Energy & Environment — Heat wave creates air-conditioning Catch-22


Americans and Europeans are struggling to air-condition their way out of climate change. Today, we’ll also look at the DOJ investigating reports of illegal dumping in Houston and Germany’s decision to bail out a top Russian gas importer.

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. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Record heat leads to more air conditioning

The record summer heat scorching the US and Europe is illustrating the drastic need for action on climate change, even as the high temperatures are likely to increase the production of energy and greenhouse gasses contributing to global warming.

The heat is killing people, energy grids are being overwhelmed and more people in more places will be looking for air conditioning in the future, creating an insidious and depressing loop.

  • “Most of the great bulk of our greenhouse gas emissions come from consuming energy, mostly to make electricity,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
  • The extreme heat, in turn, “greatly increases the consumer need for air conditioners, which are a significant energy,” he added.

The view from the ground: In the US, more than half of the states were under heat advisories as of Thursday morning, with highs hovering around 115 in Texas and Oklahoma. National Weather Service data indicates at least four states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri — saw temperatures at least 10 degrees hotter than the historical average for this point in the year.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the British town of Coningsby in Lincolnshire recorded an all-time high of 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, breaking a record set only hours before of 104.4 degrees in London. Communities in France, Spain and Portugal battled high temperatures and wildfires.

On both sides of the ocean, the high temperatures bring death and destruction.

  • At least 13 deaths have been recorded in Britain, where many live without air conditioning because temperatures so seldom reach the 90s and triple digits, as of Wednesday.
  • At least 500 people died in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and southern Canada last summer during a scorching heat wave in the Pacific Northwest. Such waves are expected to become more common because of climate change, and the lack of action to slow it.

Extreme heat means increased demand for power generation, which is “problematic,” because demand spikes specifically for gas for power generation in Europe over the summer, said Samantha Gross, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative.

The heat expert, she said, is “making it difficult to refill the natural gas storage facilities which is what they’re trying to do right now in order to prepare for winter, which is what they’re really worried about.”

Read more about the situation here.

DOJ to investigate illegal dumping in Houston

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday announced an environmental justice investigation into reports of illegal dumping by the city of Houston in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The investigation concerns a complaint that the city may be in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s civil rights division said in a call with reporters Friday.

“Data compiled by the city shows that a high concentration of the illegal dumping occurs within Houston in particular in communities of color,” Clarke told reporters. “Historically, Houston has also placed a high concentration of its municipally owned and operated dump sites and solid waste facilities within predominantly black and Latino communities.”

What’s the allegation? The complaint alleges 11 of Houston’s 13 city-owned landfills and incinerators are located in predominantly black neighborhoods, and the probe is set to investigate whether the city’s waste management practices have resulted in discrimination along ethnic and racial lines in Houston.

Clarke said the probe will incorporate several different city agencies and institutions, including the Houston Police Department, the Houston Department of Neighborhood, the Solid Waste Management Department and the 311 system. All of the institutions are bound by Title VI, which bars on the basis of race by recipients of federal funds.

  • Officials on the call said the investigation was part of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s focus on environmental justice issues and the disproportionate harm environmental degradation inflicts on low-income people and people of color.
  • Garland created the department’s Office of Environmental Justice this past May.

“Although environmental crime and can happen anywhere, communities of color and low-income communities often bear the highest burden of the harm caused by environmental crime and pollution,” US Attorney Jennifer Lowery of the Southern District of Texas said on the call.

Read more about the probe here.

Germany bailing out largest importer of Russian gas

The German government has agreed to bail out the country’s biggest importer of Russian natural gas, in a 15 billion euro ($15.3 billion) deal aimed at keeping the struggling energy supplier afloat.

Germany will be taking a 30 percent equity stake in Uniper SE, a subsidiary of the Finnish corporation Fortum, according to a Friday announcement from Fortum.

The country has offered Uniper up to 7.7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in equity and is expanding its credit line by 7 billion euros ($7.2 billion) — from an existing 2 billion euros ($2 billion) to 9 billion euros ($9.2 billion), the announcement said.

The deal was welcome news to a company that has been experiencing significant losses following Russia’s recent reductions in gas deliveries. Uniper had become what CNBC described as “the first major casualty of Russia’s natural gas squeeze.”

After Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom had already reduced exports through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 40 percent capacity last month, the company shuttered the conduit entirely for 10 days of maintenance on July 11.

Gas flow through Nord Stream 1 resumed on Thursday, but is flowing at only
40 percent capacity.

  • “It was necessary to stabilize Uniper now,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a Friday press conference, according to The Associated Press.
  • “About 60 percent of gas imports in Germany are ultimately organized in a certain way via this distributor,” Scholz continued. “That is a very, very big chunk, so it’s clear you can imagine that there would have been practically no company at the end of these supply chain that wouldn’t be affected.”

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin.

EX-TRUMP DOJ LAWYER HIT WITH ETHICS CHARGES

Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department attorney at the center of the former President Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, was hit Friday with ethics charges alleging that his role in the post-election amounted to a breach of legal ethics.

Clark, who specialized in environmental law at the Justice Department, attempted to send a letter to Georgia officials pushing the state to suspend certification of its 2020 election results until the Justice Department investigated fraud claims, despite agency leaders saying such claims were without merit.

The charges, filed by the District of Columbia Bar Office of Disciplinary Counsel, sets in motion disciplinary proceedings over claims that Clark engaged in dishonest conduct and sought to interfere with the administration of justice and will culminate in findings that could affect Clark’s DC law license.

After former Attorney General William Barr resigned in December 2020, Clark pushed Trump to nominate him to lead the Justice Department and pursue the president’s false election claims.

Clark said that if selected as acting attorney general he would send the letter to state legislatures, despite warnings from fellow Justice Department lawyers about incorrect information.

Read more here.

ON TAP NEXT WEEK

Wednesday:

  • The Senate Environment Committee will hold a hearing to examine the development of projects and implementation of policies that support carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies.

Thursday:

  • The Senate Energy Committee will hold a full hearing committee to consider pending legislation.
  • The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Toxic Air: How Leaded Aviation Fuel Is Poisoning America’s Children”

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Energy war looms as Europe braces for Putin to reduce natural gas exports (NBC News)
  • In restricting repair, John Deere may be violating the Clean Air Act, advocates allege (Politico)
  • Heat waves around the world are connected, scientists say (Axios)
  • NY’s fossil fuel use soared after Indian Point plant closure. Officials sound the alarm (LoHud.com)
  • Ex-DOJ environment chief faces ethics charges (E&E News)

☀️ Lighter click: It’s splooting season.

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 next week.

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