Energy & Environment — Biden administration cancels offshore oil lease sales
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The Interior Department is canceling three planned offshore oil and gas lease sales, and a key Democrat is asking for documents from the Postal Service on its choice for a mostly gasoline-powered vehicle fleet. 

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. 

Interior axes lease sales off Alaska, in Gulf of Mexico 

The Interior Department will not move forward with planned oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, it announced Wednesday night.  

A spokesperson for the department confirmed the Cook Inlet lease sale would not proceed due to insufficient industry interest. Meanwhile, the planned sale of two leases, lease 259 and lease 261, in the Gulf of Mexico will not proceed due to contradictory court rulings on the leases, the spokesperson confirmed.  

The Alaska lease would have covered more than 1 million acres. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management previously canceled lease sales in the area in 2007, 2008 and 2011, also citing lack of interest from industry at the time. 

Enviros cheer, GOP jeers 

  • “I’m glad Cook Inlet belugas won’t be forced to face even more oil drilling in their only habitats, but much more must be done to protect these endangered whales from offshore drilling,” Kristen Monsell, Oceans Program Litigation Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. 
  • Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said in a statement that the decision “approaches levels of irresponsibility and reckless stupidity never seen before.” 

The recent legal history: 

  • Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order freezing all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Last summer, Judge James Cain, a Trump appointee, struck down the ruling, prompting the Biden administration to appeal. 
  • Meanwhile, in January, the Washington, D.C., District Court invalidated another Gulf of Mexico lease sold by the federal government, lease 257. The administration is not appealing the January ruling, although it affects a separate lease from the ones named by the Interior spokesperson.  

Read more about the cancellation here. 

Top Dem asks for info on Postal Service EV issue 

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) on Thursday pressed Postmaster general Louis DeJoy for further information on the Postal Service’s acquisition of majority gas-powered vehicles for its fleet rather than electric.  

In the letter, Maloney expressed concerns that the Postal Service based its order on outdated and erroneous data.  

“Based on testimony at the Committee’s recent hearing on this topic and information obtained from the contractor building these vehicles, I am concerned that the Postal Service relied on flawed assumptions to justify the purchase of gas-powered trucks while underestimating the cost savings and environmental benefits from electric vehicles,” Maloney wrote.    

Specifically, Maloney cited testimony by Jill Naamane of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) gave to the committee.  

  • In her testimony, Naamane said a GAO analysis found that the Postal Service conducted cost analyses based on a massive underestimation of the cost of gas between 2020 and 2030
  • In determining a gas-powered fleet would be more cost-effective than an electric fleet, Naamane testified, the Postal Service assumed gas would cost between $2.21 and $2.36 during this period, about $2 less than current average costs

Maloney also expressed concerns that the gas-powered vehicle in question was “designed to avoid emissions limits,” noting that a Postal Service official testified that the weight was exactly 1 pound heavier than the weight at which strict emissions limits would kick in. The same official testified that manufacturer Oshkosh, rather than the Postal Service, determined the vehicle weight.  

In her letter, Maloney called on DeJoy to conduct a new cost analysis and environmental impact analysis, as well as develop a new proposal to make a greater share of the vehicle order electric. 

And, she asks for documents including a “complete, unredacted” cost analysis and communications related to the decision on how many electric vehicles to purchase.  

Read more about her letter here. 

MINERS PUSH MANCHIN ON RECONCILIATION 

West Virginia coal miners on Thursday launched a campaign urging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support a Democratic budget reconciliation bill that would extend funding for black lung patients.   

President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which Manchin torpedoed late last year, included Manchin’s bill to extend an increased coal excise tax that funds benefits for coal miners suffering from black lung disease.  

The higher tax rate expired at the end of last year, bringing uncertainty to a trust fund that provides monthly payments and medical benefits to more than 25,000 miners battling the debilitating disease. 

Advocates say that a Democratic reconciliation package is the only major legislative proposal that includes the bill, which would extend the excise tax for 10 years.  

“That bill is not going to move. It’s gonna have to be included in a package, and right now this is the only package that has been proposed that would fit this bill,” Courtney Rhoades, an organizer at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, said during a Thursday press conference in Charleston.  

Roughly 1 in 5 coal miners in central Appalachia suffer from black lung disease, advocates say, which is caused by miners inhaling toxic coal and silica dust on the job. Doctors haven’t found a cure to the deadly disease, which slowly cuts off oxygen flow.  

As part of their “We’re Counting on You, Joe” campaign, advocates are running digital and radio ads in West Virginia urging Manchin to take action. 

“If we don’t get something passed, we’ve got to wait until next year to get something done,” said Gary Hairston, president of the National Black Lung Association. “So we need Joe on board with us today.” 

Read more here, from The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom. 

OFFSHORE WIND LEASE SALE NETS $315M 

Two companies on Wednesday each won the right to develop offshore wind energy off the coast of North Carolina. 

An Interior Department lease sale netted a total of $315 million. It gave Duke Energy and TotalEnergies the right to build wind farms in the Carolina Long Bay. 

According to the Interior Department, the leased areas have the potential to spur up to 1.3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power about 500,000 homes. 

The Biden administration has indicated that it hopes to deploy 30 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity from offshore wind by 2030. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Natural-Gas Prices Soar in Europe After Russia Sanctions Energy Companies (The Wall Street Journal
  • Study finds cleaner air leads to more Atlantic hurricanes (The Associated Press
  • California got snow in April and May. What does it mean for the snowpack? (SFGate
  • Big Oil braces for shareholder revolt over climate plans in proxy voting season (CNBC
  • Cancer-causing gas emission spikes continue at refineries (E&E News

ICYMI

And finally, something offbeat and off-beatHoley Moly! 

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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