Energy and environment – Biden officials give green light to car efficiency standards

Welcome to the Friday evening on energy and the environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here and view the full edition here.

Today, we look at tougher mileage standards for cars, a revived Obama-era EPA rule scrapped under the Trump administration, and a brutal weather forecast after the wildfires.

For The Hill, we are Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Email us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com.

Let’s go.

Biden administration tightens mileage standards

The Department of Transportation announced on Friday that it had tightened car efficiency standards that had been reduced by the Trump administration.

The department finalized standards that would require automakers to produce fleets of cars and light trucks averaging 49 miles per gallon in the 2026 model year..

How do they compare to past rules? The new standards are stricter than Trump-era standards, which would have required 40 miles per gallon for the 2026 fleet.

However, the actual totals may appear slightly different under each standard, as the ministry noted that actual fuel economy levels are generally lower than the test conditions under which the standards are applied.

Still, the standards should have both climate and consumer benefits, and officials argued Friday that they will also improve the country’s energy independence by reducing its dependence on oil.

“We cannot let the future of families or our national economy be decided in the boardrooms of oil companies,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters. “Today’s rule will save 234 billion gallons of fuel by 2050 and move us toward a less dependent future.”

What does this mean for climate change? On climate change, the rule should also have significant impacts. Buttigieg said it would stop 5.5 trillion pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere by 2050.

And the administration said the new rule would save consumers nearly $1,400 in fuel expenses over the lifetime of vehicles produced in those model years.

The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to climate change in the United States, and light-duty vehicles are responsible for more than half of those emissions.

The move comes after the Environmental Protection Agency late last year also reversed Trump administration cuts to regulations on how much carbon dioxide that warms the planet and can emit through their exhaust pipes.

Learn more about the new standards here.

EPA revives Obama-era rule on polluters

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has resurrected an Obama-era proposal scrapped during the Trump administration that would remove Clean Air Act (CAA) liability protections frequently invoked by industrial polluters.

Under the new proposal, state and federal operating permits would no longer have the ability to make a so-called emergency affirmative defense. This defense allowed sources that exceeded Clean Air Act emissions limits to avoid liability by attributing the violation to “emergency” circumstances.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan signed the rule earlier this week, with a 45-day public comment period to follow.

“These provisions, which have never been required components of state business licensing programs, are being removed because they are inconsistent with the CAA’s enforcement structure and United States Court of Appeals court rulings. United States for the DC circuit,” the proposed rule reads.

“The removal of these provisions is consistent with other EPA actions involving affirmative defenses and would harmonize the application and implementation of emissions limitations across the various CAA programs.”

The story so far: The rule has remained in limbo for years after it was initially introduced in 2016 by the Obama administration and then withdrawn by the Trump administration in 2018.

In October, the Biden administration withdrew Trump-era guidelines allowing state governments to create exemptions like those covered by the rule, which environmental groups praised but said should be followed by the stimulus Obama-era efforts.

Learn more about the rule here.

POST-WILDFIRE EXTREME RAINFALLS TO DOUBLE ACROSS WESTERN US: STUDY

Extreme rainfall from wildfires in the West – on the rise due to climate change – could more than double by the end of the 21st century, posing a serious threat to human lives, according to a new study.

When rainfall inundates an area that has just suffered a fire, the ground is unable to easily hold moisture, leading to significant destruction such as debris flows, landslides and flash floods, scientists have warned. in a Science Advances article on Friday.

If Americans continue to emit excessive amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, by the end of the century extreme rainfall events will be eight times more likely to occur in the year following a wildfire in the Pacific Northwest, the authors found. In California, the incidence of such back-to-back extreme events will more than double.

“This is very concerning, given the destruction that accompanies these kinds of events,” lead author Danielle Touma, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said in a statement. “Clearly we need to better understand the risks, as this creates a major threat to people and infrastructure.”

Learn more about The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

WILL BIDEN’S SPR CUT GAS PRICES?

President Biden’s decision to release about 180 million barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic reserve is expected to push gasoline prices down slightly.

Patrick De Haan, head of oil analysis at gasoline price website GasBuddy, said prices could fall 10 to 20 cents a gallon following Biden’s announcement that oil will be released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

But he cautioned that it’s unclear exactly where prices will land in the coming weeks, as the release is not happening in a vacuum and other factors can push prices up or down.

Learn more here.

IN SERVICE NEXT WEEK

Tuesday

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the benefits of the challenges of electrifying the Postal Service fleet. The Inspector General of the Postal Service is expected to appear.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to review the implementation of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, focusing on the needs and experiences of stakeholders.
  • The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on the Farm Bill and renewable energy opportunities in rural America
  • House Natural Resources Committee to Hold Hearing on Wildfire Management, Ecosystem Restoration and Resilient Communities

Wednesday

  • The House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing with testimony from executives from Exxon, BP, Chevron and Shell, among others, titled “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America’s Pain at the Pump”
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing to consider the President’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2023 for the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Air Quality, Climate, and Nuclear Safety will hold hearings to consider the nominations of Beth Pritchard Geer, Robert P. Klein, and L. Michelle Moore, members of the Board of Directors, and Benny R. Wagner as Inspector General of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Thursday

  • The House Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing entitled “Economic Climate Solutions: Investing in Energy Efficiency to Promote Energy Security and Lower Energy Bills”

WHAT WE READ

  • Wild pigs are biological time bombs. Can California stem its ‘exponential’ damage? (The Los Angeles Times)
  • This Texas town’s water crisis is shaping a Democratic congressional primary (HuffPost)
  • It is supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals. First, she just needs to fix Trump’s mess and decades of neglect. (ProPublica)
  • How the war changed the lives of climate activists in Russia (The New York Times)

And finally, something quirky but in tune with the times: Have a good rest.

That’s all for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s energy and environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you on Monday.

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