Energy & Environment — Democrats take heart at falling gas prices

The steady decline of gas prices is boosting Democratic hopes. Meanwhile, the Biden administration rolls out updates on deepwater safety drilling rules, and a Senate Republican has a permitting reform bill of her own.  

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. 

Falling gas prices give Dems sense of optimism 

Weeks of falling gas prices are dulling what had previously been a sharp Republican weapon, giving Democrats another glimmer of hope ahead of the midterm elections.  

Months ago, sky-high gas prices were a major reason why Democrats’ prospects looked bleak. 

But as candidates hit the homestretch ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms, the lower gas prices are giving reasons for Democrats to think they can be more competitive. 

“It takes a lot of the effectiveness out of a cudgel when people aren’t seeing and feeling it as much,” Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said of gas prices. 

The fall of the summer: Since hitting a June peak of $5.02 on average across the country, U.S. gasoline prices have fallen by $1.30 and are averaging about $3.72 per gallon as of Friday. 

  • That’s still relatively high and up about 54 cents from a year ago. It’s about $1.15higher compared to the same day in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Still, the prices are going in a better direction for consumers and the party in power. 

Republicans have sought to make the election about inflation — with gas prices being a heavy target. But some polls suggest voters are now looking at other issues. 

By the numbers: In a recent poll from Marist, fewer Americans cited inflation as their top voting issue than in a previous poll, indicating that at least some focus is shifting onto other topics. 

  • While Marist found that 30 percent of Americans still consider inflation to be their top voting issue, that number is down from 37 percent of respondents who said the same in July.  
  • The Marist poll also found the number of those surveyed who said abortion was their top issue was growing, from 18 percent in July to 22 percent in September. 

Democrats have zeroed in on abortion rights as a key midterm issue ever since the Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade decision in June. The party has won two special House elections since the court’s decision amid some evidence that more women are registering to vote. 

Read more about the shift here. 

Biden wants stronger offshore drilling regulations

The Biden administration on Monday proposed to strengthen certain safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling that were loosened under the Trump administration.  

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that killed 11 workers and released
134 million gallons of fuel into the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration implemented new safety regulations.  

In 2019, the Trump administration revised those standards, making them more industry-friendly

On Monday, the Interior Department indicated that it would further tweak the rules, although the new proposal does not appear to be identical to what was put forth during the Obama years.  

  • Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters on Monday that she believes that the changes will “improve conditions for offshore workers and the public.” 
  • She criticized the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era rule, saying that it was done to “tip the balance of oversight of offshore activities back to the oil and gas industry.” 

What’s changing? Among the changes is the reinstatement of a requirement to send information on safety equipment failures to the federal government instead of to certain third parties that were permitted to collect data during the Trump years.  

Under the new rule, inspections of such failures will also need to start sooner. Under the Trump administration, inspections needed to begin 120 days after a failure; they would now need to start in 90. Under the Obama rule, inspections had to be finished within 120 days. 

Read more about the changes here. 

Senate GOP introduces its own permitting reform bill

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has introduced separate legislation to overhaul the permitting process for energy projects, as Democrats debate a similar proposal agreed on by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).  

Capito, the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, presented the bill as necessary to give industry “regulatory certainty.” She also said the proposal would expedite the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a project set to run through West Virginia. Manchin has made the completion of the pipeline a major priority, and the summary of the side deal reached with Schumer includes removing several obstacles to the goal.  

  • The West Virginia Republican also framed her separate introduction of a bill as in response to the lack of public text from Manchin, who has thus far released a summary of the proposal.   
  • “Since our calls for action and offers to see legislative text from the permitting ‘deal’ remain unheeded, Republicans are introducing this legislation today to deliver solutions to the roadblocks, delays, and postponements of key infrastructure projects across the country,” Capito said in a statement.  

Thirty-eight Senate Republicans co-sponsored the measure, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Minority Whip John Thune (S.D.) and Energy Committee ranking member Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.). 

After over a year of negotiations, Manchin struck a deal with Schumer to support a sweeping Democratic climate and infrastructure bill in exchange for agreeing to introduce the separate permitting reform bill. The side bill has sparked fierce backlash from climate hawks in the Democratic caucus, and it remains unclear if Republican support for the measure exists to offset any Democrats who decline to support it.   

Read more about the bill here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Cedar Creek wildfire stirs strength and stress among fleeing Oregon residents (OregonLive) 
  • White House alarm rises over Europe as Putin threatens energy supply (The Washington Post
  • EV supply chain announcements snowballing post Inflation Reduction Act (S&P Global
  • Here’s the alarming amount of ice California’s longest glacier just lost in the heat wave (The San Francisco Chronicle
  • The Green Dream to Rebuild a Sustainable Ukraine from the Rubble of War (Politico

ICYMI

🐦 Lighter click: Good for them

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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