Energy

Climate appropriation challenges

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With help from Catherine Morehouse

Programming Note: We’ll be off this Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day but will be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

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— Some of Democrats’ key climate priorities are among the sticking points as appropriators try to work out a spending plan before next month’s shutdown deadline.

— The Energy Department is recruiting over 1,000 new employees for a Clean Energy Corps to carry out the initiatives of the the bipartisan infrastructure package.

— Senate climate Democrats are hoping to make air quality monitoring more accessible in vulnerable communities through new legislation coming out today.

HAPPY FRIDAY! I’m your host, Matthew Choi. Congrats to Daphne Wang of Bloomberg Philanthropies for knowing the words to the Genovian national anthem: “Genovia, the land I call my home.” For today’s trivia: What is the Māori name for New Zealand? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected]. Find me on Twitter @matthewchoi2018.

Check out the POLITICO Energy podcast — all the energy and environmental politics and policy news you need to start your day, in just five minutes. Listen and subscribe for free at politico.com/energy-podcast. On today’s episode: White House exits trouble environmental justice advocates.

THE CLIFF APPROACHES: With Congress having five weeks until cash runs out and the federal government faces a shutdown, the top appropriators on the Hill met Thursday to go over options for a new spending agreement. The lawmakers came out of their meeting signaling a deal can be made by Feb. 18, Pro’s Jennifer Scholtes and Marianne LeVine report.

“The four of us had constructive talks of where we go and how we get there and how we start,” Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican Senate appropriator, told reporters after the meeting. “And we hadn’t worked that out yet, and we’re going to continue to talk and meet.”

Some of Democrats’ key climate objectives were among the sticking points in negotiations late last year after Democratic lawmakers proposed bolstered spending for environmental justice and other climate issues like a Civilian Climate Corps. Those priorities have been derided by Republicans as a “climate change slush fund,” with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying a CCC would amount to creating “potemkin jobs”.

Democrats are hoping to avoid another stop-gap measure, which has kept the government open for months in FY22 at lower funding levels approved by then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

DOE WANTS YOU FOR CLEAN ENERGY: The Energy Department launched its largest ever staff expansion Thursday to recruit 1,000 new employees for a Clean Energy Corps to help deploy new technology via investments from the bipartisan infrastructure package, which includes the biggest investment in DOE in the department’s history.

The initiative recruits across the country, with a final corps including both current staff and new hires. In a video announcing the initiative, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she was looking for applicants from across the industry, including the private sector, local government and nonprofits, for a litany of positions in research, development, demonstration and deployment. Pro’s Kelsey Tamborrino has more.

RECLAIMING MY MINE: The Interior Department is also taking its cues from the bipartisan infrastructure package and publishing an interim final rule today extending the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund through 2034. The extension, enumerated in the package, will continue state and Tribal funding for cleaning old mines and legacy pollution in local communities, while also reducing reclamation fee rates by 20 percent. The infrastructure package also includes an investment of $11.3 billion to expand abandoned mine cleanup around the country.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will make critical investments to help communities eliminate dangerous conditions and pollution caused by past coal mining, all while building the foundation for additional jobs in the future once sites are cleaned up and can support new economic development opportunities,” Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, said in a statement.

STRATEGIC PETROLEUM RELEASE: DOE announced the awardees of last month’s sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, with contracts going to six companies: Exxon Mobil, Gunvor, Marathon, Motiva, Phillips 66 and Valero. Fourteen companies responded to the bid sale notice on Dec. 17 last year. The companies awarded contracts bought 18.1 billion barrels of oil.

DOE has also announced four crude oil exchanges from the SPR totaling nearly 8 million barrels to help boost the nation’s fuel supply. Those companies will have to return the same amount of crude to the SPR, as well as an additional amount based on how long they hold the oil.

GRANHOLM IN HUDSON: The Energy secretary is in upstate New York with Gov. Kathy Hochul, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Paul Tonko to tour the Port of Albany this morning. The lawmakers and Granholm will also be visiting the New York Independent System Operator, participating in a meet-and-greet at Hudson Valley Community College and seeing GE Global Research facilities.

FIRST IN ME: SENATE DEMS TACKLE AIR POLLUTION IN EJ COMMUNITIES: A cohort of Senate Democrats is making moves to make air monitoring technology more accessible to the communities most vulnerable to air pollution. The Technology Assessment for Air Quality Management Act, which will be introduced today by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would dedicate $55 million over five years to bolster EPA’s online air quality toolbox to catalog air monitoring technology and clarify advantages and disadvantages of different methods for monitoring. It would also increase staffing to connect the monitoring tools with communities that would most need the technology.

The legislation creates a working group to report to the Senate Environment and Public Works and the House Energy and Commerce committees with templates for integrating air quality monitoring. It would also direct EPA and the Government Accountability Office to inventory air monitors, air quality data and areas most in need of monitoring in environmental justice communities.

