Climate Politics/Capitol Light (27)
- Sep 17, 2019 9:31 am GMT
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September 16, 2019
Show us the money. Congress will move spending legislation on multiple fronts this week, possibly including the Energy and Water Development bill in the Senate and a stopgap measure in the House.
Lawmakers are pressing to pass fiscal 2020 spending bills before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1 amid partisan splits over funding levels and policy riders.
Leaders in both chambers say they want avert a shutdown in the new fiscal year by moving a temporary funding measure. The House is set to act on one this week.
The Senate is tentatively set for a procedural vote that would allow it to consider its first fiscal 2020 bills — the Energy-Water and Defense measures — in one package. Sixty votes would be needed to advance the bill, meaning Democrats could filibuster it.
Senate appropriators approved both measures last week, but only the Energy-Water bill had bipartisan support. Democrats opposed the Defense measure because it would help fund President Trump's $5 billion border wall.
If the Senate passes Energy-Water, it would be one of the most significant measures related to climate change to pass the chamber this Congress. The bill includes substantial increases in the budgets of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and ARPA-E. The Senate version includes more funds than the House version. (E&E News)
- It’s likely at this point that the Democrats will try to add riders to the appropriations bills in violation of the non-binding agreement made as a part of the budget deal Congressional leaders made with the White House before the August recess.
- It’s agreed that a continuing resolution will be needed as there are only two weeks left before the end of the current fiscal year. The agreement is likely to extend the deadline for a deal to around Thanksgiving.
- Although there’s no appetite for a government shutdown, there is growing enmity between the Democrats , Senate Republicans, and the White House so another game of “chicken” may yet be played.
WOE BE TO WOTUS. Trump administration officials celebrated their repeal of Obama-era protections for wetlands and streams alongside members of the manufacturing, energy and farming industries at a signing ceremony hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler hailed the repeal as the first step toward rewriting Clean Water Act protections setting the stage for step two — a new WOTUS definition.
The 2015 Clean Water Rule clarified which wetlands and waterways were protected as "waters of the United States," or WOTUS, under the Clean Water Act. However, industry and Trump administration officials had complained it amounted to a federal land grab.
As proposed last December, the new WOTUS definition would eliminate protections for streams that flow only after rainfall or snowmelt and wetlands without surface water connections to larger waterways.
The practical effect of the action is removing Obama-era protections for the 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories that still follow the 2015 rule. (E&E News)
I couldn’t be Happ-e-er. John Bolton isn’t the only exiting the White House these days. William Happer, the National Security Council’s (NSC) senior director of emerging technology and a well-known climate change denialist is also leaving.
Happer was pushing to create a panel of scientists through the White House National Security Council to scrutinize the consensus view that man-made climate change is harming national security.
The idea faced significant opposition within the administration, causing it to be indefinitely postponed until after the 2020 election.
Happer is a Princeton physics professor, rather than a climate scientist. He gained notoriety by once declaring that the "demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler." (Washington Examiner)
- Happer’s leaving confirms that the administration has thought twice about trying to force a fight on climate science—especially the 2009 endangerment finding.
- It is not to say that the administration has turned friendly—just cautious about a frontal assault. It is much the same as Pruitt never being able to get buy-in to his red team/blue team proposal because of the risk it would backfire.
A shocking development. Key senators are considering imposing new federal user fees on electric vehicles to help pay for the chamber's $287 billion surface transportation bill.
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, is looking at various state approaches to charging user fees on EVs — including annual fees or registration fees — as a means of raising revenue to pay for the five-year highway bill that passed the panel before the August recess.
EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), who has sought to eliminate the federal EV tax credit, confirmed that new user fees are in the mix of possible pay-fors for the highway bill.
Twenty-six states have enacted legislation requiring a special registration fee for hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles, according to a Consumer Reports analysis released yesterday. (E&E News)
- The charges are intended to make up for the fact the EVs don’t use gasoline and, therefore, don’t pay the gas tax that supports the highway fund.
- The looming loss of the EV tax credit, along with the user fee, risks slowing demand for EV sales at a time when all the major—and many minor—auto companies are betting on growing demand. The transportation sector is the largest contributor of GHGs.
Not fast enough. Nearly half of global energy needs will be met by renewable power by 2050, but the world is still falling well short of the progress needed to achieve the Paris climate accord goals to prevent excessive global warming, according to a new report. (Chron)
A matter of national defense? Thirteen Democratic and four Republican members of Congress asked the House and Senate conference committee for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to include a Senate version of the carbon capture legislation, Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act (USE IT Act). (Utility Dive)
A red alternative. The American Energy First Act was introduced by six GOP lawmakers. The bill is labeled by its sponsors as an “all-of-the-above” energy approach.
