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Climate Politics/Capitol Light (35)

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October 23, 2019  


Land, lots of land, and water too. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado have introduced a resolution calling for a national conservation goal of protecting at least 30% of the country's lands and waters by 2030.

The "Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature" urges the federal government to set the conservation target to help fight climate change as well as improve access to nature for communities of color.

The measure "recognizes that nature — like climate change — is reaching a tipping point," said Udall in prepared remarks for an event later this morning at the Center for American Progress that will also feature Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.). "Many ecosystems and wildlife species are nearing the point of no return."

The resolution recommends that the government work with local communities, states, tribes, and private landowners to increase conservation efforts to sequester carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in land and water.

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kamala Harris of California are co-sponsors. (E&E News)

  • The Trump administration has leased around 19 million acres of public lands to oil and gas drillers.
  • The Wilderness Society estimates that the emissions from extracting and burning fossil fuels from the leased lands could equal the emissions of all the EU nations combined.

They can get something done after all. The Senate agreed yesterday to move ahead with a package of fiscal 2020 spending bills that includes Interior Department and EPA funding, a modest breakthrough after months of partisan appropriations gridlock.

Senators gave backing, 92-2, allowing the chamber to call up a package of House-passed spending bills. The package will be amended to contain Senate versions of the following fiscal 2020 measures: Interior-EPA, Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.

"This is a positive step. We're making progress," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who said he did not know yet what amendments might be considered.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democratic appropriator, also said he was not expecting many if any, Democratic amendments to be attached to the legislation. He noted all four bills are bipartisan and were approved unanimously in committee.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking member on the Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee, said he expects as many as 200 amendments to be filed. But, he said, most will not be considered under an agreement between party leaders to jettison controversial add-ons, and others could end up in a bipartisan manager's package. (E&E News)

  • The deal in the Senate to bring the bills to the floor marks an improvement in the working relationship of the parties.
  • There’s still a long way to go to bring these appropriations bills across the finish line before the Continuing Resolution that’s keeping the government open until midnight on November 21st.
  • In addition to differences in the House and Senate versions of the legislation, impeachment tensions appear to be on the rise. Make no mistake impeachment will continue to rub nerves raw enough that the rift between Democrats and Republicans will widen before it narrows.
  • Notwithstanding all the difficulties these appropriations bills will be facing over the next month, the bipartisan support for these measures should be considered a good thing.

What will Trump say now? U.S. air quality is getting worse. Following a 24% drop between 2009 and 2016, air pollution increased 5.5% in 2017 and 2018, a new analysis of EPA data shows. That spike may have taken the lives of almost 10,000 additional Americans over two years. The economy has picked up since 2017, meaning more pollutants, while there's been a decline in EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act. (Yahoo Finance)

  • Trump is quick to point out that US air quality has been improving under his watch—although it hasn’t.
  • As the analysis points out, pollution decreased until the end of the Obama administration and has been rising ever since.
  • Facts have never stopped Trump from lying; however, climate hawks now have fresh data with which to counter the false claims.

A matter of security. A House panel will vote this week on legislation that would require the government to consider how climate change affects homeland security.

The Homeland Security Committee is set for a markup on the "Department of Homeland Security Climate Change Research Act," H.R. 4737, from Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), among a slew of other bills.

The measure would require DHS to research how climate change may affect unstable political situations around the world and how it contributes to the spread of terrorism.

It would also ask the agency to examine whether the nation's disaster response mechanisms are prepared to deal with disasters and terrorism aggravated by the effects of climate change. DHS would have to produce an annual report on its efforts. (E&E News)

Soakin’ it up. As the oceans absorb more and more carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, they are also becoming increasingly acidic. Now researchers say fossil evidence shows this byproduct of the climate crisis could lead to the mass extinction of marine life. Scientists analyzed seashells in sediment laid down shortly after a giant meteorite hit the Earth 66m years ago and found a sharp drop in the pH of the ocean in the period after the strike – an era in which three-quarters of marine species died out. (The Guardian)

Risky business. A group of science advisors dismissed by President Trump says national limits on fine particles of air pollution from cars, power plants, and other sources aren’t strong enough to protect people. (The Guardian) 

  • Credit goes to these scientists for not letting the Trump administration prevent them from telling the truth.

Stickin’ it to the taxpayer.  Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.

“It’s starting to become out of control, and we want to rein this in,” Bruce Hicks, Assistant Director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, said in August about companies abandoning oil and gas wells. If North Dakota’s regulators, some of the most industry-friendly in the country, are sounding the alarm, then that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the nation. (Desmog)

Groan bonds. Desperate for cash, shale companies are trying to court investors with a new and potentially risky financial instrument that resembles mortgage bonds. (Wall Street Journal)

There’s a new caucus in town. Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) launched their planned bipartisan climate caucus on Tuesday.

The Senate group is meant to mirror the House's bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and to provide a venue for discussion.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will participate in the caucus, the Washington Examiner reported.

What concrete policy solutions will emerge from the group remains unclear. Braun has dismissed the idea of carbon pricing. (E&E News)

Windy weather ahead. Andrew Yang's campaign said it is "disappointed" the Weather Channel did not invite him to participate in its 2020 special on climate change.

