Energy & Environment — Biden pushes oil CEOs on gas prices

President Biden calls for oil companies to step up production, the EPA says “forever chemicals” are more dangerous than previously thought and Democrats who want a tax on oil profits are encouraged by the White House. 

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. 

Biden presses oil companies to boost supply

President Biden is demanding top oil executives boost the supply of gasoline, diesel and other refined products on the market to combat rising prices.   

  • Biden told the executives in a letter this week that historically high profit margins for refining oil into gasoline and diesel were “not acceptable” during a time of war and called on the companies to work with his administration to address price increases caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to copies of the letter shared with The Hill.   
     
  • Biden also said he was directing Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to convene an emergency meeting on gas prices with industry leaders in the coming days. And he warned that he is prepared to use his emergency powers to increase refinery output and capacity. 

“There is no question that Vladimir Putin is principally responsible for the intense financial pain the American people and their families are bearing. But amid a war that has railed the gasoline prices more than $1.70 per gallon, historically high refinery profit margins are worsening the pain,” Biden wrote in the letter, copies of which were sent to executives at Exxon Mobil, Shell, Valero, Marathon, Phillips 66, BP and Chevron.  

“Your companies and others have an opportunity to take immediate actions to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel, and other refined product you are producing and supplying to the United States market,” the president wrote. 

  • Biden also asked the companies to submit “an explanation of any reduction of your refining capacity since 2020” to Granholm as well as any proposals to address current challenges with supply, price and refining capacity.   
  • The letter represents the latest effort by Biden to address record-high gasoline prices, which topped $5 per gallon on average nationally over the weekend.   

Biden has limited options to address high gas prices unilaterally and has taken a handful of actions, including ordering an unprecedented release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve earlier this year.  

Gas prices were already elevated earlier this year but have been severely exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, which began at the end of February and disrupted the global energy supply.   

Read more from The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant.

EPA lowers safety level for ‘forever chemicals’

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is saying that certain types of “forever chemicals” are more dangerous than previously thought and is considering regulating these compounds in groups instead of individually.  

“Forever chemicals,” a nickname for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are a class of toxic chemicals that have been linked to illnesses including testicular and kidney cancers and thyroid disease.  

  • A Biden administration official told reporters on Tuesday night that the agency was lowering its health advisory — meant to inform the public about how much is considered safe to drink — for the two most notorious types of PFAS, known as PFOA and PFOS to “near zero” in new interim advisories. 
  • It is also setting new final drinking water advisories for two other types of PFAS, called GenX and PFBS. Previously, it did not have advisories for these substances. 

What does this mean? These health notices aren’t regulations and don’t set enforceable limits on the substances. There is not currently a federal drinking water limit for PFAS, but the EPA is expected to propose the first-ever regulations this year. 

The agency has previously announced that it planned to set drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS, but an official told reporters on Tuesday that the administration was also considering regulating them in bigger groups.  

Meanwhile: As the EPA weighs its anticipated regulation, it is also looking at its options for setting limits on more types of PFAS in groups, the person said, noting that GenX and PFBS could be part of these groups.  

  • Health advocates have called for regulating more than just the two types of PFAS, instead saying they should be regulated as a class of chemicals. This is because, in the past, industry has swapped out one type of PFAS for another. The chemicals also often occur together in mixtures instead of one single type appearing by itself.  
  • The advisories issued on Wednesday are expected to inform the agency’s future regulation.  

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on the new advisory levels. 

Read more about the announcement here.

Big Oil windfall tax proponents ‘encouraged’ by letter

Congressional Democrats who have pushed for a windfall profits tax on oil companies said Wednesday that they’re encouraged by similar rhetoric coming from President Biden.  

  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the House sponsor of one of two such bills, said on a press call that he was “encouraged by the president’s leadership on this, and we’ve had people in the White House say they’re considering the idea.”  
  • “The president has written a strong letter recently to the oil executives and become more vocal on the issue,” Khanna added. “So I see momentum for the idea.”  

In a letter this week, Biden called on oil executives to increase production of refined products, saying the industry’s historically high profits are “worsening the pain” caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to energy markets.  

“Your companies and others have an opportunity to take immediate actions to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel, and other refined product you are producing and supplying to the United States market,” Biden wrote. 

Khanna called the idea of a windfall profits tax “common sense” and a “mainstream, reasonable proposal.” Although the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has spearheaded the proposals, he noted that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has imposed a similar tax in the United Kingdom. 

“There’s no reason we can’t do this in the United States,” he said. “When we did something similar in 1980, it led to a decrease in prices, and actually an increase in production for the first few years in the 1980s. If you look at the graphs of the prices and production in the early 1980s, this argument of how it’s going to have a negative effect is just not true.” 

Read more about the call here.

HOUSE PASSES BIPARTISAN WILDLIFE BILL

The House on Tuesday evening passed bipartisan legislation that would put nearly $1.4 billion a year toward wildlife protection efforts. 

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act passed the chamber 231-190 Tuesday, sending it to the Senate, where it has already passed the Environment and Public Works Committee on a bipartisan basis. 

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in a statement described the bill as the biggest infusion of funds toward wildlife and habitat conservation in several decades. It is projected to aid in the recovery of 1,600 threatened or endangered species. 

“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is landmark legislation that takes long-overdue action to address this crisis by using innovative, on-the-ground collaboration that will protect our nation’s environmental heritage,” Dingell said in a statement. “We have a conservation, economic, and moral obligation to act in order to protect and recover America’s wildlife for future generations. Grateful to the broad, bipartisan coalition that has fought for this legislation, and I urge the Senate to act on this bill right away.”

SOLVE FOR X

A group of bipartisan centrists known as the Problem Solvers Caucus met with energy industry representatives on Wednesday morning as the government scrambles to try to lower soaring gasoline prices.  

Attendees on Wednesday morning included members of the bipartisan group as well as Amanda Eversole, executive vice-President and chief advocacy officer for the American Petroleum Institute; Karen Harbert, CEO of the American Gas Association and Heather Zichal, CEO of American Clean Power, which represents renewables.  

After the meeting, caucus co-chair Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) said that the meeting was about hearing about “potential steps” lawmakers can take to get gas prices down.  

He added that he’d also like to see the Biden administration huddle with oil and gas executives to address short term issues, and would like to see climate legislation to address longer term problems.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Leaked list: EPA eyes closure plans for 160 coal ash ponds (E&E News
  • More than 165,000 people in Odessa still without water after aging line breaks (The Texas Tribune
  • $1.9 billion oil and gas merger targets Permian Basin amid growing energy prices (The Carlsbad Current-Argus
  • Dust from the Sahara Desert is bringing heat and dry air to Tampa Bay (The Tampa Bay Times
  • Climate change could trigger toxic disasters in Illinois, new report finds (The Chicago Sun-Times)

ICYMI

And finally, something offbeat and off-beatAnother member of the 27 Club. 

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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