Daily 202 that the vote could be uncomfortable for Democrats who generally oppose the pipeline, but say the legislation backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) goes too far. Meanwhile, environmental experts told The Climate 202 last month that the pipeline could have an immense impact on the climate, releasing significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

Extreme events

Climate disasters killed nearly 700 people last year

Last year saw 20 extreme weather events costing more than $1 billion each, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only one other year has seen more billion-dollar disasters, the Post's Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow write.

The billion-dollar disasters included an outbreak of December tornadoes, a deadly freeze in Texas, record heat and drought in the West, several hurricanes and a rash of wildfires. All told, they killed at least 688 people and cost about $145 billion.


Thanks for reading!