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Climate Politics/Capitol Light (25)

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  September 4, 2019                

Get a move on. Government lawyers today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to expedite consideration of legal challenges to the EPA regulation, which replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

The move could mean the Trump administration defends the ACE rule in the Supreme Court before the end of the president's term.

  • How long it takes for ACE cases to be finally resolved by the High Court is a critical part of what the future will hold, should the Democrats retake the White House.
  • Trump came into office before the CPP could be decided by the Supreme Court, allowing him to rescind and replace Obama’s plan, and to ask for dismissal of West Virginia v. EPA—the name under which most of the cases were consolidated.
  • Had the case been decided in favor of the CPP—by a court without Justices Gorsuch and Kennedy—it would have been much harder for Trump and company to attack because it would have been an in force regulation.
  • Beyond the CPP, a positive outcome in the case would have created a strong and on-point precedent that would make it harder for a conservative judiciary to ignore.

For an additional discussion of what a Democratic administration will be facing after four years of Trump check here for my series on Erasing Trump’s Climate Legacy.

Blowin’ in the wind.Three days before President Trump declared that wind power doesn't work "all that well," his Energy Department released a report stating that wind power installations are "robust" and prices are "falling."

Trump, speaking in France at the Group of Seven summit earlier this week, dismissed the notion that the renewable power source could help curb climate change.

"I'm not going to lose that wealth on dreams, on windmills, which, frankly, are not working all that well," he said.

  • At least he’s stopped saying wind turbines cause cancer.
  • It’s statements like these that tell the world Trump has no concept of what’s going on. In part it makes it easier for G-7 nations simply to ignore him. He was clearly not missed when he failed to show up for the G-7 session on climate.

What, they worry? A new report by Amsterdam-based Glocalities, which canvassed views worldwide, showed the number of U.S. Republicans who said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “I worry about the damage humans cause the planet” rose by 11 percentage points to 58 percent between 2014 and 2019.

The number of Republican voters aged 18-34 who are worried about the issue rose by 18 percentage points to 67 percent, said the poll, which also showed a 10-percentage-point increase among all U.S. Republicans who said they tried “to live eco-consciously.”

  • The rise in the percentage of young Republicans that are concerned about the future of Earth’s climate and its populations is a critical bit of information. It speaks to a better future.
  • It will be interesting to see if the youth on the right and left are any better able to cooperate than the generation that has gone before.

Deadline for ozone review might slip — EPA will take shortcuts to meet an accelerated timetable for completion of the latest review of its ground-level ozone standards but could still miss the cutoff set by agency leaders, according to a final plan released this week.

Under the schedule imposed last year by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the new assessment is supposed to wrap up by October 2020. EPA staff now indicate they may need until early 2021.

In the meantime, the review "is progressing on an accelerated schedule, and the EPA is incorporating a number of efficiencies ... to ensure completion within the statutorily required period," they wrote in the final version.

Among those steps: scrapping the customary kickoff workshop, combining key documents and limiting the role of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which is charged with providing independent expertise.

  • Note that in taking shortcuts EPA continues to isolate itself from the public and its own advisors.
  • The increased isolation and is likely to increase the chance that EPA’s final decision will be successfully challenged in court.
  • This is another instance in which time can make a difference in terms of the administration that will be inaugurated in January 2021. A Democratic administration will be able to move quickly via an executive order to pull the action and rewrite the rule to reflect the reality of climate change.

Well, blow me over. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is splitting with President Trump over his rollback of Obama-era clean car standards.

The Chamber's Global Energy Institute released a scathing report saying the proposal would lead to "chaos and confusion throughout the country."

The Chamber went on to rebuke the Trump administration for seeking to dismantle the so-called One National Program for fuel economy.

Under the One National Program, California and the federal government have historically harmonized their clean car standards.

However, as part of the rollback, the Trump administration is proposing to revoke California's Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which gives the state the authority to set stricter standards.

  • I admit—I’m shocked that the Chamber is actually standing up to Trump.
  • It is far from the only instance in which the administration—actually Trump—has put himself before industry and the nation to prove he’s the Donald-in-charge. Trump has problems with both California and doing something that might make it appear that he is admitting there’s something amiss with the environment.
  • This is an instance in which what can be done serves the nation in terms of climate defense and the competitiveness of a domestic industry in markets both at home and abroad. There’s no downside to this.

Pound for pound.  Oil and gas producers might have been expected to welcome a decision to loosen regulations affecting their business. However, their reaction to the Trump administration’s move to roll back methane-emissions rules revealed at least tactical divisions on climate policy.

