Climate Politics/Capitol Light (33)
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- Oct 17, 2019 12:22 am GMT
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October 16, 2019
But, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game
The lyrics above were written by Maxwell Anderson—a liberal Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and journalist from the 1920s until his death in 1959. Although having nothing to do with politics, September Song’s chorus perfectly reflects what’s going on these days on Capitol Hill—right down to not having time for the waiting game. Wait, we must, however, while Congress deals with impeachment inquiries and the precipitous pull-out of US forces from Syria.
Trump has certainly gotten his wish of being the center of attention. Unfortunately for the nation, the other business of government is being put on hold.
Congress must still face the problem of keeping the government open past the November 21st ending of the current continuing resolution. The various appropriations bills waiting in the queue are going to be hard-pressed to get the attention they deserve. Somewhat unusual and unfortunate, the Senate’s energy and water and commerce-justice-science appropriations bills have bipartisan support. Unusual because anything bipartisan these days is the exception, unfortunate because all the work that went into them appears wasted—at least for the moment.
Also hanging around the halls of Congress waiting for attention are critical issues like tax extender legislation, which would involve electric vehicles, wind, solar, and possibly biomass and efficiency technologies. However, the extenders bill promises to be somewhat problematic because the chair of the finance committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was gearing up to fight any Democratic proposals that involved reneging on agreements made in 2017 that were one and done, e.g., wind credit (see below).
An FY 2020 National Defense Authorization (NDAA) is still being reported as a possibility. Energy and environmental issues, including climate change matters, have long been part of discussions surrounding the NDAA. But the fact is, no one knows what’s going to happen over the next two and a half months.
Given who the president is, I still stand by my caution. Trump can’t possibly feel fondness towards the federal bureaucracy—a spiteful leader; I wouldn’t put it past him to take comfort in the discomfort of those he is sure are out to get him. As they say, just because your paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get you. Whomever they may be.
With Congress back in town, look for the Climate Politics/Capitol Light newsletter to go back to twice a week.
Hey Google, what the ****? Google has made “substantial” contributions to some of the most notorious climate deniers in Washington despite its insistence that it supports political action on the climate crisis.
Among hundreds of groups, the company has listed on its website as beneficiaries of its political giving are more than a dozen organizations that have campaigned against climate legislation, questioned the need for action, or actively sought to roll back Obama-era environmental protections.
The list includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that was instrumental in convincing the Trump administration to abandon the Paris agreement and has criticized the White House for not dismantling more environmental rules.
Google said it was disappointed by the US decision to abandon the global climate deal, but has continued to support CEI.
Google is also listed as a sponsor for an upcoming annual meeting of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization that supports conservative groups, including the Heartland Institute, a radical anti-science group that has chided the teenage activist Greta Thunberg for “climate delusion hysterics.”
Greenwashing. Trillions of dollars of investment are needed to combat global warming. Enter green bonds, a way for issuers to raise money specifically for environmentally friendly projects -- such as renewable energy or clean transport -- and to be able to boast about it publicly. Fund managers also like the notes as a way of meeting growing investor demand for sustainable options. The market, which opened slowly more than a decade ago, has boomed in recent years, helping spur development of other socially conscious debt products. Because investors face the challenge of judging whether a note is genuinely green, regulators are working on standards to help guard against greenwashing -- misleading claims about just how good a friend to the environment an issuer is. (Bloomberg)
- Greenwashing is a serious threat both to future government policies and investments.
- The idea that solar and other renewable energy sources and systems are Rube Goldberg inventions still has some traction with policymakers—starting with the Donald.
- The association of fraud—which is what greenwashing is—with systems and financial mechanisms will make passage of new and needed federal and state policies supportive of the transition to a low-carbon economy that much more difficult.
Oil’s still the thing. Royal Dutch Shell still sees abundant opportunity to make money from oil and gas in the coming decades even as investors and governments increase pressure on energy companies over climate change, its chief executive said.
How much research and development big oil companies are putting into cleantech is one of the few concrete metrics to gauge the industry’s varying shifts toward cleaner energy.
