Climate Politics/Capitol Light Issue 2

May 23, 2019

Volume 1  May 22, 2019  Issue 2

Folks, in the likely event that the rapture isn’t just around the corner, we really need to start thinking about future generations. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA)

Looking over Trump’s shoulder. House Democrats have dedicated this week to talk (and listen) about the nation’s need to do something about climate change and its crumbling infrastructure. On May 21st, the House Natural Resources Committee, under the chairmanship of Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), will hold an oversight hearing on the White House’s proposed 2020 budget for the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA).

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget proposed by the administration is $1 billion less than FY 2019. The cuts would eliminate several climate change research programs, including the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) and the Regional Climate Data and Information Centers.

RISA supports research teams that help expand and build the nation’s capacity to prepare for and adapt to climate variability and change. The Regional Climate Centers are a federal-university cooperative effort that supports the operational production and delivery of climate data and information to decision-makers at regional levels. The hearing will also include an examination of the 2020 budget priorities for the US Fish and Wildlife Service—which is in charge of endangered species protection. (Washington Examiner)

Nothing to Yucca about here. The House Appropriations Committee approved the $46.4 billion fiscal 2020 Energy-Water Development bill yesterday evening without attaching the additional funding Republicans had hoped could revive the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The Committee vote was largely along party lines—31 to 21.

Overall the bill would fund the Department of Energy at $37.1 billion, a $1.4 billion increase from fiscal 2019, and the Army Corps of Engineers at $7.4 billion, a $357 million increase from fiscal 2019, among other agencies. There was language included in the bill that prevents the administration from raiding the Army Corps budget for the border wall.


  • The bill provides $2.65 billion for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — a $273 million increase over the FY 2019 level.
  • The Committee ignored the administration’s recommendation to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), choosing instead to fund it at the record level of $425 million.
  • Added to the Army Corps of Engineers budget $200 million for Everglades restoration. The Administration raised its request from $63 million after Trump had visited Florida in March.
  • State and private forestry, a top priority for nonfederal forestry departments, would receive an additional $382.9 million — $45.9 million more than enacted this year and $200 million more than the administration requested.
  • Lawmakers rejected the administration’s request to eliminate urban and community forestry programs and increased them instead by $12.4 million, to $40 million.
  • The House measure also reflects the new arrangement for wildfire funding at the Forest Service, including a $1.95 billion disaster fund to cover wildfire costs that go over budget.
  • Aside from EPA increases, Democrats removed nearly all the riders Republicans have added in recent years aimed at blocking Obama-era environmental regulation.

The bill now joins a host of other appropriation bills waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote. Once passed they will be sent over to the Senate for its consideration.

Shudder the shutter. The December-January partial shutdown of the government is still fresh on the minds of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It’s being reported that leaders of the House and Senate are close to a two-year deal. Should the current budget caps not be raised before the new fiscal year (2020) begins on October 1, 2019, military spending would drop to around $576 billion in the fiscal year a $70.8 billion reduction from this year. Non-defense spending would fall to $543.2 billion, a nearly $53.8 billion cut from this year.

House and Senate leaders now appear optimistic that an agreement covering two fiscal years can be reached. Negotiators are also cautiously optimistic that the agreement will include raising the nation’s borrowing authority.  According to Reuters, Treasury is anticipating it will exhaust its borrowing authority amid the government’s heavy deficit spending.

Whether a deal will be struck remains anyone’s guess. Under normal circumstances, the prospect of a shutdown just months before a national election would make most politicians shudder—but then Trump isn’t most politicians.

A taxing situation: E&E news is reporting that the House Ways and Means Committee is assembling a package that will address an assortment of lapsed energy incentives, with a markup expected in June, a senior Democratic member said yesterday.

An extenders package introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) in February would simply extend the 26 incentives through the end of the year while making them retroactive for 2018.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said he expects a package to emerge addressing extenders and disaster relief tax breaks, at least some of which will be required to be offset by budgeting rules to prevent them from adding to the deficit.

Infrastructure-I have no words. Any hope that Trump and the Democratic Congressional leaders would come to some agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, i.e., what to do and how to pay for it, was wounded Tuesday (May 21) night. That was when Trump sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer indicating there would be no discussion until after Congress approved the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.

The scheduled Wednesday meeting finished the job when Trump said there was nothing to discuss as long as congressional committees continued to investigate him. Among other things, Trump indicated he wasn’t pleased with the Speaker’s accusing him of a cover-up.

Tax attacks. Today, oil companies, automakers, and consumer products manufacturers will unleash a campaign for a US tax on carbon dioxide emissions even though it may lead to higher prices for their products. According to Axios, the new coalition, the CEO Climate Dialogue features executives from oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as from companies across the economy including Citi, Dominion Energy, and Ford Motor Company. The Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy are among the environmental organizations that helped convene the group.

In other news, oil companies BP and Royal Dutch Shell are giving $1 million each to the Americans for Carbon Dividends advocacy campaign, underwriting its efforts to persuade Congress to enact a carbon tax-and-dividend plan. And Ford Motor Co. is signing on as a founding member of the group developing its underlying initiative, the Climate Leadership Council.

Dozens of corporations, including Capital One Financial Corp., Salesforce.com Inc., and health care giant Kaiser Permanente, will be pleading with Congress for a carbon tax. Leaders of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., consumer products maker DSM North America and Nature’s Path Foods Inc. are set to appear at a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill before meeting with lawmakers on the issue

A few closing thoughts–

Slash and burn is the administration’s motto when it comes to climate-related research. The 2020 proposed budget follows along the lines of previously recommended Trump administration budgets. What’s different this year is who controls the hearing agendas and gets to call the witnesses.

House Democrats will use their new House majority status as a messaging platform from which to launch their efforts to take back the Senate and White House. There’s very little likelihood that much of substance will be accomplished between now and the time the 117th Congress is called to order, and someone is sworn in as president.

For all of the efforts expended in the budget/appropriations process, the outcome is more or less pre-ordained in an atmosphere of hyper-partisanship. Funding the government in recent years has become a game of chicken. It’s not until the very last moment when both sides blink that a budget deal is struck. Last December’s shutdown occurred because Trump doesn’t play well with others—including his own team. With the 2020 elections on the horizon, this go-round will likely end in a negotiated compromise.

The push by corporate America and some large environmental organizations to support some form of a national carbon tax should be followed closely. I expect the battles between progressives and moderates will burn red hot before it’s all over.

I anticipate the flashpoint in all of this will be the quid pro quo hoped for by many of the companies who have now expressed the error of past ways and want to help solve the problem. What tit-for-tat might that be, you say? The one that says if we support and work for a carbon tax, we will no longer be sued for what we knew, when we knew it, and what we didn’t about it. I expect it will be hard for progressives—particularly the new generation of climate defenders—to accept that particular deal with corporate devils. I’m just sayin’.

Selected Wednesday hearings:
Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on the FY 2020 Interior Budget.

House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Hearing on Policies, Recommend-ations, and Impacts of the President’s FY 2020 Budget Request.

House Energy and Commerce Hearing on LIFT America: Modernizing our Infrastructure for the Future

House Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Oversight Hearing Responding to the Global Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and
Ecosystem Services

Senate Energy and Public Works Hearing on Legislation to Address the Risks Associated with Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Climate Politics/Capitol Light© is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion.com

Lead photo courtesy of Unsplash

Joel Stronberg

Joel B. Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years of experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion (www.civilnotion.com) and has recently published the book Earth v. TrumpThe Climate Defenders' Guide to Washington Politics based on his commentaries. He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields... Read more.

Tags: American energy policy, American environmental policy, American politics, carbon tax