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Climate Politics/Capitol Light (44)

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February 15, 2020

 

Climate Matters: Between a Republican Rock and a Hard Place

House Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) announced the first tranche of Republican initiatives intended to combat climate change. Although modest by comparison to the magnitude of the problem or the Democrats’ CLEAN Future Act, the mere mention that Earth’s warming poses a problem is extraordinary given the denialist position of McCarthy and other Congressional conservatives a few short months ago.

McCarthy and his House Republicans are leading off their defense of the environment with a package of proposals focused on carbon capture. Carbon capture is a natural or artificial process by which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

Representative Crenshaw (R-TX) introduced H.R. 5864 to establish and support the research, development, and demonstration of advanced carbon capture and utilization technologies.

Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) put forward H.R. 5883 a bill to expand and make permanent the 45Q carbon capture tax credit.

Representative David McKinley (R-WV)is the lead on H.R. 5865 to advance technologies for carbon capture, utilization, and storage.

Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR), along with McCarthy and a dozen other Republicans, introduced into the House the Trillion Trees Act[i]. The goal of the Act is to plant a trillion trees globally by 2050. It’s a measure that President Trump endorsed in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos and again in his recent State of the Union. The legislation also encourages the innovative use of wood products in construction as a substitute for concrete and steel, which take a heavy toll on the environment.

Standing with McCarthy at the announcement of the initiatives was Representative Garrett Graves (R-LA). Graves is the ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. He is on record saying that Republicans can offer solutions to climate change that not only do a better job reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally but do so without abandoning traditional conservative values of limited government, low taxes, and free markets.

Whether House Republicans can offer solutions is one thing, whether they should, as a matter of partisan politics, is another. The American Energy Alliance, a pro-market energy advocacy group, has dismissed Westerman's proposal as a Republican "climate messaging exercise."

David McIntosh, President of the Club for Growth PAC, minced no words when he declared his opposition to 2020 McCarthyism.

Besides hurting our economy, these measures will…only alienate conservatives across the country. America’s economy is booming because of the tax cuts and deregulation under President Trump, and Republicans should consider free-market legislation to increase growth as opposed to trying to get the political support of green socialists.

McIntosh is probably right about McCarthy’s risking the support of conservatives—at least establishment conservatives. Where he’s wrong is in thinking that McCarthy and company are looking to get the support of green socialists. What the Minority Leader is worried about is losing the support of the 20 or 25 percent of young Republicans who believe strongly enough that climate change is real and whom pollsters are telling him care enough to vote Democratic in November.

There’s every reason to believe that the 2020 election will be as close as 2016 was. In which case, it wouldn’t take more than 100,000 total votes in red states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to tip the scales green and blue. But then—politics is a risky business.

Nobody’s listening. Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY said he would not hold a hearing on President Trump's proposed fiscal 2021 budget because it would only spark "animosity" between Democrats and administration officials.

Trump unveiled his $4.8 trillion budget proposal on February 10th. The hefty document, which was immediately panned by Democrats, breaks with an existing two-year budget deal and outlines the president's priorities heading into the November election. 

"I want to encourage people ... not to waste any time searching out the president's budget cuts. Nobody has listened to the president in the 23 years that I've been here. Congress doesn't pay attention to the president's budget exercise. I don't know why we put him through that," Enzi said during a floor speech. (The Hill)

The gap narrows—for some. As the economy has improved, Americans feel better about kitchen table issues and are prioritizing protecting the environment and combating climate change.

Nearly as many people say protecting the environment should be a top policy priority (64%) as those who say this about strengthening the economy (67%), according to a recent Pew Research Center poll of 1,504 adults nationwide. That’s the first time that the gap has been so narrow between the economy and the environment, as measured by Pew surveys for nearly two decades.

Republicans continue to be much less concerned about environmental issues and climate change than Democrats are.

Dealing with climate change ranks at the bottom of the list of 18 policy priorities for Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (just 21% call it a “top priority, unchanged from a year ago).

This is despite other polls showing growing concern about climate change among young Republicans, a development that has prodded the congressional GOP to put forward climate change policy proposals. (Washington Examiner)

Water, water, where?  Water and wastewater utilities are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but the federal government isn’t doing much to help them plan for it.

A new report released by the Government Accountability Office says four federal agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency — are in a position to do much more, including providing more financial assistance and coordinating long-term planning efforts for new and existing water infrastructure.

