Volume 1 , July 29, 2019, Issue 20

Note to Readers. The Senate will soon be following the House out of Capital City for their August recess. Climate Politics will drop down to one report a week during the recess.

A brew of a different sort.  Murray Energy Corp. founder Bob Murray said he had provided President Donald Trump another memo containing policy recommendations, which include pressing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to elevate coal power sales among state public utility commissions.

The coal executive hosted a fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 campaign at an arena along the Ohio River. According to reports, the event drew a crowd of several hundred spruced-up donors, many associated with the energy industry. (E&E News)

Murray was behind Secretary of Energy Perry’s proposing to FERC that coal plants should be kept operating for national security reasons—notwithstanding their contributions to global warming and being uneconomic.

He continues to push for a reversal of the endangerment finding.

I would imagine that the Trump will continue to express sympathy for the coal guy’s to-do list at least as long as the money holds out—just a guess.

On the count of 3. More than 60 media outlets have committed to a week of focused climate change coverage in September.

The effort was coordinated by the Covering Climate Now project, which was co-founded by the progressive magazine The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review, in partnership with The Guardian.

TV stations, US and international newspapers and public radio stations are among those participating in the coverage, which will take place between Sept. 16 and 23.

Participating outlets include CBS News, HuffPost, Vox, CQ & Roll Call, Slate, The Intercept, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

News outlets and journalists from countries including Canada, New Zealand, Nepal, Chile, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Vietnam, Brazil, India, Singapore, and the U.K. will also participate. (The Hill)

Bern could be feeling burned.
  
Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has edged past her main 2020 progressive rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and is behind only former Vice President Joe Biden in a new poll of climate-focused voters.

For voters who say a candidate’s climate plan is “very important” in their choice, Biden is supported by 30 percent, followed by Warren at 20 percent and Sanders at 16 percent, according to the Morning Consult poll conducted for the Sierra Club.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) follows at 13 percent support among climate-minded voters — a 7-point increased from the June survey — while South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) is at 5 percent and every other candidate is at 2 percent or less.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, the Democratic candidate who has staked his platform mainly on climate action, garnered less than 1 percent support in either poll. (The Hill)

Sanders should be given much credit for bringing climate change with him on the national political stage, especially in 2016 through to today.

If an old white man is given the nod by a majority of Democratic delegates next year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin it will be Biden and not Sanders.

Whether Sanders will accept his fate gracefully and be content as a senior statesman—not unlike the role Ted Kennedy played after he was refused the nomination—is pure speculation at this point.


Two faces, one candidate?
 Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is a champion of the corn-based ethanol industry when she campaigns in rural towns dotting the U.S. Farm Belt.

However, in Washington, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts is among the co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, which calls for the end of all fuel-powered cars – and, thus, the end of the domestic ethanol industry. (Reuters)

To be fair, Warren isn’t the only duplicitous Democrat when it comes to ethanol. Sanders, Biden and other candidates for the presidential nomination show the same tendencies.

It should also be noted that duplicity in ethanol matters is not limited to Democrats. As mentioned in earlier Climate Politics newsletters, Trump is trying to convince corn farmers and oil companies that he’s their man despite their opposing positions.

It is easy to pass the dual positions off as just what politicians do; there will at some point be a day of reckoning. Could that point be November 3, 2020?


Doings down at the landfill.
 The EPA is proposing to retain the hazardous air pollution limits it set for municipal landfills 16 years ago, but it is seeking public help to find the best technology to capture and destroy dangerous chemicals.

The agency’s proposed review (RIN 2060-AU18), which is to be published July 29th, concludes that the current standards should be retained, as they provide an ample margin of safety for public health. (Bloomberg Environment)

When the money runs out.
 The European Investment Bank proposes to stop considering new loans to fossil fuel projects, including natural gas infrastructure, from the end of 2020, it said in its draft updated energy lending strategy.

The Bank wants to focus on investments that can help the EU meet its long-term decarbonization goals, such as renewable power and gas, low-carbon gases like hydrogen, power grids, battery storage, and demand-side response.

Loans to projects involving upstream oil and gas production, oil, coal or natural gas infrastructure, including LNG terminals and storage, as well as power generation or heat based on fossil fuels would not be put forward for approval by the bank’s board after the end of 2020. (S&P Global)

Uh-oh!
 On July 29th, we crossed an alarming threshold. The date marks Earth Overshoot Day, the point each year at which humanity starts to consume the world’s natural resources faster than they can be replenished.

