OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA questions legality of California’s move on gas-powered cars | COVID-19 relief bill would require aided utilities to suspend shutoffs
September 29, 2020
HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.
NOT WHEELING TO PLAY ALONG: The federal government is raising legal and practical questions about a recent California executive order attempting to end sales of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday, saying he believes California would need to request a waiver from his agency for the order to be implemented and implying that the state’s electricity infrastructure is insufficient for a shift toward electric vehicles.
“While the [executive order] seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little, any attempt by the California Air Resources Board to implement sections of it may require California to request a waiver to U.S. EPA,” Wheeler wrote.
The EPA last year revoked a waiver that allowed California to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, so it appears unlikely that the agency would grant one on car sales under the current administration.
California, alongside 22 other states, has sued the agency over that decision, arguing that its standards were achievable and that the EPA’s decision is bad for climate change.
The executive order also comes as California has recently faced rolling blackouts, Wheeler noted.
“California’s record of rolling blackouts – unprecedented in size and scope – coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” the country’s top environmental official wrote.
“The truth is that if the state were driving 100 percent electric vehicles today, the state would be dealing with even worse power shortages than the ones that have already caused a series of otherwise preventable environmental and public health consequences,” he added.
Newsom, when he announced the initiative, said it would help the state meet its climate goals and also help create jobs in the state.
Newsom spokesperson Jesse Melgar defended the order in a statement, saying, “While the Trump Administration tries to drive this country off a climate cliff, California is once again assuming the mantle of leadership in the fight against climate change.”
“We aren’t going to back down from protecting our kids’ health and the air they breathe,” Melgar said.
Read more about Wheeler’s letter here.
IF YOU CARES TO KNOW: The pared down HEROES Act rolled out by House Democrats last night would require any utility that received federal funds to suspend shutoffs for those unable to pay their electric or water bills.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance program would also get an extra $4.5 billion under the program.
The legislation also includes $50 million in environmental justice grants “to investigate links between pollution exposure and the transmission and health outcomes of coronavirus.”
WINDING DOWN: President Trump’s pause for offshore energy leasing will not only prevent the development of offshore oil and gas, but also offshore wind.
“The withdrawal includes all energy leasing, including conventional and renewable energy, beginning on July 1, 2022,” a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesperson said in an email on Tuesday.
“No new leases will be issued offshore North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, for a 10-year period beginning July 1, 2022,” the spokesperson said.
Last week, the White House issued a memo including North Carolina in the previously announced offshore moratorium affecting Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Trump over the weekend also said he would include Virginia, though no such memo has been issued.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment when asked about whether the actions were intended to prevent leases for offshore wind.
CLIMATE IN COURT: A federal judge in Rhode Island is allowing an environmental group’s case against Shell Oil to proceed, the most advanced case as fossil fuel companies face a deluge of legal challenges questioning their responsibility for climate change.
The case from the Conservation Law Foundation challenges Shell Oil’s terminal near the Providence River, which they say is at risk of being polluted due to sea level rise.
With the judge’s order the suit will now enter the discovery phase, something the foundation says marks “the first time a private fossil fuel entity will need to fully answer for its knowledge of climate change and the risks it presents.”
Shell did not respond to request for comment.
ON TAP TONIGHT: The first presidential debate! President Trump and former Vice President Biden will face for the first time on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. Moderator Chris Wallace is expected to question the candidates on their records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, “race and violence in our cities,” and election integrity.
While climate change and other energy and environment topics are not on the list, it’s possible they’ll come up as part of another category like the candidates’ records.
ON TAP TOMORROW:
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled “Coping with compound crises: extreme weather, social injustice, and a global pandemic”
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Revealed: BP And Shell Back Anti-Climate Lobby Groups Despite Pledges, HuffPost reports
New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster, The Guardian reports
France announces ban on use of wild animals in circuses, marine parks, we report
Common pesticide may limit defenses against COVID-19, E&E News reports