3 big reasons why the Biden #climate agenda is floundering — #Colorado Newsline

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, left, and Sen Joe Manchin participated in a roundtable event hosted by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, on March 18, 2022. (Interior Department via Flickr/Public domain)

President Joe Biden’s climate agenda took a hit this month when the Interior Department said it would open 144,000 acres of federal land up for oil and gas development to comply with a court order to restart fossil fuel development.

The announcement marked yet another setback for a presidential climate plan that was once seen as historically ambitious. 

Biden’s signature climate bill has gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate, he’s called for more domestic fossil fuel production to combat rising gas prices, and members of his own party doubt whether he can meet goals for a U.S. transition to electric vehicles.

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After noting climate as one of four crises facing the nation during his 2020 campaign, Biden gave it only a passing mention in his State of the Union address in March.

The White House defense on the oil and gas leases is that a court order forced adoption of a policy contrary to Biden’s climate objectives. Accompanying the move was a raise in the royalty rates for energy companies drilling on federal land, a reform long sought by environmental advocates. 

But it still represented a departure from the president’s campaign rhetoric that promised no more drilling on federal lands, and it was met with derision by some environmental advocates. 

Randi Spivak, the public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called it “a reckless failure of climate leadership.”

Other advocacy groups were more understanding — the National Wildlife Federation, for example, stressed provisions of the restart that raised rates for fossil fuel development and limited the area that would be available.

As the nation having celebrated Earth Day on Friday, the administration has said it is still committed to climate action. 

The evidence? Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, funding to target carbon reduction and electric vehicles in last year’s transportation infrastructure law, and a goal set to reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

“The press and the pundits may want to declare President Biden’s climate agenda dead,” an administration official said at a press briefing Monday. “But this week, we will show how it is very much alive and well.”

Thursday, the Transportation Department announced a $6.4 billion program funded by the infrastructure law to help state transportation departments limit greenhouse gases from vehicles. Biden addressed climate issues in an Earth Day speech in Seattle Friday.

Here are three big reasons why the White House has struggled with its climate agenda:

Court decisions

During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to end new fossil fuel development on federal lands. He followed through on that promise on his first day in office, issuing an executive order to pause new oil and gas leases as the administration reviewed the program and its impact on climate change.

A federal judge, though, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana, found the executive order was illegal and ordered the administration to restart leasing.

In a tweet, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that the order forced the new oil and gas lease sales. 

She noted the parcels available for lease were decreased 80% from what had been nominated for leases in 2021 and touted the raise in royalty rates from 12.5% to 18.75%.

Oil and gas infrastructure is seen on the Roan Plateau in far western Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move “was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal. And it’s not in line with the president’s policy.” 

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who has pushed the Biden administration for more ambitious climate action, accepted that the court order forced the administration’s hand and credited Haaland with the reforms. 

“I’m glad we finally have an administration that recognizes that the status quo for our oil and gas leasing program is a rip-off for the American people,” Chair Grijalva said.

But some outside groups called it a violation of Biden’s campaign pledge.

Kyle Tisdel, director of energy and climate at the environmental legal group Western Environmental Law Center, said in an interview the administration had options, even after the “flawed” injunction from Doughty.

The court order only said the administration could not issue a blanket pause on new leases, he said. But the Bureau of Land Management could still decline to issues new leases on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Congress

Bipartisan members of the House and Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that the administration helped steer and Biden signed last year.

A group of progressive lawmakers almost sank the measure over concerns it would exacerbate — not solve — the climate crisis. The administration and congressional leaders promised to pair the infrastructure bill with a sweeping $3.5 trillion bill that would include major climate provisions.

The House passed the larger bill, but the Senate never took it up. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III came out against the legislation in December. With no Republican support, Manchin’s opposition doomed the bill in the evenly divided Senate.

“What the last year has shown us is that the Biden administration trying to calibrate action to the whims of certain senators or congresspeople or midterm elections has been sort of a fool’s errand,” Tisdel said.

Some members of Congress remain optimistic that a climate bill can be passed. Manchin has indicated an openness to supporting the clean energy tax credits in the Biden plan, but also has said that negotiations on the so-called Build Back Better plan must start from scratch.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who earlier this year called for passing the climate provisions of the Biden spending plan, said in a Thursday statement he remained focused on expanding clean energy, funding conservation work and supporting fish and wildlife protections.

“All eyes are rightly on the Biden administration and on Congress to pass transformative climate investments,” Heinrich said. “We need to deliver.”

