Energy and Environment

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States Sue Over Biden Energy Leasing Pause

As one of his first acts upon entering office, President Biden placed an indefinite pause on new oil, natural gas, and coal leasing on public lands. Now fourteen states are suing to overturn this moratorium.


Louisiana is leading a lawsuit with 13 other states suing to overturn the ban. Wyoming has filed its own suit. At the center of contention is whether President Biden can indefinitely stop allowing certain energy leases on public land. The states in the lawsuits have significant public lands within their borders. They contend that their economy will be significantly affected if this leasing is barred.


When he came into office, President Biden issued an executive order halting new leases for fossil fuel development on lands controlled by the federal government. This included new offshore drilling leasing, something that affects Louisiana greatly. Existing leases would remain intact. The federal government owns considerable property, especially in western states, and much of that is open for mining and energy development. Offshore oil and natural gas exploration is also permitted in some federally-controlled areas of the Gulf of Mexico and around Alaska.


The president and environmentalists consider such leases as giveaways to large corporations. They also say that this leasing helps perpetuate the use of energy sources that pollute the environment. Supporters of the leases argue that it is better to develop U.S. resources than rely on foreign nations for America's energy needs. They also point out that energy production on federal lands supports good-paying jobs in areas that have few other economic options.


This executive order is part of a larger Biden agenda that envisions the U.S. moving from the use of fossil fuels to the use of renewable forms of energy. Much of this plan must be enacted by Congress, but the president can take some steps via executive order. This order is not a permanent end to federal fossil fuel leases, which would require a change in U.S. law, but a temporary moratorium. However, critics say that if a temporary moratorium has no end date, then it in effect acts like a permanent ban.


There are indications that the Biden Administration is considering action that would end this type of energy leasing on federal land, not just have it subject to a temporary moratorium. However, unless Congress acts, a new president could reverse this action.


Do you think that the federal government should resume leasing land for oil, natural gas, and coal development?

GOP Energy Plan Focuses on Natural Gas, Nuclear, and Hydro

President Biden's energy plan focuses on renewable sources like wind and solar. Today Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled their own energy platform and it goes in a far different direction than the president's.


Under this proposal, the federal government would

  • streamline the process for approving nuclear power plants
  • authorize construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline
  • prohibit hydraulic fracturing bans
  • streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines
  • update they hydropower licensing process


This stands in stark contrast to the energy agenda being pursued by President Biden. Under his plan, the U.S. would move towards far greater use of solar, wind, and renewable resources. The president has also revoked the cross-border permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, effectively killing it, and placed a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land. 


The GOP representatives promoting this proposal argue that it will create jobs and strengthen U.S. energy security. They say that the federal government should encourage the development of U.S. energy resources, not stifle such production. Opponents, however, argue that promoting the use of oil and natural gas will make climate change worse. They assert that it's wiser for the federal government to promote clean energy to make the U.S. a world leader in that area.


With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, these Republican energy ideas are unlikely to get any consideration. However, they do indicate what could be a future congressional agenda if Republicans take control of the House in 2022.


Do you think that U.S. energy policy should focus on developing our nation's oil and gas resources or should the U.S. transition to carbon-free energy sources?

States Sue over Biden Carbon Order

President Biden wants to set the "social cost" of carbon at $50 per metric ton for now and determine a higher rate later. Twelve states are suing to stop him.


These states have filed suit to stop a January executive order that directs the federal government to determine the social cost of carbon and tie it to inflation. In the interim, the order sets that cost at $50 per metric ton. That is the same rate that was used in the Obama Administration but much higher than the $7 per metric ton rate used by President Trump.


The lawsuit contends that President Biden did not have authority to issue this order. In addition, the suit argues:


Setting the "social cost" of greenhouse gases is an inherently speculative, policy-laden, and indeterminate task, which involves attempting to predict such unknowable contingencies as future human migrations, international conflicts, and global catastrophes for hundreds of years into the future. Assigning such values is a quintessentially legislative action that falls within Congress’s exclusive authority.


Supporters of setting a social cost of carbon contend that it is a way to price the spillover effects of carbon use on the environment. They argue that the actual cost of carbon does not account for pollution and climate change, so the federal government should set a rate that properly captures these costs. 



The states filing the lawsuit are Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Missouri's attorney general is taking the lead on the case and filed it in that state.


Do you think the government should set a "social cost" for carbon?

U.S. Re-enters Paris Climate Agreement

Today the U.S. formally re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement.


The day he took office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the accord. However, the process to do this takes 30 days to complete, so today is the first official day the U.S. is once again a member.


