Thought Leadership

Baker Botts Washington Recap First Year of the Biden Administration - Episode 4

Client Updates

In the latest installment of our video series on important regulatory and legislative events in the first year of the Biden Administration, Associate Samantha Olson gives us the latest update regarding leadership roles within the EPA.

Associate Clarence Hawkes discusses several actions FERC has taken to promote additional clean energy practices within the nation's power capacity markets.

The Biden Administration continues to fill key leadership roles within the EPA, announcing the nomination of University of Michigan Law professor David Uhlmann as Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Uhlmann previously served 17 years as a federal prosecutor, including seven years as Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section at the Department of Justice.

The Senate held a confirmation hearing for Jane Nishida, nominated to serve as Assistant Administrator of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs and for Jeffrey Prieto, who the administration has tapped as EPA’s general counsel. The Senate also confirmed Michal Freedhoff and Radhika Fox as Assistant Administrators of the Offices of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and Water, respectively.

EPA announced plans to, with the Department of Justice, more aggressively identify and prosecute environmental crimes committed in overburdened communities. An agency directive to focus investigative resources on particular communities and affirmatively consider criminal enforcement is unprecedented. These developments make it important for companies to assess their environmental justice risk profiles and understand the unique challenges associated with criminal investigations.

Further, the White House’s Spring 2021 Unified Regulatory Agenda confirmed that new regulations on clean water and on greenhouse gasses will take center stage for the EPA in the coming year.

Congress recently exercised its authority under the Congressional Review Act to repeal a Trump Administration rule that rescinded methane emissions limits for oil and gas processing facilities. The joint resolution passed both chambers and after expected presidential signature, would restore Clean Air Act standards for these facilities set in the Obama Administration.

FERC has taken several actions to promote additional clean energy practices within the nation’s power capacity markets.

During his first week in office, President Biden appointed Richard Glick, a Democrat with a strong interest in climate change mitigation, as FERC Chairman. Although democrats currently constitute a minority of FERC Commissioners, Chairman Glick has taken several steps to shift the Commission agenda toward furthering support for clean energy and mitigating carbon emissions.

On June 10, Chairman Glick announced intentions to achieve President Biden’s goal of a 100% carbon-free power grid by 2035 by promoting the development high-voltage transmission lines that can transport renewable energy across the country.

FERC also initiated the process of evaluating the impact of climate change in its decisions in granting natural gas pipeline approval certificates.  In a March 22 Order, FERC evaluated a project’s GHG emissions in determining whether a project is required by the public convenience or necessity.

However, in two subsequent orders issued on May 20th, the Commission voted (in a 3-2 partisan split) to approve pipeline projects without assessing the significance of GHG emissions and contribution to climate change.

With Republican, Neil Chatterjee’s term ending June 30th, President Biden will likely nominate a Democratic replacement, which will shift the balance of the Commission in favor of its Democratic members and could greatly possibly result in the acceleration of Chairman Glick’s clean energy agenda.

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