Climate Politics/Capitol Light© is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 May 20, 2019 Issue 1
An introductory note to readers--
I have long wanted to create additional outlets for the information I regularly gather in my work as a senior policy and politics advisor to clients and in support of my various writings and presentations. Climate Politics/Capitol Light is the result.
Although basically a “clipping service,” I’ve taken Climate Politics/Capitol Light a step further by introducing a sentence or two into each of the write-ups about why I think the actions reported on are important and where they might fit in the political scheme of things.
Undercurrents and context are the two words I think that best describe these asides. Both words also account for much of the added value that I bring to clients and readers over what they might otherwise hear from someone else.
Development and execution of a successful strategy requires an ability to see into, around and through the events of the day. Years of experience, a naturally curiosity, an appreciation of the political dance, and a suspicious mind have allowed me to ply my trade with a modicum of success over decades of working in and around the nation’s capital on most energy and environment matters.
My current plan is to post Climate Politics twice a week on my blog Civil Notion and to supplement the podcasts I do with my colleague Jennifer Delony over on Zero Net Fifty once a week. Recordings of both will be available on Civil Notion—all subject to change of course.
Climate Politics/Capitol Light will be a free service for at least the next several months. At some point, I may come hat and hand to ask readers for their support. Truth be told, I like eating as much as the next person.
Finally, I encourage readers to contact me when the mood strikes. I value reader responses and recommendations of topics to cover.
Movin’ on up. Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), Chair of the Select House Committee on the Climate Crisis, is seen as a rising star in the House and a potential bridge between progressive and moderate elements of the Democratic caucus. Castor’s appointment as chair of the Select Committee by Speaker Pelosi was originally viewed with suspicion by progressives.
Castor was the lead sponsor of H.R. 9, the first major climate legislation passed by the House in nearly a decade. The bill is an attempt to keep the Trump administration from using any resources to leave the Paris Accord or not to meet the carbon reduction targets Obama pledged before leaving office. (see below)
According to Energy and Environment News Castor leads her party's messaging efforts on the select panel and helps craft legislation on Energy and Commerce — all as an arm of the leadership tree of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who has endeavored to make climate a marquee issue in the 116th Congress. Her Florida district is surrounded on three sides by water, and her constituents know first-hand what it’s like to face rising waters.
Castor is also not a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus or the moderate New Democrat Coalition, which may prove to be an advantage when it comes to moving between and negotiating with the various Democratic factions.
The tax man cometh. A new bipartisan task force has been established to break the on-again, off-again nature of an assortment of energy tax incentives. Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced on May 16th the launch of an energy task force to review temporary energy tax provisions — commonly referred to as "extenders" — that expired or will do so between the end of 2017 and the current year.
The energy task force will be led by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) both of whom are reliable supporters of tax breaks for clean energy sources and producers in their states.
Filling out the energy roster for Republicans are Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), while Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) will represent Democrats.
It’s no secret that uncertainty is the enemy of investors. The on-again/off-again availability of investment, production, and consumer tax credits limit their ability to create and motivate private markets for emerging technologies. In some cases, they force developers to act too quickly or investors to give up too early because they continually hear the clock ticking.
We remember Paris. The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation to fund the State Department and other foreign operations after debate over international climate issues.
Language about the Paris climate agreement sparked debate between Republicans and Democrats. A provision in the bill would prohibit the administration from formally withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. The bill gives meaning to the recent House-passed Castor proposal H.R. 9 (see above).
The bill would also allow for funding appropriated in current and past State Department spending bills to be used to fund U.S. climate commitments. The provisions will never be accepted by the Trump White House of the Republican Senate. They are meant to be sending a message.
Why didn’t you call? The National Farmers Union (NFU) urged Congress to stop the Department of Agriculture's plan to relocate two research agencies away from the nation's capital.
NFU President Roger Johnson wrote congressional leadership saying the planned move has already disrupted operations at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service. The disruption was likely rumors that some key personnel would rather leave than relocate.
Other farm groups, like NFU, see the move making it harder—or at the least less efficient—for their Washington representatives to interact with the Service. Most trade, industry, and professional organizations, as well as most advocacy groups of a size schedule at least one members’ day a year in DC.
On the appointed day members flood Capitol Hill, along with executive agencies, pursuing their agendas. Moving key offices outside Capital City does fit the model very well. The groups often hold substantive sessions before the meetings to which congressional and executive agency speakers are invited.
Although ordinarily not a top tier bit of info, farm group opposition to the move also appears to have something to do with the displeasure of one of Trump’s core constituencies being miffed over not being consulted in the first place about USDA’s decision to send the offices packing. It’s a pattern that has been oft repeated by the White House and executive agencies and could hurt their re-election chances.
New express lanes. A House and Senate effort to speed wildlife on their way was introduced on May 16th. The "Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019" would establish a National Wildlife Corridor System on federal lands and waters, giving agencies like the Interior Department authority to designate such migration paths.
The Act’s introduction was not only bicameral, it was bipartisan. Led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D- NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Don Beyer (D-VA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL).
The legislation would also direct more resources toward reversing habitat loss for wildlife in an effort to protect biodiversity and prevent further species extinction; create a grant program to fund conservation and improvement projects on state, tribal and private land to encourage the natural movement of wildlife; and, create national coordination committee to craft a national plan for wildlife movement and better coordinate the efforts of federal government, states, tribes and private landowners.
The fate of the legislation is unclear—especially should it make it onto Trump’s desk. The administration has not been overly supportive of giving over to collaboration when it comes to species preservation. It’s one of the reasons a sage grouse—well—grouses.
