Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion.com
Volume 1 June 27, 2019 Issue 12
A ha’pence for your thoughts. Vice President Pence repeatedly dodged when asked multiple times on CNN's "State of the Union" whether the human-induced crisis is a threat to the country, telling host Jake Tapper: "Well, what I will tell you is that we'll always follow the science on that in this administration." (CNN)
Not even a ha’pence. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue cited weather patterns and said "it rained yesterday, it's a nice pretty day today" when asked about the cause of the global climate crisis in an interview with CNN.
I couldn’t agree more. Axios got its hands on the internal vetting documents for Trump administration nominees. According to the notes Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, had voluminous vetting concerns: "Perry described Trumpism as a 'toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition." (Axios)
Scott Pruitt, who ultimately lost his job as EPA administrator because of serial ethical abuses and clubbiness with lobbyists, had a section in his vetting dossier flagging "coziness with big energy companies."
Mick Mulvaney, now Trump's acting chief of staff, had a striking assortment of red flags, including his assessment that Trump "is not a very good person."
The Trump transition team was so worried about Rudy Giuliani, in line for secretary of state, that they created a separate 25-page document titled "Rudy Giuliani Business Ties Research Dossier" with copious accounting of his "foreign entanglements."
The administration could use a good vet. Environmental Protection Agency air chief Bill Wehrum, who helped reverse Obama-era rules aimed at cutting pollutants, is stepping down amid scrutiny over possible violations of federal ethics rules. (Washington Post)
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s announcement Wednesday did not cite a specific reason for the departure of Wehrum, who as an attorney represented power companies seeking to scale back several air pollution rules before joining the Trump administration. However, Wehrum has privately expressed concern about how an ongoing House Energy and Commerce Committee probe was affecting his former law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, according to individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Tomorrow then. Members of the US House of Representatives' tax-writing committee said they will work on a new bill to expand incentives for renewable and clean energy amid complaints that their new tax extenders bill gives clean energy short shrift. (S&P Global)
Two aspirins won’t take care of this. Seventy-four medical and public health groups are now aligned to push for a series of consensus commitments to combat climate change, bluntly defined by the organizations as "a health emergency." "The health, safety, and well-being of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change." (Phys.org)
Gas lighting. A new White House draft guidance is aimed at speeding up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s natural gas pipeline approval process by helping the commission’s Republican leadership ignore greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews.
Agencies preparing environmental analyses “need not give greater consideration to potential effects from GHG emissions than to other potential effects on the human environment,” the guidance reads.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s draft guidance would give any agency the discretion to ignore the indirect effects of greenhouse gas emissions of a given project, such as a pipeline, and provide the agency with a rationale to expedite projects. (Washington Examiner)
I quit. FERC Republicans look to have a 2-1 majority after August, when Democrat Cheryl LaFleur steps down after nine years at the commission.
LaFleur has concurred with Republican Chairman Neil Chatterjee in approving FERC’s more recent pipeline decisions to deliver much-needed natural gas to the Northeast. However, she has admonished the chairman for refusing to calculate the downstream emissions of the projects, which she said would be easily done using modeling provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. (Washington Examiner)
What’s the plan, Stan? Jay Inslee has issued his plan to end the country's reliance on fossil fuels, including eliminating roughly $20 billion in yearly subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies, banning the federal government from granting new fossil fuel leases on public lands or offshore waters, and imposing a new Climate Pollution Fee that aims to charge corporations for polluting. (NBC)
Not so free. Environmental groups are assailing EPA for a proposed set of regulations dealing with how the agency handles the Freedom of Information Act.
EPA published in the Federal Register proposed regulations dealing with who can determine the agency's response to public records requests and who can accept them.