It’s taken us only 209 days to burn through a year’s worth of resources — everything from food and timber to land and carbon. We are using up nature 1.75 times faster than it can be replenished. To do this sustainably, we would need the resources of 1.75 Earths.

These latest figures come from Global Footprint Network, an international nonprofit that calculates our annual ecological budget and the date at which we exceed it. Once we bust through this budget, we start devouring resources at an unsustainable rate.

“It’s a pyramid scheme,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO, and founder of Global Footprint Network. “It depends on using more and more from the future to pay for the present.”

It’s like being in financial debt, only much harder to recover. “There’s nothing to kickstart the economy if we overuse our resources,” Wackernagel said, “because every economic activity depends on natural capital, and without that, it’s not going to work.”

The burden of this ecological debt is getting heavier. We started overconsuming resources back in the 1970s, and since then it’s gotten progressively worse. Over the last 20 years, Earth Overshoot Day has crept forward by more than two months. Moreover, this year, it falls on the earliest date yet. (The Huffington Post)

On their marks. Murkowski and other Senate appropriations subcommittee chairs expect to receive their total allocations for fiscal 2020 bills the week of July 29th. That is assuming the Senate passes the budget compromise passed earlier by the House.

Appropriations staff have been readying the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department spending bill, but they can only do so much without a total funding number.

With a number in hand next week, aides and senators would spend August drafting the legislation for quick consideration by Murkowski’s EPA-Interior spending subcommittee the week of September 9th— just as the Senate is scheduled to return from recess. (Bloomberg Environment)

Couldn’t hurt to ask ‘em.  Senate Democrats are looking to Republicans for messaging help in hopes of generating more climate action support from their GOP constituents.

Lawmakers on the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis interviewed a panel of Republican communications and polling experts at a hearing on language and messages they could use to appeal to conservatives on climate change. (The Hill)

The Senate Special Committee is not an officially recognized group. Senate Democrats have pulled themselves together since their Republican colleagues aren’t really willing to talk about it.

It was indeed a nice gesture to invite Republicans lawmakers in to testify. Whether it makes much difference is another matter.


A recognized fox in the chicken coop.
 William Perry Pendley, a conservative lawyer who has supported the selling of millions of acres of federal lands to Western states, is now the top political official overseeing the Bureau of Land Management – only a week after joining the agency.

The latest move continues a trend of near-constant leadership flux at BLM under the Trump administration, which in the past 2 ½ years has appointed a variety of acting directors. (E&E News)

Trump’s preference for acting senior members of his administrations is disconcerting in that it makes it too easy to fill his ranks with those having the thinnest credentials and the thickest desire to serve the man and not the nation.

The Constitution is clear about a president’s appointing public officials with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Yes, the Senate has been rubber-stamping most of Trump’s nominees. Still, even the appearance of some type of check on who is permitted to power the government would be comforting—just for old time’s sake—if not for ours.


What
 a revolting development this could be.
 Scientists said the prolonged droughts have been absent in the American Southwest since the 16th century, but researchers studying past megadroughts predict they may soon plague the region again, according to the study published in Science Advances. (The Hill)


Yes.
 What the world’s scientists warned us about 30 years ago is emerging before our eyes. In Central America, prolonged and escalating droughts have choked the water supply and turned crops to dust. Famine, thirst, poverty, and crime is creating a generation of climate refugees who uproot from their homes and loved ones. These refugees come to the United States, seeking refuge, stability, and dignity.

We can’t tackle the migrant crisis without fighting climate change. The reality is that the crisis at the border is deeply connected to the climate crisis. (The Hill)

Having lived in Central America for a half-dozen years, I’ve seen the impact climate change is having on these largely agrarian nations.

What would you do if you could no longer support your family off of the land and there were few other jobs available?


One if by air, two if by sea.
 Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose social-media-savvy brand of eco-activism has inspired tens of thousands of students in Europe to skip classes and protest for faster action against climate change, said she plans to take her message to America the old-fashioned way: by boat.

