Volume 1, July 22, 2019, Issue 18

Still negotiating. Congressional negotiators and the White House are hoping to reach an accord, before the House leaves for summer recess at the end of this week, that would raise both discretionary spending and the nation’s debt ceiling.

The lead negotiators, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), both said late last week they were close to an accord that would lift automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, due to hit in 2020 and 2021.

They are also in agreement about raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which is due to be hit in September.

Discussions were focused on finding ways to offset the costs of spending increases over the next two years that could reach $150 billion. (E&E News)

There are several alternative approaches to the $150 billion in offsets—some more appearance than reality. One of the options is to tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve for a portion of the offsets.

White House negotiators appear to be losing ground to Speaker Pelosi, which may raise the odds that Trump won’t initially agree with the final proposed arrangement. However, no side seems to want another government shutdown.

Congressional hearings of interest (various sources)

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change has scheduled a hearing titled “Building America’s Clean Future: Pathways to Decarbonize the Economy.”

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will discuss the costs of climate change, with a specific focus on businesses.

It’s the second hearing this month for the panel, which will also head out to Colorado Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse’s district for a field hearing at the beginning of August.

Testing their meddle. The House Natural Resources Committee will put Interior Department science under the microscope. The hearing titled “When Science Gets Trumped: Scientific Integrity at the Department of the Interior,” will examine alleged political interference with the work of agency scientists.

It’s a topic that’s worried congressional Democrats, environmental advocacy groups and some scientists since the start of the Trump administration.

A 2018 survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Iowa State University’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology found that 50% of scientists questioned on average across 16 agencies agreed that “consideration of political interests” hindered science-based decisions.  (E&E News)

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee markup on the DOE research budget where it is expected that legislation to boost the Department of Energy’s research and development spending for renewables and carbon capture technologies will advance to the House floor.

The bills are part of the Democratic response to helping address climate change by infusing more research and development money into technologies critical to reducing carbon emissions from the power sector.

In total, the three bills related to energy technology would authorize nearly $7 billion in new annual spending during the next five fiscal years, representing a 33 percent to 36 percent increase from current levels.

A House Natural Resources subcommittee will discuss on Thursday a new bipartisan bill aimed at increasing renewable energy development on public lands.

H.R. 3794, the “Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act,” would expedite permitting for projects in areas suitable for solar, wind and geothermal production.

The legislation, introduced late last week by Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Mike Levin (D-CA), would set up a revenue-sharing arrangement for states and local communities where proceeds from renewable energy development are generated.

Under the bill, states, counties and a new renewable energy resource conservation fund would each receive 25 percent of revenue. The remaining 25 percent would be split between helping the federal government to streamline renewable permitting and the general treasury.

The legislation boasts several Democratic and Republican supporters, including Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and the panel’s top Republican Rob Bishop(R-UT).

Democrats were happy with the focus on renewable energy in the bill, while Republicans praised the effort to cut red tape.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet Thursday to talk about energy innovation from an economically competitive point of view.

The hearing marks the third time the panel has gathered around the general topic of innovation since February, as lawmakers look to build momentum for legislative efforts to bolster Department of Energy research and development for clean power technologies.

The previous two hearings framed the topic in terms of climate change. This hearing will look at innovation through a global competition, with China and the United States appearing on the verge of a clean energy technology race.

For ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), that global energy competition is a top consideration motivating her work on the panel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote this week on President Trump’s controversial nominee for U.N. ambassador, as well as legislation that would sanction companies helping to build a Russian-backed pipeline.

The panel meets on Tuesday to consider the nomination of Kelly Craft to be U.N. ambassador, a pick that has drawn scrutiny from Democrats over her views on climate change and her financial and personal ties to the coal industry.

Craft, who is currently the U.S. ambassador to Canada and the wife of Alliance Resource Partners LP CEO Joseph Craft III, would replace former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who stepped down from the U.N. post last year.

