Climate Politics/Capitol Light (9)

June 17, 2019

Volume 1, June 17, 2019, Issue 9  

Petards were made for this. The Democratic Party may be the loser in the candidate debates as the calls for a focused debate have only grown stronger since Perez rejected Inslee’s plea for a debate dedicated to the climate crisis. Dozens of DNC members are joining the call, and a group of activists protested outside the DNC’s Washington, D.C., headquarters the other day, delivering a petition with more than 200,000 signatures pressing the issue.

The party’s left wing is adding the climate debate issue to its grievances. Groups like Public Citizen, Women’s March Global, NextGen America, and CPD Action — an arm of the Center for Popular Democracy — have joined Inslee in fighting for the debate. So have 14 other Democratic presidential candidates — including Senators (I-VT) and Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) — as well as several progressive House members.

Although Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) supports Sanders for president, he said Inslee has an opportunity to take advantage of the progressive furor around the topic. He advised Inslee to take a page from Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 sponsored a Republican primary debate himself after federal officials ruled a debate sponsored by a newspaper would be an illegal campaign contribution. (E&E News)

Republicans are being poll-asked. Republicans risk losing young voters if they don’t wake up to the reality that is climate change, warned pollster Frank Luntz.

Luntz Global Partners — the firm led by the prominent GOP consultant — distributed a memo to every Republican on Capitol Hill arguing that public climate opinion has reached a “tipping point.”

The report is based on the results of an online poll and focus groups Luntz Global conducted for the Climate Leadership Council. CLC is the carbon fee and dividend advocacy group funded by numerous corporate entities, including some oil companies.

The memo, which makes a case for the CLC’s proposal, comes during a changing landscape for the Capitol Hill climate debate. Republicans are increasingly acknowledging climate science and voicing support for limited solutions.

“The ‘political temperature’ on climate change has shifted — perhaps permanently,” the memo reads. “Three in four American voters want to see the government step in to limit carbon emissions — including a majority of Republicans (55 percent).” (E&E News)

As political deals go, this is a big one. Luntz is well-respected. Whether respected by Trumplicans may be another matter. However, his findings will certainly have an impact on the thinking of establishment Republicans—especially who are up for re-election in 2020.

Even if Republicans aren’t willing to listen, the Democrats will. Polls like this will confirm for Democrats that climate is a vulnerable spot in Republican armor.

Water’s rising. On June 12, 2019, by a unanimous vote of 59 to 0, the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 3167: the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Reauthorization Act, sending the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

The NFIP Reauthorization Act would extend the program for five years and include significant reforms to strengthen flood mapping, enhance mitigation investments, and remove several barriers to private flood insurance options. It easily cleared the first hurdle of the legislative process because it was the product of extensive, bipartisan negotiations between Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

The current extension for the NFIP expires on September 30th.  The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear.

For FERC’s sake. A US House panel gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s two Democrats a Capitol Hill platform to assert that the commission needs to beef up its climate change reviews of gas infrastructure projects, an issue over which they and their Republican counterparts are stubbornly split.

Repeating arguments they’ve raised in FERC project approval orders, monthly open meetings and public statements, Commissioners Richard Glick and Cheryl LaFleur told Democrats that FERC is not fulfilling its legal obligations to evaluate the greenhouse gas emission impacts of pipelines and other gas projects. That places them at odds with Chairman Neil Chatterjee and Commissioner Bernard McNamee. Glick and LaFleur said their concerns have been validated by the D.C. Circuit Court in a recent decision criticizing FERC’s decision not to consider a project’s   GHG impacts in its reviews. (Law360)

House Democrats on the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy also questioned the FERC commissioners on how they incorporate greenhouse gas analyses into their decisions on pipelines and why FERC has failed to act on new rules governing how PJM can conduct its planned August auction of long-term power capacity.

Last year, FERC threw out PJM’s existing capacity market rules. PJM in October submitted a new set of plans addressing FERC’s concerns. They are still pending. (E&E News)

Red tides at night, Republican fright. By a 401-23 vote, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved Rep. Vern Buchanan’s (R-FL) measure to study the impact of red tide on human health. Buchanan’s amendment instructs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to designate $6.25 million to research the long-term health effects of red tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms. (Buchanan Press Release)

Algal blooms figured prominently in the 2018 midterm elections. Although Senator Scott (R) and Governor DeSantis (R) won their races, algae blooms were high on the list of constituent concerns. As Governor Scott earned the title “Red Tide Rick” and, at one point, was run out of a campaign rally by protestors. DeSantis’ environmental record in Congress stood him in no better staid with voters.

