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Plus: The mayors of Chicago and New Orleans could lose their jobs; an “innovative” housing plan is defunded; Boston struggles to recruit transit chief; “right to repair” bills proliferate; and more news you can use from around the country.
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It’s Friday, Feb. 24, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. This week, the Biden administration is continuing its push to expand offshore wind to more regions of the country.
The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed the first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department is proposing to sell a 102,000-acre area off Lake Charles, Louisiana, and two sites near Galveston, Texas. Those tracts have the potential to power almost 1.3 million homes.
The proposal expands the geographic areas where offshore wind is being considered beyond the Atlantic coast. The federal government received $757 million in bids for leases in the Pacific Ocean in December, the first sale of its kind for West Coast sites.
President Joe Biden set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes. With that goal comes the promise of tens of thousands of jobs, which states are racing to claim.
When Biden announced his expansive offshore-wind push in March 2021, the president said the offshore-wind industry would “spawn new supply chains that stretch into America’s heartland, as illustrated by the 10,000 tons of domestic steel that workers in Alabama and West Virginia are supplying to a Texas shipyard, where Dominion Energy is building the nation’s first Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel.”
Indeed, competition spurred billions of dollars worth of investments in the young industry in 2022. This time last year, energy companies pledged $4.4 billion for wind leases off the coasts of New York and New Jersey, the largest offshore energy sale in U.S. history.
Currently, there are only seven turbines operating in U.S. waters, which represents 0.1% of the total global capacity of offshore wind farms. But that is starting to change.
New York claims to have more offshore wind projects in the works than any other state. It is playing catch-up to neighboring Rhode Island, which successfully launched the first offshore wind farm in the U.S.
To take advantage of federal investment, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for New York to produce 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035. The state’s first offshore wind farm is scheduled to start operating late this year. South Fork Wind, off Long Island, is expected to produce 132 megawatts of electricity—enough to power about 70,000 homes.
Not to be outdone, her neighbor, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, signed an executive order in September to produce 11 gigawatts by 2040, the latest in the series of increasingly ambitious goals for the Garden State.
Massachusetts is also a major player, but inflation has imperiled at least one of its most ambitious projects.
Still, enthusiasm is high for the industry in the Gulf Coast, which is what the Biden administration is hoping for with the proposed auction.
Michael Hecht, CEO of the economic development organization Greater New Orleans Inc., told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry offers a “pre-existing energy workforce” that will benefit from the growth of offshore wind.
In addition to the Texas shipyard that is building a floating wind farm for Virginia, Texas Monthly reported in 2021 that an energy-focused Houston-based investment bank—long focused on oil and gas—was now diversifying aggressively. A banker likened “Texas oil executives’ newfound enthusiasm for renewables to their infatuation fifteen years ago with oil-and-gas plays in shale. Fossil-fuel alternatives are ‘almost like Shale 2.0.’”
Make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. Have a great weekend.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- New Orleans recall. Organizers of the campaign to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell delivered 10 bankers’ boxes of petition sheets to City Hall less than an hour before a Wednesday deadline. The recall campaign says it has more than the 49,976 signatures needed to trigger a referendum on Cantrell, who’s been dogged by declining approval ratings and a series of controversies during her second term.
- Embattled Chicago mayor. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot could lose her re-election bid Tuesday, as she faces several challengers who have split the city’s voters on racial and ideological lines. The top two finishers will head to a run-off. Meanwhile, Lightfooot and the Black mayors of Houston, Los Angeles and New York City have formed an informal alliance as they confront some of their cities' biggest challenges.
- More elections. The tilt of the Wisconsin Supreme Court could shift from conservative to liberal in an April run-off, following a preliminary election Tuesday. Democrats hope a victory there would help rollback many Republican policies that the court has upheld in the last decade. Also, Virginia elected its first-ever Black representative this week to the U.S. House. And Florida’s elections supervisors are asking state lawmakers not to implement changes to vote-by-mail ballots before the 2024 presidential election, warning that they will confuse voters and slow down vote counting.
