Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 September 27, 2019 Issue 30
It’s been an exciting week—starting with the UN’s climate summit and ending more or less with the both the House and Senate passing a continuing resolution to keep the doors of government open—at least until midnight on November 21st.
The big political news of the week, of course, was the House taking the first step in the impeachment process. The impeachment investigation will have an impact on energy and environmental legislation, as it will in other areas.
The otherwise caustic relations between Democrats and Republicans and Democrats and Trump have just been made even more so—meaning any initiative requiring the legislative and executive branches to cooperate is at risk—including the 2020 federal budget.
Notwithstanding the Continuing Resolution, I see trouble ahead. Trump is not a happy man. I believe he will at least consider diverting attention from the impeachment investigation by again forcing a shutdown of the federal government.
I would imagine that Trump hates the government he rules over and is likely feeling paranoid. I’ve served as a special counsel to several high-level political appointees and seen how confidence in one’s ability to boss the system can turn to fear and loathing. Those I served started with a better sense of political reality than Donald Trump.
Trump appears to be wound so tight that should he begin to unwind, he’ll take no prisoners.
If I were Rudy Giuliani, I would stay off the streets. I imagine he’ll be the first one thrown under a bus by the president. It’s hard to conceive of anyone on the Trump team better suited to be made into a speed bump than Hiz Hona’ the former mayor of New York. It’s always someone else’s fault in Trumpville.
I don’t mean to make light of the situation. I do admit to having strong negative feelings about Giuliani and how he has taken obfuscation and mean-spiritedness to new levels. There’s a difference between being a protector of your client and an enabler of their worst instincts and antics.
The nation is on the edge of a constitutional crisis—made worse by a president who doesn’t appear to understand, believe, or appreciate the delicate balance between the branches of government that is the heart of our democratic republic. The republic’s strength is also its weakness—in the wrong hands.
As regards the UN climate summit, it went pretty much as anticipated. Although some seventy nations voluntarily upped their emission reduction targets, they were, for the most part, small countries in terms of both population and their contribution to global greenhouse gas emission totals.
The US, like Australia, Japan, and other large emitters were kept off the Summit’s center-stage because they failed to step up their emission reduction targets and programs. The greatest drama during the Summit was “off-Broadway” so to speak between a diminutive, determined, soft-spoken 16-year-old from Sweden and a large, loud, and boastful president of the United States.
The real drama wasn’t what they did say in each other’s presence, but what they didn’t. Best of all, it was captured on film.
Finally, both the House and Senate will be off for the next two weeks. Look for Climate Politics/Capitol Light to maintain the twice a week schedule during the break.
He wants coal in his stocking this Xmas. The fossil fuel industry’s bottom line has enjoyed a regulatory windfall under the Trump administration, not least the president’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord. It explains why Trump’s fossil fuel backers are already opening their wallets wide to help his 2020 re-election effort, reports Peter Stone. The coal magnate Robert Murray, for example, raised $2.5 million for Trump at a single fundraising dinner in West Virginia in July. (The Guardian)
California reaming. The Trump administration escalated its feud with California, accusing the state of failing to stop water pollution from such sources as human waste left on the pavement by the homeless in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
California officials swiftly disputed any connection between homeless people and water quality and accused Donald Trump of using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to punish the heavily Democratic state. (The Guardian)
A short span. U.S. biofuel industry sources said they were concerned that an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump could delay a pending deal on biofuels policy that is meant to boost demand for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel.
“It seems his interest has waned,” one industry source familiar with the White House deliberations on the issue said, citing what he called a lack of movement in recent days. Another industry source who had been receiving briefings on the White House deliberations said he would not be surprised if the package was on hold indefinitely due to the impeachment inquiry, launched this week. (Reuters)
A taxing situation? Rhodium Group has a new white paper out on tax credits. According to the Group extending and expanding tax credits through 2025 for zero-emitting generation including wind, solar, or nuclear could achieve reductions of up to 125 million tons compared to current policy in 2025. It could fill up to 25 percent of the gap between US emissions under current policy and its Paris commitments. (Rhodium Group)
Mystery solved. When Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in May, he was a last-minute substitute for Vice President Mike Pence.
That's because Pence had been ordered to cancel his planned trip by President Trump, who wanted to see how the Ukrainian president "chose to act," according to a whistleblower complaint released today. (E&E News)
Ya think? In a closed-door meeting of oil and gas executives, this summer in Colorado Springs, industry lawyer Mark Barron offered a bold proposal: Energy companies must accept that fossil fuels are helping to drive climate change.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s real, or not real, or what the issues are,” said Barron, who heads the energy litigation arm of Baker Hostetler. “That ship has sailed from a political perspective.”
Free Wheeler-ing. Scientists who were booted from their advisory roles by the Trump administration plan to reconvene their air pollution panel without the backing of the government.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded the Particulate Matter Review Panel, part of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, in October 2018.
The 20-member review panel was composed of some of the nation’s top scientists, who were tasked with reviewing how soot and other microscopic air pollutants impact human health. The committee helped the EPA determine what level of air pollution is safe to breathe.