The Act could potentially make it harder for the Administration to build its beloved wall. For purposes of border security, Trump’s authorized a suspension of the rules that require an environmental impact statement be drafted. Even if the Act is never passed, it pits two important concepts against each other--state security vs. species security—assuring that the courts will be making the final decision on this one.
What to do with all this carbon? The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee bypassed any debate over climate change talk about carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration.
Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) "Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology Act," S. 1201, would create a suite of four new programs within the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy focused on CCUS and other ways to slash greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.
Manchin is the Committee’s ranking minority member. He and the Committee chair, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have become the year’s poster children for bi-partisan possibility.
Manchin’s bill is not the only one to have received bipartisan support for carbon capture technology.
A bipartisan coalition has already rallied behind the "Carbon Capture Modernization Act," S. 407and H.R. 1796, which would modify the qualifications for an advanced coal project credit under Section 48A of the federal tax code to help carbon capture projects. Similarly, the "Utilizing Significant Emissions With Innovative Technologies Act," S. 383 and H.R. 1166, would encourage the deployment of CCUS and the study of direct air capture.
CCUS is at the heart of the climate debate and will not go away soon. Even if the nation’s coal plants were turned off today at 5 p.m. and replaced by natural gas, solar, and wind, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world would not meet its climate goals without CCUS.
Nuclear is in somewhat the same situation in the minds of many. The arguments for and against are as much philosophical as they are scientific. Manchin may be right about his bill, but he’s a considered a coal-state politician by progressive climate activists. His nomination as ranking minority member on the Energy and Resources Committee was a flashpoint with groups like the Sunrise Movement and others.
Republicans like Senator Murkowski who have shown themselves global warming believers and advocates for defensive actions are not hailed as heroes by Republican denialists.
Grid and build it? A massive buildout of the country's transmission system has been pitched as key to transforming the aging grid to accommodate the growth in renewable generation and push to decarbonize the power sector.
Siting long-haul transmission lines has proven to be a daunting task given the number of state and locality signoffs required to bring a project to fruition. During a panel discussion hosted by Politico Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) commented that it just takes one—state, political subdivision, or landowner to derail necessary transmission. He urged Congress to consider fixing the problem, e.g., by giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) backstop siting authority over interstate transmission projects.
Streamlining the permitting process has been a contentious topic for lawmakers as those that desire to see infrastructure approved swiftly have butted heads with those that seek greater environmental protections.
Grid and tax incentivize it. Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) is--in his words--spearheading legislation to offer a tax incentive for new clean energy technologies which would increase energy on the grid, ensure unneeded energy is not financially rewarded, help cutting-edge technologies break into the market and upend the status quo of federal incentives for existing technologies.
Reed is a Trump supporter and an opponent of the Green New Deal as well as bipartisan carbon tax proposals like Baker-Schultz Carbon Dividend Plan championed by groups like the Climate Leadership Council and the Citizens Climate Lobby.
Reed explains in The Hill that he will be proposing new credit to bolster market-driven innovation across electricity-generating technologies. Everything from a new power plant which can capture, store or use carbon emissions from fossil fuel generation to facilities using next-generation batteries to store excess power from wind, solar and other renewable sources would be eligible for the yet the undefined amount of the credit.
The incentive “would only be paid to the value of energy when sold.” Reed is looking to avoid payments for energy produced by the generator. The proposed structure seems, therefore, aimed at devaluing power produced by photovoltaic panels or wind machines during their peak operating times—times that often coincide with low consumer demand. Reed’s proposal is mostly a message. Look for it to be repeated often throughout the 2019-2020 election cycle by “former” denialists.
Going up. Climate concerns continue to be reflected close to the top of voter concern lists. The results of a recent poll by the communications programs at Yale and George Mason Universities show that 40 percent of eligible voters see climate as crucial to whom they’ll support in 2020.
Democrats in Congress and those on the stump running for president clearly see climate as a Republican Achilles' heel and will keep poking it over the next 18 months. Given some of the softening attitudes—or at least rhetoric—of Republicans in Congress and who’ll be running for office in 2020, it appears climate concerns are gaining traction amongst Republican voters, as well as Democrats.
In a tit for tat—don’t do that world. A top California environmental regulator is threatening to enact tough, new pollution rules - including an unprecedented ban on cars burning petroleum-based fuels should the Trump administration go ahead with its plan to relax vehicle emission standards. California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said the state would be forced to pursue “extreme” requirements to offset the uptick in pollution that would be unleashed if federal vehicle emission and fuel economy standards are weakened.
Also, at issue for California is whether the administration will continue to allow the state to impose a stricter auto emission standard than the one established by the federal government. The Clean Air Act allows the federal government to grant the state a waiver. Although other states are not given the same opportunity, they are allowed to choose between the federal and California standards. Currently fourteen states and the District of Columbia have chosen to do so.
California has only been denied the waiver once. The George W. Bush administration refused the waiver just weeks before leaving office. President Obama reinstituted it almost immediately.
Finally. On May 8, 2019 Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2019. The bills’, S. 1359 and HR 2597 would take a technology-neutral approach to clean energy, enabling power sources from renewables, advanced nuclear, battery storage and carbon capture. The mandate laid out by the legislation would reduce carbon output from electric generation by 80 percent by 2035 and hit nearly net zero by 2050 compared with 2005 levels.
As I had promised in my recent article Green New Directions, I’ll be writing on the legislation and a study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago that calls into question whether state Renewable Portfolio Standards can be considered an effective means with which to combat climate change.
In the meantime readers are encouraged to go over to Zero Net Fifty to listen to our most recent podcast conversation, The Clean Energy Standard Act of 2019: Is the Timing Right for This Clean Policy?
Look for the next edition on Wednesday, May 22nd.
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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.