Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 August 5, 2019 Issue 21
Budget update. Both the House and Senate are out on their August recess. They are not scheduled to return until September 6th. Before leaving town, both chambers passed a two-year budget deal that was quickly signed by Trump. The legislation raises discretionary spending by more than $320 billion over the next two years and includes a nonbinding side agreement banning policy riders on appropriations bills.
Should the deal of no riders on appropriations bills be kept, it could be a major roadblock for the climate and clean energy communities. Riders are an often used means to attach measures the administration might otherwise oppose, e.g., anything climate related, onto measures it supports or can't afford to veto, e.g., immigration and defense.
The bill also raised the nation's debt ceiling through July 2021, averting a potential debt default until after the 2020 election. The attention of Capitol Hill lawmakers now turns to appropriations.
It’s been reported by E&E News that Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, volunteered to be "at the head of the line" when the chamber begins marking up and moving spending bills. He said his staff would be working throughout August recess to draft the measure.
Upon returning in September Congress will have less than two months to finish all 12 appropriations bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1st. The House has passed 10 of its 12 bills, including the Energy-Water and Interior-EPA titles. The Senate has yet to introduce their first bill having waited until a budget deal was signed for their committee budget allocations. (Multiple sources)
Tree-hundred plus million. Ethiopia planted more than 350 million trees in a single day, in what is believed to be a new world record.
The current World Record for planting trees in a single day is held by India, which used 800,000 volunteers to plant more than 50 million trees in 2016.
The UN says Ethiopia's forest coverage declined from 35 percent of the total land in the early 20th Century to a little above 4 percent in the 2000s. The aim is to plant a total of four billion indigenous trees.
A bizarre kind of straw poll. In the race to raise as much cash as possible ahead of the 2020 election, Donald Trump’s campaign has hit on a novel, and successful, idea: selling plastic straws.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said last week that his team has raked in almost $500,000 in one week from selling Trump-branded, “laser engraved,” nine-inch long straws.
It’s a tidy sum and, given Trump’s six corporate bankruptcies, a string of failed companies, and ability to lose more than $1bn between 1985 and 1994, the straw selling may rank as one of the president’s most successful business ventures. (The Guardian)
Spare the rod. A coalition of states is taking the Trump administration to court for cutting penalties automakers must pay when they fall short of fuel efficiency standards. The lawsuit says the reduction violates the 2015 Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act and should be overturned.
California, New York and other states led by Democratic attorneys general filed suit in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration broke the law when it slashed the penalty rate.
Under NHTSA's new rule, the rate is fixed at $5.50 per 0.1 miles per gallon, down from the Obama-era rate of $14. The fines apply to automakers that don't meet corporate average fuel economy requirements.
Predictably the move was welcomed by automakers but criticized by environmentalists. (E&E News)
A kick in the ash. A North Carolina hearing officer says a state agency can order the country's largest electric company to excavate all its coal ash pits by 2030 so that they quit polluting neighboring rivers.
A state administrative judge, Selina Malherbe, today dismissed claims by Duke Energy Corp. that North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality can't order the work that could cut the risk of toxic chemicals leaking into water supplies.
The company's administrative appeal represents the first round of a legal fight that could continue for years. (E&E News)
Revenue sharing. A bipartisan bloc of senators is reviving the long-standing push to boost the sharing of offshore federal oil and gas revenues with coastal states, while also expanding the practice to Alaska.
The "Conservation of America's Shoreline Terrain and Aquatic Life (COASTAL) Act," introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and five other senators, would expand the 37.5 percent share of offshore drilling revenues that Louisiana and a handful of other Gulf Coast states are eligible to receive under a 2006 law to 50 percent.
That percentage is in line with the 50-50 split that inland states receive from energy production on federal lands within their borders, an inequity that has long drawn fire from coastal lawmakers who favor offshore drilling.
Cassidy's office, citing Interior figures, said $8.9 billion in revenues from natural resource extraction were distributed last year, with onshore and local governments receiving more than $1.5 billion — about 17 percent—while Gulf states received $188 million, or roughly 2 percent.
The bill — also sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Kennedy (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Doug Jones (D-AL)— makes several other changes to revenue distribution under the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.
Something to grouse about? The Forest Service's final revisions to Obama-era greater sage grouse plans would remove 200,400 acres of protected habitat for the bird, mostly priority management areas in Nevada and Wyoming, two states with large swaths of grouse habitat.