Now the scientists who once served on the panel will meet on Oct. 10, the anniversary of the day it was disbanded.
What are they hiding? Bipartisan dissatisfaction with the Department of the Interior was on display Thursday as lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee probed the difficulties they’ve faced in getting information on department business.
If Interior complies, the committee could gain insight into a host of ethical issues plaguing the department, as well as documents tied to a recent decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Lawmakers used screens in the hearing room to flash fully redacted pages, blurred images, and examples where the committee was given limited versions of documents that were given to other requesters in full.
It isn’t just Democrats who are frustrated.
“There are many of us on the other side of the aisle that may not share the Democrats’ policy positions, but do recognize the role of oversight, and are frustrated when legitimate requests, bipartisan requests are made and not answered,” said Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA).
Lime wants to be green. The fleet of dockless vehicles operated by Lime in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Maryland is poised to get a little greener; the company announced Thursday: The independent contractors who charge scooters for Lime will now get incentives to use clean energy when "juicing" their batteries. (CityLab)
Plethora it again, Sam. A new bill introduced by Republican Representative Brian Fitzpat-rick (PA) would place a price on carbon and invest revenue in infrastructure.
The bipartisan Market Choice Act co-sponsored with Democratic Representatives Salud Carbajal and Scott Peters of California aims to reduce emissions and invest in infrastructure projects such as those for highways and bridges. It would do so by replacing the federal gasoline tax with a tax on carbon emissions from sources of fossil fuel combustion like power plants.
Let’s movement it along there. Three wealthy donors formed the Climate Emergency Fund this year to support “disruptive activists,” as Trevor Neilson, one of the founders, put it. For years, he said, they have individually given money to more traditional environmental organizations like Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council but concluded that these groups were taking a too-gradual approach to the fight against climate change and that the crisis demanded greater urgency.
“The smartest place for philanthropists to invest is in this new generation of activists who refuse to accept the excuses of the adults whose lazy approach to climate is leading us off a cliff,” Mr. Neilson said. “The era of gradualism in environmental activism is over.”
Since its founding in July, the Climate Emergency Fund has distributed grants, (some as small as $2,000) to dozens of groups, including 350.org and others tied to the youth climate strikes last week. Extinction Rebellion has chapters around the world and has brought intense attention to climate change through disruptive protests in London in April, and subsequent demonstrations in Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere. It got a pledge of $350,000. (New York Times)
Did they buy enough time? Congress reset the clock Thursday by passing a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through Nov. 21, buying themselves an extra eight weeks to negotiate a longer-term spending deal. (The Hill)
Job corps. The Agriculture Department is committed to keeping a Forest Service youth jobs program that was targeted earlier this year for deep cuts; an agency official told lawmakers yesterday.
Forest Service Associate Chief Lenise Lago told the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry that the USDA has plans for a "more formal program" between the Forest Service and Job Corps centers, which put thousands of youths to work at various Forest Service sites.
Lago's promotion of the program came in response to questions from Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and contrasted to the Trump administration's announcement earlier this year that it would close youth employment centers in national forests and transfer authority for 16 centers to the Labor Department.
Officials backed away from that plan in June after an outcry from lawmakers in both parties.
Some 2,000 Job Corps workers log more than 100,000 hours a year on restoration projects alone, and an additional 300,000 students provide support for firefighting, including some on the fire lines, Lago said. (E&E News)
Stayin’ alive. Western GOP lawmakers have officially rolled out a wide-ranging legislative package to overhaul the 46-year-old Endangered Species Act, which they said has morphed into a financial and regulatory burden on farmers, ranchers and loggers without adequately protecting wildlife.
Among other things, the draft legislative package from Western Caucus members would alter the delisting designation process, tighten the petition process to reduce the current backlog, cap attorneys' fees at $125 per hour for ESA lawsuits, and increase the role of state and local governments in the petition and listing processes.
It also calls for making the scientific data using in listing and delisting decisions more readily available to the public. Another provision included in the bundle would limit ESA listing in water infrastructure areas.
The latest package of bills from the Western Caucus is similar to legislation the group pushed in the 115th Congress. It also would codify some of the reforms backed by the administration (E&E Daily) (E&E News)
Out for review. EPA on Thursday released the draft integrated scientific assessment for ozone, a 1,400-page technical document that reviews what we know about smog's effects on human health and the environment. The staff-led review doesn't provide any specific advice on where the National Ambient Air Quality Standards should be; the draft policy assessment expected to be released in October should provide more guidance on that. However, the science assessment is a crucial underpinning of the rulemaking. (Federal Register)
With a little help from their friends. The coal-fired power industry took a big hit last year, with total generation falling 6 percent by one group's count.
However, the industry's emissions of two dangerous pollutants didn't uniformly follow suit.
While there were fewer operating coal-fired power plants, they often spewed more sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, according to recently released EPA data. Even as overall emissions of those pollutants fell across the country, releases from some large plants soared.
Nine of the top 10 emitters of sulfur dioxide (SO2) increased discharges last year, in several cases by double-digit percentages, the numbers show.