Not helping water utilities plan for a warming future will cost the government more money. Already, from 2011 to 2018, the government spent at least $3.6 billion to help drinking water and wastewater utilities after natural disasters, according to the GAO. (Washington Examiner)

Delta force. Delta Airlines is spending $1 billion over the next decade to essentially cancel out all of its future greenhouse gas emissions beginning March 1, the company announced.

Delta is the 8th most energy-efficient airline out of a study of 11, mainly due to its older fleet of airplanes that are less efficient than new models, but it's in the process of replacing them. That's according to a recent report by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation. (Axios)

  • There’s a rapidly growing trend of corporations announcing climate-change goals in response to public and investor pressure.
  • Doubt persists about whether offsets purchased actually reduce emissions and don’t just throw money at projects, such as planting trees or building a wind farm that would have happened regardless.
  • A United Nations organization is working on developing standards to ensure quality offsets in an industry-wide program.

I still don’t like their coffee. Starbucks hopes to cut carbon emissions from its operations and huge supply chain by 50 percent by 2030 as part of new environmental pledges recently unveiled.

“We will both store carbon and reduce carbon emissions. Offsets do not count towards a science-based target, and we do not plan to utilize offsets to meet our preliminary target of a 50 percent reduction in our carbon footprint,” Rebecca Zimmer, the company's global environment director, tells Axios.

Starbucks laid out two other interim 2030 targets in addition to the CO2 pledge:

  1. Fifty percent of the water used for its operations and coffee production will be "conserved or replenished."
  2. They pledge a 50 percent cut in waste that's sent to landfills from stores and manufacturing. (Axios)

They could at least use spell check. Nearly a year later, Trump’s rollback of auto fuel efficiency standards is nowhere near complete and may not be ready until this summer - if ever. In January, administration staff members appointed by President Trump sent a draft of the scaled-back fuel economy standards to the White House, but six people familiar with the documents described them as "Swiss cheese," sprinkled with glaring numerical and spelling errors (such as "Massachusettes"), with 111 sections marked "text forthcoming." (New York Times)

  • Horrible staff work is a hallmark of the Trump administration.
  • The courts will likely send the administration back to the drafting board.
  • It is entirely possible that the market will move on without Trump. The auto industry can’t wait for the administration to do its job. Some, if not all, automakers will look to build to the Obama-era standard or standards established by California and, or those set by the EU.

The great state of tax-it. A group of prominent politicians, economists, and corporate executives is renewing its push in Congress for a plan that would tax carbon and refund all the money to Americans in payments of approximately $2,000 a year for a family of four. (Washington Post)

  • It will be a tough political row to hoe for carbon tax supporters.
  • Opposition to a carbon tax is probably one of the few places that Green New Dealers and conservative Republicans can stand together.

A toll call. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called on the world's businesses to publish strategies for cutting carbon emissions and adopting cleaner power sources by November when world leaders meet in Scotland for U.N.-led climate talks.

The intentions behind it also chime with a shift of emphasis by another leading central banker, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde. (Reuters)

  • Chairman Powell has suggested in remarks over the past month or two that the Fed will be joining other central banks in this effort.

Lease it, and they will drill. The Trump administration has offered oil companies a chunk of the American West and the Gulf of Mexico that’s four times the size of California – an expansive drilling plan that threatens to entrench the industry at the expense of other outdoor jobs while locking in enough emissions to undermine global climate policy.

The fossil fuels extracted from those leases could equal half a year of emissions from China, the world’s top carbon polluter.

The administration has jump-started this plan, independent government analysts say, by offering energy leases at bargain rates. That has lured drilling companies to pristine lands where an outdoor economy had already grown up around wildlife and the natural landscape. (The Guardian)

A poisoned well. Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee gave Chairman Raúl Grijalva unilateral power to subpoena documents from the Interior Department and other agencies - prompting Republicans to vow payback.

Democrats said they need the power to overcome the administration's "stonewalling." The Interior secretary responded: "Godspeed with the witch hunt."

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said Democrats might come to regret the action.

“A year from now you may be facing a Republican chairman using this new authority to issue subpoenas without consulting you, and you may find subpoenas being issued to every left-wing NGO, every green energy crony capitalist, every ideological zealot in the bureaucracy with no opportunity for you to question or protest,” McClintock said. “I can’t say I find that prospect altogether unappealing.” (Politico)

  • This pretty well describes what Washington politics have become.

No fracking way. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), along with Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), officially introduced a national fracking ban in the House.

Will others follow? BP Plc's pledge to zero out all its carbon emissions by 2050 deepens the divide between major European and American oil producers on climate change, increasing the pressure for Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. to do more. (Bloomberg)

No beaten path. One of the biggest unanswered questions in the next decade is how quickly the United States can decarbonize the transportation sector, researchers from BloombergNEF say.