Contradictory voices quickly emerged between those who supported the move as a boon to domestic energy production and others who viewed it as a counterproductive measure that would sully the reputation of natural gas as a clean fuel.

Methane is significantly worse for the environment than CO2. A pound of the stuff can capture up to 84 times as much heat as a pound of carbon dioxide. A byproduct of fossil fuel production as well as agriculture, it's to blame for about a quarter of all manmade global warming. (New York Times)

  • This is another case in which the anti-environmental regulation mentality overrides a win-win situation for both industry and the environment.

Seal-ing their fate? More than 1,100 sea lions could be killed annually along a stretch of the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington border to boost faltering populations of salmon and steelhead, federal officials said Friday.

NOAA Fisheries said it's taking public comments through Oct. 29 on the plan requested by Idaho, Oregon, Washington state and Native American tribes.

The agency says billions of dollars on habitat restoration, fish passage at dams and other efforts have been spent in the three states in the last several decades to save 13 species of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Wild Fish Conservancy, which works to recover and conserve wild fish, opposes killing sea lions. The group says habitat destruction, dams, and overharvesting have far greater impacts.

Peering into the future.  EPA is requesting public feedback on a shortlist of candidates to assess an upcoming draft report on techniques for gauging the health benefits of cuts in low levels of fine particulate concentrations.

After seeking nominations for the peer review panel in June, the agency today set a September 24 deadline for input on the field of 16 candidates, according to a Federal Register notice.

Fine particulates are technically known as PM2.5 because they are no larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. They are associated with a variety of heart and lung problems, including an increased risk of early death in some circumstances.

The nominees, culled from dozens of submissions, mostly hail from academia. The selection process is being managed by a contractor, ICF International Inc., which eventually plans to name about nine people to the panel.

  • You have to wonder—given the administration’s poor treatment of advisors who actually advise and not just consent.
  • Even after packing EPA’s Science Advisory Board, its own advisors have registered concern over the Agency’s “secret science” rule.

Into the lion’s den. A liberal activist who has been active on energy policy in West Virginia announced today she is running for the seat held by three-term GOP incumbent Rep. Alex Mooney.

Cathy Kunkel, whose platform calls for tackling climate change and a transition from fossil fuels, said the state's 2nd District "deserves better."

Citing projections of a continued decline in coal use and bankruptcies by natural gas companies, Kunkel takes a dim view of petrochemical facilities that West Virginia lawmakers have looked to boost the state's sluggish economy as coal production slows.

"The plans for massive petrochemical development in West Virginia are likely to repeat the same problems of the fossil fuel economy and will not live up to expectations," according to her website. "Meanwhile, states around us are reaping the benefits of a growing renewable energy industry."

  • Ms. Kunkel has her work cut out for her.
  • I believe she’s right when she expresses her belief that swapping out the coal industry for petrochemicals is likely to end badly for the district and the state.

For additional discussion on this topic, click here.

Uncle! Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus won't seek reelection next year, leaving the House without the most vocal advocate for building the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada. He’s the 15th Republican representative to announce their retirement by the end of the 116th Congress.

The 12-term congressman is the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. 

He represents the 15th District in eastern and southeastern Illinois, which is reliably Republican and where 70% of voters chose President Trump in the 2016 race. The Cook Political Report rates the race as "solid Republican."

Shimkus has also been a reliable supporter of the GOP and the Trump administration's environmental policies, working to shepherd through legislation meant to roll back major rules in areas like air pollution and climate change.

Shimkus was previously co-chairman of the Congressional Coal Caucus, and once said the concept of government addressing climate change was at odds with the promise made by God to Noah, in the Book of Genesis, never to allow a flood to destroy the Earth.

Here’s another fine mess. President Trump promised changes to ethanol policies within two weeks, which he said would boost biofuels without harming oil refineries.

"Big additional list to be submitted & approved within two weeks. Will be even better for Ethanol, and we save our small refineries!" Trump said, noting that the administration has already sought to help farmers by allowing sales of higher-ethanol fuel year-round.

In his tweet, the president also cited increased Brazilian quotas for ethanol imports, a signal that U.S. farmers could see an expanded market there for ethanol, which is mainly made from corn.

