A Slippery Slope

Over the past several weeks, I’ve included clips on the efforts of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to bring House Republicans in from the cold on climate change. McCarthy’s change of heart is likely attributable to polling numbers that clearly indicate Republicans are vulnerable on this issue with young suburban voters. The suburbs are showing themselves as fertile Democratic fields because of changing demographics.

It is also likely that stoking this newly emerged effort to come up with policy and program proposals has been the Democrats’ climate focus—both in the House and on the hustings. Every contender for the Democratic presidential nomination has made climate defense a prominent part of their pitch to primary voters—to one degree or another.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have just released their 600-page draft of the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act. (see below) It lays out a multi-faceted plan to reach zero-net fifty greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s still a work in progress.

With growing support for a federal response to climate change among young suburban Republicans, McCarthy believed it was folly to continue playing the denial card. The way he phrases it “for a 28-year old, the environment is the Number 1 and Number 2 issue.”

It should also be recognized that there’s already growing Republican interest and support for a carbon tax—notably the Baker-Shultz plan. There is a growing number of college-based Republican chapters that are actively advocating its passage. It’s an interesting partnership between old-line establishment Republicans and new-line young Republicans.

Notwithstanding what appears to be a purely political move on McCarthy’s part, the Minority Leader deserves some credit. Today he’s Trump’s pal, but if he keeps pursuing an environmental agenda, his new best friend could turn on him—as could members of the Republican House caucus whose careers he may be risking.

Now, I will grant that McCarthy’s Republicans aren’t likely to propose much more than research on carbon sequestration and possibly new energy technologies, along with planting a trillion trees and doing something about all the plastic in the oceans—both of which Trump has indicated some support for recently.

The important thing—to my mind—is that House Republicans have now admitted that there is a problem. Having admitted to the problem, they can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Now, the argument has to be about solutions.

If McCarthy and others think they’ll be able to get out of this cheaply, e.g., supporting long-term research and pushing natural gas, they’ve badly under-estimated what young Republicans and others are thinking. Increasingly, private lenders are refusing to support fossil fuel projects on a broad scale because renewables are cheaper, and climate-related risks are just too high for investors and insurers to assume.

Whether conservative Republicans like McCarthy recognize it or not, the world is spinning away from them—at least on this issue. The spin isn’t as fast or as dramatic as it needs to be, but it’s happening.

If the party of Trump doesn’t want to find itself being continually marginalized—to the point of losing elections—they’ll be forced to support more than a trillion trees and some trash collection. This will be the first national election ever that the environment will be front and center in policy debates and the minds of voters. Let’s hope it also marks a new beginning in partisan cooperation.

Fixing a crumbling infrastructure. U.S. House Democrats unveiled a proposed $760 billion infrastructure spending bill over five years that aims to rebuild sagging roads and bridges and reduce carbon pollution.

The Democrats’ plan calls for new spending on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, water, internet expansion, electric grids, aviation, and “brownfield” land that was possibly contaminated after previous industrial use.

Democrats want to spend $329 billion over five years on surface transportation, with a focus on fixing the 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges. They would also provide $1.5 billion to support the development of an electric vehicle charging network.

Democrats said they did not want to discuss how to pay for the improvements until they reached a deal with the White House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they would vote on a plan “when we’re ready.” (Reuters)

See also here for additional insights.

600 pages strong. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled a draft of their new climate plan, which aims for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.

The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act, the draft of which is more than 600 pages long, would force dramatic changes in many sectors of the economy, from pushing utilities work toward 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 to requiring the transportation sector to reduce emissions not just from cars but also airliners.

However, the legislation is much broader, pushing for cleaner buildings, efforts to force industry to clean up its supply chain and a host of new regulations targeting pollution from the energy industry.

New details of the plan spell out a 28-year path for utilities to switch to clean sources of energy, requiring utilities to diminish their share of carbon-producing energy one-twenty-eighth each year.