The details are in a final environmental impact statement (EIS) published the Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day "public protest" period running through Oct. 1.
The Forest Service today also published draft records of decision (RODs) for the amended plans in each of the five states the revised plans cover: Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
Keep it on the pavement. Environmental groups are challenging the U.S. government's decision to reopen a large swath of southern Utah's badlands to off-highway vehicles.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and two other conservation organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah arguing that all-terrain vehicle traffic will harm endangered plants. The lands had been closed since 2006 to protect two rare species of cactus — the Wright fishhook cactus and Winkler's pincushion cactus — found near a towering monolith called Factory Butte that is one of the state's most distinctive geological formations.
Stepping out. EPA is moving to buttress its decision last year to relax the application of a key feature of the New Source Review permitting program for power plants, refineries, and other major industrial polluters.
In a draft rule released last week, the agency formally seeks to rework the two-step process for deciding whether a plant expansion or other major upgrade would result in a significant emissions increase warranting a New Source Review pre-construction permit, possibly accom-panied by added pollution control requirements.
Typically, the first step has involved determining whether the project would, by itself lead to a significant pollution increase. If that's found to be the case, the second step takes a look at whether there would be overall emissions boost once all other increases or decreases at the plant over the preceding few years are factored in.
Under the revised approach, welcomed by industry organizations and denounced by environmental groups, companies can consider both the "projected emissions increases and projected decreases" attributable to the project during the first step, according to an EPA summary.
"By simplifying the permitting process and implementing a common-sense interpretation of our NSR rules, we will remove a major obstacle to the construction of cleaner and more efficient facilities," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
However, in a news release, the Sierra Club said the change would open a loophole by allowing companies "to claim that planned decreases in pollution will offset any immediate increases in pollution" and thus avoid their "obligation" to install new controls. (E&E News)
A twisted connection. The 21 year-old suspect in the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart mingled environmentalism with white supremacy, saying in a manifesto that dwindling resources made racist violence “logical.”
Patrick Crusius, the man accused of killing 21 people and wounding 26 on Saturday, published just before the shooting an online manifesto, “An Inconvenient Truth,” whose title alludes to former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary on climate change.
In a jumbled rant, the document rails against corporations for destroying the environment by over-harvesting resources. The manifesto chastises the government for being unwilling to confront environmental issues and most Americans for being unwilling to change their lifestyles to be more environmentally friendly. It argues that the United States, therefore, needs fewer people consuming resources.
The manifesto says the attack was meant to deter immigration, which the suspect claimed is eroding white Americans’ political power.
The El Paso suspect drew inspiration from the mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who considered himself an “eco-fascist” and called immigration “environmental warfare.”
The El Paso suspect wrote that killing nonwhites would protect the environment. (Washington Post)
Safer than what? The proposed rollback of Obama-era clean car standards by EPA and the Department of Transportation's has landed at the White House for review.
EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent the final rule to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Friday (August 2nd), according to Reginfo.gov, a federal rule-tracking website.
The final rule, known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, would dramatically scale back President Obama's signature initiative for curbing planet-warming emissions from vehicles.
Under the proposal, cars and light trucks could travel 35 mpg on average by 2025, rather than 50 mpg as Obama had envisioned.
The proposed rule also strips California’s federal waiver that allows it to set tougher tailpipe pollution limits than the federal government. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California standard.
Environmental groups are gearing up to challenge the rule, which they say will worsen air pollution and climate change while increasing costs for consumers at the gas pump.
OIRA typically takes a month or more to review a final rule.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. In a move to join the slew of companies and municipalities working to reduce plastic pollution, McDonald's Corp. swapped plastic straws for paper ones last year at its United Kingdom and Ireland restaurants.
However, now, McDonald's paper straws are no more likely to be recycled than their plastic counterparts, according to a company spokesperson.
Shortly after its initial transition to paper straws in 2018, McDonald's customers criticized the paper alternatives, saying they altered beverages' flavor and turned to mush within minutes of use. In response, the company opted for a stronger, thicker version of the straws. Those most recent versions have, however, become a headache for the company since the thick paper material is too difficult for recycling facilities to process, according to McDonald's.
