Climate Politics/Capitol Light Newsletter (6)

June 6, 2019

Volume 1, June 5, 2019, Issue 6 

It’s benighted not be knighted. Donald Trump tells Prince Charles the US has ‘clean climate’ and blames other countries for the environmental crisis, in a long talk with the prince. China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities … you can’t even breathe, and now that air is going up…They don’t do the responsibility. (The Guardian)

Make mine a mini. This week, Joe Biden released a lengthy climate plan on his website. Though Reuters teased his policy last month as a “middle ground” approach more moderate than the Green New Deal, the proposal looks pretty aggressive and sounds almost Sanders-esque in its ambition. (The Atlantic)

He’s free to ‘steal’ my stuff.  Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden released a comprehensive proposal to combat global climate change, adding to the mix of candidates who have made rolling back dangerous emissions a central tenet of their campaigns.

However, multiple sentences in Biden’s proposal appear to lift passages from letters and websites of different organizations. The copied sentences are particularly notable due to Biden’s history of plagiarism, which played a major role in tanking his 1988 presidential campaign.

The potential instances of plagiarism were first flagged by Josh Nelson, the vice president of CREDO Mobile, a telecommunications company that also aims to raise money for liberal activist groups and causes. (Business Insider)

It should be noted that there’s a warning in this and it’s not about plagiarism. The fact that some of the loudest cries are being raised by progressives plays to the idea that they are nervous about Biden’s becoming the Democratic nominee—as opposed to one of the more liberal/progressive members of the pack.

Boo! Scaring people is a time-honored way of trying to convince people to change their minds. However, new research suggests that, when it comes to climate change, that strategy might be backfiring. (Pacific Standard)

Hop to it. Swedish startup Cangoroo has announced plans to deploy shared pogo sticks as a micro mobility option in the Swedish cities of Malmö and Stockholm this month, with plans to expand to San Francisco and London as part of “aggressive growth goals.”

The pogo stick network would function like an e-scooter fleet, allowing subscribers to rent a nearby vehicle for $1, ride it for 30 cents per minute, and then park it anywhere in a city. (Smart Cities Dive)

Can cities do it better? The national Green New Deal generated heat in Congress when it was introduced in early 2019, but cities are using it to heat-up inspiration to battle climate change. (Utility Dive)

Piece by piece. Jay Inslee unveils plan to boost US role in climate future. He’s calling for rolling back additional types of environment-harming gasses and preparing the U.S. to take a leadership role in a climate change future in which Inslee foresees migration based on extreme changes in weather. (The Hill)

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Another Inslee piece. Inslee released on Wednesday what he called the first foreign policy agenda ever to be built around defeating climate change.

High Praise Indeed. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has chosen a winner among the White House candidates who have proposed a climate policy proposal so far: Jay Inslee.

The Green New Deal champion praised the Democratic governor of Washington’s climate proposal calling it the “gold standard climate plan.”

“Inslee’s, I think, is the gold standard climate plan that we have right now,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Hill.

“I do think that Jay Inslee’s plan is a phenomenal blueprint and an example of where we need to go. It’s got the scale, the jobs, and justice.” (The Hill)

What’s another $2 trillion? Democratic presidential contender Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a second round of planned climate change policies, which include requiring the U.S. military to turn non-combat bases to net-zero emissions. Under the plan, a Warren White House would also spend $1.5 trillion in a decade directly on clean energy technologies in a new “Green Industrial Mobilization” and put $400 billion over a decade into clean energy R&D through a new National Institutes of Clean Energy. (Politico)

Hurry up with that tax credit. A coalition of environmental groups, businesses, and unions pushed lawmakers to request the Treasury Department move faster on implementing an expanded tax credit for carbon capture projects signed into law more than a year ago.

The Carbon Capture Coalition wants leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee to request that Treasury commit additional staff to the development of a final rule to implement the 45Q tax credits.

Out with the old, in with the new. When EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) publicly meets tomorrow for the first time in a year, its agenda will be heaped with knotty topics. For some observers, however, the two-day proceedings will be overshadowed by deeper questions about the venerable panel’s future role and relevance.

“There’s a lot riding on this meeting,” said Chris Zarba, who headed the board’s staff office before retiring early last year and is now allied with opponents of Trump administration environmental policies. “This will be kind of a defining moment of whether the SAB is going to roll up its sleeves and ensure the integrity and the quality of the science that supports the agency.”

The board, a target of a 2017 membership clampdown imposed by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, is now dominated by first-term appointees, some of whom hold fringe scientific views or are tied to industries regulated by EPA. (E&E News)

Maybe not out with the old. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was sued on June 3rd by a nonprofit over a recent directive banning many scientists from panels that advise the agency on scientific matters. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The case was filed in Manhattan federal court by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Don’t answer that. Biden’s call for Congress to pass a clean energy mandate will confront a political reality check on Capitol Hill, as Republicans are resisting entreaties from Democrats to support a federal clean electricity standard.

Supporters view so-called clean electricity standards as more likely to attract bipartisan support than carbon taxes, which the GOP also resists because the resulting higher energy costs would not be as obvious to people.

However, Republicans aren’t biting, expressing little desire to expand the federal government’s role beyond their preferred formula of funding clean energy research and development. (Washington Examiner Magazine)

Store it, and they will come. Bullish on energy storage. A leading utility plus the nation’s largest grid operator agreed with senators during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that energy storage technology is key to cleaning the electricity sector and making it more flexible. (Washington Examiner)

Letting off some steam. A new analysis of geothermal energy potential concludes that with improvements to technology and permitting timelines, the United States could increase geothermal power generation “nearly 26-fold” by 2050.