Scrutiny has focused on language in the proposal that would give authority to top political officials like Administrator Andrew Wheeler to issue final determinations on responses to FOIA requests, including "whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue 'no records' responses." (E&E News)
What deference does it make? In a multipart ruling today in Kisor v. Wilkie, the high court upheld what's known as Auer deference, which directs federal judges to yield to agencies' interpretations of their own rules, as long as they're reasonable. (E&E News)
A D-minus. Environmental and industry groups told Bloomberg Environment they would be hard-pressed to give Congress a passing grade for what they’ve accomplished in the first six months of its two-year life. The groups counted only 2 constructive things Congress has done: (1) passage of a fiscal 2019 spending bill that ended a 35-day government shutdown in January and raised the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency to $8.8 billion; and (2) passage of S. 47 a public lands-conservation bill making a $900 million-a-year Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent, while also modernizing technologies to combat wildfires and expanding Joshua Tree National Park and other parks. (Bloomberg Environment)
Chirp, chirp—sizzle. The June 5 blaze at a California solar farm that scorched 1,127 acres started when a bird flew into a pair of wires, creating an electric circuit with its wings. A shower of sparks followed, and a blaze ensued. The blaze damaged power poles and wires at the plant, knocked out 84% of its generating capacity, causing an estimated $8 million to $9 million in losses. (Bloomberg)
A UN human rights expert has warned. That the world is sliding towards “climate apartheid,” whereby the rich pay to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, while others suffer extreme poverty, hunger, and the decline of democracy. (Guardian)
A BlueGreen New Deal. The BlueGreen Alliance — a coalition of labor unions and environmental associations whose members include the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club — outlined a platform to guide the development of climate change policy. (BlueGreen Alliance)
Hide and seep. A new federally led study of oil seeping from a platform toppled off Louisiana’s coast 14½ years ago found releases lower than other recent estimates but contradicts the well owner’s assertions about the amount and source of oil.
The study’s authors figure that the total released each day from the Taylor site could have been as much as 4,500 gallons (17,000 liters) a day. They used sonar and a newly developed “bubblometer” to measure oil and gas bubbles rising through the water.
The company contends oil sheens on the water’s surface indicate there’s only a dribble of 2.4 to 4 gallons (9 to 15 liters) of oil and gas a day. (AP)
All for Donald. In advance of the G-20 meeting this weekend Japan has watered down commitments to addressing climate change in its draft G20 missive, omitting the phrases "global warming" and "decarbonization" and downplaying the Paris climate agreement from the past. Analysts say it's a sign of efforts to placate the U.S., as the two countries are negotiating a potential trade deal, in which agriculture and auto parts have been sticking points. (Washington Post)
Lock them up! Questions over emails between Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, and the EPA are highlighting blurred lines between Craft's work and her coal CEO husband's business interests. Craft's husband was copied on the emails and appeared to have replied to an email addressed to Craft, responding to a question she directed to EPA. (AP)
I have one word—plastics. A recent report by the Center for International Environmental Law et al. shows that the rapid global growth of the plastic industry—fueled by cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing—is not only destroying the environment and endangering human health but also undermining efforts to reduce carbon pollution and prevent climate catastrophe.
In 2019, plastic production and incineration will add over 850m metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – equivalent to the emissions from 189 coal-fired power plants. By 2050, these emissions could rise to 2.8bn metric tons, equivalent to 615 new coal plants.
I may need a new phone soon--seriously. The utility industry’s top reliability watchdog will be stepping up its game in the coming weeks to assess the threat that Chinese products pose to the U.S. power grid.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation will be issuing a “Level 2 Alert” soon in response to suspicions that China’s leading telecommunications firm, Huawei, could be inserting malicious software through it devices into utility company operations. Members of Congress raised concerns about the threat with NERC earlier this year.
The alert is one of a suite of actions the reliability regulator is taking to address potential supply-chain threats stemming from the use of Chinese products by the industry. (Washington Examiner)
Across the nation. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the Renewable Electricity Standard Act of 2019 to help reduce climate pollution and protect Americans from the threat of climate change.
Starting in 2020, the bill would require that each electricity provider increase its supply of renewable energy by a percentage of total retail sales each year. Senator Udall claims the bill will result in at least fifty percent of electricity in the U.S. being provided by renewable sources by 2035. (EDF.org)
Aren’t they special? Senate Democrats have created their own Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. Unlike the House Select Committee, this one has no standing as an actual Senate body—special or otherwise. It’s made up only of Democrats; the group intends to be sending a message.
