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August 03, 2022
Biden's continued climate change battle

President Joseph Biden Jr. announced a series of executive actions on July 20, 2022, to address the “clear and present” danger to the United States presented by climate change and promised additional upcoming executive actions over the next few weeks to combat “this emergency,” states a White House Fact Sheet.

Alberto Masnovo / Shutterstock.com

Biden announced the actions at a former coal-fired power plant in Brayton Point, Massachusetts, that will become the future site of a cable manufacturer for wind energy technology, signifying the transition from carbon-based energy to clean energy.

Offshore wind development

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is proposing to open the Gulf of Mexico to offshore wind energy development. The Gulf region covers more than 700,000 acres, with the potential to power over 3 million homes, according to the Fact Sheet. Biden also directed the secretary of the Interior to advance wind energy development in the waters off the mid- and southern Atlantic Coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The DOI announced plans to hold up to 5 additional offshore lease sales and complete the review of at least 16 plans to construct and operate commercial, offshore wind energy facilities by 2025. These facilities are projected to provide more than 22 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy.

“[The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)] used the most current scientific data to analyze 30 million acres in the Call Area to find the best spaces for wind energy development. We are invested in working in partnership with states and communities to find areas that avoid or minimize conflicts with other ocean uses and marine life in the Gulf of Mexico,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton in a DOI press release. “We are committed to a transparent, inclusive and data-driven process that ensures all ocean users flourish in the Gulf.”

The first draft wind energy area (WEA) is located approximately 24 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Galveston, Texas, and totals 546,645 acres. The second draft WEA is located approximately 56 nm off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and totals 188,023 acres and has the potential to power 799,000 homes. The 2 draft WEAs represent a subset of the original 30-million-acre Gulf of Mexico Call Area that the DOI announced for public comment in October 2021.  

BOEM has also prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) covering the entire call area to consider the potential impacts from site characterization and site assessment activities expected to take place following lease issuance. The EA analysis will inform potential lease stipulations necessary to address identified environmental impacts associated with offshore wind leasing activities.  

The Biden administration has already approved two commercial offshore wind projects: Vineyard Wind and South Fork Wind.

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind energy project will be located offshore outside of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. It is projected to provide enough power for 400,000 homes and businesses and create 3,600 union jobs in building and maintaining the facility.

“The approximately 130-megawatt South Fork Wind project will be located approximately 19 miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island, and 35 miles east of Montauk Point, New York. It will create about 340 jobs and provide enough power for about 70,000 homes,” according to the DOI press release.

Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership

These actions follow the president’s launch of a new Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership that brought together governors of 11 East Coast states, which include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

These states are characterized as being “early leaders in offshore wind development” in the White House Fact Sheet on the initiative.

Biden’s stated goal is to deploy “30 [GW] of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes with clean energy, support 77,000 jobs, and spur $12 billion per year in private investment in offshore wind projects.”

The first step in the partnership was the announcement of a shared commitment to collaborate to expand key elements of the offshore wind energy supply chain, including manufacturing facilities, port capabilities, and workforce development.

“The Administration is also announcing steps to advance a National Offshore Wind Supply Chain Roadmap and designating offshore wind vessels as Vessels of National Interest to facilitate more offshore wind construction,” the Fact Sheet says. Offshore wind vessels will receive priority funding through the Federal Ship Financing Program.

Climate resiliency funding

Biden also announced $2.3 billion in available funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. This funding is available to states, territories, tribes, and local communities to reduce their vulnerability to heat waves, drought, wildfires, flood, hurricanes, and other hazards and is boosted by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Funding selections in the program are for nonconstruction projects, which include nature-based solutions, safe rooms, and mitigating homes that are substantially damaged.

Examples of nature-based solutions include:

  • In Tucson, Arizona, almost 45% of the city’s water is used for outdoor (nonpotable) purposes. The city of Tucson’s Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance aims to reduce this demand by requiring commercial property developers to harvest rainwater for at least 50% of their landscaping needs.
  • The GreenSeams program in greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin, permanently keeps flood-prone lands in high-growth areas from being developed. Since 2001, the program has preserved more than 3,000 acres of land that can store 1.3 billion gallons of water.
  • The Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs serve 2.5 million people in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has spent $130 million over the past 20 years on nature-based solutions to protect 22,000 acres of the watershed that drains into nearby reservoirs. A water filtration plant would have cost $250 million to build and $4 million annually to operate and maintain.

