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The Climate 202

Report details how Biden can protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 without Congress

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re reading this piece about why the climate impact of a Thanksgiving meal might surprise you. 🤔 But first:

Exclusive: Report details how Biden can protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 without Congress

Soon after taking office, President Biden committed to conserving 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, an ambitious goal aimed at protecting wildlife while slashing planet-warming emissions.

With Republicans set to take control of the House, the next Congress appears unlikely to pass major legislation that would deliver on this goal. But Biden can still fulfill his commitment to conservation if he acts with urgency and wields his executive authority, according to a report shared with The Climate 202 before its broader release Tuesday.

The report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the administration, focused on eight actions that the administration could take to conserve public and private lands while combating climate change, respecting tribal sovereignty, and expanding access to nature for underserved communities.

The actions include designating new national monuments and national marine sanctuaries; conserving old-growth and mature forests; barring future mining and drilling on public lands; and harnessing new conservation funding from the recently passed climate law and the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“The president and his Cabinet have taken some really important steps, but more urgency is needed to meet this part of his climate commitment,” Drew McConville, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the lead author of the report, told The Climate 202.

“The good news — and a major conclusion here — is that he and his Cabinet already have the tools to make it happen,” said McConville, who previously served as a senior adviser on conservation issues at the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Barack Obama.

Here’s a closer look at two of the report’s top recommendations:

Monumental decisions

One of the most consequential steps that Biden could take, the analysis argues, would be to establish new national monuments by invoking the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that empowers the president to safeguard public lands and waters for the benefit of all Americans.

In an issue brief accompanying the report, the Center for American Progress highlighted 16 national monuments and marine sanctuaries that Biden could create or expand, including:

  • Castner Range, a landscape in West Texas that is managed by the U.S. Army and harbors ancient cultural sites, rare plants and endangered wildlife.
  • A site in southern Nevada known as Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, that several Native American tribes consider sacred.
  • The site of the 1908 race riot in Springfield, Ill., an assault on a Black community by thousands of White citizens that catalyzed the creation of the NAACP.

“There are a number of national monument proposals that have really robust local support,” McConville said. “We’d encourage the president to listen to those communities and to act while he has the opportunity.”

Drilling down

The report also calls on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to withdraw sensitive and sacred lands from future drilling and mining.

  • The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management on Monday announced two proposed oil and gas lease sales on more than 95,000 acres of land in Nevada and Utah. The lease sales were mandated by Democrats’ new climate law, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, as part of a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
  • But Haaland has broad authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to take other public lands off the table. The move could have a major climate impact: Fossil fuel extraction and production on federal lands accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2014, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Of course, the fossil fuel industry would probably push back on any effort to withdraw these lands, especially amid high gasoline prices. In a recent 10-point plan to lower energy costs, the American Petroleum Institute called on the administration to swiftly hold mandated quarterly lease sales and to reinstate canceled leases on federal lands and waters.

However, McConville rejected the notion that any withdrawals would have a meaningful impact on prices at the pump, noting that roughly 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands are already open to oil and gas leasing and subsequent development.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Agency alert

Energy Dept. awards up to $1.1 billion to save California’s last nuclear plant

The Energy Department on Monday announced that it will give as much as $1.1 billion to Pacific Gas and Electric to help revive the electric utility’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California. 

Two of the facility’s reactors, which represent the last remaining ones in the state, were scheduled to be shut down in 2024 and 2025. But the conditional funding “creates a path” for them to stay open, the agency said in a news release

The funding is the first to come out of the bipartisan infrastructure law’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit program, which targets nuclear plants that are at risk of closure, despite their ability to provide emission-free electricity around-the-clock.

“This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Pressure points

U.N. summit marks the latest hurdle in Kerry’s long climate crusade

In the wake of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt, known as COP27, U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry has a mixed record as the face of America’s response to climate change on the international stage, The Washington Post’s Timothy Puko and Steven Mufson report. 

Kerry, 78, faced criticism at COP27 from poor countries that said the United States was not matching its climate rhetoric with action. But by the end of the summit, Kerry, who negotiated virtually in the final hours after contracting covid-19, helped reverse the United States’ past resistance to creating a fund to help developing countries cope with the ravages of climate change.

Still, Kerry failed to garner enough support for his push to include language in the final agreement calling for phasing out all fossil fuels and implementing stronger emissions-cutting plans. Kerry and President Biden have also been unable to persuade Congress to approve climate finance for developing countries, even though the administration has pledged to deliver $11.4 billion annually by 2024.

Some E.U. leaders and others were surprised when Kerry stuck around through COP27. Kerry has not said whether he will step down from the administration anytime soon, although two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid said he may consider that option and could easily find work in the private sector.

International climate

OPEC considers output increase as Russian oil price cap looms

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia, also known as OPEC Plus, is eyeing an increase in output ahead of a possible price cap on Russian crude sales, delegates said Monday, Summer Said and Benoit Faucon report for the Wall Street Journal. 

The potential move comes a month after the group decided to cut production by 2 million barrels a day, despite calls from President Biden to help replace Russian oil amid the war in Ukraine and boost global supply for the winter months. 

Saudi officials on Monday denied reports that they are backtracking on plans to cut production, Zack Budryk reports for the Hill. 

“The current cut of 2 million barrels per day by OPEC+ continues until the end of 2023 and if there is a need to take further measures by reducing production to balance supply and demand, we always remain ready to intervene,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said through the state news agency SPA.

War in Ukraine spurs 27-year gas deal, as shelling at nuclear plant causes alarm

QatarEnergy on Monday signed a 27-year deal to supply China's Sinopec with liquefied natural gas in the longest such deal to date, as Russia’s war in Ukraine spurs intense competition for gas supplies, Andrew Mills and Maha El Dahan report for Reuters.

The deal could lock in gas infrastructure for decades to come, despite warnings from climate scientists about the need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels to stave off catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency warned on Monday that shelling near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant over the weekend came “dangerously close” to hitting key equipment, including its six reactors, Francesca Ebel reports for The Post. 

For months, sporadic bombing near the plant has sparked international fears of a radioactive disaster. A team of IAEA experts toured the plant — which is Europe’s largest atomic energy station and is in territory occupied by Russian military forces — to assess any potential damage from “one of the most serious such incidents at the facility in recent months,” the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, said in a statement. It is unclear whether Russia or Ukraine fired the missiles. 

In the atmosphere


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