The Paris Agreement has been controversial from its beginning. Signatories have pledged to take steps to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius based on pre-industrial levels. President Obama signed the accord but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. Under the Constitution, any treaties must be approved by the Senate. President Obama argued that this was an agreement, not a treaty, so it did not require a Senate vote. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement and now President Biden has re-joined it.


Critics argue that this agreement will hurt the U.S. economy by restricting the use of affordable fossil fuels. They contend that it will put the U.S. at a disadvantage. They also note that since it was not ratified by the Senate, it cannot be enforced. President Biden, however, argues that it's vital to cooperate internationally to combat climate change. He says that if the U.S. does not act it will lead to devastation for future generations.


Do you think the U.S. should be part of the Paris Climate Agreement?

Sen. Manchin Wants Biden to Approve Keystone Pipeline

President Joe Biden's decision to revoke the Keystone XL Pipeline's permit has met with strong criticism from Republicans -- and at least one Democrat. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has written to the president asking him to reverse his decision.


The Keystone XL Pipeline has long been a source of controversy. The international pipeline was planned over a decade ago to bring Canadian crude oil into the United States. President Obama rejected an application to have the pipeline cross an international border. President Trump reversed course and approved this permit. During his first day in office, President Biden once again revoked the permit. This effectively stops the international aspect of the pipeline, although portions of it have been built in the U.S.



In his letter, Sen. Manchin wrote, "Pipelines continue to be the safest mode to transport our oil and natural gas resources and they support thousands of high-paying, American union jobs." He urged the president to consider these benefits and give the pipeline approval to be built across the U.S. Canadian border.


Opponents of the pipeline argue that its use will exacerbate climate change and perpetuate a dependence on fossil fuels. They also say that it will not benefit the U.S. but will instead be used to move oil for export. Supporters contend that the U.S. will be using fossil fuels for decades to come. As Sen. Manchin argued, this oil will be moved by pipeline or by truck, and pipelines are safer.


Sen. Manchin has long supported American fossil fuel energy, especially coal. This has often put him at odds with other elected Democrats, who often oppose oil, natural gas, and coal development. 


Do you think that President Biden should reverse course and approve the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Biden Bars New Fossil Fuel Leasing on Federal Land

There will be no new leasing of federal land for coal, oil, and natural gas -- at least for now. This week President Joe Biden will sign a moratorium on such leasing that will be in place for much of his term in office.


Fulfilling a campaign promise, Biden's order would place a halt on new leases for fossil fuel development on lands controlled by the federal government. This would include new offshore drilling leasing, too. Existing leases would remain intact. The federal government owns considerable property, especially in western states, and much of that is open for mining and energy development. Offshore oil and natural gas exploration is also permitted in some federally-controlled areas of the Gulf of Mexico and around Alaska.


The president and environmentalists consider such leases as giveaways to large corporations. They also say that this leasing helps perpetuate the use of energy sources that pollute the environment. Supporters of the leases argue that it is better to develop U.S. resources than rely on foreign nations for America's energy needs. They also point out that energy production on federal lands supports good-paying jobs in areas that have few other economic options.


This executive order is part of a larger Biden agenda that envisions the U.S. moving from the use of fossil fuels to the use of renewable forms of energy. Much of this plan must be enacted by Congress, but the president can take some steps via executive order. This order is not a permanent end to federal fossil fuel leases, which would require a change in U.S. law, but a temporary moratorium. A new president could reverse this action.


Do you support banning oil, natural gas, and coal leases on federal land?

Biden Revokes Keystone XL Pipeline Permit

During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden vowed to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order aimed at accomplishing this.


The pipeline, which would link Canadian oil fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was first proposed in 2010. President Obama blocked the approval of the pipeline’s crossing of the U.S.-Canadian border in 2015, but President Trump reversed this decision in 2017 by approving a permit to proceed with construction across the border. One of President Biden's first actions in office was to revoke this cross-border permit.


The Canadian company constructing the pipeline, TC Energy, announced a halt to work on the pipeline and the layoff of 1,000 employees the day after the president's actions. It remains to be seen if TC Energy will pursue legal action over this.


Supporters of the pipeline say it will provide affordable energy to the U.S., giving consumers a financial windfall. They also point to the jobs it will create both during its construction and operation. Opponents, however, say most of these jobs will be temporary. They also argue that the pipeline will only increase the U.S.’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and that the pipeline itself will disturb important natural habitats.


Do you support President Biden's efforts to stop construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Massachusetts Aims to Ban the Sale of Gasoline-Powered Vehicles

This week Massachusetts officials announced a plan to phase-out the sale and use of carbon-emitting vehicles by 2050.


