The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

Unexploded munitions delay opening of Biden's new Texas national monument

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re sticking our heads back in our shells because in yesterday’s newsletter, we incorrectly declared it was World Turtle Day. In fact, World Turtle Day is May 23, not March 23. Ironically, we were too quick to shellebrate. 🐢

Reading this online? Sign up for The Climate 202 to get scoops and sharp analysis in your inbox each morning.

Below, we’ll cover House Democrats’ launch of a task force on permitting and the Energy Department’s new efficiency standards for air conditioners. But first:

It could take years before people can visit a new national monument in Texas

When President Biden designated a new national monument in Texas on Tuesday, he said the move marked the end of a decades-long battle.

“The people of El Paso have fought to protect this for 50 years,” Biden said at a White House conservation summit. “Their work has finally paid off.”

But the work is just beginning for the Defense Department, which could spend several years cleaning up the site and making it safe for public access. That’s an unusually long time, given national monuments are typically accessible to the public soon after their designation.

The site, known as Castner Range, is littered with unexploded munitions such as mortar shells, grenades and mines after being used as a weapons training facility during three wars before being decommissioned in 1966.

The Pentagon is still studying the feasibility of cleaning up the unexploded ordnance. The study is projected to be completed in mid-2025, at which point the remediation process will begin and the national monument will open to the public in stages, according to the Army News Service, a publication of the U.S. Army.

In contrast: After Biden established Colorado’s Camp Hale as his first national monument in October, the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service immediately began encouraging Americans to visit.

“​It’s open!” Forest Service spokesman Wade Muehlhof said in an email of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. “The monument area has never closed to the public."

In another unusual twist, Castner Range will be the first national monument overseen by the Army since national battlefields were transferred to the Interior Department’s National Park Service in the 1930s.

  • The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 28 national monuments, given its key role in overseeing the nation’s public lands. The Forest Service also manages 13 national monuments that are located in national forests.
  • But in the case of Castner Range, BLM will merely work “in consultation with” the Army to develop a management plan for the site, according to the proclamation Biden signed Tuesday.

BLM will provide the Army “with any guidance they may need on managing this National Monument for the benefit of all,” spokesman Brian Hires said in an email.

The backstory

Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), a strong supporter of the new national monument in her district, said she intentionally pushed for Biden to protect the site before it was safe to visit.

“It will take some time to remediate, and we knew that,” Escobar said in an interview Thursday. “During our conversations with the White House and DOD, one of the ideas that was floated was, ‘Let’s work on the remediation first and then do the designation.' But my team and I kept floating the designation first because there’s always the distant threat of development or land being sold off.”

In particular, Escobar said that while the site faced no immediate threat, previous versions of the National Defense Authorization Act had included provisions to allow Texas to incorporate Castner Range into its state park system.

“To be perfectly candid with you, I have not seen the state of Texas under Republican leadership be a champion for open spaces and land preservation,” she said. “So while there was no specific threat, we know what the values are of the Republican Party in Texas.”

Spokespeople for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The next steps: Patience and public input

Ultimately, Escobar urged longtime supporters of the monument designation to be patient.

“We know that, as a community, we’ve got to be patient, because we asked for it to happen in this order,” she said. “And we are absolutely okay with that.”

Janae’ Field, executive director of the Frontera Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the Chihuahuan Desert in Texas and New Mexico, said she’s eager to provide feedback during the remediation process. She noted that within 60 days of Biden’s proclamation, the Army will hold a meeting to solicit public input on long-term management options for the monument.

“Our next major task is to make sure anybody that wants to have a voice in the future of the range uses this wonderful opportunity to do so,” Field said.

Spokespeople for the Army did not immediately respond to an emailed list of questions, including queries about when the site would open and whether the unexploded ordnance poses any immediate risk to area wildlife.

On the Hill

House Democrats launch task force on permitting

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Thursday launched a task force on accelerating the permitting process for clean-energy infrastructure.

The task force, led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), comes as the House prepares to vote next week on a Republican energy package, which includes a GOP permitting bill and is expected to pass along party lines.

Huffman told The Climate 202 that liberal House Democrats had two main motivations for establishing the group: Providing a forum for discussing the construction of clean-energy projects and countering some “bad ideas” on permitting from House Republicans.

“We are really interested in expediting clean-energy projects,” Huffman said. “But the second [motivation] is that frankly some bad ideas are being floated in the name of permitting reform, and that's concerning. You know, some false choices that suggest you need to choose between clean energy and environmental justice.”

Members of the task force include Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Paul Tonko (N.Y.), and Reps. Mike Levin (Calif.), Joe Neguse (Colo.) and Melanie Ann Stansbury (N.M.).

Huffman left open the possibility that the task force would draft its own permitting legislation as a counterproposal to Republicans’ fossil-fuel-friendly energy package. In the meantime, Huffman said he hopes the task force will meet with Biden administration officials, including White House climate adviser John D. Podesta and experts at the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

House GOP fails to override Biden’s first veto

House Republicans on Thursday failed to override President Biden’s first veto — of a GOP bill that would have rescinded a Labor Department rule on sustainable investing, the Associated Press reports.

The chamber voted 219-200, with Republicans falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Every Democrat except Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) opposed the effort.

Biden issued the veto last week to protect the Labor Department rule, which allows retirement plans to incorporate risk factors such as climate change and poor corporate governance into their investment decisions.

Agency alert

Energy Dept. finalizes efficiency rules for air conditioners

The Energy Department on Thursday finalized energy-efficiency standards for window air conditioners and portable air cleaners, potentially saving consumers about $1.5 billion on electricity bills annually, according to a news release.

The agency also said it expects the requirements to slash carbon pollution by about 106 million metric tons over three decades — equal to the combined annual emissions of about 13.4 million homes.

The rules, which are set to take effect in 2024 for air cleaners and 2026 for room air conditioners, come as the agency works to develop numerous congressionally mandated efficiency standards. In recent months, Energy has also proposed updated efficiency standards for lightbulbs, washers and dryers, and gas stoves. 

Pressure points

Ford expects $3 billion loss on electric car business in 2023

Ford’s electric vehicle business lost $2.1 billion in 2022 and has projected $3 billion in losses for 2023, according to a financial reporting structure unveiled Thursday, The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg reports.

The new reporting structure marks the first time the automaker has separated its broader business from its electric one. The results show that the company’s gas-powered vehicles are seeing profits offset by the cost-intensive work of building out the electric vehicle unit, known as “Ford Model e.”

The findings come after Ford announced last year that it would boost electric vehicle spending to $50 billion through 2026, with new models including the all-electric F-150 pickup truck.

In a media briefing Thursday, Ford Chief Financial Officer John Lawler chalked up the losses to start-up costs that will eventually bring Ford into a more profitable position.

“As everyone knows, EV start-ups lose money while they invest in capability, develop knowledge, build [sales] volume and gain [market] share,” Lawler said, according to the Associated Press.

In the atmosphere


More turtle content:

Thanks for reading!