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Climate Politics/Capitol Light Vol 1 Issue 10

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Ace or Joker? On Wednesday the EPA released its final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to reduce carbon emissions from individual power plants without setting limits on the sector's emissions. The Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan redefines the "best system of emissions reductions" for existing power plants, directing operators to slash greenhouse gases by focusing solely on improving the efficiency of their facilities.

ACE is a behind the fence rule that is likely to keep aged coal plants on-line with the addition of emission controls. The climate rule does not cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, leaving it up to states to pick from a menu of technologies to improve power plant efficiency at the facility level.

The agency is providing states with a list of applicable emissions control technology they can use for compliance. Under the final rule, states cannot use carbon capture and storage technology or fuel switching from coal to a less high-emitting option to comply. Emissions trading, either between facilities or within facilities themselves, will also not be allowed.

The deadlines for states to provide plans for implementing the rule have been extended. States now have three years to submit plans to the agency, and EPA has a year to review them.

EPA says the new rule will reduce carbon emissions by as much as 35 percent below 2005 levels in 2030 — similar to projections for the Clean Power Plan — but most of that would occur from market forces absent any regulation. EPA, in a fact sheet accompanying the rule, projects ACE will cut carbon emissions 11 million tons by 2030, but that’s only about a 0.84 percent reduction compared to what would occur with no regulation.

An EPA official acknowledged “some” coal plants will increase emissions over their lifetime if they apply efficiency improvements and operate longer, rather than retire.

Environmentalists and Democratic states plan to sue the Trump administration, arguing the rule does not meaningfully fulfill the bare-bones requirement of the Clean Air Act since it would not significantly cut carbon emissions by keeping alive coal plants with efficiency improvements that would otherwise retire. (E&E News)

  • Even without legal challenges, It will be years before any plan would go into effect—3 years from the issuance of the final rule plus one year for EPA to approve. With all the legal challenges that will be filed, it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the first goes into effect.
  • I’ve written before that the administration views long delays as good as a win in the courts.
  • Even if the Administration loses in court, it still could earn a victory by a judicial interpretation of the Clean Air Act in a less expansive way than the courts have in the past. It is important to remember that the case that led to the EPA’s obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (Massachusetts v EPA) was a 5 to 4 decision—as are many of the cases now considered “settled” environmental law. Should Republicans win the White House and capture both the House and Senate in 2020 that they will make what could be a successful move to legislatively overturn the endangerment finding, which would unwind most of the authority needed to regulate Greenhouse gases both from power plants and vehicles.

Good news/bad news. The Renewables 2019 Global Status Report (REN21) is now available. The year 2018 saw a relatively stable market for renewable energy technologies. A total of 181 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power was added, a consistent pace compared to 2017, and the number of countries integrating high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE) keeps rising. The bad news is that an uncertain policy environment in many countries undermines the contributions of renewable energy systems. (REN21)

The need for speed. New research is showing that emissions need to be halved by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but temperatures are on track to reach double that by the end of the century even if countries' current plans are fully implemented. (Reuters)

Nuke it. Representatives Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), and Conor Lamb (D-PA) have co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act. The legislation includes a comprehensive proposal to fund research, development, and accelerated deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies. (Morning Consult)

Mine your own business.Virginia can continue prohibiting uranium development within its borders after the Supreme Court issued a split decision that the state’s decades-old extraction ban does not conflict with federal law that puts the US government in charge of safety oversight for uranium and other radiological materials. (E&E News)

A kick in the ash.When North Carolina regulators ordered Duke Energy Corp. to remove nearly 100 million tons of waste produced by six of its coal-fired power plants, the utility said the directive would nearly double its previous coal ash cleanup estimate of $5.6 billion for the Carolinas.

Like some other guys. White House hopeful Julián Castro on Tuesday released the second portion of his "People First Housing" plan, with a focus on environmentally sustainable housing that includes a $200 billion Green Infrastructure Fund to expand and improve public transportation, make buildings more energy efficient, improve climate resilience, modernize the grid and create public electric vehicle charging stations.

Castro wants the world to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The target puts the former Housing and Urban Development secretary on par with other Democratic presidential candidates, including former Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden, and slightly behind Washington Governor Jay Inslee's 2045 timeline.

Castro did not completely endorse the Green New Deal but said his plan would "meet the promise of the Green New Deal."