Under the outline put forth by Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, the state would ban the sale of new carbon-emitting vehicles used by most drivers by 2035. The state also has a goal of ensuring that half of the trucks and buses sold in the state are zero-emission by 2030. However, the state's goal is to have all of those vehicles be emission-free by 2050.


According to the report, "For the Commonwealth to achieve Net Zero, fossil fuel use must be all but completely eliminated in on-road vehicles by 2050."


Critics of this ban note that consumers, not government, drive markets. They say that zero-emission cars are not attractive to consumers, and that innovation by the private sector will lead to more widespread purchasing of these cars. They also contend that this order will hurt consumers who want a wider choice in vehicles.


Other states have pursued similar goals. California's governor, for instance, issued an order earlier this year that aimed to transition the state to zero-emission vehicles. In both states, however, these plans are not solidified in law. Future administrations can alter or remove them.


Do you think states should prohibit people from buying vehicles that are not carbon-free?

Trump Administration Removes Wolves from Endangered Species List

The Trump Administration announced this week that it is removing the gray wolf for the endangered species list. Officials say that wolf numbers have recovered enough so that it does not need federal protection, but critics call the move premature.


While their numbers were once declining, gray wolf populations in the United States have been growing in recent decades. In some areas of the country, such as Idaho and Montana, wolf populations have reached a point where they have been taken off the endangered species list, a process called “de-listing.” In the Great Lakes region, a judge halted a 2011 Interior Department regulation to de-list the wolf population. This latest move by the Trump Administration would affect the wolves in the Great Lakes area.


If an animal is listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, there are numerous restrictions on what humans can do to the animals. In the case of wolves, these restrictions led to many conflicts with landowners, especially in the west. Ranchers were especially concerned about wolves killing their livestock. Supporters of removing the wolves’ endangered status say that this will allow states to design plans that will both protect wolves but also take into account landowners’ concerns. Opponents of this legislation argue that wolves play a vital role in ecosystem management, and their numbers show that they still deserve federal protection. They also contend that de-listing the wolves will lead to them being hunted until their numbers are once again declining.


Critics of this action have vowed to fight it in court.


Do you support removing wolves from the endangered species list?

Biden Pledges a Transition Away from Oil

During last night's presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to transition the U.S. economy to a totally renewable future. Later, however, he clarified that the main step his administration would take is ending subsidies for fossil fuels.


President Trump has long criticized Biden and Democrats for attacking fossil fuels. During the debate, he asked Biden, "“Would you close down the oil industry?” In response, Biden said, "Yes. I would transition.” Biden went on to say, "... the oil industry pollutes, significantly... [I]t has to be replaced by renewable energy over time, over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies."


With many U.S. jobs tied to the oil industry in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, President Trump pounced on this statement. He pointed out his strong support of the oil industry and fossil fuel jobs. He also touted his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 


Environmentalists and Democrats are pushing for a transition away from oil and towards renewable fuels because of their concern over climate change. They say the only way to stop a disaster is to limit or end the use of fossil fuels. President Trump argues that this would damage the U.S. economy, kill jobs, and make the U.S. less competitive.


Do you support transitioning the U.S. economy away from the use of oil and other fossil fuels?



Renewable Energy Mandate on Nevada Ballot

The future of Nevada's energy production will be decided by the state's voters on Election Day.


Passage of Question 6 would enshrine in the state's constitution the requirement that 50% of Nevada's electricity must be from renewable sources by 2030. Gov. Steve Sisolak approved legislation in 2019 that would accomplish the same thing, but Question 6 would ensure that future legislators could not overturn this mandate. In 2018, voters approved a similar constitutional amendment. Under Nevada law, amendments must be approved in two consecutive elections to be added to the constitution.


Under Question 6, a variety of sources could qualify as renewable energy -- solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal. 


Backers of the amendment argue that Nevada, a state that receives abundant sunshine, should be doing more to generate electricity from renewable sources. They say that mandating more renewable energy will create jobs in that sector and help the environment. Opponents say that such a mandate will raise energy costs for consumers and reduce the reliability of electricity.


Do you support mandating that more energy be produced from renewable sources?

Colorado Voters to Decide on Wolf Reintroduction

Among the 11 ballot measures facing Colorado voters this year is one that could result in wolves taking up residence in the state for the first time in 7 decades.


If voters approve Proposition 114, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission would create a plan to reintroduce wolves on state land west of the continental divide by 2023. The proposition also establishes a fund to compensate livestock owners for any losses connected to wolves.


Gray wolves used to be present throughout much of the United States, including Colorado. They were viewed as nuisances by early settlers, however, and often had bounties placed on them. This resulted in wolves being eradicated from much of the U.S. The last one in Colorado was killed during the 1940s. 


