October 18, 2019

In the midst of it all, Senate Democrats forced a vote on their resolution to deny the administration its Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE). The resolution called for striking down ACE and reinstating Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The resolution was brought to the floor using the rarely used and even more rarely successful Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows Congress to strike down a regulation within 60 legislative days of its being posted as final in the Federal Register. Ordinarily, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) would have buried the resolution. The CRA, however, allows a resolution to come to the floor directly with the signatures of 30 senators.

The Democrats had no illusion about the resolution’s passage. It was put forward purely as a means of getting Republicans on record against doing anything very strident about Earth’s warming. The Senate Democrats succeeded mostly in proving what everyone already knew.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) voted along with 40 Democrats in favor of the resolution. Senators Manchin (D-WV), Sinema (D-AZ), and Jones (D-AL) voted with 50 Republicans to defeat the resolution. The votes of the four senators reflected their precarious positions going into the 2020 elections. All have been targeted by their party opposites.

The real message sent by the Democrats wasn’t about Republican opposition to the environment; it was about the weak position they hold in the Senate. If the US is going to step up its efforts to combat climate change and increase the resilience of communities to its ravages, then one of two things needs to happen. The Democrats need to take control of Congress and the White House, or Republican voters need to make their elected lawmakers know—with certainty—that the climate change matters to them enough that they are willing to vote their conscience on the single issue.

Yes, it is as simple as that.

Cummings remembered. Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, died on October 17th after a series of health problems. He is being remembered as a forceful voice for environmental justice and a sharp critic of the Trump-era EPA.

Cummings, 68, who was serving his 12th term representing West Baltimore and parts of Baltimore’s more affluent suburbs, was one of three chairmen also overseeing the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry.

The son of sharecroppers, he came to Congress after serving in the Maryland House of Delegates and running his own legal practice. He has long been identified with civil rights issues and is a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The top Democrat on the Oversight and Reform panel since 2010, Cummings took the gavel early this year when his party won control of the House and moved aggressively on the investigative front.

He sent out dozens of subpoenas to agencies, including ones related to the Flint, Mich., water crisis, and the ethics woes of former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“The waste, fraud, and abuse are plain to see — and the Oversight Committee should be using its authority to fulfill its duty under the Constitution to act as an independent check on the executive branch. It is time actually to hold the Trump administration accountable to the American people,” Cummings said last year as he prepared to lead the panel. (E&E News)

Perry on the go. After it was reported and denied that Secretary of Energy Perry would be leaving the Trump administration, it is now certain that he will be leaving before the end of the year. Trump has announced he is nominating Dan Brouillette, the current Deputy Energy Secretary, to succeed Perry. Brouillette faced Senate confirmation as Deputy and was confirmed by a 79-17 vote in 2017. He will need to be reconfirmed as Secretary.

Reaction on the Hill to Perry’s leaving was mixed.

Some of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s senior Democrats, who have enjoyed a good working relationship with Perry, were alarmed by his possible role as an emissary in Trump’s alleged bid to hold up Ukrainian aid unless the Eastern European nation launched an investigation into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member, said in a statement that “anyone who has the pleasure of meeting or working with Secretary Perry knows the enthusiasm and energy he brings to DOE.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, said he does not buy Perry’s claims that he was only working with Ukraine on energy issues.

“It was all part of a grand scheme to do the president’s bidding. The meetings were about getting Ukraine to violate American law,” said Rush.

Rush, who has worked well with the Energy secretary, added, “Perry came in contact with evil, and evil corrupted his spirit. A good heart can be polluted.” (E&E News)

G-whizz.The White House announced that Trump had awarded the Group of Seven summit for 2020 to his own golf resort outside Miami. The announcement triggered a tsunami of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Incredulous members of Congress wondered why Trump would do something so controversial in the midst of the turmoil already surrounding him because of the impeachment inquiry and his sudden decision to abandon the Kurds and retire from the Syrian/Turkey border.