The legislation, labeled by the sponsors as a "Green New Deal light" is mostly a compilation of separate energy bills previously introduced in House lawmakers in previous Congresses. (The Hill)
- Offshore drilling is one issue that will divide Republican lawmakers. Voters in states like Florida and the Carolinas are vehemently opposed to drilling off their shores. The potential economic threat to tourism and the southward flow of older Americans looking for warmer places to retire is just too high.
- The US and other nations are long past the time when an all-of-the-above can even be considered.
- Among the harshest critics of the anti-drilling bills is Garret Graves (R-LA) who is the ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The two have been quoted slinging names at each other. (See here for more of the dialogue.)
Drill baby, drill. Not! H.R. 1941, which would block drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, passed 238-189. The House added several amendments, including one requiring a Government Accountability Office study on the impacts of drilling on coastal communities. A second bill, H.R. 205, would permanently bar oil and gas leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. It passed 248-180, with support from 22 Republicans. Lawmakers added amendments codifying two drilling safety regulations in their original Obama-era versions and reassigning a study into ways to improve the operation of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. (The Hill)
- A third bill, sponsored by Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), has also passed the House by a vote of 225-193.
- It remains unlikely that the Senate will take up the measures although efforts to include the prohibitions as riders to appropriations bills may be attempted.
Oh, Canada. Canada which has faced devastating flooding of its own — is testing a very different idea of disaster recovery: Forcing people to move.
Unlike the United States, which will repeatedly help pay for people to rebuild in place, Canada has responded to the escalating costs of climate change by limiting aid after disasters, and even telling people to leave their homes.
The real-world consequences of that philosophy are playing out in Gatineau, a city across the river from Ottawa that has been hit by two 100-year-floods since 2017. Residents here are waiting for officials to tell them if the damage from the latest flood, in April, exceeded 50 percent of the value of those homes. Those who get that notice will be offered some money and told to leave. (New York Times)
- As I’ve stated on multiple occasions, at some point, the US is going to have to consider limiting re-construction of homes and businesses in flood zones.
- The National Flood Insurance Program covers over 5 million policies and collects around $475 billion in premiums and fees. In 2017-18 hurricanes crippled the program leading to billions in losses. (See here for more discussion.)
Part of a parcel. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said Tuesday her Green New Deal (GND) proposal will move forward in pieces.
“One of the things I think is really exciting [is that] the legislation that we are planning on introducing is not one broad-sweeping piece of legislation,” the first-term New York Democrat told reporters on Capitol Hill. One of the first measures will promote the transition to electric vehicles, she said.
Ocasio-Cortez said she also plans to introduce a bill this month aimed at transitioning the U.S. to carbon-neutral buildings, which she called a “Green New Deal housing plan.” (Washington Examiner)
- I think it’s a wise decision to break the GND into discrete pieces—although I consider it a bit disingenuous of AOC to sound “excited” about the prospect since it seems not to have been the original intention.
- It’s been reported that New Consensus, the group initially thought to be writing the legislation, was having difficulty--in part for lack of experience in writing so complex a bill.
- There are downsides to piecemealing the plan—although perhaps no greater than trying to introduce so large a legislative package.
- Reactions to the pieces will provide essential insights into what’s ahead—as nothing associated with the GND can be expected to be passed the 116th Congress.
Did anyone care? A recent Morning Consult/Politico tracking poll offers a look at how CNN’s seven hours of town hall fared with registered voters — 38 percent of voters said they'd heard nothing at all about it. That's compared with 14 percent of voters who said they'd heard a lot, 24 percent who listened to some and another 24 percent who didn’t hear much at all. In the same poll, 66 percent of voters said they think it's either "very important" (42 percent) or "somewhat important" (24 percent) for candidates to talk about climate change. (Politico)
- The most important number is the 66 percent of voters who believe it’s essential for candidates to talk about climate matters.
An Ern[e]st message to Trump. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has a message for President Trump if he's planning to come to Iowa to announce changes to biofuels mandates: Think again.
"I've advised the president that until we have a deal that satisfies our ethanol producers and our corn growers that he probably shouldn't take that trip," the Iowa Republican told E&E News, following up on rumors in the biofuels industry that Trump may be mulling a trip to announce a new policy. Iowa is the nation's leader in ethanol production.
Trump suggested a "giant package" will be a win for both sides, but that's been elusive on policies related to the renewable fuel standard.
At issue is how the administration responds to criticism over its granting of economic hardship exemptions to 31 small refineries last month — exemptions that allow petroleum refiners to bypass requirements under the RFS.
The ethanol industry blames exemptions for undermining demand for the corn-based fuel and contributing to the idling of some plants. (E&E News)
- A coalition of 16 conservative groups warned Trump administration officials not to move forward with proposed fixes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, calling for “special favors for the ethanol industry to end.”
- The American Energy Alliance, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action For America, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute wrote a letter accusing the ethanol lobby of “whining.”