During her nomination hearing in June, Democrats zeroed in on public comments Craft once made expressing belief in “both sides” of the debate over man’s role in climate change.

While she walked back those remarks somewhat during the hearing, she stood by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal (E&E Daily, June 20).

Craft also promised Democrats last month that she would recuse herself from any negotiations involving coal and climate change, a nod to concerns over the $60 million in fossil fuel assets she holds.

No surprises here. The EPA is ending a practice that allowed pollution enforcement staff to perform unannounced inspections of power plants and chemical facilities, according to a recent memo to the agency’s regional administrators. Environmentalists said the policy change removes an enforcement tool, while the EPA said the change would improve communication with businesses. (The Hill)

Piling on. America’s biggest solar power developers are stockpiling panels to lock in a 30 percent federal tax credit set to start phasing out next year, a strategy that could backfire if projects do not materialize or panel prices slide substantially. (Reuters)

We had nothing to do with it. The Trump administration is seeking to reassure coal industry allies that it was not the driving force behind a decision by a utility to shut down a massive Indiana coal plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement saying it “did not seek retirement” of a 1,300-megawatt coal unit run by American Electric Power, and affirming that EPA “supports power generation from all sources of energy.”

Environmental critics of the administration and even allies said EPA’s response was unusual, given the agency’s past role in filing a legal case against AEP that ultimately concluded in the utility deciding to close the coal plant.

Ohio-based AEP will retire the Rockport coal unit by 2028, which would be the largest single coal plant to be retired since 2010. The unit has existed since 1984.

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) commenting on the EPA statement–I have never seen anything like this in my 25 years as a Clean Air Act attorney. It’s just political simpering to make sure it’s known the Trump administration does not agree with a company’s own decision to retire a coal unit it owns.

It appears that the Trump administration is worried that market forces will make a liar of it when it comes to promising to save the coal industry.

The denial of any involvement is clearly targeted to Trump’s core supporters in advance of the 2020 elections.

It will be interesting to see how Trump deals with it this week when he attends a fundraiser in Wheeling, West Virginia being sponsored by Bob Murray, the president and CEO of Murray Energy.

Conservatives are having trouble sucking. The latest addition to President Trump’s reelection campaign’s online store is a 10-pack of plastic straws each emblazoned with “Trump.” The listing features a photo of an unwrapped, solitary red straw, which Trump supporters might want to purchase, it suggests, because “liberal paper straws don’t work.”

The online campaign merchandise store sold out of the “Trump”-stamped sets of red plastic drinking straws in less than 24 hours.

Aside from the seemingly excessive $15 price tag, many Twitter users were quick to point out the irony in the website’s claim that the straws — quickly understood to be an attempt to poke fun at plastic straw bans nationwide — are BPA-free, reusable and recyclable. (E&E News)

The straws are the perfect meme representing the position of Trump and his core supporters.

The Trump administration is currently fighting to stop rich nations from implementing new global rules that would require countries to give prior consent before plastic waste is shipped to them.

Plastic waste has become an even more serious problem since China stopped taking the West’s trash for recycling. (The Atlantic)

More time to contribute your 2 cents worth. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is pushing back its deadline for comments on draft guidance for considering greenhouse gas emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Members of the public will now have until Aug. 26 to submit comments on the proposal. The original comment period was set to expire on July 26.

A pre-publication notice in the Federal Register said CEQ made the change in response to public requests for more time to comment.

The draft guidance provides federal agencies with parameters for how they should consider emissions for major federal actions, such as the construction of pipelines and roads. The Trump administration has had no overarching guidelines for considering greenhouse gas emissions in these projects since the president repealed Obama-era guidance in 2017. It has led to agencies taking divergent approaches to calculating the potential impact of federally funded projects.

The long-anticipated draft has been criticized for allowing federal agencies to narrow the scope of emissions considered in environmental impact analyses and for not offering agencies specific tools for how to go about counting both direct and indirect project emissions. (E&E News)

Trump targeted NEPA regulations from the first week in office. Enacted during the Nixon administration NEPA has been a bulwark of environmental protection requiring assessments and studies before major construction can begin.