Trump, in a rare concession to his critics, announced his decision in a late night Saturday tweet in which he blamed both Media &Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility. Had Trump gone through with the Doral decision it would have likely been viewed as a blatant violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. (Business Insider/edited)

The administration appears to be sticking to its decision not to place climate on the meeting’s agenda. Trump and his officials have been annoyed when climate change has come up at previous G-7 summits. White House officials described being frustrated that a “niche” issue played such a large role within the G-7. The president has sought to put more emphasis on economic and trade issues, in particular. (Washington Post)

Grousing over the decision. The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to loosen protections in 10 states for the greater sage grouse, whose habitat spans millions of acres of fossil fuel-rich territory. The district court judge said that the Interior Department did not sufficiently analyze the potential environmental impacts of the changes and disagreed with the administration’s claim that new leasing in the region was not expected to occur imminently. (The New York Times)

The Trump administration continues to lose in court because it continues to believe that environmental and administrative procedural rules don’t apply to them.

Road trip.  A new transportation caucus launched in the House with a focus on climate change, as both chambers of Congress work to advance a major highway bill.

The Future of Transportation Caucus, which has already attracted 19 members, is being co-chaired by Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jesús “Chuy” García of Illinois and Mark Takano of California…the three co-chairs pledged to prioritize climate and sustain-ability.

“Our current transportation system is not designed to mitigate the impact that climate change will have on our communities and our public health. And it should,” Takano said.

“We know that communities of color and low-income communities feel the effects of climate change and pollution the hardest,” he said. “So, this caucus will prioritize sustainability in an attempt to protect our already endangered climate and our public health.”

The caucus comes after transportation surpassed the power sector as the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those planet-warming emissions, according to EPA data.

To that end, Pressley said the caucus would look at ways of limiting personal vehicle use. “Our caucus also aims to explore policies that will promote walking, biking, and public transit over vehicles on our roadways,” she said.

Pressley, who has the backing of Justice Democrats, a political action committee seeking to elect more progressives, also stressed the link between transit access and equity. (E&E News)

Speaking of highways. A coalition of 38 business groups is asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote on the upper chamber’s highway bill.

In a letter, the groups urged the Kentucky Republican to bring the bill to the floor this year.

S. 2302, “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act,” would provide $287 billion for surface transportation programs. It sailed through the Environment and Public Works Committee before the August recess but has seen little action since then.

“While the EPW Committee has unanimously approved a critical federal infrastructure initiative, it is up to the rest of the Senate to take the next steps,” the groups wrote in the letter.

The groups signing the missive included the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Society of Civil Engineers, and American Iron and Steel Institute. (E&ENews)

It had initially been hoped that a highway infrastructure bill would make it through Congress.

 S2302 includes $10 billion for climate-related programs, e.g., provisions that would accelerate the deployment of EVs, and increase the resilience of projects to extreme weather events fueled by global warming.

Given the partisan free-for-all on Capitol Hill and in the administration, it seems highly unlikely that anything resembling substantive legislation will be getting through Congress anytime soon.

Judging from their past. Senators this past week considered a trove of judicial picks on the floor and in committee, including some with energy and environmental ties.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned two Florida Supreme Court justices whom President Trump tapped to sit on a federal appeals court in the Southeast.

In their current positions on the Sunshine State’s highest court, Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck recently presided over oral arguments on a ballot initiative to create a competitive electricity market in Florida (Energywire).

Both Luck and Lagoa were appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). If they are confirmed, the pair will serve on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (E&E News)

Trump’s most lasting legacy as president is likely to be measured in the number of judges and justices; he will have appointed in his first term.

A second-term would allow Trump to continue to turn the judicial branch of government distinctly conservative starting with the Supreme Court. With another five years of Trump, the High Court could end up being seven conservative justices and two moderates.

You know it’s hot when…“Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors.”

It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed “a giant hairdryer” at Qatar.

Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field.

Al Janoub is one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die  while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar’s milder winter.