Senators in the group include Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
The groups kickoff meeting was a huddle with utility executives, including Bill Johnson, president, and CEO of PG&E, Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co.; Maria Pope, president and CEO of Portland General Electric; Terry Sobolewski, president of National Grid Rhode Island; and Eric Olsen, vice president and general counsel at Great River Energy. (E&E News)
Send it, and he’ll spend it. The other day Energy Secretary Perry testified before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) reviewed for Perry the appropriation numbers for his department.
The House funding levels set DOE appropriations at $37.1 billion, a $1.4 billion increase from fiscal 2019. That would include a $2.65 billion allocation for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — a $273 million increase from fiscal 2019.
The Trump administration request would have reduced that program to $343 million in new dollars.
The House would also provide record funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at $425 million despite the Trump administration proposing to eliminate the program for the third time in as many years.
To show there were no hard feelings Perry told the Committee: "I respect [the Office of Management and Budget's] work and what they do, but I'll be real honest with you, I respect this Congress more," Perry said. "And I understand how the process works, and [Energy Subcommittee] ranking member [Randy] Weber [R-Texas] was spot on, this is a starting point. (E&E News)
Down Mexico way. House Democrats and labor and environmental groups are insisting that the Trump administration add tougher environmental enforcement provisions to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) before a congressional vote expected later this summer, adding a hurdle to the push to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The position by the Democrat's top negotiators raises questions about the timing of the up-or-down House and Senate vote that must happen for the USMCA to take effect.
Backers of the pact have called for that vote to happen before the August recess, but Democrats are trying to tamp down that timeline, which was jolted by the administration's decision last month to submit a document to Congress that triggers a process for a vote (Greenwire, May 31).
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) warned earlier this year that seeking changes to the underlying agreement would backfire and lead to President Trump pulling out of NAFTA entirely. (E&E News)
Lawyers on your marks. “Once in always in” Policy, as laid down under the section 112 of the Clean Air Act, has been revoked by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency for the classification of major sources of catastrophic air pollutants by issuing a guidance that sources of hazardous air pollutants previously classified as “major sources” to be reclassified and stated as “area source”.
Bill Wehrum, the assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said “This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act. It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”
"'Once in, always in' policies discourage facilities from deploying the latest pollution control technologies or modernizing in ways that increase efficiency and reduce emissions," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. "Today's proposal would remove a major regulatory burden and incentivize investments in technologies that improve air quality and public health." (Power World)
Burst your balloon. Environmental advocates are raising awareness about the dangers of balloons for wildlife in the Great Lakes and elsewhere.
Volunteers for the Alliance for the Great Lakes picked up more than 18,000 balloons, balloon pieces or balloon strings along Great Lakes shorelines from 2016 to 2018. (US News)
Betting the odds. The Oregon legislature repealed a 25-year-old law prohibiting new schools, hospitals, jails, and police and fire stations from being built in the state's tsunami inundation zone.
Coastal legislators, who pushed the bill, say the risks of a natural disaster must be weighed against an actual economic disaster already unfolding because of the statute.
State Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat, said without new emergency services buildings, coastal residents and businesses will not be able to get property insurance, and without new schools, property values will fall.
Oregon has a 30% chance of experiencing a 9.0-magnitude-plus Cascadia subduction zone earthquake in the next 50 years. The quake would be followed by a tsunami similar to the one that devastated eastern Japan in 2011.
The 1995 ban on building in the tsunami zone doesn't apply to homes or private development.
Maybe we should just pay it now? Eliminating fossil fuels from the U.S. power sector, a key goal of the “Green New Deal” backed by many Democratic presidential candidates, would cost $4.7 trillion and pose massive economic and social challenges, according to a report released on Thursday by energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. (US News & World Report/Reuters)
Notice to readers. Climate Politics will now be released on Mondays and Thursdays rather than Mondays and Wednesdays.
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Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.