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Commentaries and editorials

What Joe Biden's Agenda on the Environment
Could Mean for the Pacific Northwest

by Lynda Mapes
Seattle Times, November 22, 2020

Graphic: Temperatures in the Lower Snake River regularly exceed Clean Water Act standards.  In 2014, 99% of Idaho's Sockeye adults failed to return to their natal lakes.  The thermal block from the Snake River, caused the death of most Canada bound Sockeye as well. From reintroduction of the grizzly bear to its wild North Cascades redoubt to attacking climate change, a wide range of environmental policies could see a new direction in the Pacific Northwest under a Biden administration.

For starters, government and nonprofit policy leaders say they are looking forward to a return to science as a basis for environmental policymaking. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than on climate warming.

Gov. Jay Inslee has championed Washington climate and energy policies sharply at odds with a president who dismissed the threats posed by greenhouse gas emissions in a warming world.

Inslee now has a powerful ally in President-elect Joe Biden. Biden’s campaign platform calls for dramatically stepping up a U.S. transition away from fossil fuels to set the nation on a path to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury, which means that whatever carbon pollution is emitted into the atmosphere is offset by other measures. And, since the election, there has been speculation that Inslee will be asked to join the new Democratic administration to help Biden pull off this dramatic course correction in climate policy.

Biden would need approval from Congress to authorize $2 trillion in spending he proposes to help the nation move off fossil fuels and reach an interim goal of removing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation by 2035.

Passage of such spending or other climate legislation could be difficult even with a Democratic majority in control of the Senate and an even tougher task if Republicans are able to win runoff races in Georgia and retain control of the upper chamber.

From his first day in office, Biden also is expected to use executive orders to take a wide range of measures, including putting the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement on climate, developing new automotive fuel economy standards weakened by President Donald Trump and increasing regulations to control the release of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – during oil and gas production.

Biden also will try to block a Trump administration effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to oil exploration, which included a post-election announcement of the beginning of a process that could result in lease sales of land before Inauguration Day.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in a statement released Nov. 16, called the Trump administration action, a “last ditch effort” that she predicted would not withstand court scrutiny.

Biden has said he would make a big push to expand wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy, which would add federal support to a movement already underway in Washington as utilities scramble to move off of coal and natural gas generation to comply with legislative deadlines set in Washington for 2045.

Biden also is expected to continue the bipartisan support that was found even during the Trump administration for investing federal dollars in hopes of developing a new generation of nuclear energy plants.

In October, Bellevue-based TerraPower, chaired by Bill Gates, received a $80 million federal Energy Department grant, the first installment of what is intended to be a seven-year effort to test, license and build its first advanced nuclear plant, and possible U.S. locations include a site near Richland, where Energy Northwest now operates the state’s only commercial nuclear plant.

The Biden administration also is expected to revive the Environmental Protection Agency’s Obama-era opposition to the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska.

Developers have proposed an open-pit copper, gold and molybdenum mine in southwest Alaska that has faced fierce opposition from Bristol Bay fishermen, many of whom are from Washington, who fear that salmon would be put at risk.

Biden, in an August statement, said the Bristol Bay region is “no place for a mine. The Obama-Biden administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today.”

Here are some other issues:

Lynda Mapes
What Joe Biden's Agenda on the Environment Could Mean for the Pacific Northwest
Seattle Times, November 22, 2020

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