Apart from today's release, Castro has not fleshed out a climate platform like some of his competitors have. The Texas native has polled between 0 percent and 3 percent in recent early primary state and national polls.

We’ve already ordered. Senate Democrats want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to keep working to ensure grid operators fully integrate energy storage options into their markets by the end of the year.

In a letter to FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee a group of 13 Senate Democrats and one independent, led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urged the commission to maintain its efforts on storage. The group includes presidential candidates Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The group said it wants to see continued progress on the full implementation of Order No. 841, finalized in early 2018, which opened energy storage technology to compete in wholesale markets. (E&E News)

Follow the money. Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol made headway on the annual appropriations process, with the House passing a nearly $1 trillion spending package and emergency funding for the border crisis clearing the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House voted 226-203 for the four-bill package, H.R. 2740, which comprises Energy-Water Development, Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, and State-Foreign Operations measures.

Final passage occurred after the Democratic majority overcame procedural protests by conservatives unhappy the House has not acted on President Trump's request for billions of dollars to address the border crisis.

Led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), Republicans forced dozens of votes on amendments, prompting Democrats to bundle multiple amendments into en bloc packages.

The House disposed of a number of amendments to the Energy-Water Development title of the bill, with members voting 233-201 to adopt an amendment by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) that would bar funding to complete the environmental impact statement for Alaska's Pebble mine.

The House voted to adopt two en bloc amendment packages offered by Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). The first — backed by a 233-200 margin — includes the following amendments:

  • A bipartisan amendment offered by members of Florida's delegation that would bar funding for Section 404 Clean Water Act permits to discharge dredged material from a project within Water Conservation Areas in the Everglades.
  • An amendment by Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) to steer $2 million from Department of Energy fossil energy programs to the Office of Indian Energy Policy.
  • An amendment from Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to block funds for DOE to finalize a proposed rule on efficiency standards for certain lightbulbs.
  • An amendment by Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) that would prevent funds from being used to reject grant applications that reference climate change.
  • An amendment by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to clarify that DOE's Section 1703 loan guarantee program funds only clean energy projects that "avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gas."
  • An amendment by Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) to shift $3 million from DOE's departmental budget to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.
  • An amendment by Rep. Jesús Garcia (D-Ill.) to boost funding for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by $5 million by cutting funds from fossil research programs.

The second en bloc package — adopted 378-56 — includes the following provisions:

  • An amendment from Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) to boost Army Corps funds for the Martín Peña Channel in Puerto Rico.
  • An amendment by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) to shift $4 million from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Army Corps of Engineers to study natural disasters that have occurred this year, including Midwest flooding.
  • An amendment by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) to transfer $3 million from DOE's departmental budget to fossil energy research.
  • An amendment by Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) to increase funding for EERE research into distributed wind technologies.
  • An amendment by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) to increase funding for EERE's Wind Energy Technologies Office by $16.3 million.
  • An amendment by Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) to add $100 million to Army Corps construction accounts to support projects that reduce flood and storm damage risk.
  • An amendment by Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) and Welch to provide funds for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to finalize a rulemaking on aggregated distributed energy resource participation in wholesale energy markets.

The appropriations bills are all about messaging at this point. The Senate is also waiting to hear from the White House on budget caps and the debt ceiling. At this point, no one knows how much there is to spend. Speaker Pelosi has warned the White House that the budget caps must be raised first. Should the caps not be raised, there will be automatic budget cuts of a Draconian nature. It remains unclear whether a deal can be reached before the July 4th break. Should the battle get out of hand, it is even possible that another government shutdown is in the offing.

Tax for the memories. The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday will mark up legislation that would extend for three years an assortment of expired or soon-to-be-expired energy incentives.

The package (H.R. 3301), released today by Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures Chairman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), would apply retroactively for 2018 while pushing the new expiration date for most credits to 2020.

While there are technical changes to a handful of credits, the package appears to avoid major revisions sought for months by an assortment of advocates and industry sectors, including breaks for energy storage and electric vehicles.

However, the bill would extend for one year the production tax credit for wind — scheduled to expire at the end of the year under a 2015 tax deal that phased down its value. Thompson's bill allows wind facilities that commence construction in 2020 to qualify for 60 percent of the credit's value.

The bill also revives the PTC for a host of other renewable sources that have not qualified for the break since the end of 2017. That provision was welcomed by the National Hydropower Association, which said it was "very pleased" to see extensions for hydropower and marine energy included in Thompson's bill.

