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Environmental, Energy and Natural Resource Law Updates from Washington, D.C.
February 09, 2021


President Biden issued several executive orders that may impact those operating in the energy, environment and natural resources sectors. The first, Executive Order No. 14008, addresses climate change as a “national defense issue.” The Order pauses oil and gas leasing in the U.S. and instructs the applicable agencies to adjust royalties associated with coal, oil, and gas resources to account for corresponding climate costs and/or the social cost of carbon.

It also mandates that the United States should generate a plan to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. public lands and waters from development, for fishing, recreation and other uses by 2030. The Order further mandates that the United States immediately re-join the Paris Climate Accords; sets goals for climate change policy; and creates a civilian climate corp.

The second, Executive Order No. 13990, rescinds President Trump’s executive orders on methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors; fuel efficiency standards; appliance and building efficiency standards; and emissions standards for coal and oil-fired electricity generating units. It also directs the Secretary of the Interior to restore public lands designated as national monuments (including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante) to pre-Trump Administration geographic footprints with corresponding limitations on development, leasing and access.

The Order also immediately revokes the Keystone Pipeline and prohibits oil and gas leasing on the arctic shelf. It further directs agencies to develop and implement social cost of carbon policies to monetize the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and other agency actions. The Order also revokes President Trump’s Waters of the United States Rule and President Trump’s Executive Order pertaining to security of the U.S. electrical grid. Finally, it requires greenhouse gas emissions to be considered in NEPA processes and may revoke changes to the NEPA streamlining processes implemented under the Trump Administration.

Confirmation processes for cabinet and agency appointments are underway on Capitol Hill, where congressional leadership has also made the following committee appointments:

The House Natural Resources Committee oversees all operations of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will continue to serve as chairman. He is known to support renewable energy development in the west, aggressive climate change legislation and favors expansion of national monument areas and use of NEPA processes and endangered species laws to limit development on public lands. He is on record opposing the development of uranium mining operations in the southwest.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) was appointed Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee. While not a westerner as is typical of the appointment, he graduated from the Yale Forestry School. He understands endangered species, land management and NEPA issues well. He is known to support sustainable natural resources development, Endangered Species Act reform and streamlining the NEPA process.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee oversees EPA and the Department of Energy. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will continue to serve as Chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will continue to serve as its Ranking Member. The Committee is largely focused on conducting oversight of COVID-19 and big tech at the moment, but it is rumored to be preparing a large climate change package of legislation.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee oversees the Department of the Interior. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will chair the Senate Natural Resources Committee. He is known to favor continued, sustainable development of coal-based energy and is known for working well across the aisle. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will serve as Ranking Member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. He also favors continued, sustainable development of coal-based energy. With such leadership, the Senate may slow or trim some of the more ambitious climate change legislation that is likely to come out of the House, at least in terms of Department of the Interior’s jurisdiction.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversees EPA, U.S. Army Corps., and the Department of Energy. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) will chair the Senate EPW Committee. He is known as an outspoken advocate for climate change legislation and achieving zero-net emissions in the U.S. in the coming decades. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) will serve as Ranking Member of Senate EPW. Like Sen. Manchin, she supports the sustainable development of coal-based energy sources. EPW may seek to impose more, aggressive climate-related standards on water and air discharges and the like, particularly if the House passes such legislation to send their way.

Before joining the team at Parsons, Megan Olmstead worked on Capitol Hill for many years, serving as counsel for the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and as an appropriations advisor for a Subcommittee Chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. She also worked for the Idaho Governor for several years prior to attending Notre Dame law school.

To discuss this or other issues, contact Megan Olmstead at (801) 532-1234 or molmstead@parsonsbehle.com.