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This oil refinery poses a major test of environmental justice for Biden

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Hello and welcome to The Climate 202! Our colleague Brady Dennis will host two conversations today at 11 a.m. ET with Jigar Shahdirector of the Department of Energyit is Loan Programs Officeand Liane Randolphpresident of the California Air Resources Council. You can sign up for The Washington Post Live program here. But first :

The EPA shut down a refinery that rained oil. Now it’s a “ticking time bomb”.

An oil refinery in the US Virgin Islands that the Environmental Protection Agency closed last spring now poses the risk of a fire, explosion or other “catastrophic” release of “extremely hazardous substances”, the agency found in a report released this week, Maxine reports this morning.

The unused Sainte-Croix factory, formerly known as Limetree Bay refinery, experienced a series of accidents over the past year that have spewed noxious fumes and oil droplets onto nearby homes, sending some residents to the emergency room.

Deteriorating conditions at the huge facility, which was sold at an auction in December, pose a major test for the Biden administration. commitment to environmental justice.

In September, the EPA conducted an inspection of the refinery and observed “significant corrosion” of equipment, including valves, hoses and pressure-relief devices, the agency said in an Oct. 13 letter sent to attorneys. owners and made public this week.

“These conditions demonstrate a risk of imminent release of extremely hazardous substances,” the EPA said in an inspection report. “Due to this degree of corrosion, vessels, piping and/or valves may fail, resulting in a catastrophic release.”

Local residents wonder why federal authorities haven’t done more to protect the health of the predominantly black and brown population of this Caribbean island.

“This report is equally alarming and affirmative for those of us in the civic sector who have been ringing the megaphone about the dangers posed by this refinery for years,” Deanna Jamespresident of the Holy Cross Foundation, said in an email. “Since 2019, the Holy Cross Foundation and our nonprofit partners have embarked on a lonely advocacy journey trying to compel policy makers to consider alternatives to this ‘ticking time bomb’ on our shores – to no avail. “

Elias Rodrigueza spokesperson for EPA Region 2 — which oversees New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight Native American tribes — said the agency “continues its vigilant monitoring” of the refinery.

“The EPA takes our duty to ensure the facility complies with federal environmental rules designed to protect people very seriously,” Rodríguez said in an email. “The EPA will use its powers to protect the health and safety of workers at the facility and those who live in nearby communities.”

After the facility’s former owners filed for bankruptcy in July 2021, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the plant for $62 million in December to West Indies Oil and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Fermin Rodriguez, vice president and refinery manager of Port Hamilton Refining, said the company “is working with the EPA and we are providing all the information they have requested. And we’re going to have independent inspectors here this week to validate what they say in the report.

“Cancel your weekend plans”

Judith Enckwhich was hit by President Barack Obama to lead EPA Region 2, expressed concern that the agency waited nearly three weeks after the inspection to send the letter to the plant’s attorneys.

“This is not a situation where you politely exchange letters between lawyers,” said Enck, who now runs the Beyond plastics advocacy organization. “This is a serious situation that requires the attention of the highest levels of the EPA.”

Enck appealed to the EPA administrator Michael Regan to “cancel her weekend plans” and immediately fly to Sainte-Croix, where she said the agency should notify residents of impending health threats.

A recent survey found that approximately 20,000 people live downwind of the refinery, while in an earlier analysis from 2019, the EPA found that 75% of residents in nearby neighborhoods are people of color and 27% live below the poverty line.

Rodríguez, the EPA spokesman, said the agency took three weeks to send the letter because “time was needed, especially with a facility of this size and the complexity of the issues involved.”

But Jennifer Valulisgeneral manager of the Sainte-Croix Environmental Associationwondered if the federal government would act with more urgency if the situation unfolded in the contiguous United States.

“Not only are the surrounding communities predominantly black and brown, but also as a territory we have a different status in that we don’t vote for the president,” Valiulis said. “We don’t have a voting member of Congress. And so we have less ability to defend ourselves.