The hourlong show, set to air next month, is currently set to feature interviews with several candidates for president, but not Yang.

Yang's campaign released a statement expressing its displeasure and noting that the tech businessman has released an extensive policy plan that aims to achieve net-zero emissions overall by 2049. (Washington Examiner)

  • Maybe Yang could be given Biden’s slot since he chose not to participate.

Count him out. The Weather Channel is producing a program featuring interviews with Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on climate change policy — but no front-runner Joe Biden.

Nine candidates will be featured in the special airing Nov. 7: Democratic candidates Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Republican candidates former Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, former Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois. (E&E News)

It’s time to fess-up. U.S. and European companies in polluting industries rarely disclose the financial risks they face related to climate change even though a global task force called on them to do so two years ago, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on Monday.

The analysis of the public filings of 28 building materials, oil and gas, and utility companies comes after the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures in 2017 recommended voluntary disclosure by companies of the financial impact of climate change. (Reuters)

Filing in the blanks. Most people have no experience with heavy industry - such as manufacturing cement, steel, fuels, chemicals, and glass - so they don't know about its effects on the climate. But these processes generate 22 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with industrial heat alone releasing 10 percent. (Bloomberg)

  • A more complete picture of the sources of greenhouse gases needs to be painted for voters and lawmakers alike.
  • A sustainable environment is about more than power plants and automobiles.
  • Although a comprehensive national energy and environment policy is needed, getting there is likely to be done in a piecemeal fashion.
  • Whether one agrees or not with the Green New Deal, it paints a more integrated picture of the climate landscape.

Brouilettee is just one more swamper. President Trump likes to say that people in his political orbit come straight out of central casting, "tough hombres" from far beyond the Capital Beltway ready to roil the swamp. Increasingly, though, his cabinet is full of lobbyists. (New York Times)

  • Friedman’s article discusses the backgrounds of Trump’s cabinet, suggesting that Brouilettee fits the mold nicely.

For a more Republican view of Brouilettee, see the Washington Examiner article here.

  • Brouilettee had no problems being confirmed for his Deputy Secretary position—71 Senators vote for his nomination.
  • He’ll undoubtedly be asked a bunch of tough and/or nasty questions in his quest for the top job at Energy. Like many things in Washington these days, the questions will be mini-messages more for the benefit of the questioner than questionee (is that even a word?)
  • He’ll be confirmed.

Whatever Murray wants? Coal magnate Bob Murray is furious with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC has let the issue of grid resilience and security languish for 20 months, rather than taking action to value coal-fired power for the baseload power it supplies, Murray said during passionate remarks Monday at a conference hosted in Kentucky by FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee. (Washington Examiner)

Romney rankles. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah keeps flirting with supporting a carbon tax but won’t go all the way and commit to it.

Climate Twitter was chirping Friday about a recent talk with Goldman Sachs in which Romney said he wants to take “aggressive action to reduce the human contribution to greenhouse gases and to global warming” because “every scientist I know says we’re causing it so let’s do whatever we can to see if we can’t fix it."

Romney is seen by carbon pricing supporters as perhaps the best bet to become the first Senate Republican actually to endorse or sponsor legislation. (Washington Examiner)

  • Having Senator Romney on your side may be as much hurtful as helpful.
  • Romney has broken ranks with his Republican colleagues on the matter of Trump. The ones that agree with the Senator aren’t willing—for the most part—to say so publicly.
  • Trump’s pointing out that the Democrats have party discipline, while the Republicans have Romney, is a point well-taken—albeit in a crass political way.
  • If you want to understand the importance of party discipline, ask Speaker Pelosi.

Go Greta! Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg stayed away from any direct criticism of Alberta's oil sands and did not comment on Canada's election as she took her message to the oil-rich Canadian province.

"We cannot allow this crisis to continue to be a partisan, political question," Thunberg said in a speech before thousands of people on the steps of the provincial Legislature.

"The climate and ecological crisis [is] far beyond party politics and the main enemy right now should not be any political opponents, because our main enemy is physics."

The 16-year-old told thousands of people in front of the provincial Legislature in Edmonton that the future of the planet is at stake. Alberta has the world's third-largest oil reserves. It is a significant source of emissions.

A group of oil and gas industry supporters held a counterrally. The convoy of pro-oil-and-gas truckers passed by as Thunberg spoke, with the sound of their horns echoing through the plaza. (E&E News)

  • Have you noticed that Thunberg and her supporters focus on the problem and don’t propose policies like the Green New Deal?
  • Other groups within the youth movement like the Sunrise Movement not only propose policies they are very much involved in electoral politics.
  • There are ramifications to each of these approaches, which I’ll be writing about soon.

A mercurial bunch. EPA is putting thousands of lives at risk with its maneuvering to unwind the legal basis for Obama-era regulations on power plant emissions of mercury, Earthjustice charged in a report released today.

"The Trump administration is operating dishonestly, pretending that limiting pollution that kills people and causes great harm does not actually cause that harm," the environmental group said in the report.