When being two-faced is a good thing. Bifacial solar panels are now exempt from the Section 201 tariffs on photovoltaic product imports, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office has ruled, meaning the products will no longer pay a fee of 25 percent on top of the cost at the point of import into the U.S. (PV Magazine)

The news appears to create a path to market for China-sourced modules into the US Bloomberg solar analyst Hugh Bromley expects U.S. utility-scale solar projects to turn to nearly 100percent bifacial products.

Tax for nothin’? Three Senate Democrats demanded the IRS justify a billion-dollar “clean coal” tax credit, citing a new report that found pollution has not improved.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the tax agency just as think tank Resources for the Future (RFF) released a study of the refined coal tax credit.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, about 20 percent of all coal-fired electricity was generated by coal treated with chemicals to reduce emissions of several toxic pollutants.

Power plants claim roughly $1 billion in tax credits every year, but RFF found plants do not reach their emissions targets for nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide and mercury.

The study echoed Reuters reporting from last year that also blamed the problem on the IRS’s reliance on laboratory tests, not actual operations.

“Using data on actual operations, we find that in practice plants achieve negligible reductions in [sulfur dioxide] emissions, and the reductions in NOx and [mercury] amount to about half (or less) of the reductions required,” RFF report authors Brian Prest and Alan Krupnick wrote. (E&E News)

It’s time. Some of the nation’s largest electric utilities are calling on Congress to provide uniform rules for clean energy to help them meet self-established goals for reducing carbon emissions.

Utility leaders warn that a patchwork of differing policies across states would complicate their clean energy plans and are asking the federal government to pass either a carbon tax or a clean electricity mandate to provide certainty.

“The most efficient thing long-term is for this country at the federal level to come to grips with the situation and allow for markets to be designed that will advance what our customers want,” Chris Crane, the CEO of Exelon, said in an interview at the industry’s annual convention hosted by the Edison Electric Institute in Philadelphia. (Washington Examiner) (See here for more information on a national Clean Energy Standard)

House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A hearing in the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis focused on the urgency in shoring up renewable energy sources to bring US greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 and prevent disasters brought on by warming temperatures.

Devastating storms across the Midwest and record-breaking wildfires in California are evidence that policymakers need to act now, said Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and chair of the committee.

“Scientists say we can expect more extreme events. Insurers say plan for greater risk,” Castor warned.

However, Republican members of the committee were apprehensive about the cost to their constituents. Congressman Gary Palmer, (R-AL), said it would cost trillions to transition to a power grid running completely on renewable energy.

“To tell the American public that we are going to have a Green New Deal that puts us at all renewables in the next 10 years, I think, does the American people a great disservice,” Palmer said, referencing House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s clean energy proposal that aims to bring U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero not by 2050, but by 2030.

Ten years from now, the solar industry aims to provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, up from 2.3 percent today.

Tom Kiernan, president of the American Wind Energy Association and a former EPA official, said investing in electric infrastructure will expand transmission capacity along the grid.

“It’s additional transmission that allows you to get clean wind energy and clean solar from where it is generated” to the consumer, Kiernan said, adding that the current power grid has a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Representative Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) supported the initiatives set before the committee but voiced concern over the US becoming energy dependent by importing critical minerals necessary to manufacture batteries to store renewable energy.

Once more unto the breach. Lawmakers have reintroduced a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would give clean energy projects access to a tax advantage currently available for fossil fuel projects. The Financing Our Energy Future Act is a modification of the federal tax code that could unleash private capital by helping an emerging class of energy-generation and renewable fuel companies to form master limited partnerships (MLP), which combine the funding advantages of corporations and the tax advantages of partnerships. The bill has been proposed several times in recent years.

Under the bill, eligible energy resources would include solar, wind, marine and hydrokinetic, fuel cells, energy storage, combined heat and power, biomass, waste heat to power, renewable fuels, biorefineries, energy efficient buildings, and carbon capture and storage. (NAWindpower)

More than Sweden even. A study from Brown University estimated that the Defense Department’s worldwide operations constitute the largest contributor of greenhouse gases globally and release more emissions each year “than many smaller countries,” including Sweden. DOD emissions surpassed Sweden’s 50.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, according to the report. (The Hill)

There’s no pleasing all of the people all of the time. Trump’s trade war with China has bashed the struggling farm economy, but the president traveled to Iowa to share some popular news:  His administration will allow the sale of more gasoline containing higher blends of corn ethanol.