The market hasn't driven a transition to low-carbon technologies in the transportation sector as quickly as it has for utilities, which have benefited from falling costs for natural gas and renewable energy over the last decade, according to data from BloombergNEF, which provides analysis and forecasts across the energy landscape for industry, financial professionals, and policymakers.

U.S. electric power emissions dropped by nearly a quarter between 2010 and 2019, whereas transportation emissions bumped up 5 percent, according to BloombergNEF’s new Sustainable Energy Factbook. (Washington Examiner)

All together now. Republican Representative David Schweikert of Arizona joined Democrats to release a bill bolstering long-term energy storage.

The Joint Long-Term Storage Act, also sponsored by Chris Pappas (D-NH)  and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), would establish a program between the Defense and Energy Departments to integrate their efforts to develop storage technologies that can hold excess wind and solar power for a longer period of time.

Companion legislation (S.2048) has already been introduced by Senators Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, and Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats. (Washington Examiner)

More veto bait. A Democratic-backed package that would set aside 1.3 million acres of public lands in California, Colorado and Washington state as protected wilderness areas passed the House largely along party lines.

The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act (H.R. 2546) by Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO passed the House 231-183 after debate on more than a dozen amendments on the floor. The legislation also would add nearly 1,000 miles of U.S. rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems. (Bloomberg Environment)

  • The White House has already said it would veto the legislation because it would “impede future energy and mineral development, including development that is important to the economic and national security.” 

Does he ever listen? Industry leaders privately warned the Trump administration that the U.S. would struggle to produce the oil, gas and other energy products that China has committed to buy in a new trade deal, raising additional questions about one of the president’s signature economic achievements.

The “phase one” deal signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 15 calls for China to purchase an additional $52.4 billion in liquefied natural gas, crude oil, refined products, and coal over the next two years. To do that, China would have to import an additional 1 million barrels per day of crude oil, 500,000 barrels per day of refined products and 100 tankers full of liquefied natural gas; the American Petroleum Institute cautioned last month in a closed-door meeting with the Energy Department. (Bloomberg)

The clock is ticking. International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Fatih Birol said the IEA is drafting a global plan set for release this summer to push for "a very deep reduction" in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Birol's announcement comes after the agency released a report Tuesday that found worldwide carbon emissions from energy stabilized last year. (S&P Global Platts)

Charge! Electric vehicle charging company ChargePoint is partnering with the National Association of Truck Stop Owners to expand charging infrastructure across the U.S. Dubbed the National Highway Charging Collaborative, the two groups will raise $1 billion from private and public sources to install Level 2 and DC fast chargers at over 4,000 locations by 2030. The effort will expand access to charging in rural communities and will include convenience stores, fueling stations, and other stops. Separately, Shell announced it would double its electric vehicle fast chargers in Germany. (CleanTechnica, Electrek)

In the passing lane. Sustainable transportation, including public transit, cycling, and walking, are expected to surpass car use in the world's biggest cities by 2030. A study by Mobility Futures finds that these shifts are expected to lead to a 10 percent drop in private car trips by 2030. Alternative transport options like electric-powered small vehicles and bike-share programs are on the rise and are providing residents with new mobility options. This shift is expected to help urban centers tackle increased gridlock and air pollution as their populations grow. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

No longer wanted. Some of the world’s largest financial institutions have stopped putting their money behind oil production in the Canadian province of Alberta, home to one of the world’s most extensive and also dirtiest oil reserves.

In December, the insurance giant The Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding Alberta’s bonds. And on Wednesday, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands. (New York Times)

Taken for granite. Climate change ranked second as the most important issue for Granite State Democratic voters, topped only by healthcare, according to exit polls.

It’s the second indication this cycle that more Democratic primary voters are prioritizing climate change as they weigh which candidate to support. The issue also ranked second, just behind healthcare, among Iowa caucus-goers last week.

Although Bernie Sanders claimed victory, it was former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who won over the most climate voters.

Buttigieg received the votes of 30 percent of those who said climate change was their number one issue, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Washington Post. Sanders came in second at 22 percent. It was a rough night for Joe Biden, overall and among climate voters, with just 6 percent backing the former vice president. (Washington Examiner)                       

Is EPA up to it? A new Senate bill requires net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Senator Tom Carper (DE), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Clean Economy Act of 2020. The legislation would compel the Environmental Protection Agency to set rules to eliminate U.S. contributions to global warming by the middle of the century. 