“This broad legislative package includes some policies that would be clear steps forward to address the climate crisis – but it’s concerning that on what is perhaps the central question of climate policy, what counts as clean energy, this bill includes options that could leave a door open to gas and coal,” the Sierra Club said in a statement on the legislation. (The Hill)

It’s the little things that hurt. The latest science doesn’t back up the idea that the nation’s air quality standards for fine particle pollution are enough to protect public health, the EPA’s staff said in a recent report. (Bloomberg Environment)

It’s everywhere. People across America regularly breathe polluted air that increases their risk of premature death and can also trigger asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. In 2018, 108 million Americans lived in areas that experienced more than 100 days of degraded air quality. (USPIRG)

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Accidents will happen. Fourteen U.S. states and Washington D.C. sued the Environmental Protection Agency to fight what they called the Trump administration’s effort to gut rules meant to improve safety at chemical plants and reduce the threat of accidents. (Reuters)

A Guardian indeed. The Guardian will no longer accept fossil fuel advertising citing the industry’s “decades-long effort” to prevent climate action.

For anyone who believes the world faces an urgent climate crisis, it has been quite a year. The world’s leading scientists tell us we have just twelve years to change human behavior to avert catastrophe. Teenage climate strikers inspire millions of people, young and old, to protest against inaction, and devastating bushfires sweep across much of Australia. This is the most important challenge of our times. (The Guardian)

Give credit to the Guardian for their policy. It took guts.

The Guardian should also be given credit for its excellent and generally fair and balanced reporting on climate change, energy, and the environment.

A different kind of Fed speak. While the overall U.S. response to climate change is up to elected officials, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the Fed could play a part in keeping global warming from destabilizing U.S. banks and financial markets.

“The public has every right to expect and will expect that we will ensure that the financial system is resilient and robust against the risks of climate change,” Powell said at a news conference following the Fed’s January meeting. (Reuters)

Should Trump ever hear on FOX about what Powell is saying, it will give him something else to beat up on Powell for.


Pity
 the poor creatures.
 House Natural Resources Committee Democrats advanced bills that aim to protect wildlife from climate change and reverse some of the Trump administration’s endangered species rules. (Bloomberg)

Just tariff-ic. With much of the political world focused on the first week of the Senate impeachment trial, President Trump imposed more tariffs under the guise of “national security.” By his own admission, Trump’s previous national security tariffs failed to revitalize the protected industries. Now, his only remedy is apparently more tariffs.

This round of protectionism will almost certainly fail, but it should serve as a wake-up call to Congress that it is time to restrict the president’s discretionary authority to raise tariffs unilaterally. (Washington Examiner)

Collateral damage. The Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal to reinterpret the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 so that energy companies, construction crews, and other groups would not be penalized for bird deaths that are considered incidental during their operations. The proposal seeks to finalize an Interior Department legal opinion in 2017 that stated the act only covers operations with explicit intent to kill birds under federal law. (The New York Times)

Oil pumped here stays here. One of the first actions a Bernie Sanders administration might take would be to reimpose a ban on U.S. crude oil exports.

The action could have significant effects not just on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but also on global oil markets, geopolitical tensions, and the U.S.’ emerging status as a net energy exporter. And it would reverse a policy signed into law by President Barack Obama, as part of a bipartisan deal lifting the 40-year-ban in exchange for extensions of tax incentives for wind and solar energy.

Reinstating the crude export ban is being floated as part of a number of executive orders drafted by Sanders’ campaign policy team, according to the Washington Post. (Washington Examiner)

The oil export order is one of a package of executive actions on a host of topics Sanders’ staff is working on.

It’s the fate of a deadlocked Congress that power flows to the executive.

An imperial presidency is not quite what the founders had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.


Frac no more
. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this week introduced a bill that aims to ban hydraulic fracking.

Sanders has called for a ban on fracking while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders tweeted about the bill, which he said was also worked on by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Darren Soto (D-FL) on Thursday. Merkley was listed as a co-sponsor. Warren also supports the ban.

Language of the bill not yet available on the Library of Congress site. (The Hill)

A frac-tured candidacy? Though they are both Democrats, John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, and Bill Peduto, this city’s mayor, have their differences on the environment.

