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July 15, 2019    

Just butt out. Federal agencies have until Aug. 1 to submit plans for eliminating at least a third of their advisory committees, according to new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.

The instructions follow an executive order signed by President Trump last month, which instructed agencies to get rid of panels established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act that have become obsolete or whose costs outweigh their benefits

Agencies have until September 30 to reduce the total number of committees and can count panels eliminated as of January 2017 toward their one-third total. Committees established by Congress through statutory authority would not be up for consideration. (E &E News)

  • Arguably, the federal government has too many advisory committees. The Trump administration—especially the White House—doesn’t like having people around that disagree with them. It’s fair to assume that the one-third reduction call is not particularly well-intentioned.
  • The Trump administration has been consistent in its desire to rid itself of advisory committees, especially the ones that are heavy with members chosen by agencies during Obama’s administration. The appointments are usually staggered, so it is not unlikely to take several years to be rid of them.
  • Pruitt purged EPA’s advisory committees. The purge didn’t go overly well as the replacements refused to be given the conclusions before they had a chance to discuss things. Trying that on an administration-wide scale would have proved problematic for the administration.

Speaking of which. EPA repeatedly sidestepped normal procedures in making appointments to two high-profile advisory committees and failed in other instances to ensure that members on a number of panels met federal ethics requirements, congressional auditors said in a report released today.

"This report shows that the Trump administration rigged influential advisory boards to favor its polluter backers," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said in a statement. Whitehouse was among lawmakers to request the Government Accountability Office review two years ago.

While agency leaders followed written handbook guidelines for filling slots on most of EPA's 22 federal advisory committees in fiscal 2018, they made a significant exception for the Science Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, according to the review by GAO.

Rather than relying on a "short-list" of career staff recommendations in making the appointments, agency officials instead culled their choices from the entire roster of nominees, the report said. Many of the resulting assignments then went to candidates with industry connections, according to online lists for the two panels. (E&E News)

  • The announcement was released just as I was preparing the newsletter.

More on integrity. Legislation to protect scientific integrity at federal agencies and federal budget impacts of rulemaking will be the focus of hearings on Capitol Hill this week.

Lawmakers on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee are considering a bill in a joint subcommittee hearing Wednesday to establish more consistent scientific integrity standards across federal agencies.

H.R. 1709, the "Scientific Integrity Act" introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) in March, would prevent agency officials from suppressing or otherwise interfering with the "timely" release of scientific and technical findings.

It also calls for agency scientists to speak directly to reporters or other members of the public about scientific or technical findings without getting prior permission from public affairs staff.

That would be a marked shift from the approach in recent years, predating the Trump administration, as agencies have placed tighter control on public access to federal researchers. (E&E News)

Give nuclear [solar’s] credit. A new report on nuclear energy could ignite debate on Capitol Hill over whether to allow renewable energy subsidies to sunset or renew them as Democrats are seeking to do.

The free-market Manhattan Institute’s latest report on nuclear energy says the best thing Congress can do to help nuclear energy is to eliminate both subsidies for wind and solar.

The July 10 study, now being circulated on Capitol Hill, concludes that renewables subsidies have hurt the market for nuclear power by making it harder for nuclear power plants to bid into the wholesale electricity markets to sell their power.

"It is something that Democrats running for president should seriously consider in making climate change a key issue in their campaigns", said Jonathan Lesser, economist, and author of the report.

Tax credits for solar are slated to decrease in value at the end of the year toward phaseout, but Democrats have been mulling extensions to renew the subsidies. (Washington Examiner)

Up on the roof. A new report issued Thursday by the large environmental coalition Environment America argues that the federal government needs to better value the benefits of rooftop solar in developing energy policy.

The report looks to confront studies by utility firms and grid operators that tend to only look at the reliability issues confronted in adding more solar to the grid, failing to properly value the societal and public health benefits of rooftop solar, especially given the threat of climate change. (Environment America)

Pipe dreams? Presidential candidate Jay Inslee called for the closure Wednesday of an oil and gas pipeline that runs across the Great Lakes in Michigan and said he opposes the construction of a replacement tunnel to improve the pipeline.

“The Enbridge Line 5 pipeline and the proposed oil tunnel to replace it are a clear and present threat to the health of the Great Lakes and our climate,” Inslee, the Washington governor, said in a statement. “They threaten the clean drinking water that millions depend upon. And they would lock in decades of climate pollution that we can’t afford.”