House Republicans investigate release of Biden’s oil reserves and possible export ban

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are investigating what they see as ‘potential misuse’ by the Biden administration Strategic Petroleum Reserveas good as White Housepotential plans to ban oil and gas exports, Ari Natter reporting for Bloomberg News.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Department of Energylawmakers requested a range of documents and information related to the two measures, saying the administration “continues to pursue policies that suppress domestic power generation and drive up fuel prices for consumers.”

President Biden announced last week that it was releasing an additional 15 million barrels of fuel from the strategic petroleum reserve, a move aimed at lowering gasoline prices ahead of the midterm elections. The letter was directed by Representative James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, and Representative Nancy Mace (RS.C.), the rank member on the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

In response to the investigation, the Department of Energy said in a statement that the administration is using emergency supply as designed during a time of volatility in the energy market.

With just two weeks to go until the midterm elections, the letter serves as a preview of what could become deeper investigations into the Biden administration’s climate agenda should the GOP gain control of one or both houses of Congress. .

California regulators weigh banning diesel-powered trucks and buses by 2040

California regulators met on Thursday to consider a sweeping proposal to ban sales of diesel-powered trucks and buses by 2040, a move that is expected to greatly accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles in both California and America. nationally, our colleague Anna Phillips reporting for The Climate 202.

The proposed rule would require all new medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses sold in the state to be zero emissions by 2040. Cities, counties and private fleet owners would work toward this goal incrementally, making a greater percentage of their new vehicle purchases either electric or hydrogen, starting in 2024.

If the rule is adopted — the California Air Resources Council will vote next spring – other states will likely follow. More than a dozen states generally adhere to California’s stricter emissions rules, and officials in New York, Connecticut, Washington and Wisconsin supported the proposal.

At Thursday’s hearing, fleet owners and trade groups representing major truck manufacturers pushed for the state to scale back its ambitions, calling the proposed rule unenforceable and costly.

The proposal “does not address a number of circumstances in which the performance of zero-emission trucks is inadequate”, said mike tunnelldirector of environmental affairs American Trucking Associations.

Meanwhile, climate advocates and Californians in communities bearing the brunt of diesel exhaust have called on the state to act faster, pushing for a ban on diesel trucks and buses to come into effect. into force by 2036 and for small fleets to be included in the regulations.

Energy crisis should speed up, not slow down, green transition, says IEA

The energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine is likely to accelerate, not slow, the global transition from fossil fuels to green technologies, International Energy Agency said Thursday, Brad Plume reporting for the New York Times.

The agency’s World Energy Outlook, which forecasts energy trends to 2050, found that although some countries are burning more fossil fuels such as coal to compensate for gas shortages, the effect is expected to be short-lived.

In fact, for the first time, the agency predicted that global demand for oil, gas and coal would peak in the near future. Meanwhile, global investments in clean energy are expected to grow from $1.3 trillion in 2022 to more than $2 trillion annually by 2030, the agency said.

Yet scientists say the clean energy transition is not happening fast enough to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. The report arrives the same day as a separate document The United Nations report that nations have delayed climate action for so long that Earth is on track to exceed a safe temperature threshold by nearly a full degree.

The new British Prime Minister will not participate in COP27

Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, will not attend next month The United Nations climate conference in Egypt, despite the hopes of environmentalists that it would restore Britain’s credibility on climate change, Kate Whannell reporting for BBC News.

A spokeswoman for 10 Downing Street said in a statement that Sunak would skip the COP27 the climate talks ‘due to other pressing national commitments’ and that Britain will instead be represented by other ministers, including Alok Sharmawho was president of the COP26 climate talks in Scotland last year and loses his role in Sunak’s cabinet.

Prior to his resignation as Prime Minister last week, Liz Truss was to attend the conference, leading the opposition Labour Party to call Sunak’s absence a “massive failure of climate leadership”.

The 10 Downing Street spokeswoman, however, said the UK remained “committed to net zero and to leading international and national action to tackle climate change”.