But they agree on one thing: a pledge to ban all hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, could jeopardize any presidential candidate’s chances of winning this most critical of battleground states — and thus the presidency itself. So as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren woo young environmental voters with a national fracking ban, these two Democrats are uneasy. (New York Times)

Will this suck? If California wants to eliminate greenhouse gases, it will need a vast system to capture and store emissions – perhaps even giant vacuums to suck carbon dioxide from the sky. (Bloomberg)

Let’s not forget the farmers – whether they know it or not – have also been quietly fighting the effects of climate change for decades through innovations in land use and management. And if policymakers provide the right kinds of support, farmers can do much more to address climate impacts, protect their livelihoods, and maintain our nation’s food supply. (Morning Consult)

Friends of Sanders and Warren. Friends of the Earth Action endorsed two candidates — Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for president — a first for the group in its 50-year history. Erich Pica, the group’s president, said in a statement that while their policies and approaches differ, both Sanders and Warren “offer bold solutions to the deep structural problems plaguing this country.” On climate, Pica noted, “they are both committed to phasing out fossil fuels, protecting workers and communities, ensuring a just transition, and investing trillions of dollars to achieve 100 percent renewable energy.” (FOE Action press release)

The President’s potty mouth. They flushed smashed bananas. They flushed mashed potatoes. But the two engineers soon discovered that the best method for testing a toilet’s flushing ability was soybean paste. Its consistency was perfect.

Bill Gauley and John Koeller have used soybean paste, also known as miso, for almost two decades to test toilets, part of their carefully calibrated protocol that has become a common testing standard throughout the toilet industry.

The two men say today’s toilets are flushing marvels, able to clear an average of two pounds of paste and paper per flush —four times as much as old commodes, despite using less than half as much water.

So, Gauley and Koeller were surprised when President Trump recently started complaining publicly about toilets. “People are flushing toilets ten times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” Trump said at the White House last month. He also talked about toilets during a rally in Milwaukee two weeks ago. (Washington Post)

Togetherness. Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia plans to introduce a bipartisan bill that would impose a clean electricity mandate, becoming the first Republican in recent memory to endorse a mandate for non-emitting power.

McKinley revealed a few details on his plan in an op-ed in the USA Today with his co-sponsor, Rep. Kurt Schrader, a centrist Democrat from Oregon. The duo plan to formally introduce legislation in the coming weeks.

The plan is modest, compared to other Democratic proposals aiming to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury across the entire economy, and many states that have imposed immediate clean electricity standards without delay. (Washington Examiner)

It’s telling of the time that a Republican and Democrat working together on a climate-related piece of legislation is even noteworthy.


Can do
A new report says, “it’s quite doable” to take billions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere to curb climate change. According to James Mulligan, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute and the lead author on the report: “There are realistic policy levers that Congress can pull today that can help us get there over the next decade.” (World Resources Institute)

Can’t say they weren’t warned.  Environmentalists are fed up with flight delays. They’ve put the EPA on a 180-day clock, after which they plan to sue to force the agency to issue carbon dioxide standards for new aircraft engines.

Plans to set aircraft CO2 standards have lingered on the EPA’s long-term regulatory agenda for much of the Trump administration, though the agency has said little publicly about its work on them. The Obama EPA, in its last year, issued a finding that aircraft greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, triggering a requirement to set standards.

“Ambitious, technology-forcing regulation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants from aircraft [are] long overdue and urgently needed,” wrote the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Earthjustice in a notice of intent to sue Thursday. The groups say U.S. aircraft are a fast-growing source of greenhouse gases, accounting for around 7% of U.S. transportation emissions.

It isn’t just environmental groups that want the EPA to act. The aircraft industry — though not as loudly — has also urged the EPA to set standards in line with global CO2 limits countries agreed to in 2017, under the International Civil Aviation Organization. (Washington Examiner)

On the attack. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone condemned FERC’s action Thursday to endorse the ability of pipeline companies to condemn state lands to build their projects.