"This is a wider industry issue, as the infrastructure needed to recycle has not kept pace with the emergence of paper straws," a McDonald's spokesperson said in an email to E&E News. (E&E News)
A pace of politicians. House Democrats gathered on the steps of the Capitol last week to celebrate their achievements in the first 200 days of the 116th Congress — including legislation to combat high drug prices and foreign interference in elections — but they didn't say a word about climate change.
Nine months after Democrats won back the House, all they have to show for it heading into the August recess is a few appropriations amendments and a messaging bill--H.R. 9 the Climate Action Now Act—that will never get a vote in the Senate and a plan to make a plan.
When they return from recess next month, lawmakers from both parties said there's plenty for them to work on when it comes to climate change.
Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, believes there are two major debates that the Democrats need to be ironed out. One is whether a goal of net-zero by 2050 captures the "temporal crisis we're in right now," since the IPCC report says the world will need to halve emissions by 2030 to keep warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
The other is whether carbon capture, a technology favored by moderates and despised by some progressives, can be a viable part of the solution moving forward.
"I think we need that debate, and whoever wins, wins," Snape said. "And I'm OK with that."
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who chairs the Senate's special committee, said it's "weird" that advocates would quibble about the exact timeline for getting to net-zero emissions.
However, when no one is expecting to get major climate policy past McConnell and Trump, there's also no need to have a single platform or bill the entire party can support, he added.
"First of all, it's not time for that. And second of all, we have a brand-new challenge, which is that lots of members of the Congress have good and ambitious ideas on climate," Schatz said. "And if that's a problem, it's a problem that I love." (E&E News)
Whitehouse's weekly "Time to Wake Up" addresses often serve as a notice for reporters watching the floor from the press gallery that the day is coming to a close.
Like GOP Senator Dan Sullivan's jaunty "Alaskan of the Week" speeches, the soliloquies are the kind of thing that ends up in the obscure corners of the Congressional Record and muted TVs tuned to C-SPAN, seemingly destined to be rediscovered years later by some baffled congressional chronicler.
However, they've also given Whitehouse a platform to rail against the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers and their interest groups. Moreover, they've made the Rhode Island Democrat a go-to for any journalist writing about climate policy, what little there is, in the Senate.
Now, Whitehouse says Congress is closer to acting on a comprehensive climate bill than it's been since 2009 when the Waxman-Markey carbon cap-and-trade bill passed in the House and failed to move in the Senate.
"We're very close," he said, regarding a relatively broad consensus that a revenue-neutral price on carbon is the path forward on climate.
"There's a baseline understanding of what needs to take place," Whitehouse said in an interview after the 250th speech last week. "I think there are at least a dozen Republican senators who would like to participate in that discussion and do something positive that actually solves the problem." (E&E News)
The sides are forming. An industry group representing electric cooperatives is ready to go to bat for the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy rule.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) moved to intervene in litigation over the EPA regulation, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.
The Trump rule, a dramatically narrower version of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), drew a lawsuit from public health groups shortly after it was finalized earlier this summer. According to the American Lung Association and American Public Health Association, EPA's new regulation falls short of the agency's Clean Air Act obligations because it will do little to decrease dangerous emissions.
NRECA, the first industry party to get involved in the new case, wants to defend the ACE rule alongside EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (E&E News)
A step up in class. The renewable energy industry ramped up lobbying activities in the second quarter of the year as it fought in Congress for tax credits that benefit its businesses.
The American Wind Energy Association said in disclosures due last week that it spent $300,000 advocating for policies in the federal government between April and June, more than double the $140,000 it spent in the same quarter in 2018.
The solar industry's main lobbying organization, the Solar Energy Industries Association, boosted its lobbying spending in the same period by more than half, to $320,000.
Numerous companies that develop renewable energy projects also saw big increases, including residential solar company Sunrun Inc., whose costs surged more than 500 percent to $122,000, and Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, with a 50 percent increase.
The rise in lobbying activity came as the industries pushed for Congress to enact various proposals, mainly championed by Democrats, either to extend tax incentives for their sectors that are due to expire or to create new ones.
The spending growth can also be traced to the April reintroduction in both the House and Senate of the "Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act."
H.R. 2096 and S. 1142 would provide an ITC, starting at 30 percent of the project's value, for energy storage technology, a nascent but growing sector. A project can currently get the credit only if it is part of a solar power installation.
AWEA and SEIA both support the bill, which has the promise of fixing the intermittency issues of wind and solar power. They, along with numerous other companies, disclosed lobbying in support of the legislation. (E&E News)
Don’t tread on it. House Democrats want to halt the first-ever oil and gas lease sale this fall in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge following a report that environmental assessments ahead of the auction have been trampled by an administration eager to open the coastal plain to industry.