“Qatar is one of the fastest-warming areas of the world, at least outside of the Arctic,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate data scientist at Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit temperature analysis group. “Changes there can help give us a sense of what the rest of the world can expect if we do not take action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” (Washington Post)

Picture

Number 2. September tied 2015 as the warmest on record, helping make the first nine months of this year into the second hottest in data going back to 1880, the National Centers for Environmental Information, in Asheville, North Carolina, said in a statement. The hottest initial nine months came in 2016. (Bloomberg)

I’ll see you in court. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) told Exxon Mobil Corp. by letter on Oct. 10 that her office intends to file a lawsuit against the oil giant for allegedly violating the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act by duping the public about fossil fuels’ impact on the climate. Exxon has asked a state court to make Healey wait until mid-November to meet with its lawyers, by which point a separate Exxon climate trial in New York is expected to conclude. (Bloomberg Environment)

The fact that the court is allowing the case to go forward is itself a victory for climate defenders.

The case will be followed closely as it marks one of the several alternative legal approaches state and local governments have been trying to pass the costs of climate change onto fossil fuel companies.

Most of the cases so far were about state and local governments suing oil companies under tort law, i.e., personal injury, seeking compensation for the damage burning fossil fuel has caused.

Got gas? When leaders from Exxon Mobil and BP gathered last month with other fossil-fuel executives to declare they were serious about climate change, they cited progress in curbing an energy-wasting practice called flaring – the intentional burning of natural gas as companies drill faster than pipelines can move the energy away. (New York Times)

Flaring has been controversial for years, and despite earlier promises, the majors continue to burn away vast amounts of natural gas.

That’s some extension cord. EVs don’t travel far, don’t carry much, and don’t do well in the cold – the reverse of what North Dakotans want. But a reporting trip across one of America’s most rural states revealed that they are nonetheless gaining interest among key players, including power companies, auto dealers, fossil fuel lobbyists, school districts, and the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature. (E&E News)

Beyond the automobile, electrification of pickup trucks and farm machinery like tractors and harvesters is likely to be a part of rural America’s future.

John Deere, for example, is focusing fully on electric drives and has featured equipment is likely the SESAM tractor at agriculture shows.

Deere recently unveiled the alternative: a tractor on a long extension cable, which winds in and out depending on the distance to the power socket. “There is a great deal of enthusiasm about electrification in Germany.

Uninsurable.  Axis Capital Holdings Ltd is the latest insurer to give up profit potential from coal and oil sands, a departure it says supports the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Axis said it would not provide new insurance or facultative reinsurance for construction and infrastructure for new thermal coal plants or mines, nor for oil sands extraction and pipeline projects.

Axis will not insure companies that generate 30 percent or more of their revenue from thermal coal mining or hold more than 20 percent of their reserves in oil sands. Renewals, however, will be on a case-by-case basis.

“We believe insurers have an important role to play in mitigating climate risk and transitioning to a low-carbon economy,” said Axis President and CEO Albert Benchimol in a release. (Marketwatch)

Double-entry bookkeeping of a different sort. In late 2013, ExxonMobil faced increasing pressure from investors to disclose more about the risks the company faced as governments began limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The company prepared a presentation for investors, and now the New York attorney general says Exxon used two sets of books to mislead investors by downplaying the potential costs of carbon emissions. (Inside Climate News)

Too much of a good thing. The City of Georgetown, Texas, known for its push to become one of the first cities in the US to rely 100 percent on renewable power, has been grappling with an excess of power and has now filed suit against one of its four suppliers in an attempt to cancel a 25-year solar supply contract. (S&P Global)

In its way. Political resistance to fossil fuels has buffeted a US LNG export industry that is mostly optimistic about increasing its shipments of record-high domestic gas output to world markets.

LNG industry supporters at the Gulf Coast Energy Forum in New Orleans expressed concern about an array of policy challenges that could raise the stakes for a sector that has long grappled with environmental opposition to gas infrastructure projects. (S&P Global)

Beating the clock. Expiring tax credits for wind and solar projects offer near-term promise and long-term uncertainty, with the U.S. wind industry on track to become the nation’s fastest-growing source of electricity generation by the end of 2020 and the solar industry potentially soon following. (Utility Dive)

Valued at $1.3 trillion. If the U.S. wants to extend economic growth, it should double down on cleaning up the environment and fighting climate change, which are fueling both jobs and revenue, according to a new analysis by University College London researchers. (Morning Consult)

Another lie. The Senate’s top advocate for biofuels rejected EPA’s latest proposal to maintain nationwide ethanol volumes, saying the agency failed to deliver on President Trump’s promises to corn farmers.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told reporters he won’t accept anything less than Trump’s promise earlier this month to offset biofuel waivers granted to small refineries by increasing mandates on others.

