The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

Agreement with Native American tribes could set precedent

The Climate 202

Placeholder while article actions load

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We hope you're staying cool this week amid the heat wave baking the Lower 48. (We recommend climbing into a kiddie pool like this golden retriever.) But first:

Federal agreement with Native American tribes could set precedent

The Biden administration has reached an agreement to give five Native American tribes more say over the day-to-day management of a national monument in Utah, marking a new chapter in the federal government’s often-fraught relationship with tribes, your Climate 202 host Maxine Joselow scooped yesterday.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service signed the cooperative agreement on Saturday with five tribes that have inhabited the region surrounding Bears Ears National Monument for centuries: the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni.

The first-of-its-kind agreement could set a precedent for similar arrangements with Native American tribes on public lands across the country, tribal leaders and advocates told The Climate 202.

“Some of the things that we’re doing are portable to many other entities in Indian country,” said Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which represents all five tribes.

“Ninety-nine percent of public lands are west of the Mississippi, which invariably means that if you're working on public lands, you're intersecting with Indian country,” he added. “And you're going to accomplish a lot of your goals by partnering with tribal communities.”

The cooperative agreement, which is legally binding, instructs the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to “meaningfully engage with” tribes when developing a land management plan for Bears Ears.

The document also recognizes that tribal elders are repositories of knowledge within their communities. It directs the agencies to “identify how to obtain the input from Tribal members, in particular Tribal Elders, who cannot travel to remote sites.”

Angelo Baca, cultural resources coordinator for Utah Diné Bikéyah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Indigenous communities and protecting their ancestral lands, said that such language could serve as a model.

“Everything that we do here sets the tone for other tribal nations around the world,” Baca told The Climate 202.

Still, Baca cautioned that it could be “hard to replicate the success” of the Bears Ears agreement. He noted that it's rare for five tribes to come together, despite their past and current cultural differences, to protect a place they all deem sacred.

Clark W. Tenakhongva, the former vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe, agreed. “Nowhere in the history of the United States have five tribes ever collaborated tirelessly on issues like this,” he said.

In southern Nevada, however, 10 tribes have united in a push for a new national monument on culturally significant lands in the Mojave Desert. The effort to establish the proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument is backed by tribes including the Mojave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Halchidhoma, Cocopah and Kumeyaay.

Efforts to contact the coalition of tribes were unsuccessful.

Political battles

Indigenous people have inhabited the southeastern corner of Utah for the past 13,000 years, carving arrowheads from stone, farming corn, painting images on rocks and creating communities on the mesas.

But in recent years, the region has been at the center of a political tug of war over America's public lands:

  • In 2016, President Barack Obama established the Bears Ears National Monument, named for a pair of tall buttes that resemble the top of a bear’s head peeking over a ridge. His proclamation recognized the land’s “profoundly sacred” meaning for many Native American tribes.
  • Eleven months later, in December 2017, President Donald Trump shrank Bears Ears by more than 1.1 million acres, or about 85 percent. While conservative lawmakers cheered the decision, activists protested outside the White House and in Utah.
  • In October, President Biden used executive orders to protect 1.36 million acres in Bears Ears — slightly more than the Obama designation. The orders also reversed Trump's cuts to the 1.87 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument.

“What's nice about this agreement is that there's an intention and a plan,” Baca said. “It's not just dependent on political wills that change with the shifting directions of leadership.”

Pressure points

Refineries are making a windfall. Why do they keep closing?

Despite an energy crunch driving up profits at U.S. oil refineries, many of the facilities are being retired and converted to other uses, as owners balk at making costly upgrades amid the nation's transition away from fossil fuels, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper reports. 

In just the past two years, the nation’s refining capacity shrank by about 5 percent, removing more than 1 million barrels of fuel per day from the market and leaving plants struggling to meet demand.

President Biden last week wrote letters to oil and gas companies threatening to invoke emergency powers if they don't increase refinery production, saying they need to help alleviate pain at the pump for American consumers.

But the companies argue that their record profits come after heavy losses during the pandemic. They also fear their profits are short lived, because mounting public concern about climate change could make refineries obsolete.

“I don’t think you are ever going to see a refinery built again in this country,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said in an interview with The Post this month.

“It’s been 50 years since we built a new one,” Wirth said. “In a country where the policy environment is trying to reduce demand for these products, you are not going to find companies to put billions and billions of dollars into this.”

White House climate task force to huddle on extreme heat

Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, will convene a National Climate Task Force meeting on Tuesday to examine how the Biden administration is responding to extreme heat that disproportionately affects low-income and underserved communities across America, a White House official told The Climate 202.

The meeting of the task force, which includes Cabinet-level leaders from 21 federal agencies and senior White House officials, comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts above-normal temperatures this summer for most of the nation. 

The task force will also discuss "advancing President Biden's agenda to lower energy costs and strengthen the nation's resilience to climate change and extreme weather, including persistent drought and wildfires in the West and flood risk throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S.," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Biden team sees climate ‘emergency,’ but powers are limited

With his climate legislation stalled in Congress and a Supreme Court case threatening his ability to cut emissions from power plants, President Biden has been leaning heavily on executive action to tackle the climate crisis. But acting alone has significant limitations, The Post's Dino Grandoni and Anna Phillips report.

For instance, Biden recently invoked the Defense Production Act to boost the domestic solar industry and clean energy manufacturing. But he will need Congress to fund the clean energy spending. And already, some Republicans are voicing concern about the use of a national defense law against climate change.

“The Biden administration’s expansive use of emergency authorities under the DPA is less about strengthening national security and more about subsidizing an anti-American energy resource agenda,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Gina McCarthy, Biden's national climate adviser, said using the defense law is appropriate because the need for clean energy is so urgent. “In the end, this is an emergency,” she said in a recent interview with The Post.

Decision on federal gas tax holiday could come by end of week, Biden says

President Biden on Monday said that he is seriously considering a temporary pause on the federal gasoline tax and that a decision could come as soon as the end of the week, as the administration weighs various options to help lower gas prices ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, Nandita Bose and Kanishka Singh report for Reuters. 

“Yes, I am considering it. I hope I have a decision based on data I am looking for by the end of the week,” Biden told reporters Monday during a visit to Delaware.

The president also reiterated that Energy Department officials will sit down with fossil fuel executives this week. “I want an explanation from them on why they are not refining more oil,” he said.

International climate

Canada banning single-use plastics to combat pollution, climate change

Canada will ban the production and importation of single-use plastics by the end of the year in a sweeping effort to tackle pollution and climate change, the government announced Monday, The Post's Adela Suliman reports.

The ban will take effect in December for most plastic grocery bags, cutlery and straws, with "a few targeted exceptions" for medical needs, Canada's Environment Ministry said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the ban could eliminate 1.3 million tons of plastic waste over the next decade. However, Canada's neighbor, the United States, ranks as the world's top contributor of plastic waste, according to a congressionally mandated report last year.

On the Hill this week

On Tuesday: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies will mark up an appropriations bill for fiscal 2023 for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency

On Wednesday: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on implementation of amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act. Michal Freedhoff, a former committee aide who heads the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, will testify.

  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will meet to consider multiple bills, including a measure to establish a program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help reduce the health risks of extreme heat and to improve heat preparedness and response.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster preparedness and strategic priorities.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy will hold a legislative hearing on several bills focused on strengthening energy infrastructure, efficiency and financing.

On Thursday: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. 

On Friday: The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on the benefits of curbing methane emissions.

In the atmosphere


Bloomberg's Zahra Hirji gave us the “Mean Girls” meme we didn't know we needed: 😂

Thanks for reading!