The move handed farmers something they have sought for years—and delivered a politically strategic boost to Trump as he heads into an election. Midwestern farmers, after all, were critical to his victory in 2016.

Scientists, meanwhile, are raising serious questions about the evidence the administration is using, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reports to Congress, has questioned whether ethanol mandates deliver any greenhouse gas reductions at all.

Trump is finding himself between a rock and a hard place on ethanol. Farmers are pleased with the higher blends, but the oil industry isn’t. The oil patch will undoubtedly base their political and possible legal challenges on the GAO report. It will be interesting to see how the White House balances politics and science in this case.

Trump needs the farm vote. Between the China tariffs and the Trump’s having held up the disaster assistance bill for months, he could have a tough time in 2020 keeping farmers on his side. A back-peddle on ethanol could be devastating to Trump’s re-election chances. (see here for additional information.)

The fuel of the future? Governments, automakers and even oil and gas giants are part of a growing coalition pushing a larger role for hydrogen as the world seeks to reduce carbon emissions while still providing reliable electricity to a growing population and powering complex industrial processes, the International Energy Agency said in a recently released report.

Scoot on over, why don’t you?. The US Trade Representative’s Office rejected Uber Technologies Inc’s. request for relief from 25 percent tariffs imposed on Chinese-made electric bicycles, according to a May 29 letter. The “Jump” bikes that operate in more than a dozen US cities were among $16 billion in Chinese products hit by the Trump administration with new tariffs in August.

Sure, blame the lawyer. A ruling on Wednesday by a New York Supreme Court prohibits Exxon from raising the claim of prosecutorial misconduct as a defense against allegations by the attorney general that the company engaged in a scheme to deceive investors by providing false or misleading assurances that it was managing economic risks posed by climate change.

Not a good sign. US Forest Service and Interior Department officials warned senators that the upcoming wildfire season would be worse than last year’s, which left dozens of people dead in California, saying that “if we’re lucky, this year will simply be a challenging one.”

There’s nothing virtual about its footprint. Researchers are now saying that the virtual currency bitcoin is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as a city like Las Vegas, or Hamburg and efforts to reduce its climate footprint should be considered.

The researchers concluded that, in late 2018, the entire bitcoin network was responsible for 22-22.9 million tons of CO2 per year — similar to a large Western city or an entire developing country like Sri Lanka. Total global emissions of the greenhouse gas from the burning of fossil fuels were about 37 billion tons last year. The researchers said about 68 percent of the computing power used to generate, or mine, bitcoins is in Asia, 17 percent is in Europe, and 15 percent is in North America.

Back from the dead. The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus is scheduled to be revived this week. A spokesman for Rep. Francis Rooney, (R-FL)., co-chairman of the caucus, confirmed the report.

Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., created the Climate Solutions Caucus in February 2016 with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), to “explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.”

Republican Caucus members did not fare at all well in the 2018 midterms. Most were considered “moderates” by today’s Republican standard. In some cases, e.g., Representative Mia Love (R-UT), Trump publicly called them out as losers who should have asked him to campaign in their districts.

Although the Caucus is a favorite of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, it is generally held in fairly low esteem by other climate activist groups. The group is most notable for its membership requirement that Representatives can only join in bipartisan pairs. The Caucus has never been legislatively active, and it has often been accused of being used to green-wash members who are otherwise opposed to environmental regulation and climate action.

Three on a tax. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democratic presidential candidate polling at no more than 1 percent, has released a climate action plan that steers a more moderate course than the “Green New Deal” advocated by more liberal Democrats. Hickenlooper’s plan drew mixed reviews.

Hickenlooper is the third candidate in the Democratic field to explicitly endorse a carbon tax and dividend plan, following South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.

Hickenlooper’s plan would also have the U.S. rejoin the Paris agreement, mobilize $100 billion each year in climate financing for developing countries, partner with the private sector to create clean energy jobs, invest billions of dollars in transportation and grid infrastructure, and impose stronger building efficiency standards.

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 ( 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 policy, American environmental regulation, American politics