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Climate Politics/Capitol Light (23)

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                                                                  August 19, 2019                                                                    

AK’s dominatrix. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released her “discussion”  draft of legislation that would assist the  U.S. to achieve “energy dominance” in its efforts to compete with countries like China and Russia.

The legislation, the Strategic Energy for America Act, would enable the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to provide foreign aid for nuclear energy projects in developing countries, aiming to compete with Russian and Chinese companies that are seeking to build reactors overseas. It would also direct the Treasury Department to oppose policies at multilateral development banks — such as the World Bank — seeking to impose restrictions on assistance to fossil fuel projects in developing countries.

Murkowski’s bill would also promote U.S. exports of natural gas and advanced nuclear energy through the Export-Import Bank by forcing it to establish a “strategic energy portfolio” focused on providing financial assistance for gas and nuclear infrastructure projects overseas.

For a healthy mid-America. Maintaining renewable portfolio standards in ‘Rust Belt’ states would bring health benefits of at least $4.7 billion in 2030, says a new peer-reviewed study. The research, conducted by MIT, looked at the impacts of energy policies that reduce unhealthy air particulates by displacing coal-fired power in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and seven other states. Ramping up renewable energy requirements in the region from 13 to 20 percent of generation would bring health benefits of $13.5 billion in 2030 compared to $5.8 billion in cost. The findings come shortly after Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed a new bill weakening the state’s RPS. (Axios)

A closet full of suits. Attorneys general from a coalition of 29 mostly Democratic states and cities are challenging the Trump administration’s replacement of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

The action, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, argues the Trump regulation, which was finalized this summer, does not “meaningfully” reduce carbon dioxide emissions and that the EPA is negligent in its duties under the Clean Air Act. The AGs contend the EPA must require the “best system of emission reduction available” and that the Trump administration’s rule would only nibble away at the margins. (Washington Post)

  • This is only one of many lawsuits that will be levied against the administration.
  • It is possible that the court(s) will strike down the ACE rule as scientifically insufficient but accept the administration’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act (CAA) permits only “behind the fence” regulation.
  • It is also possible that more conservative federal judges and justices will defer to the Trump administration’s judgement of the best system of emission reduction available; a judgement at odds with much of the mainstream science community.

A quicker fix. The president of the Alliance to Save Energy and the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions expressed their disappointment with the current climate debate. According to the two, the single best solution we have for meeting these goals—energy efficiency—has been left out of the current dialogue:

As swaths of the country face unrelenting heat waves, we currently have no federal tax incentives encouraging consumers and businesses to use their energy more wisely, such as through buying a more efficient air conditioner or installing insulation in a home.

This is an egregious hole in federal policy. For all the talk of a Green New Deal or a Green Real Deal, fixing this gap in the tax code is one thing Congress could pass tomorrow, with bipartisan support, to significantly reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously stimulating economic activity.

Let’s not do the limbo. Starting late this year, the value of the solar tax credit subsidy will fall for three years until it ends for residential solar and permanently drops to ten percent for commercial solar. In late July, a bipartisan trio of representatives and one Democratic senator brought the Renewable Energy Extension Act to Congress, which would keep the tax credit at 30 percent for another five years.

In July, more than 1,000 solar companies signed a letter in support of the bill. Previous extensions of the subsidy received broad bipartisan support, but few presidential administrations have been as antagonistic to clean energy as Trump's, which makes an extension far from certain. (Wired)

Another stacked deck. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana banned the Trump administration from taking up the recommendations of the Royalty Policy Committee revived by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017 and disbanded upon its charter's expiration in April. The judge sided with environmentalists who "identified a gaping hole" in the committee's accountability, including the absence of a representative from the environmental community.

Created in 2017 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Royalty Policy Committee attracted sharp criticism from conservationists and others who said its membership was stacked in favor of the energy industry.

Critics said that resulted in one-sided recommendations that favored industry and weakened environmental protections. Those included calls to speed up oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic, hasten approvals for new drilling and allow coal companies to largely self-determine the value of fuel they sell on the export market. (The Associated Press)

Letting the leaks go by. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected within weeks to issue a proposed rule that bars the federal government from setting limits on methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, according to people familiar with the plan. The White House is wrapping up its review of the proposed changes - updates that may go against what some fossil fuel companies try to convey regarding their commitments to cut methane in a bid to market gas as a climate-friendly energy source. (Bloomberg)

  • This is another instance in which the administration is truer to Trump’s extreme and usually unfounded position than it is to an industry’s idea of what’s in its best interests.
  • A parallel to the methane rules is the administration’s proposed freezing of auto and light truck fuel efficiency standards at the 2020 level, rather than the higher 54.5 mpg targets the auto industry had agreed to with the Obama administration.
  • In both cases the industries are not asking to be free of all environmental regulation and have shown themselves capable of meeting higher standards without stressing their bottom lines.

Shut up and get out! George Luber, an official with the Asthma and Community Health Branch of the National Center for Environmental Health, intends to file a whistleblower complaint over his treatment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after having raised concerns about changes the Trump administration made to the center's Climate and Health Program. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility staff counsel Kevin Bell said Luber "has essentially been gagged at the agency," placed on administrative leave and prevented from attending his office unsupervised. (E&E News)

Author, author. An analyst, Philip Rossetti, who co-authored a disputed study finding the Green New Deal would cost trillions of dollars is joining the Republican staff of the House’s Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Rossetti was the director of energy policy at the American Action Forum (AAF), a center-right group led by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Rossetti and four (AAF) colleagues published the February report that concluded the Green New Deal proposal championed by progressive Democrats would cost $93 trillion over ten years, with the vast majority of costs coming from provisions not directly tied to climate change or the environment, like a jobs guarantee and universal health care.