Inslee said the pipeline proposal should be a “major topic” of discussion during the second Democratic debate held over two days in Detroit July 30 and 31. He has called for the end of all fossil fuel infrastructure as part of a multi-pronged climate change plan.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which is 66 years old, spans 645 miles, carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids per day.

Now we’re listening. But to whom?  The EPA announced in the Federal Register that it would hold its first public hearing on the 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard on July 31 in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The oil industry says the standard for 2020 is set too high, while members of the ethanol industry say it is too conservative and must include lost gallons that were eliminated from the market when EPA issued dozens of exemptions to refineries not to blend ethanol over the last two years. Both will be heard from at the hearing.

We need taller ceilings in this place. Negotiations are expected to intensify this week between Capitol Hill and the administration over a broad budget deal that could set future agency spending levels and raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Lawmakers for months have been trying to hammer out a fiscal accord that would allow them to negotiate fiscal 2020 spending bills. However, those efforts will take on more urgency with the administration now saying it also needs to raise the nation's debt limit before August recess, a move many in Congress want as part of a budget deal.

"Based on updated projections there is a scenario where we run out of cash in early September, before Congress reconvenes," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote to top congressional leaders Friday. "As such, I request that Congress raise the debt ceiling before Congress leaves for the summer recess."

Previous projections had shown that the debt increase could wait until the fall, but lagging tax revenue will require one sooner.

The standoff has left House and Senate appropriators unable to negotiate the fiscal 2020 spending bills. The House has deemed its own spending levels for next year and passed 10 of the 12 annual funding bills, while the Senate said it wants to wait for an overall agreement before marking up its fiscal 2020 bills.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) acknowledged for the first time last week there's a growing likelihood Congress will not pass all 12 spending bills by the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 and will need to pass a short-term spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, to keep agencies from having to shut down. (E&E News)

  • Watch for Speaker Pelosi to hold the budget deal hostage to the debt ceiling. The ceiling gives her the best leverage in this fight.
  • Although there is no question that some agreement will be reached, Pelosi and the Democrats are intent on making the Republicans appear profligate—something deficit hawks already believe.
  • It could also put Trump at odds with the minority leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy. Trump praised McCarthy over the weekend in the same breath he was calling Speaker Ryan "stupid" and responsible for all the bad things that befell Republicans and Trump in the last Congress. McCarthy is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and a House Freedom Caucus founder.
  • It will be interesting to see who caves in these negotiations.

Next on the list. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will study planet-warming pollution from transportation during a hearing this week.

The panel will hold a hearing on Tuesday titled "Solving the Climate Crisis: Cleaning Up Heavy Duty Vehicles, Protecting Communities."

Transportation recently surpassed the power sector as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Cars and heavy-duty trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.

Chairwoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) believes decarbonizing transportation will be key to meeting the country's climate goals.

Some Republicans on the panel, such as Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL), have cast doubt on the science that says greenhouse gases are dangerously warming the planet.

Others, such as ranking member Garret Graves (R-LA), have accepted the science while pointing to climate change impacts in their districts.

Still, Graves said at a May hearing that U.S. action on climate would mean little if India and China are allowed to abdicate their responsibilities under the Paris Agreement, repeating a common GOP talking point. (E&E News)

  • Prepare to hear—ad nauseam—the argument that the US shouldn’t do anything to lower greenhouse gases because China and India won’t.
  • The “if you think we’re bad, look at them” excuse has become part of the Republican mantra—it’s an argument Trump seems particularly fond of.

Something for everyone. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will gather this week to consider 23 pieces of legislation during its first markup of the 116th Congress.

The bills, covering issues such as carbon capture, advanced nuclear and energy efficiency, have the potential to form various types of legislative packages that both Republicans and Democrats are looking to advance to the Senate floor.

Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has already hinted that one package may look to encompass five different bills to boost energy storage funding.

Other packages could focus on carbon capture or energy efficiency, committee aides said, although those discussions are still in flux.

Before the bills make it to the Senate floor, they must be approved by the Committee.

S. 1201, would direct the creation of four carbon capture-related programs within the Office of Fossil Energy, including new efforts on carbon storage, utilization, direct air capture, and more efficient fossil energy use.

S. 1685, authorizing $50 million a year from fiscal 2020 until fiscal 2025 for DOE to launch and conduct a research program into the capture of carbon from the use of natural gas.

Murkowski's advanced nuclear bill, S. 903, is also expected to move with bipartisan support.

Six of the bills set for the markup have to do with bolstering energy efficiency in homes, manufacturing, and federal buildings, among other areas.

