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Here's why Biden is 'falling behind' on environmental rules

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We promise this newsletter wasn’t written by artificial intelligence.

As a scheduling note, the newsletter won’t publish on Friday, since we have a short week with Congress out of town. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday. But first:

Biden is ‘falling behind’ on environmental rules. Here are three reasons why.

The Biden administration is falling behind schedule on strengthening key environmental rules targeting power plants and other major sources of planet-warming pollution, our colleague Timothy Puko reports this morning.

The delays are fueling concern among both outside activists and Washington insiders, who warn that federal agencies face a narrow window to finalize enduring climate actions before the end of the president’s first term.

Perhaps their biggest concern centers on the Environmental Protection Agency, which this month pushed back its self-imposed deadlines for several new regulations.

“It is imperative to get them done as soon as possible,” Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who led the EPA during George W. Bush’s first term, told Tim. “It’s not a quick process. We’re falling behind very fast on our ability to slow things down and have an impact.”

Here are three challenges that have contributed to the delays — and one recent development that could speed things up:

Workforce woes

The EPA faces a chronic shortage of federal workers that has only marginally improved under Biden.

  • Under Donald Trump, who vowed to “make it much easier to fire rogue bureaucrats,” the EPA’s workforce fell below 14,200 people in 2018, down from 17,000 just a few years before.
  • The agency has only added about 500 new employees under Biden, leaving the workforce near the lows dating back to the Reagan administration, according to agency figures.

“Despite depleted staffing levels, persistent funding challenges, and a previous administration that left the agency neglected and scientifically compromised, this Administration has finalized strong, legally durable rules,” Dan Utech, the agency’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “EPA remains committed to using all the tools available to meet the moment and advance President Biden’s bold environmental agenda.”

Conservative courts

Then there’s the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which could take a skeptical view of agencies’ authority to issue ambitious climate rules.

  • Last summer, for instance, the high court ruled that the EPA had overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act to curb carbon emissions from power plants.
  • In the majority opinion in West Virginia v. EPA, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that agencies cannot issue such sweeping regulations without clear authorization from Congress.

“It’s like the EPA lawyers were writing on an Etch A Sketch and then West Virginia v. EPA came along and shook it up, and then they had to start all over again,” James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal think tank, told The Climate 202.

The agency’s attorneys are probably trying to craft “bulletproof” regulations that can survive future legal challenges, even if it takes more time to do so, Goodwin added.

Climate law calculus

The last possible reason for the delays has to do with the changing economics of clean energy. 

  • The recently passed climate law, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, will cause the cost of renewable energy to decline dramatically over the next decade, modeling suggests.
  • That will bolster the economic argument for tougher environmental rules. But it will also require agencies to redo the cost-benefit analyses that justify stricter standards, Christy Goldfuss, the chief policy impact officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Tim.

That adds months more legwork to the process, said Goldfuss, who led the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration. 

New rules czar

One recent development could accelerate the administration’s pace of progress, even though it largely flew under the radar in Washington.

  • On Dec. 21, when many people were tuning out the news around the holidays, the Senate confirmed Richard “Ricky” Revesz to lead the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which vets hundreds of rules each year.
  • Some environmentalists hope that Revesz, a former professor at New York University School of Law, will encourage agencies to expedite their efforts. 
  • However, not everyone is optimistic that he can get rules out the door before the waning days of Biden’s first term, given the cascade of challenges confronting the administration.

“I don’t know if Ricky can help speed things through,” Goodwin said. “I don’t know if anyone can.”

On the Hill

Granholm warns Republicans that oil bill will raise costs

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday warned House Republicans that legislation limiting the agency’s authority to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would raise gasoline prices and undermine energy security, Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw report for Reuters. 

In a letter sent to Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Granholm took aim at the Strategic Petroleum Response Act, which would bar the Energy Department from releasing oil from the strategic reserve until the Biden administration opens up more federal lands to oil and gas leasing.

The legislation, Granholm wrote, “would significantly weaken this critical energy security tool, resulting in more oil supply shortages in times of crisis and higher gasoline prices for Americans.” 

The House is expected to vote soon on the bill, introduced by panel Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). The chamber last week passed a different measure that would block the Energy Department from sending oil from the strategic reserve to China.

Republicans have argued that President Biden’s moves to tap the reserves have benefited the nation’s adversaries, and they have called on the administration to ramp up domestic fossil fuel production. The administration has defended its use of the reserve, with an Energy spokesperson saying that at its current level the reserve remains the largest in the world.

House science panel announces Republican members

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chair Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) on Wednesday announced the 15 Republicans who will sit on the panel, which oversees climate research at some federal agencies.

They are Reps. Bill Posey (Fla.), Randy Weber (Tex.), Brian Babin (Tex.), Jim Baird (Ind.), Daniel Webster (Fla.), Mike Garcia (Calif.), Stephanie I. Bice (Okla.), Jay Obernolte (Calif.), Dale W. Strong (Ala.), Max L. Miller (Ohio.) Richard McCormick (Ga.), Mike Collins (Ga.), Brandon Williams (N.Y.), George Santos (N.Y.), and Tom Kean Jr. (N.J.).

The science panel has jurisdiction over research and development at agencies including the Energy Department, Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“From quantum information sciences to drones to weather forecasting, the Science Committee has a full agenda ahead,” Lucas said in a statement.

International climate

Parts of Greenland now hotter than at any time in the past 1,000 years

The coldest and highest parts of the Greenland ice sheet are warming rapidly and showing changes that are unprecedented in at least 1,000 years, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. 

This part of Greenland is now 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer compared with the 20th century as a whole, the study found. The rate of melting and water loss from the ice sheet — which raises sea levels — has increased in tandem with these changes.

The findings suggest that a long-term process of melting has already been set in motion, which does not bode well for the planet’s coastlines, since Greenland alone contains enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 20 feet.

“This is not changing what we already knew about the warming signal in Greenland, the increase in melt and accelerated flow of ice into the ocean, and that this will be challenging to slow down,” said Isabella Velicogna, a glaciologist at the University of California at Irvine who was not involved in the research. “Still, it adds momentum to the seriousness of the situation. This is bad, bad news for Greenland and for all of us.”

In the atmosphere


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