Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Biden’s Attack on Climate Change Gives Surprise Reprieve to Coal

President Joe Biden enlisted the entire U.S. government in the fight against climate change on Wednesday, even telling the Central Intelligence Agency to consider global warming a national security threat.

Yet he left out coal -- the fossil fuel most widely blamed for global warming -- when he froze the sale of leases to extract oil and gas from federal land.

It was a conspicuous omission for a president who has vowed to make the electric grid carbon-free by 2035 and who has said the world’s “future rests in renewable energy.”

“This order should have included all fossil fuel extraction on public lands,” said Mitch Jones, policy director at the environmental group Food and Water Watch, who called the decision to leave out coal both “a disappointment” and “scientifically unsound.”

“For years we’ve been force fed the false idea that fracked gas -- fracked methane -- is cleaner than coal, but, now, coal gets a pass?” Jones said. “The fight against climate change demands that we remain vigilant against all fossil fuel extraction.”

White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said coal leasing will still get a review as part of a broad analysis of fossil-fuel leasing. But unlike oil and gas development on federal land, which Biden promised to target when running for president, a pause on selling coal rights “was not part of the commitments on the campaign.”

Administration officials had planned to include coal in the order but the decision was made to leave it off the list by Monday afternoon, according to three people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named describing internal deliberations.

One factor in the White House’s decision was how it would affect litigation over then-President Donald Trump’s reversal of an earlier Obama-era moratorium. Conservation groups and Native Americans last year filed a fresh challenge of the Trump administration’s coal leasing restart, arguing the government did not sufficiently evaluate the environmental harm of the move. That case is still pending before a federal district court in Montana.

It’s not clear that a coal directive from the White House would have interfered with the ongoing litigation. And while federal coal sales have waned along with demand for the fossil fuel, the government has continued issuing new and modified leases, said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine.

“It’s really important that this administration stop issuing leases that allow for infrastructure commitments for the next 20 years on federal coal when it’s completely avoidable and completely unnecessary,” Harbine said.

Coal is politically treacherous terrain. Just ask former President Barack Obama, who for years was accused of leading a “war on coal” by advancing policies limiting mining techniques and power-plant pollution.

Trump used that claim on the campaign trail in 2016, highlighting miners in hardhats at his rallies and even pantomiming shoveling it out on stage. The appeal helped him notch big wins in the once reliably Democratic state of West Virginia.

Biden has largely avoided explicit talk about his plans for coal, though he’s repeatedly promised that a wave of clean energy investment can put people to work in high-paying, union jobs installing wind turbines and solar panels.

On Wednesday, Biden emphasized he would seek to “revitalize the economies of coal, oil and gas and power plant communities,” starting by creating jobs reclaiming old mines and revitalizing once-polluted sites.

Coal and its workforce have politically powerful champions, including Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, now leading the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Manchin said he expected Biden to keep his pledge to protect the jobs of workers displaced by the shift in energy sources.

“I intend to hold the administration to this while ensuring that the burden of any acceleration in already changing markets is not unduly placed on these communities that powered our nation to greatness,” Manchin said in an emailed statement.

Biden ordered the creation of an interagency working group focused on the coordinating investments and other efforts to assist communities tied to coal, oil and natural gas.

“We’re never going to forget the men and women who dug the coal and built the nation,” Biden vowed. “We’re going to do right by them -- make sure they have opportunities to keep building the nation and their own communities and getting paid well for it.”

A legal challenge to the UK government’s approval of a new gas-fired power plant has failed in the court of appeal

The challenge was brought after ministers overruled climate change objections from the planning authority. The plant is being developed by Drax in North Yorkshire and would be the biggest gas power station in Europe. It could account for 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions when fully operational, according to lawyers for ClientEarth, which brought the judicial review.

In 2019 the Planning Inspectorate recommended that ministers refuse permission for the 3.6GW gas plant on the grounds that it “would undermine the government’s commitment, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, to cut greenhouse emissions [by having] significant adverse effects.”

Andrea Leadsom, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy at the time of the planning application, rejected the advice and gave the project the go-ahead in October 2019. The high court rejected ClientEarth’s initial legal challenge last May.