Ms. Thunberg tweeted that she’ll sail across the Atlantic aboard a high-tech racing yacht, leaving Britain next month to attend U.N. climate summits in New York in September and Santiago, Chile, in December. (AP)

Before they go.  Senators are expected to join the House in passing a bipartisan accord that would raise spending by about $320 billion over the next two fiscal years and extend the nation’s debt ceiling through July 2021.

President Trump has said he would sign the deal, despite criticism from some conservatives that it’s fiscally irresponsible.

The accord also includes a nonbinding agreement that would ban partisan policy riders in spending bills over the next years. It would effectively wipe out efforts by House Democrats to use those provisions to reverse Trump environment policies.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said that restriction is a crucial reason to get behind the legislation. “We know they wanted to use policy riders … to try to implement elements of the Green New Deal to undo the president’s regulatory reforms or to rewrite our immigration laws through the backdoor,” he said. (E&E News)

The promise of no riders is significant in terms of messaging opportunities. Given that no pro-environment legislation can make it through Congress and the White House, the gimme isn’t as serious as it might first appear. Although it does give Republicans something to crow about.


It’s NAFTA time.
 The Senate Finance Committee will hear from business interests this week about the Trump administration’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as backers of the pact ramp up pressure to see it submitted to Congress for approval.

Small business owners, as well as two former governors now leading trade groups, will appear before the panel, whose chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), is anxious to see a vote on the successor treaty to the North American Free Trade Agreement as quickly as possible.

Talks continue between House Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer over labor, environmental and enforcement aspects of the sweeping deal.

Democrats last month insisted the changes they are seeking must be made in the three-nation agreement itself, and not in bilateral side deals or implementing legislation — a position echoed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Despite rocky relations between House Democrats and the administration, they have praised Lighthizer as a good-faith negotiator who has been responsive to their positions.

As talks continue, business interests signaled last week that they plan to press for passage of the USMCA over the August recess.

“The case for the agreement’s approval is strong,” wrote the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter signed last week by more than 600 business representatives. “We urge Congress to approve USMCA as soon as possible.” (E&E News)

Maybe a climate czar? Presidential hopeful Jay Inslee promised today he would prioritize environmental justice at the highest levels of government, including dedicating a White House office to it.

The Washington governor laid out his plans to confront disproportionate impacts of climate change and pollution on minority communities this morning, including redirecting a White House office’s mission to the task and implementing an “equity screen” meant to prevent federal decisionmaking that would lead to unequal environmental outcomes for minorities.

“Environmental justice — and confronting a system of economic exclusion and environmental racism — must be at the core of any plan to mobilize the United States to defeat climate change and create a more prosperous and inclusive clean energy future,” Inslee’s campaign wrote in the 36-page environmental justice plan it released.

The plan is the latest piece in a growing climate platform from Inslee, who has presented himself as the climate change candidate of the two-dozen-strong field of Democrats hoping to take on President Trump in next year’s election. (E&E News)

Inslee’s ideas are supported by Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and looked favorably upon by other climate hawks.

The Governor’s chance of becoming the presidential nominee are slim to none.

His experience and ideas certainly qualify him for a very senior position in any incoming Democratic administration.


What side of the wall are they on?
 The Supreme Court last week sided with the Trump administration over environmentalists in a fight over an expanded border wall between the United States and Mexico.

In its decision, the high court ruled Trump officials could move forward with $2.5 billion in emergency funding for barriers across wildlife refuges, national monuments, and other public and private lands along the southern border.

The Sierra Club and other opponents of Trump’s emergency funding plan successfully blocked it in lower courts. The group filed suit in February after President Trump ordered the transfer of money from Defense Department accounts to pay for expanded border barriers after Congress refused to make the funds available.

The Supreme Court’s order concluded that the government “has made a sufficient showing at this stage that the plaintiffs have no cause of action to obtain review of the Acting Secretary’s compliance with Section 8005,” the provision of the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act the president relied on for the emergency funding order.

The Supreme Court’s action allows construction to move forward throughout the appeals process at the 9th Circuit and throughout any subsequent petitions to the high court. (E&E News)

No wind in the sails yet. Federal agencies are delaying the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., at loggerheads over the project’s impact on commercial fishing, according to internal communications provided to E&E News.

The proposed Vineyard Wind project would construct 800 megawatts’ worth of offshore wind power in federal waters off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. It is in the vanguard of the offshore industry, likely the first in a slew of wind power projects slated to raise towers in the coastal waters of the Northeast.