- “Innovative” housing plan defunded. Once touted as an innovative way to build affordable housing, Houston’s community land trust has seen its funding slashed by half as bureaucracy bogged down the program and enthusiasm dwindled, according to The Texas Tribune. It had an ambitious goal of creating 1,100 affordable homes within five years. But currently, the land trust has just 136 homes in its portfolio.
- Ohio train derailment. The crew of a Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine became aware of an overheated wheel bearing just moments before the wreck and tried to stop the train, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday in the initial findings from its investigation. Meanwhile, Ohio's state lawmakers announced a plan to start hearings next week on what happened when the train derailed and whether they need to make any changes to state law.
- Troubles recruiting a transit chief. MBTA, Boston’s transit system, has such a bad reputation that is deterring top talent and making it more difficult to recruit a new general manager, according to the Boston Herald. “There’s just not a ton of people jumping up and down for that gig,” one source said, citing conversations held with MBTA employees. The perception outside the Boston region is that the T is “falling apart,” which is hurting the worldwide search.
- “Right to repair” bills proliferate. Maine lawmakers will consider “Right to Repair” legislation, after the secretary of state’s office said a petition drive gathered enough signatures to send the proposal to the legislature. The lawmakers can either vote to pass the law or place it on the November ballot. If enacted, the proposal would ensure that vehicle owners and independent repair shops can access on-board diagnostic systems that advocates say are now only accessible to manufacturers and dealers. Meanwhile, farm “right to repair” bills have been introduced in 11 states so far this year, including Colorado where it passed the House this week.
- A clean energy backup. Plans to install 3,000 acres of solar panels in Kentucky and Virginia are delayed for years. Wind farms in Minnesota and North Dakota have been abruptly canceled. And programs to encourage Massachusetts and Maine residents to adopt solar power are faltering. More than 8,100 energy projects—the vast majority of them wind, solar and batteries—were waiting for permission to connect to electric grids at the end of 2021, reports The New York Times, up from 5,600 the year before, jamming the system known as interconnection.
- Targeting drag performers. A number of bills targeting drag performers are popping up in majority Republican states across the nation. At least 14 states have introduced bills that would restrict drag queens from performing in public spaces and in venues viewable by minors. Some of the proposed legislation would require venues that host drag events to register as “adult-oriented businesses.”
Picture of the Week
This week brought wacky weather to both coasts. On Thursday, unseasonably warm temperatures around Washington, D.C., hit 81 degrees, breaking a 149-year record. Cherry blossoms have started to bloom, a sign of spring in the region. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a rare blizzard warning in Southern California as snow dusted the typically balmy landscape. The winter weather resulted in highway closures and bewildered meteorologists. (Top photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images; Bottom photo by Mario Tama via Getty Images)
Government In Numbers/What They’re Saying
The number of aquatic animals killed following the Ohio train derailment, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. That number is up from 3,500. The new estimate shows that roughly 38,222 small fish were killed, as well as an additional 5,500 other species of fish, amphibians and other creatures. All of those animals are believed to have died "immediately after the derailment," and none are believed to be members of endangered or threatened species.
A New Lawsuit Seeks the Right to Reimburse Stolen Food Stamp Benefits
SNAP recipients have sued the USDA to undo a rule that bars New York from using federal funds to replace stolen food stamp dollars. A ruling could set a nationwide precedent.
BY KERY MURAKAMI
Finding Public Sector Workers in High Schools
Though many young people are ignorant about jobs in the public sector, internships can help educate them and draw them into the workforce.
BY KATHERINE BARRETT AND RICHARD GREENE
How One County Fixed Its Broken Property Tax System
Property taxes are considered the ultimate “fair” tax. But that fairness hinges on the assumption that homes are being assessed accurately, regularly and thoroughly.
BY LIZ FARMER
How State Legislators Tweet
An analysis of tweeting habits found that women lawmakers tweet more often than their male counterparts. Experts have a few ideas as to why that is.
BY DANIEL C. VOCK