The bill is co-sponsored by 32 senators — all Democrats — as well as Angus King of Maine, who is an independent. While the legislation has the support of several environmental groups, others said it moves too slowly to reduce emissions.

  • The legislation leaves it up to EPA to decide how the net-zero target is to be reached.
  • Carper thinks the lack of Congressionally set milestone targets will make the bill less contentious. Anything is possible.

Reduce, reuse, regulate. Another Democratic bill called the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 attempts to hold the plastics industry and beverage makers financially responsible for the waste they create.

The bill includes provisions to require producers of plastic products to design and pay for their own waste and recycling programs, create a nationwide beverage container 10-cent refund program, reduce and ban certain single-use plastics and invest in improving the domestic recycling and composting infrastructure. (Washington Post)

Catch-22. Roughly two-thirds of Americans now live in states with some form of legal sales. But as the market expands, regulators and activists are pushing the industry to become more efficient — and that might require federal legalization. Because marijuana is banned under federal law, cannabis cannot be regulated nor can its environmental effects be researched by EPA. It also means it cannot be traded across state lines, leading to inefficient, indoor growing operations in states that would source their raw product from elsewhere were it legal. And in most cases, banks are banned from providing loans that would allow growers to make sustainability upgrades. (Politico)

On the lookout. The world's largest oil traders are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into climate-friendly projects - including wind farms, cow manure plants, and blue hydrogen - as they seek to match the profits, they make from trading oil. The investments seek a new profit recipe.

Why have advisors? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to limit what information is provided to its independent Science Advisory Board (SAB) is raising alarm bells with lawmakers, spurring a large information request from the House Science Committee. (The Hill)

Never a tax man around when you need one.  A rare policy enacted under President Trump to address climate change has run into an unexpected hurdle: the taxman.

In 2018, Congress approved a lucrative tax break for companies that use carbon capture technology to trap carbon dioxide produced by industrial sites before the gas escapes into the atmosphere and heats the planet. The technology is still costly and contentious but may one day become a valuable tool for slowing global warming. House Republicans are aiming to expand support for carbon capture as part of a broader package of climate bills.

At least a dozen carbon capture projects, potentially representing billions of dollars in investments, have been announced since Congress passed its 2018 tax break. But two years later, those plans remain blocked because the Internal Revenue Service has yet to explain how, exactly, companies can claim the tax credit that would make the projects viable.

In Trump, they don’t trust. A new poll commissioned by the liberal Center for American Progress found a majority of voters disapprove of how Trump is handling environmental issues.

The poll of 1,000 voters split evenly between supporters of Trump and Hillary Clinton in the last election, revealed that 63 percent disapprove of how the president handles climate change.

The poll was focused mostly on Trump’s proposed streamlining of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to build infrastructure faster.

Most of those polled (80 percent) have never heard of NEPA. However, a majority of them opposed some of the proposed changes, such as narrowing consideration of projects' effects on greenhouse gas emissions and allowing companies or contractors to assume a greater role in preparing their own environmental reviews, rather than relying on the government. (Center for American Progress)

Shovel it out the neighbors' door. U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said that Canada and Mexico could help export U.S. coal to Asia to get around the blocking of shipments by West Coast states concerned about the impact of the fuel on climate change.

Brouillette said he expects the two U.S. neighbors will offer opportunities to export coal in talks that could be facilitated by the new North American trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, that President Donald Trump signed last month.

“That’s why the USMCA was so important,” Brouillette said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington. “We hope to work more collaboratively with both Mexico and Canada to find export facilities to get the coal from Wyoming,” and other states in the U.S. West to Asia and other global markets.

We all want an answer. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) wants answers about climate censorship. The Michigan Democrat, who is the top senator on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, sent a letter to the Forest Service asking about the apparent removal of the term "climate change" from an official notice about new oil and gas leasing in Texas.

According to the Houston Chronicle, which broke the story in January, "a U.S. Forest Service administrator allegedly directed agency employees to remove references to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from proposals to open national forests and grasslands in Texas to new rounds of oil and natural gas drilling." The agency is denying the allegation. (WAPO)

  • Erasing climate change from the federal vernacular isn’t going to change the perception and needs of nation, although it may help to put Trump at ease.
  • These kind of childish maneuvers accomplish little, although they will add to the burdens of the next administration, e.g., having to redo all federal websites, should it be one that believes in the reality of climate change.

Recommended. To gain insights into how the Trump administration is cooking the environmental books to make it appear that their rollback regulations protect the environment and its inhabitants, click on this Atlantic article.

 

 

 


[i] The language of the bill has not yet been released.

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