GOP governors call for delay on waters rule
Republican governors are calling on the Biden administration to delay implementation of a key rule until after a Supreme Court decision, a watchdog group warns of a chilling effect from a White House policy provision and a new report details how much more expensive coal is than renewables.
This is 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.
GOP governors want clean water rule delayed
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) called on the Biden administration to delay implementation of the revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule until the Supreme Court rules this summer in a case pertaining to the Clean Water Act (CWA).
What are they saying? In a letter, RGA members argued implementing the most recent revision would create new bureaucratic hurdles at the state level only for the court’s decision to potentially render them moot. The upcoming decision, Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, will determine whether most wetlands and streams can be considered waters of the United States under the CWA.
- “We call into question the timing and necessity of the rule with the Court’s upcoming Sackett decision which is expected by June of this year. That opinion could significantly impact the final rule and its implementation,” the letter says.
- “To change the rule multiple times in six months is an inefficient and wasteful use of State and federal resources and will impose an unnecessary strain on farmers, builders, and every other impacted sector of the American economy.”
The backstory: The EPA issued a 2015 WOTUS rule defining the waterways protected under the CWA, while in 2020 the Trump administration issued its own rule substantially narrowing the protections. In late 2022, the Biden administration issued a WOTUS rule that largely split the difference between the two, with Radhika Fox, the EPA’s top water official, calling the new regulation a “balanced, middle-of-the-road rule.”
The Sackett case, brought by two Idaho homeowners after they were told a wetlands permit was required for construction on their property, has caused alarm among conservationists, who have warned it could be an opportunity for a right-leaning court to further abridge EPA authority. The court previously curtailed the EPA’s powers last summer, in a decision tossing a rule that outlined the required transition to renewable energy for fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Read more about the request here.
Science integrity measure is a ‘gag rule’: watchdog
A whistleblower and advocacy group is raising concerns over what they call a “gag rule” against federal scientists that was included in White House scientific integrity guidelines.
Earlier this month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a model scientific integrity policy as part of a large framework on the issue for the federal government.
What does it say? This model policy includes a section that says agency scientists should “refrain from making or publishing statements that could be construed as being judgments of, or recommendations on” federal policies, unless they have gotten authorization to do so.
This model integrity policy is described as an example of what an ideal policy would look like, and is broadly not in place at federal agencies yet. Instead, it will inform what agency scientific integrity policies could look like.
The Agriculture Department’s integrity policy includes similar language saying that scientists shouldn’t make policy judgments.
In a press release complaining about the measure on Monday, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility described the provision against policy judgments as a “gag rule.”
- Jeff Ruch, the group’s Pacific director, said that restricting federal scientists from commenting on policy is the opposite of what a scientific integrity policy is supposed to do.
- “Any time a scientist wrote something that had any policy implications, it could be suppressed, which runs counter to the whole idea of a scientific integrity policy,” Ruch said.
On the other hand: The OSTP pushed back on the group’s characterization, with a spokesperson saying, “There is no gag rule.”
“OSTP is working with Federal departments and agencies to ensure that Federal scientific integrity policies and practices support scientific communication with the media and the public, including the timely release of scientific information,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
Read more about the concerns here.
Coal plants cost more than renewables: group
All of the nation’s coal-fired power plants but one are less cost-effective to operate than constructing new solar or wind facilities in the United States, according to a study published Monday by the firm Energy Innovation.
Analysts compared operating costs at the 210 coal plants in the continental U.S. in 2021 to the estimated costs of developing new solar and wind, both within about 28 miles of the plants and within the broader region.
The numbers: They determined that 209 of the plants were costlier than either wind or solar would be. When adding energy community tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act, 199 of the plants were more expensive than solar plants within 28 miles would be, while 104 plants have cheaper wind-energy sources within 28 miles.
The single plant that is cost-competitive with wind and solar is Wyoming’s Dry Forks Station, which the analysis determined is one of the newest and cleanest in the U.S. coal fleet and is still only $0.32 per megawatt-hour cheaper than regional wind would be. If a similar plant were built now, capital costs would keep it from being competitive with renewable energy.
- Overall, the median cost for coal-fired plants is $36 per megawatt-hour, compared to $24 per megawatt-hour for new solar.
- Analysts also found that the savings from transitioning to locally produced solar energy could be used to add 137 gigawatts worth of batteries across all plants and at least 80 percent of the capacity at one in three existing coal plants.
- In other words, they wrote, “the economics of replacing coal with renewables are so favorable that they could fund a massive battery storage buildout to add reliability value along with emissions reductions.”
Read more about the report here.
Nearly 6M homes had power cut during pandemic
Utility companies in the U.S. have disconnected customers an estimated 5.7 million times since 2020, according to a new report.
The disconnections have come even as those companies have paid billions to shareholders and executives, according to a report published on Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity, BailoutWatch and the Energy and Policy Institute.
- “No one should ever have to choose between having food on the table and keeping the heat on,” Selah Goodson Bell, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, said in a statement.
- “It’s inexcusable for utility executives and shareholders to profit while Americans suffer climate extremes and get punished for being poor,” he added.
Fossil fuel market upheaval and extreme weather drove electric and gas disconnections to new heights in 2022, the advocacy groups found.
They estimated that the first 10 months of 2022 saw 29 percent more power disconnections and 76 percent more gas disconnections than in the same period of 2021.
- Just 12 companies were responsible for 86 percent of these shutoffs from 2020 to October 2022.
- These companies — led by NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Exelon Corp. — could have avoided turning off power or gas to late-paying residents at the cost of just 1 percent of the dividends doled out to shareholders over the same period, the group charged.
Read more from The Hill’s Saul Elbein.
ON TAP TOMORROW
The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “American Energy Expansion: Strengthening Economic, Environmental, and National Security.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
- In the Fight Over Gas Stoves, Meet the Industry’s Go-To Scientist (The New York Times)
- Camp Lejeune Ads Surge Amid ‘Wild West’ of Legal Finance, Tech (Bloomberg Law)
- EPA’s $100 Billion Climate-Aid Windfall Spurs Turmoil (The Wall Street Journal)
- How Las Vegas declared war on thirsty grass and set an example for the desert Southwest (The Los Angeles Times)
- Clean energy is taking over the Texas grid. State officials are trying to stop it. (Vox)
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.