“I heard the president, the vice president, the secretary of Agriculture, the EPA director, six senators, and the governor of Iowa say that we are going to be able to recoup and add back in the lost gallons that come from waivers,” Grassley said. “That’s what I’m expecting, that’s what we were promised, and EPA ought to carry out the Oval Office policy.” (E&E News)

Relations between the White House and parties on both sides of this issue, e.g., corn farmers and oil companies, were already on shaky grounds.

Trump had promised that he would take care of things so that all the parties were happy.

The lie rekindles the battle and could ultimately weaken Trump’s core support of which farmers and oil companies comprise a significant portion.

Don’t drill baby, don’t drill. Senator Marco Rubio is still searching for a legislative vehicle to carry an extension of the current offshore drilling ban in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Republican said yesterday.

“There probably won’t be one this year,” Rubio told reporters. “But we hope at some point early next year there will be a vehicle that can pass, that the president will sign, that we can put it on. We’ve been working with Chairman Murkowski’s office to try and identify that.” (E&E News)

A taxing reality? A global agreement to make fossil fuel burning more expensive is urgent and the most efficient way of fighting climate change and International Monetary Fund study found.

The group found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly double what it is now. That would greatly increase the price of fossil-fuel-based energy — especially from the burning of coal — but the economic disruption could be offset by routing the money raised straight back to citizens.

“If you compare the average level of the carbon tax today, which is $2 [a ton], to where we need to be, it’s a quantum leap,” said Paolo Mauro, deputy director of the fiscal affairs department at the IMF. (Washington Post)

The IMF report comes out as financial institutions increasingly grapple with the risks associated with climate change, including damage from sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and billions in fossil fuel reserves that might be in excess of what can be burned while also limiting warming. The Federal Reserve, for example, is taking a closer look at how climate change may pose a risk to economic stability. (Washington Post)

Because of the current unpopularity of carbon taxes with taxpayers, I think it essential that alternative legislation is considered.

At least one option might be a national clean energy standard.

No justice for the innocent. Federal agencies are falling short on their commitments to support environmental justice, according to a new watchdog report from the Government Accountability Office.

Since 16 agencies joined an interagency working group on environmental justice in 1994, they have allocated resources and staff to mitigate the disproportionate effects of environmental risk factors on low-income and minority groups.

But they are falling short in their planning and reporting practices, according to the report. After a 2011 report on agencies’ progress, most members of the working group developed strategic plans, but few have updated them or meaningfully followed through since.

This new GAO report is the result of research into agency plans, reports, and funding, as well as interviews with officials and comparisons to effective collaborative standards used by similar groups.

In the report, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) write that “while 12 agencies have developed an environmental justice strategic plan with strategic goals, most of them have not shown clear progress toward achieving their environmental justice goals and the purpose of the executive order.”

The Department of Defense has not updated its environmental justice strategic plan since 1995, the report said, and the Small Business Administration has never released one.

Of the plans released, GAO determined that those put forth by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development lack strategic goals. (E&E News)

Actors acting up. Actors Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston were arrested today outside the Capitol, the second in a series of demonstrations Fonda has planned to protest climate change.

Fonda, 81, and Waterston, 78, were detained by U.S. Capitol Police after blocking a street outside the building as other protesters looked on, according to various accounts and videos on Twitter.

Fonda began demonstrating outside the Capitol last week after being inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist.

She has temporarily moved to Washington, D.C., and said she plans to be arrested outside the Capitol every Friday for 14 weeks to call for a Green New Deal and an end to fossil fuel extraction. (E&E News)