The administration is weighing several potential tweaks to biofuels policy following backlash over EPA's decision last month to exempt 31 small refineries from the renewable fuel standard's biofuel blending requirements. Industry sources said the specifics aren't clear but that officials are considering ways to increase the availability of E15 fuel — which is 15 percent ethanol — and potentially to rework policies on the exemptions in a way beneficial to the ethanol industry. (E&E News)

They’ve got a plan for that. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) released a climate change plan calling for creating a “clean, carbon-neutral” economy by 2045. As The Post's Chelsea Janes reports, to get there Harris is calling for $10 trillion of public and private spending over the next ten years in the energy, transportation, and other sectors, 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), similarly, wants the country to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 with $3 trillion in investments over the next ten years. Klobuchar set a goal of net-zero emissions by the mid-century mark, 2050, with $1 trillion in investments.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), meanwhile, embraced Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate plan, calling for a series of intermediate goals, such as zero emissions for all new light-duty passenger vehicles and buses by 2030 and zero-emission for electricity generation by 2035. Inslee, who cast himself as the climate change candidate, last month dropped out of the 2020 race. (Washington Post)

People and planet. Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Housing and Urban Development secretary, released his climate plan that proposes shuttering coal-fired power plants by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions in the United States by 2045. Castro's plan would also require all federal actions to be reviewed for environmental and health impacts on low-income communities, as well as give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to target entities responsible for pollution. (The Hill)

Going for broke?  The Bonneville Power Administration, the independent federal agency that sells the electricity produced by the dams, is careening toward a financial cliff. BPA is $15 billion in debt, facing a rapidly changing energy market dominated increasingly by wind and solar and a desperate need to maintain aging infrastructure that's expected to cost $300 million to maintain and upgrade by 2023.

In the past, the utility relied heavily on selling surplus power at high rates to states including California, often referred to as the utility's ATM. Starting around 2008, California invested in wind and solar, and soon it no longer needed BPA's power. Bonneville was left with virtually no customers for its extra power.

Splitting more than atoms. The use of nuclear power is splitting Democratic presidential candidates, with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and businessman Andrew Yang among those calling for new plants and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arguing vehemently against any expansions. (The Hill)

On a count. California's mixed record of using public investments and environmental mandates to create "green jobs" raises serious questions about the promises of some Democratic presidential candidates to use economy-transforming investments in environmentally friendly technologies to put millions of people to work.

Many of the initiatives touted by the candidates in their environmental plans are already in place in California, and some of them having been promoted as important engines of job creation. However, California stopped counting green jobs in 2013, struggling to separate truly new jobs from existing employment growth. (Politico)

It’s not all candidate against candidate. Whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination will likely incorporate seven major ideas for fighting climate change that have widespread buy-in among the crowded 2020 field. (Bloomberg)

What the S_hell? The British government is facing growing outrage from the European Commission and five EU member states over its plans to leave some decommissioned oil rigs in the North Sea, with one senior German official describing the UK’s proposal as a “grotesque idea” that amounts to a “ticking timebomb.”

Several hundred oil drilling platforms in the North Sea are due to be decommissioned over the next three decades as they approach the end of their operational lifetime.

Disassembling the enormous pieces of infrastructure, each of which can be as tall as the Eiffel Tower is a costly undertaking, and this year the UK government is intending to endorse plans by Shell to leave behind one steel jacket and the concrete bases beneath three of the platforms of its Brent oilfield installation. (The Guardian)

  • Yet another example of how governments subsidize the oil and gas industry. I have no doubt that disassembly is costly. The companies, however, didn’t complain about the cost of putting them there in the first place when they knew they the money would flow along with the oil. Now that there’s no money in it…

More than the sun and wind. To decarbonize the economy, the United States needs to employ a suite of renewable energy technologies beyond wind and solar power. In particular, renewable energy that provides baseload power (i.e., 24/7 renewable electricity)—including biomass, hydropower, geothermal, and biogas—should be a critical part of a low-carbon energy portfolio. 

During an August pro forma session, Representatives Elise Stefanik of New York and Scott Peters of California introduced the Renewable Electricity Tax Credit Equalization Act (H.R. 4186) which would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the credit for electricity produced from certain renewable resources and the investment credit for certain qualified investment credit facilities.”

According to a joint press release from the American Biogas Council, Biomass Power Association, Energy Recovery Council, and the National Hydropower Association, this bill “renews and extends a tax credit which has been expired since 2017.” This tax credit would benefit renewable industries, including biomass, biogas, geothermal, hydropower, and marine energy, which have historically received less federal attention than wind and solar counterparts in tax codes. As described in a recent article from EESI in The Solar Tribune, “ensuring tax parity for these energy sources would increase private investment to develop and deploy these technologies, providing more renewable options to meet the country’s overall energy demand.” (EESI)

Are we there yet? The Carbon Capture Coalition is urging the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to include a bill boosting carbon capture and storage in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

It would also facilitate the construction of pipelines to transport the captured emissions to where it can be sold and set up a program to incentivize the creation of technologies that can suck carbon directly out of the air and store it underground, known as direct air capture.

