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Capitol Light/Climate Politics: Today’s Ten

August 8, 2023

The major themes of Today’s Ten are the continuing conflicts between Democrats and House Republicans over spending and efforts by China to find a way to keep supplying the U.S. with the materials, e.g., the precious metals needed for electric vehicle batteries, and products, e.g., photovoltaic panels, despite efforts of the White House and Congress to build out domestic industries. Supply chain problems over the past several years showed just how vulnerable many of the nation’s industries to globalization.

Provisions in legislation, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the Inflation Reduction and CHIPS and Science Acts, have provided incentives for re-shoring the manufacture of products that have been traditionally obtained from abroad—particularly China.

As the American Clean Power Association’s new report concludes, the IRA has generated $270+ billion in new private investments. The domestic clean energy and energy efficiency sectors have been real winners because of the IRA’s incentives.

The barriers to China and other nations are perhaps not as solid as they might be. China is looking to partner with South Korea through investments in battery manufacture. China has tried to work through Viet Nam and other Asian nations to avoid the prohibitions to entry into the U.S. of products manufactured through forced Uyghur labor, e.g., photovoltaic panels. Something they were not successful in doing.

Viet Nam on its own is looking to enter the U.S. electric vehicle market. Opening the U.S. to Vietnamese EVs, while keeping China out has certain diplomatic benefits. Whether Viet Nam will be allowed in without building U.S. plants is an open question.

The other central theme in Today’s Ten is the continuing fight between Republicans and Democrats over spending. The drama is mostly in the House and its major actors continue to be the right and far-right of center Republicans who appear out for revenge.

Unsurprisingly, House Republican appropriators are attempting to direct more of the fed’s funds to red states. They are also attempting to cut out the clean energy and energy efficiency provisions of the IRA—something red states may not want them to do. Even before the efforts of Republican appropriators in the current battle, red states have profited more than blue states from the IRA. Many of the new battery plants, for example, are in largely Republican states, e.g., Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

According to Business Insider, “red states are reaping the benefits of Democrats’ climate law much more than the Democrats themselves, with red states claiming more IRA funds and installing more wind and solar power than Democratic-leaning states in 2022.” Also, according to the publication: “Billions of dollars of new clean energy investment has been announced for solar, electric vehicle and battery manufacturing in Georgia and other southern states since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August, leading to this swathe of states being nicknamed the ‘battery belt.’”

It’s unlikely that the right and far-right members of the Republican House conference will prevail in their efforts of taking money away from the IRA and the other acts passed by the last Congress. The short- term problem for Congress and the White House is keeping the government open starting the new fiscal year starting on October 1st.

Here are Today’s Ten.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows? Liberal environmentalists and conservative landowners, led by the former congressman Steve King, are pressuring Republican candidates to oppose three Midwestern pipelines.

That meeting in June between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican who lost his seat in Congress in 2020 after incendiary racist comments was the beginning of a left-right alliance that is trying to push the debate of the pipeline to the forefront of the heated G.O.P. presidential caucuses. (New York Times)

Hardly surprising, but very disappointing. The Group of 20 (G20) major nations failed on Friday to agree on concrete targets to cut dangerous emissions, releasing only a statement that dismissed current measures to address climate change as “insufficient”.

The impasse – the latest in a string of inconclusive international conferences – came days after scientists again raised the alarm, saying human-induced climate change has played an “absolutely overwhelming” role in the extreme heatwaves that have swept across North America, Europe and China. (Reuters)

China intends to stay in the US game. Chinese battery materials firms are ramping up investment in South Korea, announcing projects worth at least $4.4 billion this year to try to meet U.S. electric vehicle (EV) tax credit rules aimed at lowering reliance on China’s supply chains.

The deals follow the introduction of the U.S.’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which requires at least 40% of the value of critical minerals used in an auto battery to be sourced from the United States or a free trade partner to qualify for a $3,750 tax credit per vehicle.

The IRA, designed to wean the U.S. off the Chinese supply chain for electric vehicles (EVs), will also eventually bar tax credits if any EV battery components were manufactured by a “foreign entity of concern”, a provision aimed at China. (Reuters)

Everyone wants a piece of the U.S. markets. Vietnamese electric vehicle maker VinFast is planning to list in the United States next month via a blank-cheque company after the Securities and Exchange Commission gave the go ahead to its proposed business combination.

VinFast, which began operations in 2019, is gearing up to expand in the U.S., where it hopes its planned listing as well as a car plant to be built in North Carolina can boost its ability to compete with legacy automakers and startups.