- In a letter to Trump, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and others asked for a conventional biofuel waiver credit that could be issued to refineries if the administration's new biofuel policies result in higher compliance costs.
- Before its all over, Trump may find himself unwelcome anywhere corn is grown or ethanol is refined.
At it again. A group of 10 attorneys general led by New York's Letitia James submitted comments in opposition to a proposed Energy Department rule that would roll back Obama-era efficiency standards for residential gas furnaces and commercial gas water heaters. (Washington Post)
- A lawsuit is inevitable.
- It is another instance in which industry is split.
- Big appliance makers and many utilities are objecting to the proposed rule, saying the move could deter innovation in the appliance sector and increase the regulatory burden on companies.
- The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, though, is generally backing the Energy Department’s move. Also, natural gas groups, who brought the petition before the Energy Department to change the standards, say the agency isn’t going far enough.
NIMBY. A company suggested installing 380,000 solar panels near Virginia Civil War battlefields. Local residents "raged against it” despite the projects providing clean power and jobs for the area. (Washington Post)
- For a more detailed discussion of when and why communities say no to solar, and wind projects see here.
A tax is still a tax. A Republican-backed group pushing for Congress to pass a federal carbon tax recently revealed new details about its proposal in a bid to get more support.
Most significantly, the Climate Leadership Council, a group led by former Republican Secretaries of State James Baker III and George Shultz, stripped from its plan a provision that would have protected oil and gas companies from lawsuits by states and cities blaming them for climate change.
Bipartisan-minded Democrats who favor a carbon tax, such as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, had dismissed legal immunity for industry as a non-starter.
The proposal retains a second component of its so-called “grand bargain” to win over industry, keeping a plan to scrap carbon regulations of power plants imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be duplicative with a tax. (Washington Examiner)
- CLC believes that oil companies weren’t just endorsing the tax plan because it would have offered immunity from the wave of lawsuits being filed by cities and states seeking damages for knowingly selling a product harmful to the health and welfare of communities. I have my doubts.
- The organization believes regulatory freedom in the case of power plants is the draw, e.g., no Clean Power Plan (CPP) or Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.
- Although a carbon tax is being talked about more on the Hill and among business groups, it’s a long way from being acceptable to progressive groups and taxpayers—if history is to be believed.
The cost of nothing doing. Slowing the planetary march toward climate catastrophe-and the multi-trillion dollar investment required to do it has become a central issue of global and national debates. However, there's the equally expensive matter of dealing with the here and now. From historic wildfires to unprecedented hurricanes, global warming has reshaped the lives of millions, with increasingly tragic consequences. (Morning Consult)
Where’s the justice in this? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month blocked a measure that would have used Treasury Department funds marked for Appalachian development to help pay for coal miners' health care and pensions in his home state of Kentucky. Just a few months earlier, McConnell successfully steered near-identical Treasury funds for Appalachia to bankroll a Kentucky aluminum plant connected to an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Morning Consult)
- McConnell, as well as coal mine owners and Trump, blame climate advocates for killing the coal industry and putting miners out on the street.
- The solvency of miner health and retirement funds have been an issue for several years and is mostly the result of coal mine owners not paying into the fund what they agreed to—often filing for bankruptcy and pawning off miner retirement and health funds to insolvent shell companies.
- See here for a more detailed discussion.
Climate change affects everyone. Climate change may lead to large swings in the incomes of U.S. retail workers, according to a new study published by the Federal Reserve. (Bloomberg)
The times they are a-changin'? Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) are teaming up to form a bipartisan climate caucus in the Senate.
The group, set for a formal rollout in the coming weeks and first reported by the Washington Examiner, would in some ways be a counterpart to the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which grew to nearly 100 members in the previous Congress.
The caucus is another sign of the changing landscape in the GOP, as Republicans on Capitol Hill increasingly look for favorable climate credentials amid surging voter interest in the issue. (E&E News)
- This development can rightly be put in the “surprising” column—particularly since Republicans in the Senate have shown so little inclination to support anything constructive climate wise.
- The new group is a parallel to the House Climate Solutions Caucus which has been panned by environmentalists as a green-washing clubhouse for Republicans to hangout in for the sake of appearance.
- Still, it’s a start, and it should be noted that most Republican House members, e.g., Representative Love (R-UT) who had joined the House Caucus were not only defeated in the 2018 midterm elections, they were vilified by Trump post-election.
Wanting in. Red states filed a brief supporting the rollback of Obama-era rules (CPP) that they say "unconstitutionally commandeered the States and their officials."
Those states and their leaders are looking to counter the Democratic jurisdictions that filed a lawsuit against EPA's new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.
In their filing, the collection of conservative states, leaders, and agencies insisted the Trump administration's ACE rule was "critical" to maintaining the division of powers under the Clean Air Act. (E&E News)
- For a more complete discussion of the ACE v. CCP see Erasing Trump’s Environmental Legacy.