The so-called low-hanging fruit of energy policy, the efficiency measures have bipartisan support as a way to help combat climate change.

Notable among those bills is a Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) measure (S. 983) that would boost DOE's weatherization program with more money to retrofit low-income households with energy efficiency and weather-related improvements.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), meanwhile, has a bill, S. 715, to direct the formation of a smart energy plan for efficiency improvements in manufacturing. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has a bill, S. 520, that would establish an efficiency materials pilot program within DOE.

Also under consideration is a measure put forward by Murkowski, S. 1857, that would direct the federal government to reduce energy by 25% and water by 54% during the next ten years with the help of a $360 million funding authorization. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has a bill, S. 1706, that would open up more performance incentive energy efficiency contracts with the federal government.

The final bill, H.R. 762, was introduced in the House by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA). It would help schools find better information about federal energy efficiency programs. It already passed the House. (E&E News)

Resolved, citizens need to stop it. The West Virginia House passed a resolution that was drafted by a Dominion Energy lobbyist.

House Resolution 11, sponsored by nearly half the delegates, praised the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a major natural gas project. Then, the resolution sharply condemned the citizens’ groups that challenged the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project in court, calling their legal challenge an “all-out assault” with the goal of “forcing its cancelation.” (ProPublica)

  • Although this a purely West Virginia story, it reflects both the increasing popular resistance to oil and gas pipelines and the position of Trump and his administration.
  • Trump has issued several executive orders directing agencies to find ways to speed up pipeline construction—ways that, for the most part, walk-back the requirements of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). The courts have consistently ruled against the administration for failing to play by the rules that require rigorous impact statements.
  • Most climate advocates found the fact that a Dominion Energy lobbyist wrote the Resolution upsetting. From my experience, I can tell that it’s not unusual for outsiders to research and draft bills and resolutions for lawmakers, who are generally overworked and under staffed. They still have to be vetted by legislative counsels and approved by the lawmakers.
  • The really horrifying part, in my opinion, is that the West Virginia members were condemning citizens for exercising their constitutional right to question the legislature and fight for their rights.

An unfortunate slip of the lip? The Washington Post ran a story in which Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, was quoted as saying the Green New Deal wasn’t originally a climate thing at all. Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

The statement was made in a meeting with Governor Inslee’s climate director, Sam Ricketts. The get-together was introductory. Chakrabarti congratulated Ricketts on the Evergreen economy plan that Governor Inslee has released. Inslee is running almost exclusively on the climate issue.

Ocasio-Cortez has been quoted in support of the Inslee plan and has indicated it’s the most complete plan out there and true to the principles of the Green New Deal. Chakrabarti was also quoted in the story as saying he didn’t think the Inslee plan goes far enough.

Chakrabarti’s comment about the GND not really being a climate thing is already being used to support conservative claims that Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic socialists are out to overthrow the Republic.

The meeting was evidently attended by the author of the story, which is how it made onto the pages of the Washington Post. (Washington Post)

  • I can’t fathom why on earth the comment was made in front of a reporter. What’s to be gained? The story is already being reported throughout the conservative media—with the clear, if the unwritten tag, of didn’t we tell you they are out to destroy America. Particularly these days as Trump continues to sound like a Grand Wizard of the KKK. I know honesty is the best policy, but—honestly, this didn’t have to be made public.

Speaking with forked tongues? Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urged major investors to seek answers from tech and telecom giants about why they are funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market group that questions climate change science.

Climate hawks have long wondered about the funding of Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)—a very conservative organization—but it is not required to disclose its donors, as a nonprofit. However, the New York Times this week reported on an itinerary it obtained for a recent gala organized by CEI that listed sponsors including Google, Amazon, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Uber. (New York Times)

Each of those companies has internal corporate policies to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, but they are “undermining” those commitments by supporting the CEI event, Whitehouse said.

I’ve often wondered where CEI got its money as well. The group is very secretive about it—makes you wonder why.

It’s getting to the time when people and companies need to decide which side they are on in the climate debate. Although I believe in reaching out and trying to work across the divides, lines in the sand do need to be drawn.

If these corporations are playing both sides, I think this needs to get out. Having it both ways is a major reason why so little progress gets made. (New York Times)

Nuthin’ buzzin thanks to EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency said it would allow the use of the pesticide sulfoxaflor on some crops, despite an EPA finding that the substance is harmful to bees. The move comes a few days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was suspending collection of one of the last federal datasets that track bee populations. (The Hill)

  • The loss of bee populations is serious business. Without them, food crops will be losing a major pollinator.
  • There’s actually work going on to develop bee-drones to takeover should bee populations continue to dwindle.
  • It is just more evidence that “protection” is a misnomer in the EPA title.