The EV maker had filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. to list on the Nasdaq in December last year, but in May it announced plans to list through a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Black Spade Acquisition Co (BSAQ.A)(Reuters)

More China v. U.S. The U.S. is waging a global charm offensive to obtain the minerals it needs to replace fossil fuels with cleaner energy. Its latest target is a resource-rich country wedged between China and Russia, two U.S. adversaries.

Mongolia — nicknamed “Minegolia” by some academics due to its abundant reserves of copper, gold and coal — hosted a handful of American officials on a mission in June to ease the United States’ dependence on China for the natural resources at the heart of several clean energy technologies.

The trip, the second for a senior State Department official this year, sheds light on U.S. efforts to forge pacts with countries that could supply American manufacturers ramping up their industrial production of solar and wind farms, and millions of electric vehicles. (E&E News)

IRA leverage is impressive. The American Clean Power Association (ACP) released data showing that unprecedented federal support has led to the announcement of private investments totaling $271 billion in domestic clean energy projects and manufacturing facilities over the past 12 months, read more in our press release. This exceeds the combined clean energy investments made over the previous eight years combined.

The latest Clean Energy Investing in America report details the extent of the clean energy renaissance spreading across the country since federal clean energy incentives were signed into law last August. Once completed, these investments and projects will strengthen our energy independence, improve air quality, and support one million American clean energy jobs. (American Clean Power)

Can they spend fast enough? The next few months will be critical for the success or failure of the biggest environmental program in last year’s climate, tax and health care law: the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

While Republicans are proposing to rescind large portions of the fund in fiscal 2024 appropriations bills, the EPA is working to enlist organizations that will be tasked with putting the money into action, particularly in communities that have suffered disproportionately from environmental degradation.

The EPA laid out plans for divvying up the fund through three separate grant competitions. Groups have until Sept. 26 to apply for grants from the $7 billion “Solar for All” program and the deadline is Oct. 12 to seek funds from the other two tranches: a $14 billion fund for clean technology projects and a $6 billion fund for developing clean energy in disadvantaged communities.

Finally, the $7 billion Solar for All fund will be divided among 60 programs run by states, territories, tribes, municipalities and nonprofits providing financing and technical assistance for residential solar projects in disadvantaged communities.

The process will be conducted amid vocal criticism from congressional Republicans. A bill to repeal the fund was included in a package of energy bills approved by the House in March. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., said during a markup in the Energy and Commerce Committee that the program was a “slush fund,” and the committee said in its majority report that the fund would be used to “pursue financing with limited oversight and will conflict with taxpayer interests.” (Roll Call)

Payback is a b*tch. The majority of states would lose earmarked funds in the House GOP-drafted appropriations bills compared with the versions House Democrats wrote last year. But 16 mostly deep-red states would come out ahead.

The lucky 16 would see their haul grow by over $915 million — leaving the rest to see nearly $1.8 billion evaporate, a CQ Roll Call analysis found.

Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma combined account for over half of the increase, boosting their share of earmarks in the fiscal 2024 bills to 10 percent, compared with less than 3 percent a year earlier. (Roll Call)

Compromise doesn’t come easily. John Podesta, the White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation, signaled that the Biden administration could phase in new hydrogen tax credit requirements in an effort to find a middle ground between competing interests. The Treasury Department is currently drafting guidance for the credit — worth up to $3 per kilogram of green hydrogen and could be released in the next few weeks — that has stirred up a lobbying frenzy among environmentalists, energy companies and manufacturers. (Bloomberg)

Soon there will be no insuring the future. The couple, in their late 60s, are frozen in this “hell,” Ed says, because their insurance company, United Property and Casualty, ignored their claims for months after the hurricane and then severely underpaid them, before going insolvent earlier this year.

UPC, the ninth property insurer in Florida to go insolvent since 2021, and the largest to do so in 15 years, left many of its Florida customers in a similar nightmare, facing what is predicted to be a powerful hurricane season with still unfixed, hazardous homes, drained life savings and, in some cases, no insurance to protect them.

UPC hemorrhaged money over the past six years, in large part because of costly claims from a series of major hurricanes. During this time, the company began to cut insurance adjusters’ damage estimates, and underpay and ignore increasingly desperate policyholders, according to a Washington Post investigation based on interviews with nearly two dozen people, including those who worked for UPC, policyholders, insurance experts and a review of hundreds of documents from regulators, adjusters, court cases, financial filings and other sources. (Washington Post)

Lead image courtesy of  Ahmed Badawy on Unsplash

Joel Stronberg

Joel B. Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years of experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion (www.civilnotion.com) and has recently published the book Earth v. TrumpThe Climate Defenders' Guide to Washington Politics based on his commentaries. He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. Stronberg is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

Tags: American energy policy, American politics