Fake news or just faking it? Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler accused the media Monday of misleading the public by not highlighting the agency’s important environmental achievements. (The Hill)

Pipe dreams? One of the leading labor unions is pressing New York Democrats over their opposition to a 23-mile-long natural gas pipeline extension project meant to connect New York City to Marcellus Shale gas.

In a letter Friday, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) — one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable financial contributors — scolded Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) among others, over their opposition to the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project.

The tiff between traditional allies shows the growing unease between the two sides over the issues of climate and natural gas — something creating a lack of consensus from labor unions about the Green New Deal, as well. (E&E News)

It’s my right, so to speak. The Trump administration wants harsher penalties for people who interfere with the operation or construction of pipelines, joining states and the pipeline industry in an effort opposed by civil rights groups and environmentalists.

The administration announced today that it is proposing that Congress significantly expand the types of actions subject to criminal prosecutions.

The proposal comes amid protests of large gas transmission lines such as the Mountain Valley pipeline being built in Virginia and West Virginia and three years after protests of the Dakota Access pipeline attracted national attention. Attorneys for Mountain Valley developers last month urged a federal judge to remove two protesters who have been sitting in trees in an attempt to block the pipeline.

Critics have been fighting similar proposals at the state level, alleging industry’s concerns are overblown, and the new laws criminalize free speech. (E&E News)

How about a little credit here? As existing tax credits for renewables near expiration, researchers are asking Congress to pass the “next generation” of tax subsidies for clean energy technologies.

A paper released Monday by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy recommends federal policymakers tailor new electricity sector credits to use applications rather than specific energy sources.

Rather than extending existing subsidies for wind and solar — credited with lowering their cost — lawmakers should direct credits to applications such as long-duration storage, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear. (Washington Examiner)

Going up. Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey both signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge on Saturday at the California Democratic Party’s annual convention, after months of pressure from environmental activist groups.

Now 16 Democratic presidential hopefuls have taken the pledge. The other seven major candidates — including front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden — have not.

The initiative even earned the endorsement of House Democrats, who included the proposal in their fiscal 2020 Energy-Water spending bill — one of the few Trump proposals to make it in the legislation.

How smart is this? The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday will meet on the national security implications of climate change, adding to the list of more than ten House committees that have held hearings on the issue.

The hearing’s focus is broad, but lawmakers will hear from three witnesses from the intelligence community, where there is a wide consensus about the threats climate change poses to U.S. interests abroad.

The Office of Naval Intelligence sent a witness, as did the National Intelligence Council. However, the most breadth of expertise will likely come from Rod Schoonover, a senior analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

A different kind of vehicle. The House Rules Committee will soon unveil the first minibus package of fiscal 2020 bills, which will be on the floor next week.

It is expected to contain five of the 12 measures, including the title to fund the Department of Energy and water projects.

Once it is announced by Rules, lawmakers will be able to begin proposing amendments to the minibus, including a possible push for funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

House appropriators are also set to advance several fiscal 2020 spending bills in committee this week.

See you in court. EPA’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, is expected to be released this month.  The new rule would no longer treat power plants as part of a holistic power generating industry, and instead require utilities to pick from a range of efficiency technologies to upgrade existing coal plants.

Also expected to be released is the replacement for the Obama-era federal vehicle emission/efficiency standards. The replacement is dubbed the SAFE rule. It will be interesting to see if the administration maintains California’s waiver to set more strident alternative mpg rules. Thirteen other states currently follow the California standards. (Politico)

(For a discussion of Trump’s SAFE versus Obama’s CAFE and issues involved click here)

Both rules will be immediately challenged in court by dozens—if not hundreds—of states and environmental organizations. The outcome of the lawsuits will depend greatly on several factors. Can the government convince the courts that the science and the law, i.e., the Clean Air Act, is unsettled and that there is a good reason for the courts to break with the line of precedential cases starting with Massachusetts v. EPA (2007)? Should the administration fail in either or both those instances, it will then have to convince the courts that ACE is adequate to the task of protecting safeguarding the well-being of the plaintiffs.

Although impossible to know with certainty, I would estimate the process to take a minimum of three years before the US Supreme Court renders a final decision. Any and all decisions by lower courts will be appealed. Consider, for example, that Juliana v US first filed in August 2015 and on June 4th there was a hearing before Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on whether the case should go to trial.

ISO a Republican co-sponsor. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said today he’s considering co-sponsoring a carbon tax bill amid shifting attitudes in the GOP and increasingly strong advocacy for carbon pricing programs in corporate America.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a fellow moderate, has been shopping for a Republican to help reintroduce the bipartisan carbon fee measure he floated late last year with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has since retired.

I’m guessing it is at least a 50-50 chance that Romney will actually agree to co-sponsor the legislation despite his having said taxes have never been my intent. The Senator knows the bill has no chance but will see it as an opportunity to look like a bi-partisan kinda guy. There’s very little downside to his doing so—other than a nasty tweet from the Twitter-in-Chief. Romney’s shown a certain passion for poking the bear.

A new study is out on carbon pricing:

A new study is out should readers want more information. The Future of U.S. Carbon-Pricing Policy by Robert Stavins, The National Bureau of Economic Research

There is widespread agreement among economists – and a diverse set of other policy analysts – that at least in the long run, an economy-wide carbon pricing system will be an essential element of any national policy that can achieve meaningful reductions of CO2 emissions cost-effectively in the United States. There is less agreement among economists and others in the policy community regarding the choice of specific carbon-pricing policy instrument, with some supporting carbon taxes and others favoring cap and trade mechanisms.

Note: there is a paywall ($5) for some go here for information.

Lead image: https://unsplash.com/@elevenphotographs

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 for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. Stronberg is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

Tags: American environmental regulation, American politics