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Climate

What To Know About Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown

On the future of coal mining, critical minerals, and Microsoft’s emissions

What To Know About Biden’s Coal Lease Crackdown
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Rain and cool temperatures are stalling wildfires in an oil-producing region of Canada • A record-setting May heat wave in Florida will linger through the weekend • It is 77 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny in Rome today, where the Vatican climate conference will come to a close.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Severe storms in Houston kill 4

At least four people were killed in Houston last night when severe storms tore through Texas. Wind speeds reached 100 mph, shattering skyscraper windows, destroying trees, and littering downtown Houston with debris. “Downtown is a mess. It’s dangerous,” said Houston Mayor John Whitmire. Outside Houston, winds toppled powerline towers. At one point 1 million customers were without power across the state, and many schools are closed today. The storm front moved into Louisiana this morning, prompting flash flood warnings in New Orleans.

X/MattLanza

2. Biden administration plans to end new coal leases in Powder River Basin

The Biden administration yesterday unveiled a proposal that would end new coal leases in the nation’s largest coal-producing region. Nearly half the coal in the U.S. comes from the Powder River Basin, which spans 13 million acres across Montana and Wyoming. But production has been declining in recent years, “a not surprising development as coal-fired power plants retire,” notedE&E News. The new proposal from the Bureau of Land Management would allow mining to continue under existing leases until 2041 in Wyoming and 2060 in Montana. The proposal is subject to a 30-day public protest period before it becomes final.

Responses to the move fell along fairly predictable lines: Environmentalists applauded it; Republican politicians and mining groups slammed it. The proposal comes on the heels of the EPA’s new air pollution rules that will force existing coal-fired plants to cut their pollution by 90% in coming years, or close up shop.

The government estimates that ending coal leasing on federal land would cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 293 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

3. IEA calls for more investment in critical minerals to meet growing demand

The International Energy Agency is warning of a looming shortage of critical minerals and metals needed for the energy transition and calling for an increase in investment. The IEA’s Global Critical Minerals Outlook 2024 finds that prices for these materials dropped sharply last year to pre-pandemic levels as supply grew faster than demand. This was especially true for battery-pack materials like lithium, which saw a 75% drop in price.

IEA

The lower prices, while good for customers’ wallets, have stalled investment at a time when demand for these materials is skyrocketing. “Today’s combined market size of key energy transition minerals is set to more than double to $770 billion by 2040 in a pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century,” the report said. With that projection in mind, the IEA concluded that lithium supplies will meet only 50% of demand requirements by 2035; copper supplies will satisfy just 70% of demand.

The report calls for boosting efforts to recycle and reuse, and innovate, along with about $800 billion in mining investment by 2040. Interestingly, the report suggests that recycled critical metals could reduce new supply requirements by up to 30% for copper and cobalt, and 15% for lithium and nickel by 2040.

4. Data centers send Microsoft’s emissions soaring

In case you missed it: Microsoft released its annual sustainability report this week, and the news wasn’t great! The tech giant’s emissions have risen by nearly a third since 2020, in large part because of newly built, energy intensive data centers for AI and cloud computing operations. Lest we forget, back in 2020 the company set a goal of being “carbon negative” by 2030. “Microsoft’s predicament is one of the first concrete examples of how the pursuit of AI is colliding with efforts to cut emissions,” wrote Akshat Rathi and Dina Bass at Bloomberg. Microsoft plans to ramp up its spending on building out data centers even more this year and next.

5. Revolution Wind project installs first turbine foundation

One small but positive update on a U.S. renewables project: Construction has begun on Rhode Island and Connecticut’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, with “steel in the water” and the project’s first turbine foundation installed. Ørsted and Eversource’s Revolution Wind project will generate 400 megawatts of clean power for Rhode Island and 304 MW for Connecticut, enough to power more than 350,000 homes. The project is expected to be up and running in 2025.

THE KICKER

America this week exceeded five million solar installations. Getting there took 50 years, but reaching the 10 million mark is expected to take just six years.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

Climate

AM Briefing: Here Comes Alberto

On the tropical system in the Gulf, advanced nuclear reactors, and hybrid jet engines

Texas Is Bracing for the First Named Storm of Hurricane Season
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

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THE TOP FIVE

1. Tropical storm takes aim at Texas

A weather system churning in the Gulf of Mexico could become the first named storm in what is expected to be a very busy hurricane season. Tropical Storm One, as it’s currently known, is “large but disorganized,” but is forecast to coalesce into Tropical Storm Alberto sometime today as it moves toward the coasts of Mexico and Texas and makes landfall tonight or tomorrow morning. A tropical storm warning was already issued for the Texas coast, indicating that high winds are on the way. Flash flooding is also very likely, especially across South Texas, where six to 10 inches of rain could fall.

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Sherlock Holmes inspecting a hurricane.
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