Priority to funding initiatives under this program is given to disadvantaged communities under the Justice40 initiative.

Lower cooling costs

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the expansion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help low-income families and individuals with household energy costs to reduce their cooling and heating costs.

HHS also issued guidance to “help states, Tribes, and territories expand how they respond to extreme heat and support vulnerable communities through LIHEAP,” adds the White House Fact Sheet. “The guidance provides for a range of flexible options including increasing funding for cooling assistance through the American Rescue Plan; establishing community cooling centers; and purchasing, distributing, or loaning efficient air conditioning equipment, evaporative coolers and electric heat pumps—a more energy-efficient alternative for providing cooling services—to vulnerable households and individuals.”

Workplace safety

In response to the Biden administration’s National Emphasis Program, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has already conducted 564 heat-related inspections, which are focused on over 70 high-risk industries across 43 states. On days when the heat index is 80°F or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job.

OSHA also initiated rulemaking to enact a federal heat standard to protect workers from extreme heat.

Inflation Reduction Act of 2022

The president’s Build Back Better Act has been revised and presented as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Estimates on the revenue from the bill, if enacted, are $739 billion, with an investment of $433 billion in spending, according to a one-page summary released by Democrats.

In addition to fighting inflation, the Act impacts the environment and addresses climate change by lowering energy costs, providing clean energy tax credits, increasing cleaner production, and reducing carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the lone Democratic holdout on the Build Back Better Act, has pledged his support for the bill because it addresses his demands for lowering prescription drug costs and better Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidiaries. However, analysts predict the bill will likely meet opposition from other Democrats due to various tax provisions unrelated to environmental and clean energy provisions.

SCOTUS

Biden continues to face pressure to declare a national climate emergency, but he has yet to do so. Although he vows to use every measure available to him to combat the “clear and present danger” presented by climate change, any attempt to transform his directives into policy faces a formidable opponent: the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

SCOTUS dealt a heavy blow to the Biden administration in its quest to transition the United States to clean energy and a net-zero carbon future with its decision in West Virginia v. EPA when the conservative court majority decided the case based upon the “major question doctrine,” which requires agencies to point to “clear congressional authority” for any authority they claim. The decision was a distinct indication that the high court will act decisively to curb actions perceived as broad executive powers.

For those who wish to legally challenge administrative actions, the SCOTUS decision is encouraging, as it points to a Court that will insist on the requirement that federal agencies receive specific legislative authority for any actions they take.

Industry takeaways

  • The Biden administration is clearly bullish on clean energy initiatives, leaving ample opportunities for industries focused on this arena.
  • Companies providing climate resiliency services also have opportunities within multiple communities to provide nature-based solutions.
  • Industries that have employees working in high-heat environments are advised to prepare respite solutions.
  • All industry under emissions regulations should continue to innovate to achieve carbon emissions reductions.
  • Companies with high profitability should prepare for increased federal income taxes.

No matter what obstacles the Biden administration faces, it appears prepared to find avenues to advance its role in transitioning the United States to less reliance upon fossil fuels.

“Millions of Americans feel the effects of climate change each year when their roads wash out, power goes down, homes are destroyed by wildfires, or schools get flooded,” the White House Fact Sheet continues. “Last year alone, the [United States] faced 20 extreme weather and climate related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each – a cumulative price tag of more than $145 billion. … [T]he country’s critical infrastructure is at risk from climate and extreme weather.

“President Biden will not back down from addressing this emergency. Since taking office, he has mobilized his entire Administration to tackle the climate crisis and secured historic clean energy and climate resilience investments in his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. He will continue taking bold action to secure a safe, healthy, clean energy future—all while saving families money, delivering clean air and water, advancing environmental justice, and boosting American manufacturing and competitiveness.”

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