Energy & Environment — Third of House Dems oppose Manchin side deal 

More than 70 Democrats are asking House leadership not to include permitting reforms backed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in a stopgap funding measure. Meanwhile, extreme drought threatens agriculture in California, and BlackRock speaks on Republican efforts against environmentally conscious investing.  

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. 

Dozens of Dems against permitting push in measure 

More than 70 House Democrats have signed a letter pressing Democratic leaders to not include an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on reforming the permit process for energy projects in a bill funding the government. 

  • The permitting reform language was offered to Manchin to win his vote on the massive climate, tax and health care bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law by President Biden last month. 
  • Manchin provided the critical support to get that bill through the evenly divided Senate after winning concessions from Democratic leaders. 

But in the new letter, the Democratic lawmakers are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) not to include the permitting reforms championed by Manchin in a stopgap funding measure that Congress is expected to take up this month. 

Shutdown stakes: Without a stopgap funding measure, the government will shut down on Oct. 1. 

  • “The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny,” the lawmakers wrote.  
  • “We urge you to ensure that these provisions are kept out of a continuing resolution or any other must-pass legislation this year,” they added in the letter that was spearheaded by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). 

The opposition from Democrats is a significant problem. If the group follows through on the letter, Democrats might not have the votes to pass a government funding bill if it includes the language backed by Manchin.  

And the fact that so many members signed on to the push may give them additional leverage.  

Some background: Democrats have historically opposed any changes perceived as undercutting environmental reviews in the permitting process, arguing that this could hamper the consideration of climate and pollution concerns.  

  • When they announced the agreement on the major climate, tax and health care bill, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Manchin said that they, along with Pelosi and President Biden, had reached a deal to pass permitting reform by October to secure Manchin’s vote. 
  • Schumer has already said publicly that he would include the provisions in a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution. 

The specifics that we have: Legislative text on these reforms have not yet been released, but a summary from Manchin’s office says they would set maximum timelines for environmental reviews assessing an energy project’s potential climate and pollution impacts, restrict states’ abilities to block projects that run through their waters and require the president to prioritize certain projects. 

Read more about the latest development here.  

California drought raises red flags for agriculture  

More than 97 percent of California is under at least “severe” drought conditions, raising the specter of difficult agricultural decisions in a state that produces a quarter of U.S. food.   

Farming is the main driver of water usage in the state, and the drought, now in its third year, comes alongside increasing pressure on California to bear more of the burden of Colorado River water cutbacks.  

As of Thursday, 97.52 percent of the nation’s most populous state is in a state of “severe” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, while 99.76 percent is at least “moderate” drought. This time last year, 95.56 percent of the state was classified as under “severe” drought.  

  • Much of the drought has been concentrated in the northern part of the state, said Alvar Escriva-Bou, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center. 
  • That’s important and a problem, since the Southern California gets much of its water supplies from the Sacramento Valley, he noted. 

California produces more than one-third of U.S. vegetables and three-quarters of domestic fruits and nuts, including $5.23 billion in grapes, $3.02 billion in strawberries and $2.03 billion in lettuce in 2021, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.  

Much of this agriculture is concentrated in the state’s Central Valley, the source of about 8 percent of the nation’s crop output, and the Salinas Valley, the source of about $1.36 billion in lettuce in 2019.  

Meanwhile on the river: California is the senior-most state in the interstate agreement governing allocations from the Colorado River, which, in the Golden State, primarily goes to farming in the Imperial Valley. As a result, the state avoided any cuts in a new round of allocations announced by the Bureau of Reclamation in August, with the cutbacks focusing on Arizona and Nevada instead. 

“Arizona is taking the brunt of that [because] they’re the junior water user, if you will, on the Colorado. But it seems that all the states in the Colorado River Basin are going to have to decrease their use of Colorado River water,” Holly Doremus, James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd professor of environmental regulation at Berkley Law School, told The Hill.  

Read more about the crisis here. 

WALL STREET DEFENDS ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTING 

Wall Street giants are defending investing in companies with environmentally friendly policies, moving away from investment in the fossil fuel industry following attacks on the practice from GOP leaders. 

Asset management giant BlackRock wrote a letter to GOP states that are trying to curtail a social movement in the financial sector known as Environmental and Social Corporate Governance (ESG), which seeks to move the U.S. economy away from the fossil fuels that contribute to global temperature rise.  

Nineteen attorneys general, from mostly Republican-led states, penned a letter to BlackRock in August inquiring about its investment practices.   

The attorneys general said BlackRock is pursuing a political agenda instead of investing solely for the purpose of getting the best return on the company’s investments.  

The firm responded that it favors companies that support the transition away from fossil fuels not because it’s pursuing a political agenda, but because these companies are a better long-term investment.  

  • “We believe investors and companies that take a forward-looking position with respect to climate risk and its implications for the energy transition will generate better long-term financial outcomes,” BlackRock said in a letter addressed to the attorneys general.  
  • The company said that the attorneys general were wrong about why BlackRock was participating in various ESG initiatives.  
  • “In managing our clients’ assets, BlackRock seeks to realize the best long-term financial results consistent with each client’s investment guidelines,” the company said. 

Read more here, from The Hill’s Tobias Burns. 

STUDY WARNS OF CLIMATE ‘TIPPING POINTS’ IN 1.5 DEGREE WARMING  

The degree of global warming that has already occurred has increased the likelihood of four major climate tipping points, according to a study published in the journal Science, and crossing the threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming would increase the likelihood of more. 

Researchers analyzed more than 200 existing studies on so-called tipping points for the climate and identified nine with global implications, along with another seven with more regionally-focused impacts.   

The 1.1 degrees of warming that have already occurred are in the lower range of what researchers identified as necessary to trigger several tipping points. These include the collapse of the Greenland ice cap and the West Antarctic ice sheet, a die-off of tropical coral reefs and the thaw of the carbon-intensive northern permafrost, according to the study. 

Several more extreme tipping points, such as the dieback of the Amazon rainforest, a shift in West African monsoons, and the collapse of east Antarctic glaciers would likely require at least 2 degrees of warming, according to the findings.

However, other tipping points, such as the collapse of the Atlantic Ocean currents that brings mild weather to Europe, could be triggered by broaching 1.5 degrees, the limit agreed to in the international Paris Climate Agreement. 

Read more here.

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

Wednesday

  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing examining the role of PR firms in preventing climate action (though the invited PR firms declined to appear, per a committee spokesperson).  
  • The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Legal Assault on Environmental Activists and the First Amendment” 

Thursday

  • The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing looking at “Big Oil’s prices, profits, and pledges” 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • EU to claw back energy firms’ profits rather than cap Russian gas price (Reuters
  • Crypto mining could hinder U.S. ability to battle climate change, White House says (CNBC
  • Why electricity prices are rising unevenly across New England (WBUR and NHPR
  • Remember That Coal Surge Last Year? Yeah, It’s Over (Inside Climate News
  • Europe’s Challenge to Survive Without Russian Gas in Five Charts (Bloomberg

😰 Lighter click: Turn down the temperature

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 next week.  

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