War and spiraling gas prices

Biden’s State of the Union address this year focused on the war in Ukraine, then just days old, and spiking prices for consumer goods — including energy. 

His top priority, he said, was “getting prices under control.”

The drive to cut costs seemed to displace climate action, which he only mentioned twice, once in the context of lowering energy prices.

To address rising prices in the short term, Biden has also called on domestic producers to pump more oil and has released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a complex of underground storage caverns in Louisiana and Texas. 

Biden, in Iowa, also waived a regulation banning sales of the ethanol blend E15 during the summer months. The Environmental Protection Agency normally doesn’t allow sales from June to mid-September due to concerns over air pollution.

Julie McNamara, a deputy policy director with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate advocacy group, said using rising energy prices to make the case should be an opportunity to hasten a transition away from fossil fuels to less volatile energy sources.

“We’re seeing a push from the fossil fuel industry and their supporters to increase our dependence on fossil fuels, to increase production and fighting back against clean energy,” she said.

 “When every indicator says now is the time to be doubling down on our commitment to this clean energy transition.”



Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

‘Morally wrong’ for Douglas County to be coveting water from the San Luis Valley — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, right, with attorney Steve Leonhardt, who Douglas County has hired to help it work through RWR’s water exportation proposal. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

RIO Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker made Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon a counter-offer to the Renewable Water Resources exportation proposal: Douglas County gives the San Luis Valley its annual sales tax collections from Park Meadows Mall in exchange for some water.

Noffsker’s point? That the Valley has no more right to sales tax dollars collected by Douglas County than Douglas County has to water in the San Luis Valley aquifers.

Pleasantries were exchanged Saturday [April 23, 2022] between Laydon and a few mostly elected officials during a two-hour exchange at Nino’s Restaurant in Monte Vista. The conversation didn’t reveal anything new or anything Laydon and Douglas County haven’t heard over the past four months as Douglas County weighs whether to invest in the Renewable Water Resources water exportation plan.

“You’re the tip of the spear on this one,” Noffsker said in making Laydon aware that people watching Douglas County’s deliberations know Laydon holds the deciding vote on the three-member commission, with Commissioner Lora Thomas dead set against RWR and Commissioner George Teal in support.

“Once you start putting a straw in this body of water, there’s no end game,” Noffsker said.

“You’re basically saying to us, much as what happened to the Native Americans, that you have something we want and we can do more with it than you can, and that is wrong,” said Noffsker. “It’s morally wrong. When we have to sit here and defend how we use our water, we shouldn’t have to do that. This water belongs to the Valley. It should not be taken out of here to benefit somebody else.”

The meeting at Nino’s with Noffsker and other local elected officials was Laydon’s second of the day. Earlier Laydon and Special Counsel Steve Leonhardt met privately with farmers who Laydon said expressed a variety of concerns, from lack of knowing what’s going on in the subdistrict formations of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to concerns about their small operations and whether small farms would survive the period of persistent drought and climate change.

With the local elected officials, which included Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker and Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman and Commissioner Lori Laske, Laydon raised the idea of a community fund that Renewable Water Resources has touted as part of its proposal. The Douglas County commissioner was told the community fund was a slap in the face to residents of the San Luis Valley.

“It’s not about money, it’s about keeping the (water) resource here,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson. Carson works at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is coordinating the Protect San Luis Valley campaign fighting the RWR exportation proposal.

Karla Shriver, president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Subdistrict 2 board, said additional financial relief for Valley farmers is on the way through legislation currently moving through the state legislature. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Cleave Simpson would create a new compact compliance fund and would have around $30 million of American Rescue Plan Act money awarded to Colorado in it to help farmers in the San Luis Valley meet groundwater compliance targets set by the state. Read more about the legislation HERE.

Renewable Water Resources has voiced opposition to the legislation. It sees the bill as a government bailout for San Luis Valley farmers at a time when RWR is asking for money from Douglas County and dangling those tax dollars in front of Valley farmers to buy them out.

San Luis garden. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

Noffsker said the RWR proposal is only about making a return on investment, while the Valley fights for its economic livelihood.

“I don’t mean any urban/rural fights,” said Noffsker. “But what’s happening is an urban area that apparently wants to grow more, wants to take from us to do it. If we do something like this, we are being dictated to by the Front Range on what our lives are going to be. That is not correct.”

Laydon, as he’s said in other meetings, told the group that Douglas County only wants to partner with communities that welcome Douglas County and that want to partner with it. He didn’t find that broad support on his weekend trip to the San Luis Valley, and he hasn’t heard any outpouring of support in the months he and his colleagues have been studying the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan.

