White House aims to tackle environmental injustices, but challenges loom

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Biden administration aims to tackle environmental injustices, but challenges loom

The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled two major initiatives aimed at addressing inequities in low-income communities and communities of color.

While environmental justice advocates praised both moves, they voiced serious concern that the White House Council on Environmental Quality is understaffed, leading to burnout among top officials.

The details: The Biden administration on Thursday announced that the Justice Department is ramping up enforcement of environmental cases that officials say disproportionately harm poor and marginalized communities, The Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Darryl Fears report.

  • Appearing at a joint news conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said the Justice Department would create an Office of Environmental Justice.
  • Justice will also rescind a Trump-era ban on including environmentally beneficial projects, known as supplemental environmental projects, in legal settlements with the EPA.

Earlier Thursday, the White House announced that it had appointed Jalonne L. White-Newsomean academic who has worked in government and with grass-roots activists, as the Council on Environmental Quality’s new senior director for environmental justice, Fears reports.

  • White-Newsome will replace Cecilia Martinezwho resigned in January after about a year in the role. In an interview with The Post shortly after her resignation di lei, Martinez said that working 14-hour days nearly seven days a week had caused her to become “dangerously close to burnout.”
  • The role was created in 2020, when President Biden pledged to take an “all of government” approach to righting the wrongs that have disproportionately exposed disadvantaged communities to high levels of pollution.

Another ‘overworked’ bureaucrat?

Robert Bullardto professor at Texas Southern University who sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Councilapplauded both announcements in a phone interview with The Climate 202 yesterday.

“These are great initiatives coming at a time that they’re desperately needed,” said Bullard, who is known as the “father of environmental justice” for his pioneering work on the issue.

However, Bullard expressed concern that the Council on Environmental Quality lacks the necessary staffing levels to achieve Biden’s vision of directing 40 percent of the benefits of federal climate-related investments to disadvantaged communities.

“That agency is understaffed, and anybody that goes into that position will be overworked,” he said. “We should be making it easier for people coming into these staff positions … so that they don’t just get hit with 16 hours, 20 hours of work on something that you probably need four people working on.”

As of January, the council had six full-time employees focused on environmental justice, Chair Brenda Mallory told The Post at the time. Some environmental justice advocates argue that up to 100 full-time staffers are needed.

White-Newsome, who holds a doctorate in environmental health science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has worked as an analyst for the New York-based We Act for Environmental Justice and as a senior program officer at the Kresge Foundationwhere she created an initiative to address climate and water inequities.

Peggy Sheparda member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice, said White-Newsome has the credentials to excel in her new role.

“She has a broad spectrum of experience,” Shepard told The Post. “Lei She’s worked in business, at the state government level and with environmental justice groups.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to review CEQ’s work under the Biden administration. Mallory, the CEQ chair, will testify.

A Senate Democratic aide told The Climate 202 that at least one Democrat – either Committee Chair Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) Or a panel member – will probably ask Mallory about the council’s staffing levels.

Democrats on the panel recognize, however, that many staffers are on detail to CEQ from other federal agencies, the aide said.

A council spokeswoman said in an email to The Climate 202 that the agency is “working to expand the team further over the coming weeks and months.”

The 2022 omnibus spending bill provides funding to support five additional full-time employees, the spokeswoman said, adding that Biden’s budget request for fiscal 2023 would “allow us to continue to support this increased staffing capacity.”

The spokeswoman also noted that CEQ recently hired Amanda Aguirre as senior adviser to the chair and Jessica Ennis as director for public engagement. Both of their portfolios include environmental justice.

Manchin says methane fee could be in bipartisan energy bill – with a catch

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) said Thursday that a possible bipartisan energy bill could include a fee on methane emissions – as long as the fee only applies to pipelines with the technology to remove the potent greenhouse gas.

“We are working on negotiations that they won’t be able to apply a methane fee if the pipeline is not able” to remove methane, Manchin said during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on President Biden‘s budget request for the Energy Department.

However, a Democratic aide for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which crafted the methane fee, told The Climate 202 that the provision was “designed to be enacted through reconciliation,” referring to the special budget process that Democrats are using to skirt the filibuster.

That could complicated efforts to include a methane fee in a possible bipartisan energy bill, which Manchin has been discussing with Republicans after coming out against the party-line reconciliation bill in December.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) Said in a statement to The Climate 202: “We have had productive conversations and discussed concerns with our methane program. Reining in excess methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is good for business and it’s good for our planet . “

White House voices concern about OPEC antitrust bill

The White House is expressing concern about legislation gaining momentum that would allow the United States to sue the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for manipulating energy markets, Ari Natter and Justin Sink of Bloomberg News report.

“The potential implications and unintended consequences of this legislation require further study and deliberation, particularly during this dynamic moment in the global energy markets brought about by [Russian president Vladimir] Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced the measure, paving the way for consideration by the full Senate. High oil prices have bolstered the bill’s path in Congress, despite it having been introduced multiple times over the past two decades.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, OPEC has declined to raise its output beyond modest increases, ignoring calls from global leaders to do so.

Senate confirms Kathryn Huff as assistant secretary of energy for nuclear

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Kathryn Huffthe Biden administration’s nominee to lead the Energy Department‘s Office of Nuclear Energy, by an 80-to-11 vote. Huff previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary in Energy’s nuclear office.

“Dr. Huff continues to demonstrate her exceptional commitment to nuclear carbon-free energy through programs which support the research, development, demonstration and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies, ” Maria Korsnickpresident and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the incoming assistant secretary to continue our progress toward securing a carbon-free future for America.”

Europe’s quest to replace Russian gas faces climate hurdles

Europe, which depends on Russia for 40 percent of its natural gas, is now looking to the United States, North Africa and parts of the Mediterranean to make up for some of the lost supply following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. But fossil fuel expansion faces resistance because of climate concerns and investor reluctance, Clifford Krauss reports for the New York Times.

Since the invasion, President Biden has pledged to increase liquefied natural gas exports to the European Union by 40 percent, accounting for roughly one-tenth of Russian shipments to the bloc. But before it can produce more, experts say the United States needs additional pipelines and export terminals. So far, three new terminals are being built, but they are not expected to be complete until 2026.

Environmentalists oppose the expansion of domestic LNG production, noting that it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. They argue that building the infrastructure would lock in emissions for decades and derail Biden’s climate agenda.

Energy Department unveils plans to refill strategic oil reserve

The Energy Department on Thursday announced it will solicit bids to purchase 60 million barrels of oil to replenish the Strategic Petroleum Reservewhich has taken a hit after President Biden approved to phased release of 180 million barrels from the reserve in March to help ease gasoline prices, CNN’s Matt Egan reports.

The agency said the process will begin in the fall, although it is expected to take years and largely will depend on costs and market conditions.

Large fires raging in New Mexico could worsen

The Calf Canyon Fire near Santa Fe has become New Mexico’s second largest on record, growing to 165,276 acres since April and potentially threatening 15,000 homes, Elizabeth Miller and Jason Samenow report for The Post.

The blaze – only 20 percent contained – has scorched structures and displaced thousands of people. On Wednesday, President Biden declared a major disaster in parts of the state so that federal assistance can reach residents.

The federal government’s National Climate Assessmentpublished in 2018, found that human-caused climate change is already contributing to an increase in fires in the Southwest.

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