Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden's wildfire plan

Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Today we're looking at new federal action on wildfires, a poll finding popular support for the Build Back Better bill's climate agenda, even as the bill itself has stalled and new findings showing vulnerable populations disproportionately hit by natural disasters.

For The Hill, we're Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Write to us with tips: rfrazin@thehill.com and zbudryk@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @RachelFrazin and @BudrykZack.

Let's jump in.

Officials unveil plans for addressing wildfires

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced that it was undertaking a 10-year strategy aimed at reducing harm caused by wildfires, using some funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Through the initiative, the administration said it will use intentional "prescribed" fires to help maintain forest health and invest in helping communities adapt to fires. It will also include investments in addressing post-fire risks, recovery and reforestation.

The Forest Service, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, hopes to treat up to an additional 20 million acres of national forests and grasslands and support treatment of 30 million more acres of lands owned by other federal, state, tribal and private entities.

The Associated Press reported that the plan would be $50 billion, while a press release noted that it the project will involve the use of $3 billion provided by the bipartisan infrastructure law.

"The negative impacts of today's largest wildfires far outpace the scale of efforts to protect homes, communities and natural resources," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Read more about the plan here.

Poll finds BBB measures still popular

Climate action and specifically some of Democrats' Build Back Better proposals are enjoying public support, even if their current prospects remain uncertain, according to a new poll.

A majority of likely voters are supportive of congressional climate action - including several climate policies Democrats are proposing in their Build Back Better legislation, the survey, which was first shared with The Hill has found.

The poll, conducted by progressive pollster Data for Progress for advocacy group Climate Power, found that 70 percent of likely voters, including 92 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans say that congressional action on climate change is at least somewhat important.

And it found that when explained, majorities expressed support for policies including a fee on methane emissions and electric vehicle tax credits.

Specifically, the poll found that 67 percent of respondents support "making oil and gas companies pay a fee for excess methane pollution and holding them accountable for cleaning up methane leaks."

Just 24 percent opposed the idea.

The poll also found support for both a $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit, with 60 percent supporting and 33 opposing, while a $12,500 credit for vehicles made in an American factory by union workers saw even greater support.

The union proposal, which is opposed by swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose state is home to a non-union Toyota plant, garnered support from 66 percent while just 25 percent opposed it in the poll.

A total of 67 percent supported Build Back Better overall, when it was described as a plan that would "expand Medicare benefits, lower healthcare costs and prescription drug prices....expand access to affordable caretaking services for children and the elderly.... take action to address climate change and extreme weather, create clean energy jobs, and reduce pollution"

Twenty-eight percent opposed it, delivering similar results from October, when the group found that 64 percent supported the plan while 28 percent opposed it.

But, the legislation's future remains uncertain amid opposition from Manchin. Over the weekend, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) described the latest version of the package as "dead" but said that he believes "core" provisions will pass.

The new poll surveyed 1,369 likely voters between Jan. 5-7. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Natural disasters are associated with an increase in racial and income-based academic disparities in affected school districts, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability (GAO).

Let's get some stats...Specifically, the report determined that 57 percent of school districts receiving key disaster grants from 2017 to 2019 served a higher-than-average share of students in two or more socially vulnerable groups.

Just 38 percent of all school districts nationwide have a higher-than-average share of students in two or more of these groups, which include children who are low income, minorities, English learners, or living with disabilities.

Such data can provide a glimpse into the overall inequality of who is affected by these events.

GAO officials spoke to officials with five vulnerable school districts on challenges associated with the aftermaths of national disasters from 2017-2019.

In a district in a large urban center, officials told GAO staff that mental health providers were stretched too thin already, and that in that same district, funding issues left more than 100 schools without counselors.

"As one subject matter expert explained, there are frequently disconnects between the long-term mental health needs of disaster survivors and the short-term nature support offered to the community," the report states.

The aftermath of natural disasters can be particularly harmful on an academic level, according to the report. One county official told the GAO that in the aftermath of natural disasters in their district, recent progress in closing the academic gap between Hispanic and white students was largely erased. Disabled students, students still learning English and low-income students, who are already at an academic disadvantage, face compounded obstacles in the wake of natural disasters. Statistically, higher-income districts do not see the same academic declines as lower-income districts in the wake of disasters.

Read more about the report here.


Chemical pollution has passed safe limit for humanity, say scientists (The Guardian)

EPA tackles coal-to-crypto industry trend (E&E News)

Momentum builds in fight against 'forever chemicals' in water, environment (Ohio Capital Journal)

Ecuador indigenous demand rights to consent on extractive projects (Reuters)


Exxon sets 'net zero' emissions goal from operations by 2050

Erdoğan: US pulling support for EastMed gas pipeline due to high costs

DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane'

And finally, something off-beat but possibly helpful: here's how to get free COVID-19 tests.

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 tomorrow.