Unless, of course, Douglas County wants to give up its retail sales tax revenues. Sacrificing a golf course or two might help as well.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

#BlueRiver #snowpack stays below 30-year median — Summit Daily

Snow Water Equivalent in Blue from the NRCS. I believe the graph has some error the past few days. The peak was April 19, 2022 and the usual peak is April 22.

Click the link to read the article on the Summit Daily website (Eliza Noe). Here’s an excerpt:

As April comes to a close within the next week, snowpack for the Blue River remains below the median. Traditionally, snowpack begins to melt and trend downward in May. The 30-year median for the Blue River peaks on April 25 annually, with a steady downhill slope following for the rest of the summer. For weeks, snowpack measures for 2022 followed closely or mirrored the median but, toward the end of March into April, snowfall trailed behind, causing this year’s snowpack levels to trail, as well. Back in January, when local snowfall was high, 2022 even exceeded the median by several inches.

Precipitation in the Blue April 25, 2022 via the NRCS.

Overall, water year 2022 is in the 39th percentile for precipitation over the past three decades. According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2022’s peak hit about a week early — on April 19 — stopping at a high of 15.7 inches of snowpack. Snow from this past weekend boosted the downward slope slightly from 14.1 to 14.5 inches, but levels are considerably lower than the median (86%). Still, 2022’s precipitation is ahead of last year, when snowpack levels for the Blue River never got above 13.5 inches.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 24, 2022 via the NRCS.

Droughts self-propagate, just like wildfires — Phys.org #drought #aridification

Ranking and time evolution of summer (June–August) drought severity as indicated by negative 0–200 cm soil moisture anomalies. Maps show how gridded summer drought severity in each year from 2000–2021 ranked among all years 1901–2021, where low (brown) means low soil moisture and therefore high drought severity. Yellow boxes bound the southwestern North America (SWNA) study region. Time series shows standardized anomalies (σ) of the SWNA regionally averaged soil moisture record relative to a 1950–1999 baseline. Black time series shows annual values and the red time series shows the 22-year running mean, with values displayed on the final year of each 22-year window. Geographic boundaries in maps were accessed through Matlab 2020a.

Click the link to read the release from Ghent University on the Phys.org website:

Up to 30% of the rainfall deficit can be caused by “drought self-propagation,” the DRY–2–DRY European Research Council (ERC) project shows.

Unlike other weather extremes such as hurricanes or winter storms, droughts affect humans in most climatic zones around the world; from the arid steppes of the Sahel to the humid rainforests of Amazonia. Moreover, droughts are expected to intensify in many regions following global warming. The United Nations has recently described drought as “the next pandemic,” suggesting that the associated risks are currently overlooked. It is thus crucial to improve our understanding of drought, and particularly its causes, in order to be able to predict its future risk and enable adequate societal adaptation.

Rainfall deficits eventually manifest as dry soils. The land surface, though, also takes a very active role in the generation of rainfall, as it supplies moisture to the atmosphere through evaporation. What happens during a soil drought when far less water is evaporated than usual? It has been hypothesized that this can enable droughts to expand by themselves, as they provide less moisture for precipitation, not just locally, but also downwind. Until now, evidence of this drought self-propagation, fueled by the drying soils, had remained elusive. In a new study, published in Nature Geoscience, led by the Hydro-Climate Extremes Lab (H-CEL) at Ghent University (Belgium), this evidence is provided for the first time.

The authors analyzed the largest 40 droughts in recent history. For each event, the authors tracked the air over the drought regions as the drought area expanded. This allowed them to compute how much of the downwind rainfall deficits were caused by the upwind drying of the soils. Their conclusion was that in individual months, up to 30% of the rainfall deficit can be caused by this drought self-propagation. As Dominik Schumacher, first author of the study, states: “In essence, droughts behave similarly to wildfires: while fires propagate downwind by igniting more and more ‘fuel’ in their surroundings, droughts do so by reducing their own rainfall supply through the drying of the land surface.”

The authors find the strongest self-propagation in subtropical drylands, such as in Australia and Southern Africa—in these regions, the limiting effect of low soil moisture on evaporation is strongest. By definition, water is already scarce in drylands, yet these regions sustain a considerable fraction of the global human population and are also used extensively for farming.

Therefore, as drylands are projected to expand in light of climate change, the self-propagating character of droughts may lead to even larger and more rapidly evolving events in the future, and further exacerbate water scarcity as well as the attached socioeconomic and environmental consequences.