The UK is under international scrutiny as it prepares to host a UN climate summit in November. The country has cut its carbon emissions by 41% since 1990 and in 2019 was the first major economy to put into law a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Boris Johnson produced a plan for a “green industrial revolution” in November.

But the government has been criticised for failing to stop a new coalmine in Cumbria, which it said was a local issue. This comment was derided by campaigners, and MPs warned it undermined the purpose of the Cop26 summit. Another, smaller gas plant is under construction by SSE in Lincolnshire.

The government has also been criticised for giving billions of pounds of financial support to fossil fuel projects overseas, including a gas project in Mozambique. Johnson said in December that this would end with “very limited exceptions”. A third runway at Heathrow, which campaigners say is incompatible with climate action, is still due to be built.

A Drax spokesperson said: “Drax power station plays a vital role in the UK’s energy system, generating reliable electricity for millions of homes and businesses.” He said the company aimed to be capturing more carbon dioxide than it emitted by 2030 by burning plants or wood in other power stations and burying the emissions.

He said the gas plant project was not certain to go ahead because it depended on Drax’s investment decisions and on securing a capacity market contract from the government.

“The climate and business case for large-scale gas power has only got worse since the Planning Inspectorate recommended Drax’s proposals be refused permission,” said ClientEarth’s lawyer Sam Hunter Jones. “The UK Climate Change Committee says that to get to net zero the UK needs a completely decarbonised power system by 2035 – that’s more than 15 years before the end of this project’s expected operating life.”

Hunter Jones said the ruling overturned the high court’s finding that major UK energy projects could not be rejected on climate grounds. “Decision-makers must now stop hiding behind planning policy to justify business-as-usual approvals of highly polluting projects,” he said. ClientEarth said it would not take the Drax case to the supreme court.

Doug Parr, the director of policy at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is yet another failure of climate leadership from the UK government ahead of a crucial UN climate summit. Ministers are behaving like someone trying to galvanise a pacifist rally by waving a machine gun.

“The government must U-turn and halt climate-wrecking projects, while the onus is also on Drax to do the right thing and take this project off the table.”

There have been a series of legal challenges in the last year against polluting infrastructure projects on climate grounds. The Good Law Project is pursuing legal action over decade-old energy policies it says the government was using to approve fossil fuel projects. A legal challenge by Transport Action Network aims to prevent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on a huge road-building programme.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy said: “We welcome the court of appeal’s ruling. As we transition to net zero emissions by 2050, our record levels of investment in renewables will meet a large part of the energy demand. However, natural gas will still provide a reliable source of energy while we develop and deploy low carbon alternatives.”

Don't be so green, Joe: Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatens to sue Biden for 'hostile' climate agenda he claims will 'kill jobs'

Texas is preparing to launch several legal battles against Joe Biden for his current and future climate initiatives, which Governor Greg Abbott claims are 'hostile' and 'job killers.'

The Republican governor signed an executive order Thursday directing Texas' state agencies to 'use all lawful powers and tools to challenge any federal action that threatened the continued strength and vitality of the emergency industry.'

'Each state agency should work to identify potential litigation, notice-and-comment opportunities, and any other means of preventing federal overreach within the law,' Abbott included in the announcement of his executive order.

The order from the Lone Star State's Republican leader came after Biden's climate czar John Kerry said blue collar energy workers were fed lies that environmental protections would come at a cost to their jobs and livelihoods.

'They've been fed the notion that somehow dealing with climate is coming at their expense,' Kerry said during a briefing at the White House Wednesday of energy workers. 'No, it's not. What's happening to them is happening because of other market forces already taking place.'<

He said those working in energy and coal who would lose their jobs through the new administration's agenda would now 'have better choices' – like going 'to work to make the solar panels.'

'Coal plants have been closing over the last 20 years,' Kerry outlined. 'So what President Biden wants to do is make sure those folks have better choices, that they have alternatives, and they can be the people who go to work to make the solar panels.'

The comment was blasted by the right as extremely 'out of touch' and 'elitist.'

Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted in retaliation: 'Rich, out-of-touch Dems lecture the thousands of blue-collar union members whose jobs are being deliberately destroyed by the Biden admin: 'Make 'better choices'. While you're at it, don't forget 'let them eat cake!''

'Texas is going to protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington D.C.,' Abbott said on Thursday in his plans to launch litigation against Biden.

He called the president's recent executive orders and actions related to the energy industry 'regulatory overreach' that could 'damage the stability of the Texas economy.'

'On his very first day in office, President Joe Biden signaled extreme hostility toward the energy industry, and thus toward Texas, by rejoining the job-killing Paris Agreement and signing Executive Order 13990,' he continued.

The executive order Abbott is referencing revoked federal funding and therefore stopped construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was a means of transporting crude oil to refineries in the U.S.

'Texas is not going to stand idly by and watch the Biden administration kill jobs in Midland, in Odessa or any other place across the entire region,' Abbott asserted.

Biden signed a slew of executive orders related to the environment that will affect the energy sector – and he put Kerry, an Obama-era secretary of state, in charge of his climate initiatives.

Those orders revoked the permit for the massive pipeline project and put a stop to new oil and gas leases on federal lands. He also rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which Donald Trump existed during his presidency over claims it was inherently unfair to the U.S.

Australia: Irrigators' Council calls for honest conversation as its research shows inflows to river systems have halved

It looks like basic science is too much for the irrigators. A warmer climate would produce more evaporation off the oceans, leading to MORE rain, not less. So whatever the reason may be for reduced rainfall, it is NOT due to global warming

Chief executive officer Claire Miller called for an open and honest conversation to be had about about general security water allocations and how much water was held back to safeguard the river in times of drought.

"What we've done is we've taken the inflow records since 1895 from Water NSW and we've had a look at what's happened in the last 20 years there," Ms Miller said.

While research found inflows halved right across the basin, it also predicted there was a long-term warming and drying trend.

"The same pattern has been happening across the basin over the past 20 years and if it it keeps up it does present some very confronting issues around allocations, water security and availability, and finding that right balance to keep irrigated agriculture going," Ms Miller said.

"This warming, drying trend is consistent with climate change predictions."

Ms Miller said it would invoke some honest conversations about risk appetite when it comes to drought reserves, and that some irrigators had copped successive policy decisions that hampered their operations.

"All of these come together, and you've just got like this death by 1,000 cuts to New South Wales general security allocations," she said.

The fact that irrigators are talking about climate change and about having open, honest and difficult conversations regarding water availability was welcomed by the Murray Darling Association.

Murray Darling Association chief executive officer Emma Bradbury said there was a new maturity in the negotiations over water. "To see NSW Irrigator's Council talking about water inflows, availability, management of allocations, climate change and changes to legislation is extremely encouraging," Ms Bradbury said.

"This is in the backdrop of supporting farmers, productive agriculture, communities and the environment and having those decisions based in science.

"With COVID we have used the science to make good decisions and I think we are ready to do the same with water to have a healthy and sustainable system."

Ms Miller also questioned why areas like the Murray Valley had its allocations slashed, while a high priority reserve of water permanently held in the Snowy Hydro, was now being stored away in the allocation framework for NSW.

"This reserve was was never there before, it was sort of a 'use it or lose it', and the water would go back into the the general pool for really allocation to everyone," she said.

"As well as that emerging over the last few years we've also got very large drought reserves that are held back in the Murray and Murrumbidgee storages."

General security irrigators in the NSW Murray Valley currently have an allocation of 46 per cent.

Storage dams which feed into the Murray system are currently at 62 per cent capacity for Dartmouth Dam; the Hume Dam is at 54 per cent; and Lake Victoria is 48 per cent full.

She recognised the drought reserves were a safeguard against a repeat of the Millennium drought and ensure rivers runs and town have a domestic supply of water at all times.

Ms Miller said the high priority reserve held in the Snowy Hydro needed to be more transparent. "We need to look at that risk appetite and ask whether we've got too much in drought reserves and too much of a belts and braces approach," she said.




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