In support of that plan, the agency notes that Obama-era officials relied heavily on tens of billions of dollars in health "co-benefits" stemming from expected reductions in particulate matter concentrations accompanying what are officially known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). (E&E News)

Focus on efficiency. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will look at energy efficiency this week to gather lessons learned from an international perspective on how to best reduce energy demand.

The hearing represents the latest building block in the committee's broader effort to form some type of energy efficiency legislative package centered on measures to bolster standards across a range of federal departments and private industries.

The main focus and witness list for the hearing, dubbed "Energy Efficiency Efforts in the United States and Internationally," have a global flair, as efficiency has increasingly been seen as a critical policy lever in the world's fight against climate change. (E&E News)

Hear ye, hear ye. The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the Energy and Commerce Committee have both been holding comparable hearings with similar witnesses during the last few months.

Their efforts are part of dueling actions to craft an expansive climate policy that Democrats could try to enact if they take control of the White House in the 2020 elections.

Energy and Commerce Democrats have promised to release a bill by the end of the year aimed at getting the United States to net-zero emissions by 2050, while the select committee has a mandate from leadership to develop a broad report on climate policy.

The select panel will kick things off with a hearing on "natural solutions" to slashing emissions and more resilient buildings.

Outside those two panels, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will headline the week on climate with a hearing on the oil industry's efforts to hide climate science and promote disinformation.

Rooney and Romney. Florida Rep. Francis Rooney, the most outspoken climate change advocate in the House Republican caucus, said he would retire from Congress after just two terms. (E&E News)

  • Although Rooney offered up a pablum of reasons why he felt he’s accomplished what he came to Congress to do, you have to think that his willingness as a Republican to consider impeaching Trump has something to do with it.
  • Republicans like Rooney and Romney are going to be the objects of harsh pushbacks for their stance. Rooney would face election every two years, while Romney’s six-year Senate term will allow him a lot more opportunities to “clear his name.”
  • The large number of Republican retirements from Congress reflects the damage Trump has done to the party of Lincoln.

On the rise. Renewable electric capacity is projected to increase by about 1,200 gigawatts, or as much as 50 percent, from 2018 to 2024, according to an International Energy Agency report. The IEA forecasts the proportion of renewables to expand from 26 percent today to 30 percent in 2024 but says the rate of expansion is insufficient to help decelerate global warming. (Bloomberg)

No. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will not hand over records to meet House Democrats' October 10th  subpoena, according to the letter sent to the relevant congressional committees from Melissa Burnison, assistant Energy secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs. Separately, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) called for Perry to cooperate and testify over his involvement in the unfolding Ukraine controversy. (Politico)

What makes him think so? Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, has told friends and associates he is “still looking at” the possibility of a 2020 presidential run. The 77-year-old centrist, who has repeatedly criticized Elizabeth Warren’s anti-corporate policy platform, has reportedly said he might consider a tilt at the Democratic nomination if Warren’s fellow frontrunner Joe Biden were to drop out. Bloomberg apparently fears the progressive Massachusetts senator would be too far left to defeat Trump. (The Guardian)

  • Bloomberg’s name is not the only one being talked about in terms of getting back into the Democratic nomination game. There are even rumors that Hillary Clinton wants in.
  • There seems to be some concern about the electability of the current crop of candidates now that Biden is sliding in the polls. Biden had a horrible quarter in terms of contributions.  He also appears to have only $9 million left in his campaign chest — a sum not expected to cover his run to February 2020, when the Iowa caucuses vote.

The trial begins. In opening arguments at New York's climate change fraud trial, a lawyer for the state attorney general argued that Exxon Mobil used two sets of books to hide the actual cost of climate change regulations from investors, while an attorney for Exxon blasted the claims as politically motivated. The statements launched the long-awaited trial in a civil lawsuit filed by the New York AG's office last year, accusing Exxon of defrauding investors out of $1.6B by causing them to overvalue its stock.

  • This case is part of the rising number of other cases seeking alternative legal approaches to combatting climate change.
  • Should New York prevail, it will open the door to a veritable slew of other cases and not just against Exxon.
  • The financial implications to the defendant companies could be horrendous from their perspective--and possibly for the national economy.
  • Other cases against oil companies are also seeking damages, much like the cigarette cases of the 1990s.
  • The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a state court case in which Baltimore is seeking restitution from 26 oil companies for the damages done to the community by their role in causing climate change.


Environmental injustice and our unequal Earth

To introduce the Guardian’s new series, Our Unequal Earth, five luminaries explain the pressing issue of “environmental justice”, while Nina Lakhani reports on the Colorado River, which serves more than 35 million Americans before reaching the Mexican border, where it is dammed – leaving those on the other side with a dry delta.

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Joel Stronberg's picture

Thank Joel for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 23, 2019 9:49 pm GMT

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will participate in the caucus

I'm all for Bipartisanship on climate legislation, but I'm immediately skeptical of Murkowski given her history in fighting to open up ANWR for drilling, pushing back against EPA being able to regulate GHG, and more. This is on brand for her as the 'moderate Republican willing to address climate change,' but I want to see some real leadership and action behind it. 

Please do prove me wrong, Senator!

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