Biden administration approves of oil railway through National Forest

Wolf hunting

A federal judge restored protections for gray wolves in most of the United States, reversing a Trump-era decision that allowed near-unlimited hunting of the endangered species.

Senior District Judge Jeffrey White, of Northern California, found that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not take into account the threats to gray wolves outside of the Rocky Mountains, where the species has rebounded significantly (pdf).

…the Service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations. Instead, the Service avoids analyzing these wolves by concluding, with little explanation or analysis, that wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species.

Attorneys for the Biden administration defended  Trump’s delisting of the wolves, insisting that the species is “resilient enough to bounce back even if their numbers dropped sharply due to intensive hunting.”

While the ruling is a big step forward for the wolf population, the ruling does not apply to the northern Rocky Mountain states—Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming— where aggressive hunting is still permitted.

In Idaho, for instance, Gov. Brad Little signed a bill into law that would allow hunters to kill 90% or more of the state’s wolves, which numbered only 1,500.

The act will allow for wolves—animals which many in the state perceive as harmful to livestock and elk—to be hunted just about any way, including being shot from airplanes, helicopters, ATVs, and snow machines. Baiting and night hunting with spotlights will be permitted. It allows trapping and snaring wolves on private property year-round, and each hunter can purchase an unlimited number of tags for killing the predators.

Dozens of Yellowstone’s gray wolves were killed in recent months after roaming outside the park’s borders. Almost all of the killings occurred in Montana, where the state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 3-2 to increase the wolf harvest and allow neck snaring, trap baiting, and night hunting. Gov. Greg Gianforte not only signed into law measures that benefit wolf hunters, he broke the law by trapping and killing a Yellowstone wolf last year without taking a trapping course.

Gulf oil leases

The Biden administration was handed a much-needed climate win last week when a federal judge invalidated the massive Gulf oil and gas lease sale that it was forced to hold in November 2021 (pdf).

D.C. Judge Rudolph Contreras, an Obama appointee, ruled that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management “acted arbitrarily and capriciously in excluding foreign consumption from their greenhouse gas emissions” when calculating the impact of oil and gas extraction. His ruling overturns one issued by Louisiana District Judge Terry Doughty that forced the lease sale to begin with.

The Interior Department must now conduct a new environmental impact analysis and decide whether to hold a new auction.

“We simply cannot continue to make investments in the fossil fuel industry to the peril of our communities and increasingly warming planet. This administration must meet this critical moment and honor the campaign promises President Biden made by stopping offshore leasing once and for all.” Earthjustice’s Senior Attorney Brettny Hardy said.

Oil railway

Over 100 environmental groups are suing the Biden administration to block the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s approval of an oil-carrying rail line through a Utah national forest and surrounding environment (pdf). In order to build the 88-mile Uinta Basin railway, the government will have to dig up more than 400 Utah streams and strip or pave over 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Not only will the oil-laden trains risk polluting the Colorado River, a source of drinking water for 40 million people, it is also at odds with Biden’s climate change pledge. The rail line is expected to increase transportation capacity to 350,000 barrels of crude oil a day through the Ashley National Forest to Gulf Coast oil refineries, producing at least 53 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

“Increased drilling and extraction the railway seeks to induce will boost greenhouse pollution at every step in the process: from extraction, to transportation, to refining, to combustion. The infrastructure investment solely enabled by the issuance of this discretionary right-of-way thus contradicts the President’s stated climate policy,” the environmental groups wrote.

The Forest Service also approved of the railway, saying it “is in the public interest and supports” Biden’s infrastructure goals.

Federal Reserve

An often overlooked but potentially powerful position in fighting climate change is on the line in the Senate this month. Sarah Bloom Raskin, nominated to serve as the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for banking supervision, had her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee last week. Raskin has advocated against the central bank using its emergency lending powers to help oil and gas companies, putting her in the Republican party’s crosshairs.

“Oil, gas and coal companies are set or are seeking to receive billions in federal aid — including at least $3.9 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and at least $1.9 billion in tax credits tucked into the CARES Act passed by Congress… The Fed is ignoring clear warning signs about the economic repercussions of the impending climate crisis by taking action that will lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment,” she wrote in a 2020 op-ed.

“The decision to bring oil and gas into the Fed’s investment portfolio not only misdirects limited recovery resources…It also forestalls the inevitable decline of an industry that can no longer sustain itself. And finally, it undermines urgent efforts to counter surging carbon dioxide and methane emissions, which are bringing us closer to the catastrophe of an unlivably hot planet.”

41 oil and gas industry trade groups have spoken out against her nomination, urging the lawmakers (many of whom take energy sector donations) to block her confirmation.

As should surprise no one, Louisiana Senator John Kennedy aggressively skewed the point of her op-ed, erroneously equating emergency lending with oversight of Wall Street Banks (clip).

Kennedy: Did you mean it? You said it here, it is big as Dallas. I read the op-ed. You said save everybody but the oil and gas industry and let them go broke. Did you really mean that?

Bloom Raskin: So, I have been clear on my views. The whole point of the op-ed was that the Fed should not pick winners and losers—

Kennedy: —except for oil and gas, you said they ought to be allowed to go broke.

Bloom Raskin: The Fed should not pick or favor any sector at all.

Kennedy: Then why did you say it?

Bloom Raskin: The Fed is not in the business of choosing winners and—

Kennedy: Why did you recommend to them that they let oil and gas go broke?

Bloom Raskin: I did not recommend this.

Kennedy: I read the op-ed. There it is. I’m not going to quote it to you but Senator Toomey pointed out. Did you mean it?

Bloom Raskin: Senator Kennedy, I want you to understand the role of the the proper role of the federal reserve. The federal reserve should not be choosing winners and losers.

Kennedy: So you disagree with the editorial?

Bloom Raskin: I wrote it in the context of the federal reserve’s emergency lending facilities. This was a special program, set up by the Cares Act by the Congress, that appropriated taxpayer money. This was an issue quite unlike the issue of supervision.