In a letter yesterday, top Natural Resources lawmakers cited a story in Politico that included scientists' complaints that their work had been changed or omitted, sometimes resulting in inaccuracies or supporting different conclusions from their own. The demanded cessation of the planning for the lease sale this winter.
House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Alan Lowenthal of California; Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Chairman Jared Huffman of California; and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado signed the letter. (E&E News)
Taking it to the streets. Thousands of environmental activists, calling for the Democratic Party to embrace far-reaching plans to curb climate change and address social injustice, gathered for a hard-to-miss rally in Detroit on Tuesday afternoon, hours before the first of two presidential primary debates here.
The rally was organized by a coalition of progressive groups called Frontline Detroit and included the Sunrise Movement, the climate advocacy group seeking to harness the political power of young people to push for the Green New Deal. (New York Times)
Steal away. The world’s largest steel corporations are not reducing emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, a failure that on average puts 14% of the companies’ potential value at risk, according to a new analysis of corporate earnings profiles.
The 20 companies in the study are expected to reduce emissions by less than 50% by 2050, falling behind the 65% reduction standard set by the International Energy Agency.
The report illustrates the failure of polluting corporations to keep up with climate regulations and the financial losses they could suffer as carbon prices rise and the planet warms. (CNBC)
Let’s ask the United Arab Emirates. When candidate Donald Trump prepared to give a major energy speech during the 2016 campaign, one of his closest advisers provided a pre-speech review to senior United Arab Emirates officials, an unorthodox move that caught the attention of federal investigators, according to emails and text messages uncovered by a House Oversight Committee investigation.
Language requested by the UAE officials was added to the speech with the help of Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort. (ABC News)
A slow year, disaster wise. The pace of natural disasters slowed in the first half of 2019.
According to new data issued Tuesday by Munich Re, the reinsurance giant, there were 370 natural catastrophes worldwide in the first six months of 2019. That tally, which includes cyclones, flash floods, heatwaves, and other disasters, was down from 460 during the same period last year and slightly less than the average of 400 over the past decade.
Total losses came to $42 billion. That’s no small amount, but it is less than the $62 billion recorded in the first half of 2018, and about half the average for the same period during the past ten years.
However, there’s no reason to expect the decline in losses to last, according to the company, which says that the trend for disasters has been moving clearly in one direction: Up. (New York Times)
A case of hide and seek. Alaska Natives and environmental groups sued the Trump administration on accusing it of concealing information about the effects of oil development in the long-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, alleges the U.S. Department of the Interior broke federal law by failing to produce information about how it drew up plans for oil leasing in the refuge. Numerous requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have been stonewalled for months, the plaintiffs allege. (Reuters)
An ill wind? The Trump administration is investigating whether companies in four countries are selling utility-scale wind towers to US importers at prices below their fair value.
The Commerce Department launched investigations to determine whether wind towers from Canada, Indonesia, South Korea, and Vietnam are being unfairly priced below market value. Commerce also wants to determine whether producers in Canada, Indonesia, and Vietnam are receiving unfair subsidies.
In 2018, imports of utility-scale wind towers from Canada, Indonesia, South Korea, and Vietnam were valued at an estimated $60.2 million, $37.4 million, $50 million and $21.4 million, respectively, according to the department.
Commerce said the investigations are based on petitions filed by the Wind Tower Trade Coalition, whose members include Arcosa and Broadwind Energy. (S&P Global/Platts)
Trump’s never appeared fond of Trudeau and would certainly like to take some credit should the Tory (conservative) Scheer become the new prime minister just as he had in Johnson’s becoming UK prime minister. There are Trumpy-like forces afoot in Canada and Trudeau has lost some of his luster. The election will take place on or before October 21, 2019.
Dumpster diving. Turbines tossed into a dump is stirring debate on wind’s dirty downside. Wind turbines may be carbon-free, but they're not recyclable. (Yahoo/Bloomberg)
A perfect Trumpian pick. Trump's pick for managing federal lands doesn't believe the government should have any." William Perry Pendley has been appointed the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley, former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, was a senior official in President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
In the three decades since serving under Reagan, Pendley has sued the Interior Department on behalf of an oil and gas prospector, sought to undermine protections of endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and pressed to radically reduce the size of federal lands to make way for development. (Washington Post)
The real deal? Former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz released a “Green Real Deal” framework that envisions a role for fossil fuels as part of decarbonizing the economy by midcentury.