“FERC took the unprecedented step of injecting itself into a legal battle in which it has no part,” said Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat. “For an independent regulatory agency to help a private party seize state lands, all in order to build a pipeline is as wrong as it is bizarre.”

Awful is right. We may avoid the very worst climate scenario. But the next-worst is still pretty awful. Some climate scientists and energy experts say the worst-case scenario is increasingly unlikely. That’s stirred debate within the research community over whether a rare bit of good news about global warming has emerged or if, instead, the situation is far more complicated and still quite dire. (Washington Post)

Google this. Rep. Kathy Castor, the chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, wrote a letter Monday calling on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to stop the spread of climate misinformation on YouTube.

Castor references a recent report by Avaaz; YouTube has been driving millions of viewers to climate misinformation videos and giving them free promotion through its recommendation algorithm.

Castor also calls on Google to stop monetizing disinformation videos and to “take steps to correct the record” for users that have viewed videos with misinformation on climate change. (Select House Committee on Climate Crisis press release)

A California shout-out for Bloomberg. California’s top air regulator touted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s energy credentials.

In a commentary in CalMatters, Mary Nichols wrote that she would not endorse a candidate in the presidential primary while she’s chair of the California Air Resources Board.

But she wrote: “Whatever you may think of his candidacy or his positions on issues across the full range of concerns a president needs to address, the reality is that Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who has developed, advocated and implemented a successful program to cut greenhouse gases.” (Cal Matter press release)

I thought this a rather extraordinary action by Nichols.


The Center for Biological Diversity
 Action Fund is giving Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the highest grade on environmental issues out of the seven major Democratic presidential candidates in its new voter guide unveiled Monday.

The group gave Sanders an A overall. He was followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with an A-minus, Tom Steyer with a B and former Vice President Joe Biden with a C-plus.

Andrew Yang was given a C and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was given a C-minus. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) scored worst, receiving a D. (The Hill)

Another trade warThe Trump administration is threatening to retaliate against the European Union over its plan to tax imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries like the United States.

“Depending on what form the carbon tax takes, we will react to it — but if it is in its essence protectionist, like the digital taxes, we will react,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the Financial Times.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also spoke out against carbon taxes at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland last week, calling the idea “a tax on hard-working people.”

The EU’s executive president Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a “carbon border tax” as part of her “Green Deal,” a package of regulations to go carbon-neutral in the bloc’s 28 member countries by 2050. She is not expected to finalize the border tax until 2021. (Washington Examiner)

For real? The Treasury Department is moving too slowly in issuing the rules of the road for carbon capture tax credits, paralyzing potential projects, said top Energy Department fossil energy official Steve Winberg.

The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t have a lot to show yet for the nearly two years of work it’s done to craft guidance to implement carbon capture tax credits, which Congress extended and expanded in a bipartisan budget deal in 2018. Winberg said the Energy Department has been “very active” in attempting to speed along the IRS’ work, but the delay is keeping projects waiting. (Washington Examiner)

Why for real? It’s unusual for a Trump administration official to call out another agency—especially over a climate-related tax credit.

On the rise. Total corporate clean energy purchase agreements were up more than 40% in 2019, according to new data from Bloomberg NEF.

Corporate purchases of clean energy totaled more than 10% of all renewable capacity added worldwide last year, the group found. The bulk of these purchases were in the U.S. (Washington Examiner)

Care for a dip? The Environmental Protection Agency has made it easier for cities to keep dumping raw sewage into rivers by letting them delay or otherwise change federally imposed fixes to their sewer systems, according to interviews with local officials, water utilities, and their lobbyists. (New York Times)

And, speaking of spills–

Wine to waterA leak in a 97,000-gallon tank of cabernet sauvignon at a winery in Northern California caused tens of thousands of gallons of red wine to pour into nearby waterways. Chris O’Gorman, a spokesman for Rodney Strong Vineyards, said the vineyard is investigating the cause and is “deeply concerned and are doing everything in our power to protect our waterways.” (Associated Press)