Supporters of this initiative say that wolves help establish an ecological balance. They point to the experiences in Yellowstone National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves helped control the elk population. These supporters argue that many environmental benefits will occur once a healthy wolf population is established. Opponents, however, counter that wolves will kill both livestock and endangered species. They say that there will be conflicts between wolves and humans. 


The federal government has reintroduced wolves in some Rocky Mountain states, but not Colorado.


Do you support the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado?



Vice Presidential Candidates Spar over Fracking

The topic of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was a heated one during last night’s vice presidential debates.

Vice President Mike Pence accused Joe Biden of wanting to ban fracking. Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, said that wasn’t true. Fracking is used by energy companies to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves injecting a highly-pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale rock to break it up and release oil or, more commonly, natural gas.


The use of fracking has been primarily responsible for the large increase in U.S. petroleum production over the past decade. It has made it much cheaper to access oil and natural gas in shale rock, leading to increased production and lower prices. However, residents in communities where fracking has occurred blame it for earthquakes, polluted water, and health problems. It is especially important in Pennsylvania, where a significant energy industry is based on fracking's use.


President Trump has opposed any efforts to ban fracking or curtail its use on federal land. Biden’s platform does not call for an outright ban on fracking, but does say he will stop any federal oil or gas leasing on federal land. It also supports moving away from the use of fossil fuels. Prior to being chosen as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Harris did say that she was in favor of banning fracking.


There is a push among Progressive Democrats to prohibit fracking. During the vice presidential debate, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that fracking was bad. She has introduced legislation that would outlaw the practice.


Do you support banning fracking?


California Bans Sale of Gasoline-Powered Cars by 2035

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has set in motion a plan to end the sale of cars using internal combustion engines by 2035.


Under the governor’s order, the California Air Resources Board will begin developing plans to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered passenger vehicles by 2035. The sale of heavier duty vehicles that use gasoline and diesel would be banned by 2045 under this order. Only zero-emission vehicles would then be permitted to be sold in California.


Gov. Newsom says that this ban is needed to help combat climate change. He points to recent fires in California as illustrating the urgency of the state taking major steps to reduce carbon emissions. He also claims this will help create jobs in California and across the U.S.


Critics of this ban note that consumers, not government, drive markets. They say that zero-emission cars are not attractive to consumers, and that innovation by the private sector will lead to more widespread purchasing of these cars. They also contend that this order will hurt consumers who want a wider choice in vehicles.


Since this ban is an order by the governor, not a state law, it can be reversed by future governors.


Do you support a ban on the sale of gasoline-powered cars?


Western Forest Fires Spark Climate Debate

Devastating forest fires are burning across the West, especially in California and Oregon. In the wake of the destruction left by these fires, some activists are saying that they show the need for a greater focus on climate change. Others, however, contend that poor land management practices at the state and federal level are largely responsible for larger and more intense fires.


Throughout the West, a thick blanket of smoke has caused air quality to be listed as "hazardous" in many areas. This smoke is coming from a series of fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states. In Oregon, 10 deaths have been linked to these fires. 


The number of wildfires, which burn both forests and grasslands, have been declining, but their intensity has been increasing. Some scientists link this to a warming climate, which they contend lengthens fire season and provides more time when areas are so dry they burn easily. They argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will lessen the effects of these fires.


Others, however, note that land management practices contribute significantly to how fires burn. They say that if federal and state agencies used more prescribed burns to clear out fuel on a regular basis, fires would not be as intense. Some also argue that the reduction in logging and timber thinning has led to a buildup of flammable material across the West.


President Trump is on a campaign swing through the West, and today he stopped to visit firefighters in California.


What do you think should be done to reduce the danger of wildfires?

Trump Announces Offshore Drilling Moratorium

This week, President Trump announced that the federal government was imposing a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil and natural gas exploration off of the Southeastern U.S. coast.


The areas covered by the president’s order include the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico around Florida, as well as the Atlantic coastal areas of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Gulf of Mexico already had an oil and gas drilling moratorium in place, but that was set to expire in 2022. This order extends that moratorium for 10 years and expands it to cover the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.


This move is a reversal from previous Trump Administration policy. The president had supported opening more offshore areas to oil and gas production. Such production is currently allowed in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico as well as parts of Alaska. In 2017, the administration announced it wanted expanded drilling, including around Florida. 