Pinning that figure down is tricky because many companies don’t disclose, and even those that do use definitions that vary widely for what constitutes cleaner energy or low-carbon.
Just 2 out of 8 of the world’s biggest publicly traded oil companies (ExxonMobil and Total) are spending more on overall research and development today than nearly a decade ago, according to BloombergNEF analysis of companies’ recent financial reports, as the accompanying chart shows. (Reuters)
Forsoot. After two days of deliberations, an unofficial panel of air quality experts has tentatively concluded that EPA's fine particulate matter standards need significant tightening. Though agency leaders may not pay heed to their findings, the panel members are optimistic that federal judges will listen. (E&E News)
- The willingness of these experts—and others in other climate-related subject matter—to meet and make known the implications of the Trump administration’s air quality standards are critical.
- Although less than ideal venues, the courts serve as they were designed—a check on the legislative and executive branches of government. Anything that assists judges to understand and appreciate the state of scientific evidence is essential in the Age of Trump.
A case of neglect. The department, which has a hand in just about every aspect of the industry, from doling out loans to subsidizing crop insurance, spends just 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget helping farmers adapt to climate change, whether it's identifying the unique risks each region faces or assisting producers in rethinking their practices so they're better able to withstand extreme rain and periods of drought. (Politico)
Nasty stuff. This time asbestos' friend is the Environmental Protection Agency. The same E.P.A. that created the rules to ban it. Well, maybe not the same E.P.A.
Every year, asbestos takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans, and thousands more face a lifetime of pain and suffering from disabling lung diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma, yet its use remains largely unregulated in the United States. (New York Times)
- One would think with all that’s known about the health impacts of asbestos that it would at least be heavily regulated. Sadly, one would think wrong.
A smackdown. A federal judge smacked down President Trump's plan to divert military funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Senior Judge David Briones called Trump's declaration of a national emergency along the border "unlawful" and said the president improperly sought to supersede a decision by Congress not to authorize funding for the project.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act "expressly forbids Defendants' funding plan," Briones wrote in his opinion. (E&E News)
Thrust and parry. A widening House impeachment inquiry that already has ensnared Energy Secretary Rick Perry could have a significant impact on Capitol Hill legislating this fall and may force some tough decisions for leading energy and environmental lawmakers in coming weeks.
Here are some questions to consider about the ongoing investigation of whether President Trump held up aid to Ukraine to try to force the central European nation to launch a corruption probe aimed at former Vice President Joe Biden. (E&E News)
The trough that keeps on giving? Less than a year after the U.S. wind industry swore off federal tax credits, its top lobbyist wants another go at the incentive that helped it become the cheapest source of new energy in much of the world.
The tax credits are now needed for the industry to maintain its cost advantage against competing sources such as solar and natural gas plants. That’s because President Donald Trump’s import tariffs on steel and other wind-farm components have raised costs by as much as 28 percent, said Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association. (Bloomberg)
- As legitimate as the reasons for extending the federal tax credits for wind and other clean energy technologies are, the continued pursuit establishes the central theme of opposition arguments.
- The anti-argument will take the form of questions. “Was the industry lying then, or are they lying now.” “What else aren’t they saying?” “If the credit is extended once again, what’s the assurance they won’t be back?”
- A question I have is: would getting Trump to drop tariffs on the materials and components of wind systems be an alternative to the extender request?
Never mind the environment policy act. The Trump administration is moving closer to releasing proposed reforms to how the federal government implements the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, in permitting and environmental reviews for infrastructure projects.
The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality submitted proposed updates to the regulations governing NEPA to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Friday, signaling a public release is coming soon. (Washington Examiner)
- This is just the latest instance of the administration’s efforts to deregulate the environment.
- As with the other instances, it will be challenged in court.
- I’ve written on multiple occasions that for an administration of deniers, a delay is nearly as good as rescission. Whatever the final court decision delay will have been accomplished.
- At some point, the impact of Trump’s judicial nominations is likely to begin taking its toll on the environment.