An extension of the $1 per gallon biodiesel tax credit is also being reported as part of the tax extender legislation.  (E&E News)

Rules are rules. Energy companies and researchers, as well as climate activists, are arguing over the direction of the Paris climate agreement as the United Nations meets in Bonn, Germany, to place the finishing touches on the climate deal’s “rulebook.”

Energy officials gathering at a conference in Norway said meeting the goals of the deal will not come from completely curbing the use of fossil fuels, but rather from upping the world’s financial commitments to so-called carbon capture technologies.

These technologies are seen as the only way to keep burning coal and other fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world. Climate advocates rebut the idea that carbon capture is a real solution.

The rulebook will provide a strong foundation for when world leaders announce revisions to their climate commitments later this year at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, according to the World Resources Institute.

Countries can use the session in Bonn this week to discuss preparations for New York and their efforts to raise their ambitions under the 2015 climate agreement, according to researchers.

  • The UN’s position on carbon capture lends support to US advocates, e.g., mine operators and labor, for the technology.

Definitely the better half. Low prices for wind, solar, and battery storage technology will result in nearly half of the world’s electricity coming from zero-emission energy resources by the middle of the century, according to Bloomberg/NEF’s latest projections.

The projections show that the electricity sector will keep the planet’s temperatures from rising more than two degrees at least until 2030, which is in line with the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

The report shows different regions of the world, reducing greenhouse gas emissions at varying rates. Overall demand for electric power will grow 62 percent between now and the middle of the century. (Washington Examiner)

2020 is everything. Legislation advancing the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository has for years met its primary resistance in the Senate. However, political opposition has now shifted to the House, where some Democrats — who have the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — are wary of putting two crucial Nevada congressional seats at risk. (Politico)

New York, New York. Empire State lawmakers reached a deal to pass one of the most ambitious climate bills in the nation, setting the Empire State on a course to shape what the Green New Deal could look like at a state level.

The agreement to pass the Climate & Communities Protection Act calls for New York to eliminate 85 percent of its overall planet-warming emissions by 2050 while offsetting or capturing the other 15 percent. The deal mandates 35 percent of state energy funding go to low-income, polluted communities, but sets a goal of investing 40 percent. The final legislation requires all state-financed energy projects to pay union wages. (Huffington Post)

It’s time to fess up. Democratic presidential candidates have a sweeping array of proposals to fight climate change, but virtually all the leading hopefuls agree on one relatively simple proposal: forcing companies to disclose the risks they face from a warming atmosphere.

Environmental groups and investors alike say the Securities and Exchange Commission has let oil and gas companies obscure how stricter greenhouse gas regulations and the changing climate could jeopardize their operations. Now, fossil fuel producers worry that a Democratic president would require them to make damaging revelations that would spook investors. (Politico)

Happy to be #2. The Oregon state House voted 36-24 to pass cap-and-trade legislation, which Governor Kate Brown (D) has said will get her signature once the bill passes the Senate, making Oregon the second state - after California - to implement a limit on emissions and an auction of pollution permits. Opponents of the policy from both parties say the measure is unlikely to reduce emissions drastically. (AP)

It’s dangerous being green. Thirteen journalists who were investigating damage to the environment have been killed in recent years, and many more are suffering violence, harassment, intimidation, and lawsuits, according to a study.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which produced the tally, is investigating a further 16 deaths over the last decade. It says the number of murders may be as high as 29, making this field of journalism one of the most dangerous after war reporting.

On every continent, reporters have been attacked for investigating concerns about abuses related to the impact of corporate and political interests scrambling to extract wealth from the earth’s remaining natural resources.

We don’t need you looking over our shoulders. The president signed an executive order late Friday that will reduce the number of government advisory committees by a third across all federal agencies. However, as NBC News reports, critics argue it’s the administration’s “latest effort to undermine science-based and fact-supported decision-making.” In an email, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told NBC that Trump “believes it is time to review once more and eliminate ones that are not relevant and providing valuable services so that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.” (From Press)

  • The administration has been cutting back the number of advisory boards even before the Executive Order was issued.
  • Moreover, it’s been in the process of packing the committees it does have with its own appointees, e.g., the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB). In the case of SAB, even the members appointed by Pruitt were compelled to speak out against the limitations that were being put on it by Administrator Wheeler. The Order is consistent with Trump not wanting to hear from anyone that doesn’t agree with him.
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