Moniz released the framework through his Energy Futures Initiative and discussed it before business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Innovates summit.
Moniz foresees “no chance” of meeting the net-zero goal without breakthroughs in advanced nuclear energy, and “at-scale” carbon removal technologies, including carbon capture on gas plants and direct air capture.
Lawmakers are under a-tax. Automakers are expanding lobbying efforts to extend the federal tax credit for buying electric vehicles, as the oil industry and conservatives push back against further incentives.
The battle is over the "Driving America Forward Act," would augment an existing $7,500 consumer tax credit on each company's first 200,000 electric cars with a $7,000 credit for the next 400,000 cars. Both companies recently became ineligible for the credits.
The bill's lead sponsors in the Senate are Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), while Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) sponsored an identical version in the House. (Society of Environmental Journalists)
Ad nauseum. Brad Parscale, Trump’s current campaign manager, called Democratic environ-mental plans "reckless and dangerous.” In part, his press statement read:
"Democrats will destroy the economy and kill millions of jobs in states across the country with their vendetta against coal, oil, and natural gas. Their radical plan to eliminate those industries will devastate workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado, and elsewhere."
"Jobs gone, auto and manufacturing industries crushed, lives ruined. Reckless and dangerous.” (The Hill)
We’ve been warned. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned countries across the world that they must increase their targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions, after the globe experienced record hot temperatures in July.
Guterres delivered the warning at a press conference ahead of the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, where countries are encouraged to increase their pledges to the Paris climate change agreement.
“I am telling leaders don’t come to the Summit with beautiful speeches,” Guterres said. “Come with concrete plans – clear steps to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020 – and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050.” (Washington Examiner)
Winds of change. A record amount of wind energy capacity is now under construction at wind farms across America, according to second-quarter results from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Strong demand for low-cost wind power from utilities and other buyers, including major corporations like AT&T and Walmart this quarter, continues to drive the industry’s growth. (Renewables and the Environment)
The 41,801 megawatts of wind capacity currently under construction represents a 10 percent increase over the level of activity this time last year.
Food for thought. A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. (The Guardian)
Conservative youth have their own opinions. Lisa Friedman reports that in conversations with 10 G.O.P. analysts, consultants, and activists, all said they were acutely aware of the rising influence of young voters, who in their lifetimes haven’t seen a single month of colder-than-average temperatures globally, and who call climate change a top priority. Those strategists said lawmakers were aware, too, but few were taking action.
“We’re definitely sending a message to younger voters that we don’t care about things that are very important to them,” said Douglas Heye, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee. “This spells certain doom in the long term if there isn’t a plan to admit reality and have legislative prescriptions for it.” (New York Times)
He’s out! Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff is leaving her office, a departure that comes weeks after his public statements added tinder to an already fiery feud between the Democratic Party’s liberal lawmakers and its moderates.
Saikat Chakrabarti, who encouraged Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to run for office, will join New Consensus, a think tank dedicated to advocating for the Green New Deal.
Coal’s champion? High ranking officials in the Trump administration are still pushing to bail out money-losing coal plants, more than a year after an earlier proposal to revive the industry failed.
Any new effort to save coal plants may find a friend in Kentucky Republican Neil Chatterjee, now chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the very agency that rejected the previous plan.
According to Cheryl LaFleur, a Democratic commissioner whose departure this month leaves the agency with a Republican majority, efforts to rescue coal are not dead. (Flipboard)
More frog than bunny. A deluge of batteries is about to rewire the power grid. Lithium-ion batteries continue to have limits in terms of the amount of energy they can store, and they're typically able to supply energy to grids for just hours at a time, not days or weeks.
“We think storage can be the leapfrog technology that’s really needed in a world that’s focused on dramatic climate change,” says Mary Powell, chief executive officer of Green Mountain Power Corp., a utility based in Colchester, Vermont, that’s worked with Tesla to deploy more than 2,000 residential storage batteries. “It’s the killer app in a vision to move away from bulk delivery systems to a community, home, and business-based energy system.” (Lithium News)
A reminder to readers that Climate Politics is only being published once a week over the Congressional recess. Look for the next edition on August 12, 2019
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.