The USE It Act passed unanimously through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and was included in the NDAA that passed the Senate. It was not included in the House NDAA, although companion legislation in that chamber has 24 Democratic and 12 Republican co-sponsors. (Washington Examiner)

  • Technological diversity is an issue that needs to be addressed in future climate-related legislation.
  • It’s unwise to think that solar and wind can do it all. Once upon a time, it was thought that nuclear could do it all. The same may be said of fossil fuels.
  • Nature and nations stay strong through diversity.

Ex cathedra. Pope Francis challenged governments on Sunday to take "drastic measures" to combat global warming and reduce the use of fossil fuels, saying the world was experiencing a climate emergency. (Reuters)

Get out! A year before the 2018 elections, Nathaniel Stinnett vowed to raise an “army of environmental super voters” to rival the National Rifle Association.

His nonpartisan Environmental Voter Project ultimately persuaded 58,961 eco-conscious voters in six states ― Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Pennsylvania ― to cast ballots for the first time last year. 

Now, ahead of the 2020 election, Stinnett is doubling his effort, targeting millions of untapped voters and adding six new battleground states: Arizona, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Maine. 

Next year, the Environmental Voter Project is eyeing 5 million new voters ahead of local, state, and presidential primaries. By the time the general election takes place in November, “we’ll still be targeting 2 million environment-first voters who’ve never voted in a single election before,” Stinnett said. 

“We’re not going to let a single environmentalist stay home on Election Day,” Stinnett said. (Huffington Post)

Weight loss. For the first time ever, ExxonMobil wasn’t among the top ten companies in the S&P 500 by index weight at the end of the month this August as energy stocks give way to technology as the biggest firms with the largest weight in the index. (Yahoo)

How unenlightened can they be? The Department of Energy (DOE) finalized a controversial rule Tuesday that would erase Obama-era efficiency standards for lightbulbs.

The regulation eliminates efficiency standards for about half the bulbs on the market. It leaves in place rules for standard pear-shaped bulbs while removing such requirements for recessed lighting, chandeliers and other shapes of bulbs.

When first proposed, the rule was supported by lightbulb manufacturers, but consumer groups estimate continuing to use less-efficient bulbs will cost the average household more than $100 a year and create more pollution as utilities produce energy that otherwise would not be needed.

The rule will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt-hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. (The Hill)

Shirking their duties. U.S. duty levels on certain imports of solar power cells from China have drawn legal challenges from both U.S. and Chinese companies. (Morning Consult)

Too hot to handle. The New York Times has abruptly withdrawn its sponsorship of a controversial oil conference after finding its offices targeted by climate campaigners angered at its fossil fuel support.

Bank on it. Lawmakers are again looking to open the Energy Department's loan guarantee program to state lending institutions, of which green banks - and their work to reduce emissions - could be a primary beneficiary.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on July 31 reintroduced the bill, which was first floated with similar wording in 2015 and passed within the Senate’s energy package in 2016. It would codify that state-based lenders have access to the loan guarantee program and would allow them to partner with private or tribal entities on projects receiving loans. (Morning Consult)

Watts up? Wood Mackenzie’s latest Energy Transition Outlook predicts the world will add 3,000 gigawatts of wind and solar over the next two decades, far more than new gas-fired capacity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that nearly half of the world’s electricity will come from renewable energy by 2050 as costs of wind, solar and battery storage continue to plummet. (Greentech Media)

On the margin. In April, for the first time in the U.S., renewables generated more electricity than coal, according to the Energy Information Administration. Now that renewable technologies like wind and solar are largely commoditized, investors and utilities are looking for ways to improve their margins, and they're turning to startups in artificial intelligence to do it. (Greentech Media)

Hearings of interest

September 10. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on "Solving the Climate Crisis: Manufacturing Jobs for America's Workers", with testimony from officials from the BlueGreen Alliance and the United Auto Workers, as well as from a former Energy Department chief of staff.

September 10. A House Small Business subcommittee will hold a hearing on small business' role in the clean energy and green economy. That hearing is set for.

September 11. The House Financial Services' national security subcommittee will tackle the macroeconomic impacts of a changing climate, according to a committee notice.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 5, 2019 12:27 pm GMT

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), meanwhile, embraced Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate plan

This and the other outlines of climate plans coming out of last night's climate townhall show the power that Governor Inslee had by sticking in the race as long as he did without ever having a realistic chance of winning. I'm thrilled to see the primary process working and that so many candidates are now adopting these agressive climate platforms. 

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