It’s telling that many of the losses the administration has suffered in the courts are because of shoddy efforts to comply with NEPA requirements.

A 143-piece suit. The Center for Biological Diversity is resisting Trump in every way possible — especially in the courts. So far, the Center has filed 143 suits against Trump. Read on for details on every single one.

Readers can track the progress of the suits on the Center’s website.

The Center is not alone in challenging the legality of nearly every one of the Trump administrations efforts to weaken existing environmental protections.

One they did win. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with the Trump administration that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have to require hard-rock mining companies to demonstrate that they have the financial capacity to handle environmental cleanups from potential accidents.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote that U.S. states now account for the risk of bankruptcy and that federal and state programs already require mining companies to show substantial financial responsibility.

The mining industry has a legacy of bankrupt companies abandoning polluted sites and leaving taxpayers to cover cleanup costs. (AP)

A concrete suggestion. European fund managers, representing $2 trillion in assets, are calling on cement companies to slash their greenhouse gas emissions, warning that a failure to do so could put their business models at risk. With the extreme weather and natural disasters associated with climate change intensifying around the world, asset managers are ramping up engagement with heavy polluters to demand a faster transition to a cleaner economy. (Reuters)

The cement industry accounts for 7 percent of annual carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

There are other serious problems with cement, however. Sand—a major component of concrete—has achieved the status of a conflict mineral. (See here and here.)

Bank on it. A bill recently introduced in the Senate closes a missing link inherent in many of the ambitious climate goals and plans being advanced today. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has put forward a plan to create a National Climate Bank, an independent nonprofit institution structured to drive investment into clean energy and infrastructure projects. (Morning Consult)

Victims of climate change. Coal miners will descend on Capitol Hill this week to push for a reinstatement of a tax rate that supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund with a 10-year extension. Nearly 150 coal miners and their families will travel from Appalachia to meet with members of Congress and their staff on the fund, which was cut in half in January and is used by clinics to help treat former miners with black lung disease. (Washington Post)

We’re not so different. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) released the results of a recent survey of millennial Republican voters that found over two-thirds want the party to do more to combat climate change.

About 67 percent of 801 GOP voters ages 18-38 who were surveyed said they believe the Republican Party needs to do more. However, fewer than half (49 percent) say that ignoring climate change will be harmful to the Republican Party. One-third of voters polled disagree with that view.

More than four in five, 82 percent, of millennial Republicans, said it is very important or at least somewhat important for the U.S. to expand the use of renewable energy. (CRES Forum)

More on carbon taxes. The conservative group Alliance for Market Solutions is set this week to make the fiscal case for a carbon tax with a Capitol Hill briefing for congressional staff.

The briefing is mostly focused on wooing Republicans who have acknowledged climate change as a problem but haven’t committed to embracing anything more ambitious than research and development investments to promote clean energy “innovation.”

Alex Flint, executive director of Alliance for Market Solutions, hopes to make a case for a carbon tax in GOP-friendly terms. His group prefers an approach that would replace regulations with a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax, using the proceeds to reduce other taxes, such as on earnings and income.

According to Flint: “There is a view by some conservatives that a carbon tax is an opportunity to move to a consumption tax to reform the tax code. We are trying to broaden that conversation to recognize a carbon tax has attributes beyond its ability to address carbon pollution.”

Dan Goldbeck of American Action Forum will focus on the cost of regulations vs. a carbon tax. The Tax Foundation’s Kyle Pomerleau will propose ideas to use carbon tax revenue to reform the tax code, while Joseph Majkut of the Niskanen Center will make the climate argument for a carbon tax.

Flint, who is moderating the conversation, said the goal of the briefing is simply to generate discussion and not seek support for any particular legislation, recognizing the prospects for action remain far-away in a divided Congress before the 2020 election. (Washington Examiner)