Volume 1, September 9, 2019, Issue 26
The month ahead:
Congress is back from its August recess. It appears the break did nothing to cool tensions—either between Congressional Republicans and Democrats or between Hill Democrats and Trump. If anything, inter-party relations are more acrimonious than before. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the legislative year. Hanging fire on the Senate’s September agenda are appropriations bills. The House has already passed ten of 12 spending bills, while the Senate has yet to introduce even one. The Senate chose to wait until after Trump and Congressional leaders settled on a budget number and agreed to raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Agreements were reached just before the summer’s recess.
Senate appropriators, however, are expecting to pick up the pace by releasing three spending bills in the next few days—Energy-Water, Labor-Health-Human Services, and Defense.
The appetite for a government shutdown is small. A failure to make the September 30th deadline will likely result in a continuing resolution (CR). House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has already written the Democratic caucus telling members to expect a CR through November 22nd. There’s been no sign-off by Senate Republicans on a Plan “B” CR, however, so a shutdown is not yet off the table.
Several extensions of expiring programs could become part of a CR, including a short-term reauthorization for the National Flood Insurance Program. The program is set to expire at the end of the month. It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Congress would dare cut the program during hurricane season—especially in what is already a record year of flooding.
The House will be directing the bulk of its September attentions to conducting committee hearings on issues Trump and company would like to ignore, e.g., gun control, immigration, and climate. Mass shootings, an extraordinary emergency declaration by Trump, and CNN’s seven hours of climate-related townhall meetings have kept these issues in the spotlight.
House Democrats are keen to continue their oversight investigations of Trump and his administration. The list of investigations is likely to grow given events like #Sharpiegate, in which Trump refused to admit he made a mistake about the path of Hurricane Dorian. Vice President Pence’s stay at Trump’s Irish golf resort requiring him to commute the 180 miles by car and his Air Force 2 jetliner to his two days of meetings with Irish leaders in Dublin served-up another opportunity for the Democrats to cry “emoluments.”
Cecil Roberts said at an event in Washington that his message to Trump and others running for president in 2020 is: “Coal’s not back. Nobody saved the coal industry.” He said coal-fired plants are closing all over the country, calling it a “harsh reality.”
Trump held a rally in West Virginia in August 2018 where he touted his administration’s proposal to allow states to set their own emissions standards for coal-fueled power plants. He declared at the time, “We are back. The coal industry is back.” (CNN)
Green growthers. Nearly all major environmental groups saw their donations increase, some significantly so, with President Trump in the White House, according to an Axios analysis of tax filings. (See Figure 1) (Axios)
Republicans are leaving the building. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a leading Republican skeptic of climate change, announced he would not run for re-election next year after holding his seat since 1979, making him the second-longest serving member of the House. He’s the 13th Republican House member to announce retirement at the end of the 116th Congress.
Sensenbrenner was the ranking member of a previous iteration of the Select Climate Change Committee created by House Democrats in 2007, where he took an adversarial approach to the job as Democrats were considering a cap-and-trade bill. (E&E News)
To-date most of the Republican retirements are by members in safe red districts.
It appears House Republicans aren’t much enjoying being in the minority.
Undoubtedly a contributing factor is having to defend Trump all the time.
They shouldn’t auto do that. Appellate judges sharply questioned the Trump administration’s decision to overhaul Obama-era clean car standards. At issue is former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision last year that the Obama-era regulations were “inappropriate” and should be revised.
That decision — known formally as the “Midterm Evaluation Final Determination” — paved the way for the Trump administration’s aggressive rollback of greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles. (E&E News)
The administration hasn’t published its final rule—something it is likely to do later this fall.
It appears now that the administration’s rumored refusal to grant California its CAA waiver will be announced separately from the final regulation.
Ego trippin’. The Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation into Ford, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen to determine whether the automakers broke federal competition laws when collaborating with California officials on vehicle-emissions standards, according to a new report.
The federal investigation comes amid Trump administration efforts to roll back fuel efficiency standards. Obama-era rules set an industry-wide goal for vehicle fleets of roughly 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, but the Department of Transportation has proposed freezing fuel economy standards at approximately 37 miles per gallon.
If the agreement takes effect, it stands to undercut the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean car standards. (Washington Examiner)
The auto industry has gotten tired of trying to work with the Trump administration—as has the State of California.
Even the Chamber of Commerce, as I reported in September 4th Issue of Climate Politics, is on record opposing the freeze.
It’s no secret that Trump is no fan of California’s and has gone out of his way to lambast its state and congressional leaders, including Speaker Pelosi and Representative Maxine Waters.
From beginning to end, it appears that the investigation is ego-motivated.
It’s unclear whether the agreement between California and the automakers is anything more than a nonbinding handshake and a standard the auto companies are willing to do voluntarily—not just for the publicity but to be competitive in overseas markets.
Another ego-McMuffin? The New York Times is reporting that the Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama. (New York Times)
Is this any way to run a government? Just asking.