The end for Wilbur Ross? President Donald Trump delivered a blow to two uranium mining companies but gave relief to nuclear power plant operators late Friday by announcing he would not restrict uranium imports to guarantee U.S. mining companies a larger share of the American market for nuclear fuel

Trump's Friday decision not to do so is at odds with a Commerce Department determination that the uranium imports pose a national security risk. Trump instead wrote in a memo that he did not concur with the secretary's finding but said: "a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain is necessary at this time." (Politico)

Trump also ordered the formation of a Nuclear Fuel Working Group to look for ways to "reinvigorate the entire nuclear fuel supply chain," with a particular focus on defense needs, which will be co-chaired by national security adviser John Bolton and economic adviser Larry Kudlow. (Politico)

  • What does this have to do with Commerce Secretary Ross? There have been rumors that Trump is not pleased with Ross over the citizenship question. It’s entirely possible that Trump decided to be contrary and send Ross a message.
  • We know what happens when Trump starts ignoring his appointees in high places.

It won’t cost you much. The Trump administration said it was issuing final rules to suspend a 2016 Obama administration regulation that more than doubled penalties for automakers failing to meet fuel efficiency requirements.

Congress in 2015 ordered federal agencies to adjust a wide range of civil penalties to account for inflation and, in response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) under President Barack Obama issued rules to eventually raise fines to $14 from $5.50 for every 0.1 miles per gallon of fuel that new cars and trucks consume in excess of the required standards.

After a group of states and environmental groups filed suit, the Trump administration began the process of formally undoing the Obama regulation and first proposed the freeze in 2018.

In a statement late on Friday, NHTSA said it was faithfully following the intent of Congress to ensure the penalty rate was set at the level required by statute.

It expected this final rule to significantly cut the future burden on industry and consumers by up to $1 billion a year, it added.

In February, Fiat Chrysler told Reuters it paid $77 million in U.S. civil penalties in 2018 for failing to meet model year 2016 fuel economy requirements.

Environmental groups urge the administration to retain the increase, noting U.S. fuel economy fines have lost nearly 75% of their original value because the fines have only been increased once — from $5 to $5.50 in 1997 — in more than four decades.

Steyer stay out. Environmentalists are not enthusiastic about California billionaire Tom Steyer’s late entrance into the presidential race and worry his campaign could backfire.

Steyer's campaign could blunt momentum generated by candidates, such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who have elevated climate change as a priority in the primary elections by proposing detailed policies to curb it.

“A lot of people will be skeptical of a message of ‘I have a lot of money’ as a reason to vote for him, and merely saying you care about the climate isn’t enough,” said Brett Hartl, chief political strategist of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund.

Environmentalists say Steyer would be better served spending the $100 million in personal money he has pegged for his campaign to outside activities, such as helping other presidential candidates or advocating for policy at the state and local level. (Washington Examiner)

We’ve got your backs. Groups of climate activists known for their aggressive tactics and raucous protests are getting an unusual assist from some of the biggest names in philanthropy.

Filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the niece of John F. Kennedy, and Aileen Getty, granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, are among numerous prominent founding members of a Climate Emergency Fund that will send everything from cash to bullhorns and other supplies to grass-roots activists gaining momentum across the country and around the globe. 

The move is an especially big boon to the activists that are part of a “climate emergency movement” calling on governments around the world to treat climate change as an existential threat — as much of the funding in the climate space traditionally goes to groups advocating for slower and less ambitious policy changes. (Washington Post)

A note to readers: If you find the Climate Politics/Capitol Light newsletters helpful, I would appreciate you letting friends and colleagues know about them and encouraging them to visit the Civil Notion website to view the issues. While they are there, they could sign-up for the newsletters and find them in their mailbox every time their posted.

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Thank Joel for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 16, 2019 10:48 am GMT

Inslee said the pipeline proposal should be a “major topic” of discussion during the second Democratic debate held over two days in Detroit July 30 and 31. He has called for the end of all fossil fuel infrastructure as part of a multi-pronged climate change plan.

I'd be for the pipeline issue to be a topic of debate as a part of an entire primary debate centered on the candidates' climate plans, but I'm still worried we won't get such a debate and will have to make due with a question or two at non-climate-focused debates. If that's the case, as important as the pipeline questions are, I feel like I'd rather them focus on their more comprehensive plans

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