Energy & Environment — Europe to join US in banning Russian oil
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The European Union (EU) has a plan to phase out all Russian oil by the end of the year, congressional Republicans are taking aim at a climate financial risk disclosure requirement and the Pentagon will pause burning of “forever chemicals.”

This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here. 

EU proposes ban on Russian oil imports 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen formally proposed a ban on all imports of Russian oil by the end of 2022 over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a Wednesday speech to the European Parliament.  

“When [European] leaders met in Versailles, they agreed to phase out our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” von der Leyen said, citing earlier moves to divest from Russian coal imports. 

“Let’s be clear: it will not be easy, because some member-states are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to do it, so today we will propose to ban all Russian oil from Europe.”  

What’s covered? The European leader went on to say the ban would apply to all imports, “sea-borne and pipeline, crude and refined.” 

  • Von der Leyen said the phaseout would occur in an “orderly fashion” that reduced disruption to the market and bought time to explore alternatives. The EU will end crude imports in the next six months and refined imports by the end of 2022, she added.  
  • “Thus, we maximize the pressure on Russia, while at the same time, we minimize the collateral damage to us and to our partners around the globe, because to help Ukraine, we have to make sure that our economy remains strong,” she said.  

What’s at stake: EU member states buy about a quarter of the gas they use from Russia. Data from the International Energy Agency indicates the EU bought about 2.3 million barrels of Russian oil a day, or about half of all exports, in 2021. 

  • While the EU has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia since the country invaded Ukraine, it has not previously followed the U.S. and the U.K. in outright bans on oil imports.
  • On Wednesday, prices of both U.S. and European Brent crude oil rose somewhat, with U.S. crude at $108 while Brent was at $110 per barrel on Wednesday afternoon, even though the EU proposal was already long-anticipated. 

The proposed ban would still require a vote by all EU member states. 

While von der Leyen did not identify the members concerned about their reliance on Russian energy, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs tweeted Wednesday morning: “We do not see any plans or guarantees on how a transition could be managed based on the current proposals, and how HU’s energy security would be guaranteed.”

Congress last month passed a bill codifying a U.S. ban on Russian oil imports, though Europe has struggled to quickly follow suit.

Read more about the announcement here. 

Republicans target SEC climate proposal 

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are targeting the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed rule that would make companies disclose information about their contributions to climate change.

In a Wednesday letter that was first obtained by The Hill, the panel’s 19 Republicans requested a briefing and documents on the proposal. 

“The American people have a right to know what, if any, effect the Rule will have on their ability to access affordable goods and services,” they wrote. 

They also called the proposed rule “an overly broad expansion of the SEC’s authority” and said it “contravenes the mission of the agency.” 

The lawmakers asked for the committee’s communications relating to the proposal, as well as any communications with the White House National Economic Counsel and outside groups that may have occurred.  

What does this mean? As members of the minority party, Republicans are limited in their oversight powers, but the issues they home in on now may provide insight as to what they will pursue if they retake the majority next year. 

The Hill has reached out to the SEC for comment. 

The regulation in question would require companies to reveal to investors both ways in which climate change may threaten their financial stability and also information about their own contributions to climate change. 

When it was proposed in March, SEC Commissioner Allison Lee defended it, noting that “physical and transition risks from climate change can materialize in financial markets in the form of credit risk, market risk, insurance or hedging risk, operational risk, supply chain risk, reputational risk and liquidity risk.”  

Read more about the letter here.

PENTAGON HALTS BURNING ‘FOREVER CHEMICALS’

The Defense Department will temporarily stop burning toxic “forever chemicals” until it formally issues a guidance for how to dispose of the substances, according to a new memo.

In the memo, dated last week Paul Cramer, who is acting as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment, said the military would issue a “temporary prohibition” on incineration of a class of chemicals known as PFAS.  

“Because DoD has not yet finalized the guidance required…DoD must immediately discontinue contracting activities for the incineration of any PFAS material” including firefighting foam, he wrote. 

PFAS refers to a class of chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancers and other illnesses. They have been used in a variety of household products like waterproof apparel and nonstick pans and have also been used in military firefighting foam.  

The Air Force said in 2017 that burning these chemicals as a means for disposing of them could produce “environmentally unsatisfactory” byproducts including those that may be toxic or contribute to climate change. 

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they tend to linger both in the human body and the environment. 

Read more about the memo here.

COMMITTEE UPDATES

  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday advanced the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement that aims to phase down the use of superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to the full floor for ratification. HFCs are planet-warming gases that can be hundreds or thousands of times as powerful as carbon dioxide. They are often used as refrigerants. The amendment advanced by a voice vote, but Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) asked to be recorded as voting against the advancement, according to a Republican committee spokesperson. Congress, however, already passed legislation that would phase down the use of HFCs in 2020.  
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced the Water Resources Development Act, a bill that passes every other year and enables flood control and ecosystem restoration. 

ON TAP TOMORROW

The Senate Energy Committee will hold a hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2023 for the Department of Energy. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is scheduled to testify. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • For marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous (The Associated Press
  • Another delay and cost increase announced for Mountain Valley Pipeline (The Roanoke Times
  • Volkswagen is prolonging its use of coal due to Russian energy ‘threat’ (CNBC
  • Japan Says It Needs Nuclear Power. Can Host Towns Ever Trust It Again? (The New York Times
  • Feds file to appeal re-listing of gray wolves as endangered (MLive

   And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: Going off-scripture 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

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