Above the maddening law. A federal court said the Trump administration may exempt itself from critical environmental laws to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson tossed claims involving sections of border wall construction through New Mexico and Texas, concluding that Congress has blocked most legal challenges to the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to waive statutes such as the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
“Adding a belt to these suspenders, Congress has further removed this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over any non-constitutional waiver challenges,” found Jackson, an Obama appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit is one of several district court challenges to waivers for border wall construction across the southwestern United States. Environmental groups have not yet lodged a successful claim on the issue: A waiver challenge in California failed, and others are still unresolved. (E&E News)
Don’t fry for me Argentina. As the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde frequently warned of being “roasted, toasted, fried and grilled” if the world failed to act on climate change.
Now, she is pledging to make the European Central Bank more conscious of the environment if she is confirmed as its new president.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing global challenges facing society today,” she told the European Parliament. “My personal view is that any institution has to actually have climate change risk and protection of the environment at the core of their understanding of their mission,” Ms. Lagarde said. (New York Times)
More green! The field that’s become known as green finance could be at a tipping point. After a decade of explosive growth, it’s running into a perhaps surprising roadblock: a shortage of projects that are green enough. (Bloomberg)
Record sums. The global energy supply is turning greener. Investment in new renewable energy is on course to total $2.6 trillion in the years from 2010 through the end of 2019, according to a study by BloombergNEF for the United Nations Environment Program and Frankfurt School’s UNEP Center. (Morning Consult)
For safety’s sake. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned climate change skeptics that the issue is a national security threat and they need to prepare for it.
Mattis was on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” when Mitchell asked the former Marine Corps general about the Navy’s decision to end the Obama-era Task Force on Climate Change earlier this year.
Mattis said he believes in climate change, then turned his attention toward deniers. “For those who are adamant there’s no climate change, you look at the receding sea ice and have different explanations. Why wouldn’t we take out an insurance policy and do prudent steps to make certain the generation that’s coming up is not going to be caught flat-footed by this?”
President Trump is deeply skeptical of mainstream climate science and preparing for it during his administration has been a challenge. In addition to the Navy ending its task force, climate change language has been deleted from documents and memos throughout the executive branch.
Dwindling resources and the enormous number of future climate refugees will increase the likelihood of conflict and possibly make it easier for terrorist organizations to find recruits, Mattis warned. (E&E News)
They keep courting appeals—and losing. A federal judge has ruled that EPA failed to consider potential threats to endangered species with its 2018 requirements for adding biofuel to the nation’s fuel supply.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered EPA to revisit the 2018 regulations and make a formal determination on potential harm to species protected by the Endangered Species Act. However, the rules can stand as written, the court said in an unsigned opinion.
In siding with the environmental groups, the court cited research showing that the biofuel requirements lead to the conversion of uncultivated land for growing crops for biofuel and to fragmentation of habitat for some wildlife species. (E&E News)
The bride of covfefe. Looking to quantify the impact of Trump’s tweets on the bond market, JPMorgan has created the “Volfefe Index” – named after the mysterious ‘covfefe’ tweet – which analyzes how the president’s messaging is influencing volatility in U.S. interest rates. Analysts found that the index can account for a “measurable fraction” of moves in implied volatility, seen in interest rate derivatives known as swaptions. It’s particularly apparent at the shorter end of the curve, with two- and five-year rates more impacted than 10-year securities. (Seeking Alpha)
For the first time. Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer said he qualified for next month’s Democratic presidential debate, the first of his long-shot 2020 campaign.
Steyer clinched the qualification when a CBS News/YouGov poll from the early caucus state of Nevada put him at 2 percent.
It is the fourth poll where he has reached 2 percent, meeting the Democratic National Committee’s threshold for the October debate. Steyer previously reached the other threshold, 130,000 individual campaign donors. (E&E News)
A bill will come due. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee hope to introduce by the end of the year a bill that aims to eliminate the nation’s contributions to climate change by the middle of the century. The legislation would parallel the various plans put forward by most of the Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to achieve net-zero climate-warming emissions by at least 2050.
The bill could prove a tricky bit of business in terms of how it will be received by progressives in and out of the Democratic Party.
What is likely to be a middle-of-the-road climate bill risks reigniting a still-simmering dispute between progressives and moderates.
Then there are the issues of environmental justice and how—or if—those will be dealt with in the Committee’s proposed legislation.
Next to be outdone. Natural gas-fired power plants, which have crushed the economics of coal, are on the path to being undercut themselves by renewable power and big batteries, a study found.
A Blue New Deal? A fisherman asked a question at CNN’s climate town hall this past week that got Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) very excited. With all the focus on protecting land from global warming, he said, what about the other 70 percent of the Earth? Do we need a “Blue New Deal” to protect the oceans?
Hearings of note:
The House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing on “Examining the Proposed Reorganization and Relocation of the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters” on September 10th.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on manufacturing jobs on September 10th.
The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment will hold a hearing on PFAS on September 11th.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on various legislation on September 11th.