President Trump has cited the $93 trillion number  numerous times, as have leading Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-OR) and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-WY). (Combined sources Washington Examiner and E&E News)

  • Rossetti’s hiring is likely a sign that the Republican members of the Select Committee are gearing up to use the Green New Deal as a foil to any aggressive recommendations for combatting climate change the Democrats may put forward.
  • Led by Garret Graves (R-LA), the Select Committee’s ranking member, Republicans on the Committee have referenced the $93 trillion number numerous times during committee hearings—making it appear that the Green New Deal is a done deal as far as Democrats are concerned.
  • As the Green New Deal is still an unformed concept, the $93 trillion estimate has no real basis in fact. Regardless, congressional Republicans and the White House are using it as part of their overall efforts to paint Democrats as profligate socialists.

An endangered act. At least ten state attorneys general say they will join conservation groups in suing the Trump administration from making drastic changes to the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The proposed changes include considering the economic cost when deciding to save a species from extinction. The law currently says the cost to logging or oil interests will have no bearing on whether an animal, bird or other species deserve protection. The revised act would also end blanket protection for a species listed as threatened — a designation that is one step away from declaring an animal population as endangered — and reduce some wildlife habitat.

According to Representative Tom Udall (D-NM), the proposed regulations would take "a wrecking ball" to "one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws.". "There's a coalition in Congress that agrees with me," he added.

  • The administration’s proposed changes to the ESA stand in stark contrast to the recent release of the UN’s report on species extinction.
  • Like other of its recently proposed rule changes, e.g., the Affordable Clean Energy plan, the administration is justifying its actions on a less dire interpretation of the science and costs to the economy. This as opposed to an outright denial of the science.
  • Accepting the science while questioning the more severe interpretations of the consequences is a new strategy by the administration. It may make it harder to defeat the administration in court.
  • Udall is threatening to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to override the proposed changes. However, the CRA requires a joint resolution of both chambers of Congress and the president’s signature. Even if Udall can find enough Republicans in the House and Senate, it is hard to imagine Trump ever signing the resolution into force.

Gas enlightening. According to an authoritative new report from the American Meteorological Society and the US government, the gases heating the planet in 2018 were higher than humans have ever recorded. Greenhouse gas levels topped 60 years of modern measurements and 800,000 years of ice core data, the study found. The data used in the 325-page report was collected from more than 470 scientists in 60 countries.

Fake promises? Following a meeting in Beijing two years ago, President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping heralded the beginning of a new era in energy trade between the two nations.

Officials announced plans for the Chinese to invest more than $100 billion in U.S. projects, including a pipeline and liquefied natural gas export facility in Alaska and a complex of natural gas and chemical projects in West Virginia. A few months later, Houston-based Cheniere Energy announced it had signed a 25-year deal to sell liquefied natural gas to the China National Petroleum Corporation.

However, what appeared to be the beginnings of a booming new market for U.S. oil and natural gas is rapidly unraveling amid increasingly tense trade negotiations between the world’s two largest economies. At a Senate hearing last month, senators questioned experts on why the Alaskan and West Virginia investments had not materialized and whether the Chinese government might have ulterior motives in agreeing to invest in their states.

  • Reliance on Chinese investments in US natural gas purchases and infrastructure is asking to be manipulated—particularly given Trump’s trade war policies.
  • Rather than encouraging China to invest in the US, the US should be competing with China in the Americas and developing Asian countries—at least from a strategic point of view.

Thank U, Next. A coal production forecast conducted in 2018 by the University of West Virginia estimates coal production will continue to decline over the next two decades. Over 34,000 coal mining jobs in the US have disappeared over the past decade, leaving around 52,000 jobs remaining in the industry, despite several promises made by Donald Trump throughout his 2016 election campaign that he would bring those jobs back.

The Guardian article reports that miners are realizing that the coal industry is not going to be saved by Trump. “A lot of guys thought they were going to bring back coal jobs, and Trump stuck it to them,”

“Coal is over. Forget coal,” said Jimmy Simpkins, who worked as a coal miner in the area for 29 years. “It can never be back to what it was in our heyday. It can’t happen. That coal is not there to mine.” (The Guardian)

The incivility of it all. Greta Thunberg, at age 16, has quickly become one of the most visible climate activists in the world. Her detractors increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence.

Thunberg gained prominence after she began skipping some days of school to protest climate inaction outside the Swedish parliament. She spearheaded the school walkouts that saw more than a million children across the globe, leaving their classrooms to demand action on global warming.

She has addressed world and U.N. leaders and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, the success of Thunberg — who describes herself on Twitter as a "16-year-old climate activist with Asperger" — remains a sore point for those who reject mainstream climate science and some who have helped shape or encourage the Trump administration's rollback of climate policy.

They frequently point to Thunberg's autism, claim she is being used by her parents and compare her call to young people on climate change to "Hitler Youth." They have pointed to her "monotone voice" and framed her as a "millenarian weirdo" with the "look of apocalyptic dread in her eyes."

  • I view the attacks on Thunberg as another example of how Trump’s unfortunate use of political diatribes has changed political debate in the US and around the world.
  • Although Trump is not single-handedly responsible for today’s pejorative politics, his reliance on invectives instead of facts has set a tone that others are willing to follow to the detriment of the nation.
  • When opponents are reduced to personal insults, it is clear evidence that they have too few facts upon which to defend their positions.

A reminder to readers that Climate Politics is only being published once a week during the Congressional summer recess.

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