A spate of vocal climate-focused Democrats are cosponsoring the bill including Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

VOTING RIGHTS IS A CLIMATE ISSUE: Several environmental groups are urging Congress to approve Democrats’ voting rights bill currently languishing in the Senate — and any procedural measures necessary to make it happen. The legislation is vehemently opposed by Senate Republicans, who cast it as a Democratic power grab. And while all 50 Senate Democrats have signaled their support for the legislation, centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are not willing to change filibuster rules to pass the voting rights measures using their simple majority.

The environmental groups, which include the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, argue protecting voting rights is vital to get through substantive climate action. “Most Americans support bold action to combat the climate crisis as well as investments in clean air and water, green jobs, affordable clean energy, and a livable future for all,” the groups write in a Thursday letter. “But voter suppression, election subversion, partisan gerrymandering, and polluter money thwart the will of the people.”

Voting rights and environmental advocates worry that state-level efforts to restrict these rights could thwart the ability of communities of color to support clean energy and climate policies.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is aiming to get the voting rights legislation through the finish line before Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, but that’s looking destined to fail. President Joe Biden popped over to the Hill to try to get the whole caucus on board with changing Senate rules to get the bill done, but Manchin wasn’t buying it. Sinema took to the floor digging into her opposition to changing the filibuster.

“While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” Sinema said.

SENATE SINKS NORD STREAM SANCTIONS: Sen. Ted Cruz’ sanctions bill on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline failed to pass the Senate late Thursday on a near-party line vote, following lobbying by the Biden administration not to back the bill despite congressional Democrats’ previous calls for aggressive sanctions enforcement. The administration cast the bill as merely causing further divisions with European allies at a critical moment when Russia is arming itself along the Ukrainian border.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced alternative legislation earlier this week that would make sanctions contingent on Russia invading Ukraine, but Republicans dismissed Menendez’ bill as offering cover for Democrats not to vote for Cruz’ bill. Lawmakers in both parties vehemently opposed the pipeline for introducing Russian infrastructure into NATO territory. POLITICO’s Andrew Desiderio has more.

TVA UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are digging into the Tennessee Valley Authority, probing the utility’s high power prices and slow rollout of clean energy. Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Energy Subcommittee Chair Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) asked TVA in a Thursday letter for details on its business practices, raising alarm over consumers’ higher-than-average rates and the pace of integrating clean energy into its mix.

A spokesperson for the utility responded to Pro’s Catherine Morehouse that it had “reduced carbon emissions by 63% and currently supplies nearly 60% of the region’s energy from carbon-free sources in one of the nation’s most diverse, robust and clean energy systems.” The spokesperson also noted “TVA’s rates are currently lower than nearly 80% of the nation’s largest utilities,” while acknowledging the region’s high energy burden. Some low-income customers spend as much as 27 percent of their annual income on energy, according to a study cited in the letter.

The lawmakers lauded TVA for its progress toward lower-emission generation in the last 20 years but expressed concern that it “failed to revise its carbon emission reduction in line” with Biden’s goal of reaching net-zero electricity by 2035. The House members asked for a response to its questions by Feb. 2. Read more from Catherine.

GLOBAL ELECTRIC SPIKE: Electricity demand saw an over 6 percent spike around the world last year — the largest in percentage terms since 2010 — leading to surging prices and an uptick in emissions, according to the International Energy Agency’s January 2022 Electricity Market Report released today. The report attributed the demand growth to rapid economic recovery from the pandemic and a colder than average winter, and it warned governments will have to do more to prevent further emissions with electricity demand only expected to grow.

Renewables were unable to keep up with the growth in power demand, leading to greater reliance on fossil fuel generation. But with global shortages of coal and natural gas, consumer prices were particularly high last year, with IEA’s price index for major wholesale electricity markets in major advanced economies nearly doubling compared with 2020. Read the report here.

ANOTHER GRIM MILESTONE: Last year was the sixth-warmest year ever recorded, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Berkeley Earth said Thursday. Berkeley Earth found land surface temperature was 1.09 degrees Celsius above average, with the world having warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Climate activists and global negotiators aim to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius — the threshold scientists set to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

NOAA said 2013 through 2021 were among the 10 warmest years ever recorded. Pro’s Zack Colman has more.

— “Veteran EPA Staffer Takes Top Management Slot in Research Unit,” via Bloomberg.

— “IEA advises Canada to increase clean energy funding,” via POLITICO.

— “Energy Dependence Ties Europe’s Hands in U.S.-Russia Crisis,” via The Wall Street Journal.

— “Shell climate case winner targets dozens more companies,” via The Financial Times.

THAT’S ALL FOR ME!



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