With the Trump administration's backing, all three power generators had previously skirted Obama-era attempts to require additional pollution controls on those plants. (E&E News)
All for one. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation to increase spending on a number of energy and environmental agencies.
The committee unanimously passed $35.8 billion in funds for the Department of the Interior, EPA, the Forest Service, and other related agencies.
The Senate's Interior-EPA appropriations bill is a rejection of President Trump's proposed fiscal 2020 budget cuts for several energy and environmental programs, although it does not match the $37.3 billion the House slated for those agencies.
The Senate bill would provide about $9 billion to EPA in fiscal 2020, more than the agency's current funding of $8.8 billion.
The Senate bill amounts to about $3 billion more than the Trump budget plan but less than the House's $9.5 billion. (E&E News)
It’s a fracking shame. A push to ban fracking on overseas projects financed by the United States split Democrats and failed as Senate appropriators approved the fiscal 2020 State-Foreign Operations spending bill.
An amendment, proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would have banned the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) from providing financing assistance for any foreign projects that include fracking.
OPIC provides about $60 billion in loans, loan guarantees and insurance to U.S. companies investing or operating in developing nations.
Merkley called it a "mistake" for the United States to support OPIC projects that rely on fracking, noting that the methane emissions they produce are directly linked to climate change. He specifically cited $450 million OPIC recently approved for an Argentinian shale project that will utilize fracking. (E&E News)
Farmers get ready. U.S. farmers may yet recover from one of the worst planting seasons on record — but ongoing threats from climate change demand a response from farmers and agribusinesses, the chief executive officer of one of the nation's biggest seed and farm chemical companies said.
The extreme weather — a hint of what climate change promises — has already hit Corteva's bottom line as farmers suddenly changed planting decisions and bypassed some seeds that would typically be treated with the company's pesticides ahead of planting, Collins said. The company, a spinoff of DowDuPont created earlier this year, is a top seller of seeds and farm chemicals, including pesticides and seed treatments to fight bugs and diseases. (E&E News)
There’s time, and then there’s government time. NOAA Fisheries is forcing states and fishermen to endure long waits for disaster aid, and state officials and congressional lawmakers alike are getting tired of it.
Fishery officials from Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, and Washington told a Senate panel yesterday that fishers often must wait up to three years before they receive any help from the federal government.
"Based on our experience, we believe the fishery disaster process is overly complicated and takes too long to deliver the intended relief," Robert Spottswood, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
Chris Oliver, the head of NOAA Fisheries, told lawmakers the agency uses "the most expeditious method to obligate and manage" disaster aid but acknowledged some of the waits are "excessive" and that there's room for improvement. (E&E News)
We’re with them. Shortly after New Mexico announced its intention to follow California’s more strident fuel efficiency standard, Governor Tim Walz (D) announced Minnesota’s intention to do the same.
Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government is permitted to grant California a waiver to set a more strident fuel efficiency standard than its own. Although other states are ineligible for a waiver, they are permitted to opt for the California standard.
The Trump administration has announced the cancellation of California’s waiver. However, the decision seems not to be a deterrent to other states or the four automakers, i.e., Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda, that recently agreed to follow California’s lead.
The waiver suspension is currently being challenged in federal court by California and 22 other states. (E&E News)
States named sue. A coalition of cities and states led by California, Massachusetts, and Maryland today unveiled their legal challenge to the Trump administration's efforts to walk back protections for vulnerable animals and plants.
Democratic attorneys general for 17 states; New York City; and Washington, D.C., sued the Interior and Commerce departments over a new set of rule changes that impose a higher threshold for government action under the Endangered Species Act. The states and cities filed their complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. (E&E News)
No rushin’ to a decision here. The world’s fourth-largest emitter, Russia, has formally adopted the Paris Agreement, drawing an end to months of national tensions on the subject.
“The Russian Federation has accepted the Paris Agreement and is becoming a full-fledged participant of this international instrument,” a spokesman for the Russian president Vladimir Putin told the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, before proceeding to list the country’s climate contributions.
“Russia is already playing a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 base-line,” he continued. “Our total emissions over this period have decreased almost by half. It represents 41 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent which on the planetary scale has allowed to cumulatively hold global warming for an entire year.” (Climate Change News)
Be careful out there. According to hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and interviews with activists, more than a dozen people campaigning against fossil fuel extraction in North America have been identified in domestic terrorism-related investigations. (The Guardian)
Missing them. More than four-fifths of the world’s largest companies are unlikely to meet the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement by 2050, according to fresh analysis of their climate disclosures.
A study of almost 3,000 publicly listed companies found that just 18 percent have disclosed plans that are aligned with goals to limit rising temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrialized levels by the middle of the century.
What a tough guy. Donald Trump appears to have taken a swipe at teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. Trump tweeted a video of an emotional Thunberg following her speech at the UN Climate Summit along with a sarcastic comment that she seems to be “very happy” and looking forward to a bright future.
“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” tweeted the US president late on Monday night.
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.