February 6, 2023

President Biden is reversing a Trump-era rollback of protections for the Tongass National Forest.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) is introducing a bill to remove a delay on electric vehicle tax credit limits in the IRA, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is hitting another snag in its plans to remove the state from a carbon trading partnership.

This is Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news on energy, the environment and more. For The Hill we are Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Someone forwarded this newsletter to you?

Protection of the Tongass Forest has been restored

The US Forest Service has completed a rule to restore protections reversed under the Trump administration for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest forest of its kind in the US

  • “As our country’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rain forest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to preserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
  • “The restoration of roadless shelters is listening to the voices of the tribal nations and people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy,” he added.

How we got here: In early 2001, the outgoing Clinton administration added most of the forest to its Roadless initiative, with the exception of road construction or logging in the protected areas. The forest has been of particular concern to environmentalists due to its status as the country’s largest carbon sink, or absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“The Tongass stores about 20 percent of the total amount of carbon stored in the National Forest System,” Kate Glover, a lawyer for Earthjustice, told The Hill. “So that’s a lot of carbon. That’s roughly 1.5 times the total greenhouse gas emissions in the US for 2018.”

What has happened since then: Since the inception of the original Clinton Rule, it has been repeatedly reversed and restored, usually on a partisan basis, amid ongoing litigation.

Despite the Trump-era rollback, much of the forest loss began earlier, when about 88,000 acres were transferred from the forest to Sealaska Corporation and the Alaska Mental Health Trust as of 2015, accounting for 43 percent of forest loss between 2015 and 2020.

In July 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would restore and expand protections withdrawn by the Trump administration, including an end to large-scale sales of lumber from mature trees in the forest.

Read more about the restoration here.

Manchin targets Treasury Department for tax credit delay

Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) introduced legislation Wednesday to remove a delay in adding new limits to the electric vehicle excise tax credit.

The legislation targets a move by the Treasury Department in December to temporarily postpone regulations – which is expected to present hurdles for consumers seeking a federal subsidy for their electric car.

Manchin’s proposal is unlikely to actually pass, as it would require President Biden’s signature, but it is the latest focus of tensions the West Virginia senator has with the administration.

How we got here: Democrats’ climate, tax and health legislation signed into law last year expanded EV tax credits — allowing consumers to get up to $7,500, split between two federal government credits, for a new car.

But it also came with new editions.

  • By earlier this year, 50 percent of the value of the vehicle’s battery components would have to be manufactured or assembled in North America to be eligible for a $3,750 loan.
  • By this year, 40 percent of the value of the minerals in a car battery would have to be mined or processed in countries the US has a free trade agreement with to get the other $3,750. Rather than being mined or processed in such countries, the minerals could instead be recycled in North America to meet the second requirement.

However, the Treasury delayed the effective date of the restrictions to March in December, drawing the wrath of Manchin.

The law in question, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, says the restrictions will come into effect when the Treasury Department issues guidance on their implementation, which should happen “no later than December 31”. But the department said the guidance isn’t ready, which caused the delay.

Manchin strikes back: In a written statement accompanying his new legislation, Manchin called the Treasury Department’s move “unacceptable”.

“It is unacceptable that the US Treasury Department has failed to issue updated guidance on the 30D electric vehicle tax credit and continues to provide the full $7,500 credit without meeting all of the clear requirements of the Inflation Mitigation Act,” he said .

Read more about the bill here.

Virginia’s carbon trading program exit bill blocked

A Virginia Senate committee on Tuesday rejected a bill backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) that would pull the state out of a regional carbon trading initiative.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee voted 8 to 6 against Senate Bill 1001.

So what is RGGI? The measure, sponsored by Senator Richard Stuart (R), would repeal the state’s Clean Energy and Flood Preparedness Act that put Virginia in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an interstate program that requires power plants to buy credit for their carbon emissions. The initiative returns the proceeds from the loan auctions to the state.

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are also members of the initiative, with Pennsylvania attempting to join last year, though court cases remain pending.

Virginia joined in 2020 under Youngkin’s predecessor, Governor Ralph Northam (D).

Youngkin has vowed to pull the state out of the RGGI since its election in 2021, blaming it for rate hikes by state utility Dominion Energy.

The Democratic majority in the state Senate has countered that leaving would require a vote of the entire General Assembly, as would entry into the initiative.

“Senate Democrats refused to offer Virginians an immediate exemption from this regressive tax that provides no incentive to reduce pollution,” Youngkin spokesman Macaulay Porter said in a statement Wednesday. “Regardless, in due course, Virginians will see a lower energy bill because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process.”

Read more about the defeat here.

Decarbonization could triple current lithium production

According to a study by the Climate and Community Project and the University of California, Davis, extensive investments in mass transit and reduced dependence on cars could reduce the additional lithium demand for the transition to electric vehicles by 90 percent.

The research, first shared with The Guardian, revealed a scenario in which current demand for electric vehicles, as projected by 2050, would require three times as much lithium as is currently produced globally.

The US currently has only a single lithium mine, and while the domestic market is poised to expand, this projected demand would require a huge expansion in mining operations. According to the report, this poses a number of new risks, including environmental degradation and disruption to affected communities.

In contrast to the full shift to electric vehicles for decarbonization, the analysis says, the goal of pursuing an outcome that reduces EV battery size and overall car dependency could cut lithium demand by 18 to 66 percent. A scenario in which car dependency remains low but battery size is limited could reduce demand by as much as 42 percent.

Read more about the study here.

WHAT WE READ

  • How we saved pandas from extinction when the rest of nature collapsed (Vox)
  • Ecuador plans to expand drilling in the Amazon (The New York Times)
  • Granholm excited about red surge in renewable energy: “This is fantastic” (Yahoo News)
  • Utah Legislature pledges $2 million to fight ozone with EPA (The Salt Lake Tribune)
  • Huge iceberg breaks off from Antarctica. Aerial image is “spectacular” (Washington Post)

🎟️ Light click: Swift revenge.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Visit The Hill’s energy and environment page for the latest news and reports. we will see you tomorrow

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