Because the fed government doesn’t. Businesses, given their power to shape public policy, should be advocating for science-based climate policies in line with the latest international climate science, 11 major environmental groups wrote Tuesday in an open call to companies.
The groups are urging companies to more clearly align their policy advocacy with the voluntary emissions reductions goals many have set. That should include companies working to align their trade groups’ lobbying with a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the groups wrote.
A new bunny on the block’? Companies have tried for decades to extract lithium from the super-heated underground fluid used for energy generation at the southern end of the Salton Sea, home to one of the world’s most powerful natural geothermal hot spots. Just a few years ago, a technology startup called Simbol Materials went bust.
Now another company claims to have solved the lithium problem. EnergySource has produced “kilograms” of battery-grade lithium. A commercial extraction facility, he estimated, could produce 16,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent annually, with the potential for around 100,000 tons if the other Salton Sea geothermal plants adopt the firm’s technology. (LA Times)
- If, as advertised, this development will be huge—both in terms of making the transition to a low-carbon economy and for investors in EnergySource and other clean energy companies.
The ol’ switcheroo. Through advertising, public outreach campaigns, lobbying, and partnerships with nonprofits designed to seem "green," plastics industry organizations have been blaming "litterbugs" for the growing menace and promoting the idea of recycling as the solution, while at the same time fighting every serious attempt to limit plastic production. (The Intercept/video)
Banking on 4o C. The governor of the Bank of England has warned that the global financial system is backing carbon-producing projects that will raise the temperature of the planet by over 4oC – more than double the pledge to limit increases to well below 2oC contained in the Paris Agreement.
In a stark warning over global heating, Mark Carney said the multitrillion-dollar international capital markets – where companies raise funds by selling shares and bonds to investors – are financing activities that would lift global temperatures to more than 4C above pre-industrial levels. (The Guardian)
As if proof were needed. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler's September 26 letter accusing California of violating air water quality laws was written by a small coterie of political appointees without the knowledge of the agency's California-based employees, who normally would have drafted such notices, according to multiple current EPA officials. Regional EPA officials were said to have told staff that Wheeler's claims were exaggerated and that concerned staff are to inform California environmental agencies that the letter is political in nature. (The New York Times)
When he’s right, he’s right. Billionaire businessman and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer said climate change is one of the biggest threats facing America, right up there with Russia and election tampering.
Speaking during the fourth Democratic primary debate Tuesday, Steyer said climate change is “the most important international problem we’re facing” and chastised debate organizers for failing to yet bring up the topic more than an hour and a half into the event. (The Hill)
- In 2016, there was a stark difference between what the candidates spoke of leading up to the nominations, thanks mostly to Sanders. After the conventions, climate was almost never spoken of by either candidate.
- Although I’m banking on the youth climate movement to keep the pressure on candidates in the 2020 races, that climate has rather suddenly gone cold in the shadow of impeachment is concerning.
Sounds a bit fishy to me. Nationally, climate change is still not a universally accepted science. But here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Rep. Joe Cunningham claims there’s bipartisan acknowledgment of global warming as a real and urgent issue.
The freshman Democrat spent Monday with a group of fishermen from his coastline district who have seen the impacts of climate change firsthand.
Cunningham is planning on introducing a bill that would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on efforts fishery management bodies have taken to adapt to climate change. The measure would ask the GAO to identify any knowledge and funding gaps groups like the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Regional Fishery Management Councils have faced in their work. (Roll Call)
- Off the South Carolina coast is far from the only place where fish populations have been negatively impacted. Last year warming waters off of the West Coast produced toxic algae blooms that delayed the opening of crab season. Warming waters of the Maine coast have also caused problems for the lobstermen.
- I don’t think it will be surprising to see a rash of lawsuits against oil companies by the fishing and insurance industries for knowingly causing the problem.
- Such suits would follow along those filed by cities and states as tort actions like the cigarette cases of the 1990s. The cases will ask the questions what did the fossil fuel companies know, and when did they know it?
Graphs of interest:
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