Energy & Environment — Climate regulations could be next in court crosshairs


The Supreme Court will soon rule on a major climate case. We’ll look at some of the potential ramifications.

Also, a new study finds that air pollution may help predict peoples’ chances of dying from heart attack and stroke, and climate change increasing ising wildfires.

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. Subscribe here.

After abortion case, Supreme Court to rule on climate

Climate regulation could be the next Democratic priority in the Supreme Court’s crosshairs after a contentious ruling Friday that gutted abortion rights.

  • The court is expected soon to rule on a case that has major implications on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can issue climate regulations for power plants, and what powers it has to do so.
  • Experts say that if the court rules in favor of those seeking to curb the EPA’s powers, it could stunt the agency’s ability to prevent climate change from worsening.

“The more tools the court takes away from the EPA, under the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions, the harder it’s going to be for the United States to do an effective job of contributing to the world’s efforts to limit climate change,” said Robert Glicksman, an environmental law professor at George Washington University.

A refresher on the case: The court in February heard arguments focusing on the scope of the EPA’s powers to regulate climate change.

  • The case was brought by plaintiffs including West Virginia who seek to prevent the EPA from having broad powers to reshape the country’s electric power system.
  • The plaintiffs are seeking to preemptively block the Biden administration from setting standards that would induce a shift away from coal plants and towards those powered by cleaner energy sources.

West Virginia has argued the EPA is limited to only setting restrictions on individual power plants. While it may sound technical, experts say the distinction could have major implications for how much planet-warming carbon dioxide ends up in the air.

  • William Buzbee, a law professor at Georgetown University, said that if the court limits the EPA to regulations within a physical power plant, it would likely result in tons more planet-warming carbon dioxide emitted overall.
  • He said that giving the EPA broad powers would enable it to use strategies like emissions trading and shifting toward cleaner energy sources that are already being used by power companies to cut planet-warming emissions.

“A broad interpretation of EPA power would set national standards based on the ‘best systems’ used by the most effective pollution-reducing power companies, requiring the same for all power plants,” Buzbee said.

Read our full preview of the decision at TheHill.com this weekend.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

  • Next week, the Interior Department is expected to reveal its plans for offshore drilling. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a May hearing that the department will propose a 5-year offshore drilling plan by June 30. It’s not currently clear what the administration’s five-year plan will look like, but offshore drilling is a contentious issue for industry and environmentalists alike.
  • Next week the administration is also expected to hold several oil and gas lease sales on public lands – the first onshore sales of the Biden administration.

Can air pollution exposure help predict death risk?

A new study finds that environmental factors such as air pollution may help predict people’s chances of dying from conditions like heart attack and stroke.

  • Exposure to above-average levels of outdoor air pollution increased risk of death by 20 percent and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease specifically by 17 percent, the survey published in PLoS One on Friday found.
  • The use of wood- or kerosene-burning stoves for cooking and heat homes without proper ventilation increased death risk by 23 percent and 9 percent respectively — raising the specific risk of death by cardiovascular disease by 36 percent and 19 percent, the study determined.

How’d they get there? To arrive at these figures, researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai combed through personal and environmental health data from 50,045 rural villagers in northeast Iran.

  • All study participants — most of whom were poor residents of Iran’s Golestan region — were over the age of 40 and agreed to have their health monitored during annual visits that began as far back as 2004, the researchers said.
  • Within the group, there were more than 2,700 cardiovascular deaths and 6,000 all-cause deaths during a 10-year follow-up period, according to the study.

Using data from NASA alongside geographical information systems technologies, the researchers mapped out eight environmental risk factors across Golestan: fine particulate pollution; household cooking, heating and ventilation; proximity to traffic; distances from sites that perform coronary intervention; socioeconomics; population density; land type; and nighttime brightness.

The scientists determined which environmental factors posed the most threat by combining them into a single model and controlling for interactions between them, lead author Michael Hadley, a fellow in cardiology and incoming assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai, explained in a statement.

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

Climate change fueling fires faster than predicted

Federal officials say climate change is intensifying droughts, leading to wildfires far worse than experts or models have predicted.

  • Why it’s important: This is adding to the danger that accompanies one of the US Forest Service’s primary methods of mitigation: the prescribed burn.
  • What officials are saying: “Fires are outpacing our models,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in a statement this week.

Moore pointed to escalating climate conditions as the reason why an otherwise routine prescribed burn in New Mexico earlier this year escaped to ignite the largest wildfire in state history.

  • “Climate change is leading to conditions on the ground we have never encountered,” he said.

The Forest Service and most of the scientific community views prescribed burns as a key element in protecting the wildfire-dependent landscapes of the West from the most destructive conflagrations.

  • The agency said in a report that its personnel followed a prescribed burn plan in New Mexico and the burn conditions appeared to be within approved limits to keep it from escaping.
  • But persistent drought — which a study in Nature in February called the worst in 1,200 years — has complicated that picture.

“The first year of the drought isn’t that bad, the forests still have some humidity and energy left,” said Marc Castellnou, a fire scientist in Spain’s Catalonia region who consults frequently on fires in the US West.

Read more from The Hill’s Saul Elbein.

UPCOMING HEARINGS

Tuesday

  • The House Appropriations Committee will mark up budget legislation for the Energy Department and other agencies.

Wednesday

  • The House Appropriations Committee will mark up budget legislation for the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency

Thursday

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on recycling

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Consultants for Florida utility covertly monitored journalist after critical coverage (The Orlando Sentinel and Floodlight)
  • Biden’s Inner Circle Debates Future of Offshore Drilling (The New York Times)
  • Germany looking at repurposing unused Nord Stream 2 pipeline for LNG use –report (Reuters)
  • Keystone XL Pipeline gets renewed interest, but the company has moved on (NPR)
  • Google’s Plan for 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy Ran Into Headwinds in 2021 (The Wall Street Journal)

⛳️ Lighter click: The Hill’s photos of the week

And finally, something offbeat and off-beat: Nnnnnnope.

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 on Monday.

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