Supporters of this moratorium argue that it is necessary to protect the tourist industries of these areas as well as the environment. They also contend that the U.S. should be transitioning to the use of renewable energy, not fossil fuels. Opponents of placing these areas off-limits to oil and gas production contend that such energy exploration is already being done safely elsewhere, so it can be done safely here. They also note that this type of energy production would create jobs for coastal communities as well as generate significant government revenue.


Do you support a moratorium on oil and gas production off of the Atlantic Coast?

Biden Labels Climate Change an "Historic Crisis"

When accepting the Democratic presidential nomination this week, former Vice President Joe Biden labeled climate change an "historic crisis."


During his speech, Biden said:


History has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced. Four historic crises. All at the same time...The worst pandemic in over 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The most compelling call for racial justice since the '60s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.


This speech pleased environmentalists, who had been urging Biden to focus attention on climate change. They are urging the Democratic presidential nominee to make it a large issue during this year's campaign. Biden's mention of climate change as part of three other high-profile issues indicate that he will indeed be using it in an attempt to win voters.


Biden has released an environmental plan that focuses on low- or no-carbon energy sources as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, his plan does not go as far the Green New Deal. That program advances an ambitious plan to end the use of fossil fuels and restructure America's economy. 


Critics of these plans say that massive government intervention is not a wise way to address climate change. They note that such intervention will be very costly to consumers. Instead, they point to private sector development of technologies like hydraulic fracturing, which has allowed the cheaper production of natural gas. That gas has replaced significant electricity generation by coal, something that has led to a drop in U.S. carbon emissions.


Supporters of aggressive government action say that the problem is too big to be left to the private sector. Instead, they argue that only a large-scale federal program that changes how U.S. energy is produced will avert environmental catastrophe.


What do you think should be done to address climate change?

Trump Administration Moves Ahead with Arctic Refuge Oil Development

This week the Department of the Interior finalized plans to hold oil and gas lease sales in the 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).


ANWR is a 19 million acre wildlife refuge in Alaska that contains significant energy deposits. 

Republicans had been pushing to open up the refuge to energy leasing for decades. George W. Bush attempted to obtain congressional approval in the early 2000s, but was unable to do so. However, once Donald Trump became president and the Republicans had a congressional majority in 2017, legislation allowing such sales became law.


The Alaska congressional delegation and the state’s governor support energy development in ANWR. They see the potential for new jobs and energy revenue. However, there is also opposition to ANWR oil drilling in Alaska from people who think it could lead to environmental damage.


Supporters of opening ANWR to energy exploration point out that drilling activities will only affect a small portion of the refuge. They argue that oil and gas development can be done in an environmentally-responsible way that will impose very little disturbance on wildlife. Opponents, however, say it is improper to be drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge. They worry that such activities will harm caribou.


This week’s action by the Interior Department sets the stage for it to hold a sale of leases by the end of the year. 


Do you support oil and natural gas development in ANWR?

Rule Change Would Allow More Water from Showerheads

President Trump has been a vocal critic of federal regulations restricting how much water can flow from showerheads. Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a new rule that would effectively remove restrictions on showerhead flow.


During the Obama Administration, the EPA implemented regulations that limit the showerhead flow to 2.5 gallons per minute. Some critics of this rule, including President Trump, say that this is not enough water for people who are taking showers. While intended to reduce water usage, these critics argue that it actually leads to more water being wasted as people take longer showers.


This new proposal from the EPA reclassifies some shower parts, which would allow manufacturers to bypass the 2.5-gallon limit. This will result in more water flowing through showerheads, something that President Trump has long supported.


Others, however, say that this move by the EPA is unnecessary and counterproductive. They argue that there is no evidence that lower water flows from showerheads affects people negatively. They also note that in many areas these low-flow showerheads are a vital part of water conservation efforts. They have vowed to fight the EPA in court to reverse this action.


Do you support changing federal regulations to allow more water to flow from showerheads?

Trump Revises Federal Environmental Reviews

President Trump has long complained that federal regulations make it difficult to build big infrastructure projects in a timely manner. This week, his administration is taking steps to revise federal environmental rules to speed up infrastructure construction.


The changes concern the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates an environmental review for large infrastructure projects. Critics say this process is often too complex and costly, and that it takes far too long. They have urged the federal government to streamline environmental reviews and assessments in order to make it easier to construct infrastructure.


The Trump Administration has finalized revisions to NEPA that will exclude some projects from mandatory reviews, narrow the scope of the reviews in ways that will likely end consideration of climate change, and place a time limit on these reviews.


Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers blasted the rule change as a giveaway to industry at the expense of the environment. They also claimed that this will hurt minorities, since they are disproportionately affected by construction of large infrastructure projects.


Do you support streamlining the environmental reviews required for major construction projects?

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