That unexpected delay was caused by NOAA Fisheries, according to documents provided to E&E News, and first reported by Reuters today. The agency refused to sign off on the EIS as drafted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees leasing and permitting of offshore wind.

NOAA argued in an April 16 letter that BOEM had ignored its advice on how to align turbines as to have the least impact on fishing operations. It also disputed the spacing between the proposed turbines.

“While we do not dispute your right to choose these alternatives as a matter of substance, we cannot concur,” wrote Michael Pentony, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. (E&E News)

She’s everywhere. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) unveiled draft legislation that would be the first step toward implementing the Green New Deal.

The draft bill is designed to address what the lawmakers described as the third pillar of the Green New Deal — ensuring no community gets left behind.

Dubbed the Climate Equity Act, the legislation lays out steps for Congress and the White House to “guarantee that the policies comprising a future Green New Deal protect the health and economic wellbeing of all Americans for generations to come.”

“Climate change is an existential threat — it’s critical we act now to achieve a cleaner, safer, and healthier future. However, it is not enough just to cut emissions and end our reliance on fossil fuels. We must ensure that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind,” Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate, said in a statement. (The Hill)

Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is playing it right by working with a variety of lawmakers in pursuing a Green New Deal.

AOC’s willingness to partner seems much greater than that of progressive groups like the Sunrise Movement and Climate Hawks Vote. In this regard, she seems less doctrinaire—perhaps more Machiavellian—in her vision of what a final plan might be.

Staying flexible and supportive will help to guarantee her a place on the inside when the Democratic platform committee begins its work in advance of the Milwaukee nominating convention.


Not another illegal Trump order?
 A coalition of 14 Democratic state attorneys general is warning the EPA that the agency’s new guidance implementing President Trump’s executive order limiting state authority over oil and gas pipelines is illegal.

Trump signed an executive order April 10, 2019 designed to limit the instances in which blue states such as New York can reject pipeline projects using the authority granted to states in Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 allows states to deny permits if leaks from an energy infrastructure project could harm nearby streams or lakes.

In comments filed to the EPA, the Democratic attorneys general say the law provides states the primary authority to protect water quality within their borders, allowing for “broad discretion” in making decisions over pipeline certifications. (Washington Examiner)

The largest-ever climate protests. Millions of people, led by students, are signing up to walk out of their schools and jobs on September 20 and 27 to demand the world stop using fossil fuels—according to organizers.

School walkouts have been going on around the world since November with inspiration from Swedish teenager activist Greta Thunberg. The September rallies are timed to a major United Nations climate summit in New York City.

Extinction Rebellion, a group responsible for causing massive disruptions across London in April and protesting on Capitol Hill last week, is organizing similar protests across several cities, including New York, for Oct. 7 and 14. (Axios)

Advantage Republicans. In 2016, every single Senate race went to the candidate of the same party that those states voted for in the presidential election, according to a new analysis by the Democratic group One Country Project, provided exclusively to Axios.

That’s never happened before, since at least 1984. Moreover, the data shows that’s not great news for Democrats heading into the 2020 elections.

The purpose of One Country Project is to help the Democratic Party win back rural voters ahead of the 2020 cycle, so they’re squarely focused on Trump country.

Republicans have a significant head start in the race to keep control of the Senate, per this group’s analysis. Because of their stronghold in rural areas, and based on previous presidential election results, the GOP has a 40-seat, “built-in base in the Senate.”

Compare that to just 26 Senate seats that Democrats are best positioned to win. That’s prompting some Democrats — like former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who’s a founding member of One Country Project — to sound the alarm ahead of 2020.

By the numbers: Those “built-in” advantages are based on each party’s “base” states, where they won the presidential vote by ten percentage points or more in the last election.

Democrats won 13 states by that measure in 2016, which translates to 26 Senate seats.

Republicans won 20 states by that measure, which gives them an advantage in 40 Senate races.

In 2020, there are 22 Republican incumbents up for re-election compared to just 12 Democratic senators.

Conventional wisdom says that the GOP should be more vulnerable given those numbers. However, since these Republican incumbents mostly come from states that heavily support President Trump — and considering Senate results increasingly match presidential results — this could pose another challenge for Democrats. (Axios)

The moral of the story is that Democrats need to engage rural Americans more—see here for additional discussion on Democrats and rural voters.

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